RVer Guide to Summer in Western Colorado
Camping and activity tips for Buena Vista, Aspen, Salida, and Crested Butte.

By: Abby Holcombe

As a van lifer, I know the thrill of exploring new places and experiencing unique cultures. And if there's one place that I can't get enough of, it's Colorado. From the Rocky Mountains to the snow-melt streams, Colorado is a haven for outdoorsy RVers. 

If you're planning a summer road trip in your camper van or RV, I highly recommend spending some time exploring Colorful Colorado. There are some truly iconic spots for your adventures, and I have some great recommendations for you. Just be sure to check the weather before heading out on your trip - it isn't uncommon for the lows to still be a little chilly in Colorado in summer.

(Learn more about Abby and her adventurous RV life here!)

One of the many scenic pullouts while driving through Colorado. Abby got lucky and happened to pass this one during a spectacular sunset.

Buena Vista, Colorado

Tucked away amidst towering peaks, this quaint mountain town boasts a community as inviting as its picturesque scenery. For those who want a good meal, an epic adventure, or just a beautiful place to camp, Buena Vista covers it all!

The sights on the hike to Lost Lake.

RV Camping in Beuna Vista

Go to Four Mile for free dispersed camping, pit toilets, and plenty of recreation opportunities from biking, hiking, climbing, and kayaking! This is the best place to stay if you are in a camper van or small RV. Find more information on the Forest Service website.

There is also a local KOA for those with bigger RVs or in need of hookups. You can find more information here. (Note: GoLife Perks members receive a FREE membership to KOA Rewards. Learn more here.)

For those who love to fish or just want to wake up with lake views, check out the Cottonwood Lake Campground

Abby’s Winnebago + Adventure Wagon parked in front of the Collegiate Peaks on a back road in Buena Vista, Colorado.

Activities for Adventure Lovers

Rent a surfboard from CKS River Supply and test out the waters of the Buena Vista Whitewater Park. The Staircase Wave is the perfect place for beginners and a great way to cool off in the summer heat! (Make sure to rent a lifejacket and helmet too.) Find more information on CKS’s website

You can also go whitewater rafting on the Arkansas River with The Adventure Company. I highly recommend the intermediate trip through the breathtaking scenery of Browns Canyon National Monument.  

Biking, climbing, and hiking on local trails in the Four Mile recreation area is also a must for nature lovers. Find more information about specific activities and trails on the Forest Service website. (Remember, Colorado is at a higher altitude so it may take some getting used to!) 

Abby hiking the Bridge-to-Bridge trail in the Four Mile Recreation area. This is her favorite quick and easy hiking trail to acclimate to the altitude.

Best Bets for Foodies

Stop at Simple Eatery for a local and fresh meal! I highly recommend the Citrus Sage Cream Ravioli and the house-made Berry Lemonade. And don’t forget to grab a loaf (or four) of the Pretzel Bread on your way out! 

A stop at Louie’s Ice Cream shop is also a must if you are in Buena Vista! My favorite flavors are the Billionaires or the Chai Tea ice cream! 

Must-See Places for Outdoor Enthusiasts

Drive to Cottonwood Lake (located just 20 minutes outside of town) for fishing, SUPing, and kayaking. For a relaxing bonus, visit the Cottonwood Hot Springs for a soak in this outdoor oasis. (You can also stay at the campground on site). This area is perfect for those in need of relaxation as well as adventure lovers!

Abby paddleboarding across Cottonwood Lake on a warm summer afternoon.

Lost Lake is a go-to hike on a moderate out-and-back trail to a lake with vibrant blue water. The trail is relatively easy and would be perfect for families. Cool off with a swim in the cool lake if you dare! 

Abby enjoying the views of the vibrant blue water of Lost Lake.

Independence Pass/Aspen, Colorado

Aspen is a well-known scenic Colorado mountain town that is worth a visit during your Colorado summer RV road trip. The drive to Aspen on Independence Pass is stunning with lots of viewpoints, pit stops, and breathtaking hikes. However, due to the narrow, winding roads with steep inclines, vehicles and trailers are not allowed to drive the pass if they exceed 35 feet. 

Check out the Colorado Department of Transportation website for more information on whether your camper can drive the pass. 

The sights on the hike to Linkins Lake.

RV Camping in Independence Pass/Aspen

Weller Campground is about eight miles from downtown Aspen and is a first-come, first-serve campground best for vans and small RVs. This great campground has hiking trails, swimming holes, and incredible scenery nearby. You can find more information on the Forest Service website, here.

Activities for Adventure Lovers

Linkins Lake is a 1.6-mile out-and-back hike on Independence Pass. The lake itself is stunning. Weller Lake Hike is a short but steep hike to Weller Lake. This is the perfect trail for fishing, swimming, and hiking. Learn more about this hike on AllTrails

A short hike to beautiful Weller Lake!

Grottos Trail is short but sweet! I highly recommend this for families or those looking to cool off from the summer heat. You can also visit the Devil’s Punchbowl swimming hole to cool off on a hot day. You can find more information on Aspen Trail Finder

Check out Blazing Adventures for bike rentals and whitewater rafting! I kayaked the Slaughterhouse section in 2023 and it was beautiful and splashy. I would recommend it for any adventure enthusiast. Or if you want a more mellow day on the water, check out the raft trips on the Upper and Lower Roaring Fork. 

From left to right: Clay Wright, Abby Holcombe, and Peter Holcombe getting ready to put on the Slaughter House section of the Roaring Fork River.

For Lovers of Cute Towns

Nestled in the heart of Aspen lies a bustling downtown area that beckons both fashionistas and gearheads alike. With a variety of boutiques, art galleries, and specialty shops, you can get it all. Aspen has an array of designer brands including the likes of Prada and Gucci. 

But Aspen's charm extends beyond the realm of designer brands. Outdoor enthusiasts can gear up for their next adventure (or rent gear) at local outdoor outfitters like Ute Mountaineer. Regardless of your interests, downtown Aspen has something for everyone and it’s always fun to peruse the area.

Salida, Colorado

Similar to Buena Vista, Salida is one of my favorite Colorado destinations. While it’s a little bigger than Buena Vista, it still has that small mountain charm with plenty of options for eating, shopping, and recreation.

Walking through the charming town on the way to dinner.

RV Camping

Hecla Junction Campground is just downstream of Brown’s Canyon National Monument and is a quiet campground on the shore of the Arkansas River. This is perfect for smaller RVs. 

For those in bigger RVs, or those in need of hookups, reserve a site at the Four Seasons RV Park in Salida

Activities for Adventure Lovers 

Salida has world-class waves designed specifically for river surfing. Whether you are a seasoned surfer or a leisurely boogie boarder, there is a wave for everyone in Salida. (But please make sure to wear a helmet and life jacket). 

Make sure to swing by the Badfish Surf Shop for more information and board rentals. 

Abby kayaking one of the many waves that the Salida Whitewater Park has to offer. This one is most popular among local kids on boogie boards.

There are a plethora of mountain bike trails in and around Salida. The Monarch Crest Trail is a classic that follows the continental divide from the top of Monarch Pass into downtown Salida. For those without a bike, swing by SubCulture Cyclery and check out their wide selection of bike rentals. 

You can’t go to Salida without hiking up S Mountain. At the summit, you’ll find amazing views of the Collegiate Peaks and downtown Salida. 

Go whitewater rafting in Salida with The Adventure Company! They offer Salida Splash as one of their intermediate trips and I’d highly recommend it to anyone who wants to spend the day out on the river. 

If you are in Salida from June 13-16, 2024, FibArk (America’s oldest whitewater festival) is also definitely worth a stop! You can read about my experience, here.

Abby kayaking during the Colorado Tour.

Best Bets for Foodies

Whether you roll into town late or are exhausted from a long day of adventure, there is no better place to grab dinner than Moonlight Pizza. If you go, I suggest ordering the Hawaiian with cream cheese and Strawberry Moon Dessert Pizza. 

My other favorite restaurant in Salida is the Boathouse Cantina located on the bank of the Salida Whitewater Park, it’s the perfect place to relax and watch the river and the kayakers, surfers, and rafters that pass by. With it being so close to one of my main training spots, it’s hard to pick a favorite but it’s really hard to beat eating a to-go basket of fries by the river. But if you want a complete meal, I highly recommend trying the Boater Burger, shrimp tacos, or fried brussel sprouts. 

Once you finish your meal at the Boathouse Cantina, make sure to swing next door to Chill Salida Ice Cream. The homemade ice cream sandwiches are hard to beat! 

Crested Butte, Colorado

Crested Butte is a very popular Colorado town known for its small mountain charm, wildflowers, incredible scenery, and endless recreation opportunity. Crested Butte is a worthwhile stop for all types of travelers!

Abby and her beloved Winnebago + Adventure Wagon camped at the Oh Be Joyful campground!

RV Camping in Crested Butte

When visiting Crested Butte, I always stay at the Oh Be Joyful Campground. It’s on the bank of the Slate River and, if you visit during early summer, you will be surrounded by vibrant wildflowers. The road to the campground is steep and rough, so this is better for those in smaller RVs and vans. My Winnebago + Adventure Wagon made it down the road with no issues. 

Activities for Adventure Lovers

If you stay at the Oh Be Joyful campground, make sure to hike up Oh Be Joyful Creek. The trailhead is within walking distance from the campground. The trail is 13 miles long, but I’ve only hiked the first mile (to watch kayakers paddle the creek). If the rest of the hike is anything like the first mile, it is worth continuing up the trail. 

The hike itself is steep, but the views are worth it, and if you are there in early summer you might even get the chance to see kayakers paddle down the technical rapids and waterfalls the creek has to offer. You can find more information about the hike here

There are countless other worthwhile hikes in Crested Butte, so definitely take a look online or on AllTrails!

Best Bets for Foodies

Nestled in the heart of Crested Butte, you will find the infamous Secret Stache Pizza restaurant. This is absolutely worth the stop, and I suggest ordering The Notorious FIG Pizza (winner of the World Champion Pizza Challenge) and the Crack Fries, you won’t regret it! 

Abby takes in the views from their dry camping campsite in Crested Butte.

This is just the beginning of all the amazing places that Colorful Colorado has to offer, but I hope it’s a good starting point for your summer road trip. Regardless of where you take your RV in Colorado, you’ll have an unforgettable experience!

Remember to check for camping regulations and availability, especially if you plan on dispersed camping. Also, make reservations in advance during peak summer months, as popular locations can fill up quickly. And always follow Leave No Trace principles to minimize your impact on the environment.


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User commented on April 20, 2024 12:16 PM
Nice article Abby. Have a great CO season. I hope the CO tour gets lots of paddlers this year! I think my son and his wife will be out there for the GoPro Games!
User commented on April 20, 2024 5:45 PM
Hi Abby! You make Colorado a bucket stop for all ages. Thx
User commented on April 21, 2024 2:29 PM
Thanks for LOTS of useful links and great descriptions. Your article makes me yearn to visit Colorado!
User commented on April 21, 2024 4:10 PM
Fries by the river in Salida!!! 💯