From Dispersed to Designated: Camping Changes for the Crested Butte Valley

An Effort to Improve User Experience by Creating a More Sustainable Backcountry

Camping is one of the best ways to experience Crested Butte’s beautiful scenery and is a quintessential Colorado activity. Public lands provide the backbone of the Crested Butte tourism industry and residents highly value their access to public lands which is why many of them call the valley home. In an effort to improve and maintain tourism and outdoor recreation in a manner that is sustainable, local entities have decided to move dispersed camping to designated camping in the areas surrounding Crested Butte. The switch is the successful culmination of partnership efforts focused on improving Crested Butte’s backcountry and adopting a plan that will preserve the landscape while simultaneously enhancing the visitor experience.

Last year, the Forest Service in collaboration with local partners, made the decision to change the way camping is managed to focus on preservation efforts. The change will occur in the six major drainages surrounding Crested Butte. Beginning spring 2021, camping in the Slate River Rd and Washington Gulch Rd areas will be allowed only in designated sites. Throughout the summer and fall of 2021, this same regulation will be rolled out across five additional areas: Kebler pass Rd, Lake Irwin Rd, Brush Creek Rd, Cement Creek Rd, and Gothic Rd, with the goal of having all 211 valley-wide sites designated come spring 2022.

The changes will help to reduce impacts to the landscape and natural ecosystems, as well as the development of non-system routes, and sanitation issues. Designated sites will also help contain campfires to reduce forest fires. Designating campsites are a win-win for land managers and campers alike. Designating sites allow land managers to isolate the impacts from camping to specific and sustainable locations, while still providing users with the remote and isolated feel of backcountry dispersed camping. 


Who is doing the work?

The United States Forest Service (USFS) partnered with the Gunnison Valley Sustainable Tourism and Outdoor Recreation (STOR) committee to help plan and fund the designated camping project. STOR is a community collaborative committee, created by the Gunnison County Board of Commissioners to improve and maintain tourism and outdoor recreation in a manner that is sustainable (environmentally, socially and financially) and aligns with our community values. STOR comprises nineteen diverse players including the City of Gunnison, Town of Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte, Town of Pitkin, Gunnison County, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, USFS, BLM, National Parks Service, Gunnison-Crested Butte Tourism Association, Gunnison County Stockgrowers’ Association, Crested Butte Mountain Resort, Western Colorado University, and 8 members of the public-at-large. The STOR Committee has assisted the USFS with the development of the camping project and contributed to the costs of the project with Great Outdoors Colorado grant dollars. The Gunnison Stewardship Fund, a funding mechanism managed by the National Forest Foundation, has supported the project with $150,000 in contributions.

The USFS also partnered with the Crested Butte Conservation Corps (CBCC) to help with the installation of the infrastructure for the designated sites. The CBCC is entering its fifth summer season this year and was founded on the idea of creating a more sustainable backcountry experience for users in the Crested Butte valley. Thanks to the efforts of these organizations, the designated camping project will help to ensure a sustainable future for both recreational camping and natural beauty in the Crested Butte backcountry.  

What does this mean for campers?

This management change will govern all roadside vehicles and tent camping for the affected areas. Campers will be required to camp in designated sites only. Visitors can expect to see new signage along the roadside directing them toward camping areas, camping information, and notifying them when no camping areas lie ahead. If you are coming to Crested Butte for the weekend during peak summer season or holiday, be sure that you have a backup plan in the event that all the designated sites are full. 

What will a designated site look like? 

Sites will be designated by the presence of a two-foot-tall 6×6 post. Attached to the post will be a camping symbol along with an associated site number. Also present at designated sites will be permanent metal fire rings for visitors to enjoy a fire and s’mores safely. 



For the latest information on the progress of the designated camping project please call the Gunnison Ranger District office, 970-641-0471 or email [email protected]. More info can also be found by visiting and

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