The Outdoors,  Travel Guides

Camping in Leadville, CO: Turquoise Lake & More

These days, I am at the ripe age of 26 which means my friends and my 1937989 cousins are getting married. I’m not complaining, I love weddings and so far they have all been a treat. However, I have spent many of my hard-earned dollars on flights back home this summer, leaving all that’s left for the most affordable and accessible travel of all…camping. This financial plight came at the perfect time as I only camped once since moving to Denver and I had tons of mountain exploring to do. Of course, we are spoiled in Colorado with the guarantee of jaw-dropping views and an endless amount of wilderness. However, if you have tried Colorado camping before, you know that it is not a piece of cake and often requires some detailed planning. Check out A Beginner’s Guide to Going Camping for some simple planning tips and tricks. In this particular instance, we dared to try Turquoise Lake camping just a few days before the weekend. But alas, our last-minute endeavors paid off, and here’s how it went…

Finding Turquoise Lake Camping

First of all, we pick a general area and consider drive time, the nearby towns, and attractions. For this weekend, camping near Leadville, Colorado was perfect. The drive is under 2 hours and there is an opportunity to be near water with either Twin Lakes or Turquoise Lake camping. When looking for Leadville camping, we started with a simple google search, e.g. “Turquoise Lake camping” to get a feel for what was out there. A nice tip is to look at google maps and be flexible. Our first site was about 40 minutes from the actual town of Leadville, CO. 

Reservable Camping near Leadville, CO

Turquoise Lake Camping--May Queen Campground

Once we have a lay of the land, we check the campground websites to see what’s available. The reservable campgrounds often redirect you to recreation.gov, so you can also just start your search from there. Upon our initial search, Turquoise Lake camping reservations were all booked up. But we were not yet discouraged.

When you’re planning last-minute and hoping for a reservable site, I suggest taking it day-by-day. For example, if you search for the whole weekend and there are no sites available, change your search and only look for Friday night. Sometimes sites are open for one of the two nights that you plan to camp and you’ll just have to pick up and move the next day. Keep checking availability for reservable sites. People can cancel free of charge and often do. We got lucky when looking for Turquoise Lake camping as a previously booked spot opened up, so we secured our Saturday at the May Queen Campground. Final tip, when looking to reserve, be very careful not to mistake “first come-first served” sites as available. They are just as they claim to be, first come, first served. You often have to get out there at the crack of dawn on a Friday morning or arrive Thursday. 

Dispersed Camping near Leadville CO

As a type-A personality, I always search for reservations first. However, that didn’t seem to be an option for Turquoise Lake camping, and popular first-come, first-served was off the table as we were leaving Friday afternoon. So, our next option was to look for dispersed camping in Leadville, Colorado. If you’re not hip to this lingo, dispersed camping is essentially camping on public land rather than designated campgrounds. When looking for a dispersed site, the number one rule is to be diligent and respectful. National and State Parks/Forests are often marked well, but it doesn’t mean you can just set up anywhere. Anyway, this is a great, and often free, last-minute option. We used Facebook groups like “Dispersed Camping Colorado” to find an area along Homestake Rd. as google wasn’t turning up much. A note, dispersed sites are technically first-come, first-served, but receive much less traffic and they are not developed. We even got lucky along the way as we found open sites at Blodgett Campground on Homestake Rd. and did not have to hike into a site. We arrived around 5 pm on a Friday and there were 2 open spots. 

Turquoise Lake Camping Set Up

Sleeping:

We were happy that both Leadville campgrounds were drive-up, which makes life much easier on a last-minute trip. Our Turquoise Lake camping setup was simple. We have a 3-person tent and tossed in our sleeping pads, sleeping bags, the dog bed, pillows, and 1-2 extra blankets. Next, we set up 2 camping chairs near the fire pit, sometimes get the hammocks out, and voila. I list all of my camping gear recommendations in my beginner’s guide to camping.

Breakfast:

We got breakfast burritos on Friday morning from Araujo’s Restaurant in Denver. These burritos are the go-to for something quick, cheap, and delicious. They come wrapped in foil and we just kept them in the cooler until Saturday morning when we tossed them on the grill to warm up. Perfection. On Sunday morning, we had protein bars, then got some brunch in Leadville before heading home. 

Lunch:

Our lunches exclusively consist of turkey sandwiches and a favorite chip variety when we camp, nothing fancy. 

Dinner:

Typically, we have burgers, hot dogs, or some type of sausage with veggies. For the first part of this trip (see bloopers), we had a compact travel grill, and all we had to do was season the veggies, wrap them in foil, then throw everything on the grill together. This takes no time or stress at all. 

Turquoise Lake Camping Activities

Friday Highlights

The drive to the Blodgett Campground takes you through two charming towns of Minturn and Red Cliff, CO. While we didn’t have time to stop in Minturn, I recommend that you do! They have a downtown lined with adorable buildings where you can stop for a bite or some shopping. We first set up our site at the campground, then drove 10 minutes back down the road into the wild-western town of Red Cliff to grab some beers at Mango’s Mountain Grill. They have a dog-friendly patio, craft beer, and a large menu. 

Saturday Highlights

After breakfast burritos, we made our way to Zero Day Coffee and Mountain Equipment in Leadville and did some exploring around the historic downtown. Our favorite stop was Matchless Treasures Thrift Shop where we bought a United States road trip book. We felt extremely nostalgic browsing the items in this store and spent lots of time reminiscing. After exploring the town, we made our way toward our Turquoise Lake campground. Although we couldn’t check in until later that day, Turquoise Lake has several day-use areas where you can hang out by the water, fish, and rent boats (i.e. kayaks, paddleboards, etc.). So, even if you can’t snag Turquoise Lake camping, there’s still an opportunity to have a lake day. We parked in the May Queen day-use parking lot where you can walk right up to the shoreline and dip your toes. The remainder of our Saturday afternoon consisted of eating our turkey sandwiches, reading, and getting some sun. 

Sunday Highlights

Turquoise Lake Camping things to do--Turquoise Lake Trail

There are tons of hiking trails that surround Turquoise Lake. By Sunday, I was feeling a bit sluggish so I chose to keep things light by walking along the Turquoise Lake Trail. After all, the trailhead was just steps from our campsite, so it would’ve been silly to miss it. This trail follows the shoreline along the north side of the lake and is dog-friendly. The trail was quiet, had some awesome views of Mt. Massive, and made for the perfect Sunday stroll. Just be sure to watch for the many mountain bikers! 

Turquoise Lake Camping Bloopers

We all know that on any trip something is bound to go wrong, but of course, these are the moments in which we learn the most. 

  1. It rained almost the entire Saturday evening and got down into the 40s. We were cold and wet 🥶…thank goodness for my overpacking and plenty of layers. 
  2. Our $20 travel grill broke 😔, so we had to start a fire using the damp brush to cook our dinner. We then had to keep it going for another 4 hours for some warmth before bed.
  3. Finally, I’m aware that I didn’t mention Melanzana and that’s because you have to make an appointment to shop…Maybe this is common knowledge, but not to us! 🥲If you want to make an appointment, here is where to schedule it.

Despite the bloopers, camping at Turquoise Lake Colorado was my favorite trip this summer. So, whether you’re planning with plenty of time or last minute like us, just go with it and make this trip happen, it won’t disappoint! 

Turquoise Lake Camping--Sunset

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