Convenient, free, dispersed camping at Salida, Colorado

Tuesday, July 12

P1120742Ohaver Lake beyond the aspens

Ohaver Lake Campground sleeps as Bridget leads me outside for her early morning potty run.


She finds a hidden place in the tall grass in order to take care of her business discreetly.


It’s odd to me that people choose to sit around in the dark and then sleep through the best part of the next day.  I hate missing the morning light!

P1120738Before we leave Ohaver Lake, here are a few more photos taken the previous afternoon.


~ ~ ~

P1120733~ ~ ~

P1120725The trip down from Ohaver Lake is much easier than the trip up. 

No crashing dishes and no flying fruit!  I’m grateful that we don’t meet a vehicle on any of the switchbacks.

P1120745Returning to Route 17, the crew and I continue northward.

The road curves in a gentle descent to the town of Poncha Springs.  We make a righthand turn at the light and Route 50 takes us a few miles east to Salida.

Oh, there’s a Wal-Mart here . . . .

As we approach Salida a strange feeling comes over me.

I’m not sure what to make of it.  Something important or significant or special is going to happen at this location . . . .

The Perfect Tow Vehicle follows Route 50 through town to the Forest Service facility on the east side.

P1120748We pull up to the auto-pay dump station.  (No, this isn’t why I had that feeling described above!)

P1120747Using my credit card, I pay $10 which unlocks the station.  Dumping is accomplished without incident.  Always thankful for that!

P1120746A young woman inside the Forest Service building hands me a map of the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area.

She points out the areas along the river that are state or private land and the areas managed by the Bureau of Land Management or the National Forest Service.

From there we travel a short distance further east on Route 50.

A digital sign over the road announces a fire area ahead.  “Limited Visibility — Do Not Stop on the Road.”  Later I learn about the Hayden Creek wildfire from a fellow camper evacuated from his home.

A collection of tents, RVs, porta-potties, fire trucks and other vehicles fill a field on our left.  A sign indicates this is the Fire Command Center.

Boy, must be a big fire . . . .

After passing an RV park the sign I’m looking for appears — Salida East Recreation Area!

Salida East is a free, dispersed camping area on the Arkansas River.  It’s a place roughened over time, meaning people park their campers wherever in a field of tan grass criss-crossed with rock-studded dirt roads, and heavy use is obvious.  A few campsites are defined by a picnic table and fire ring/grill.

I stop at the entrance and read this sign.


All the good spots along the river are taken. 

I expected as much in a free campground at the edge of a popular town and along a river.

The PTV positions the Best Little Trailer in a site in full sun and in no way attractive.  Even the small juniper looks forlorn.  I don’t take any photos, unhitch, or set up a full camp in hopes of someone leaving soon.

A man in an official-looking white truck drives through the campground posting signs.


A few hours later a man in one of the riverside sites puts bikes on the rack of his toad vehicle.


“Come on, crew!”  

Quickly I put Bridget in her black suit and attach the end of Reggie’s tether to it.  Grabbing the center of the tether, I urge Bridget and Reggie to hurry with me down the slope.

“Are you leaving today?” I ask, breathless.

“Yes, we are.  In about five minutes.”

We dash up the slope and in record time I prepare to move camp.  When the young family pulls their Class C out of the pull-through, riverside site, the PTV and BLT move right in behind them!

“We got it!”


Some camps are noted for their beauty, others more for their convenience.  I have stuff to do in town and this camp is very handy!

The Arkansas River moves rapidly below our campsite . . . .


Rather than twist an ankle or fall going down the steep bank at our site, each morning and late afternoon I walk Bridget and Reggie to the end of the camping area where we can easily access the river.


This is where people put in their rafts and kayaks and one of the few places in the campground that has a shallow, calm pool ideal for wading.

P1120803More to come about our stay at Salida East . . . .

I talk with a man evacuated from his home in the area of the Hayden Creek Fire and Bridget and Reggie make friends with a pooch named Nemo!

P1120757“Ooh, that cold water is going to feel so good!”



I appreciate you following any of the links or ads you see on my blog to shop Amazon. Your purchases send a commission to “RVSue and her canine crew.”

P1120796The Best Little Trailer at Salida East dispersed camping area


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96 Responses to Convenient, free, dispersed camping at Salida, Colorado

  1. Lee J in Northern California says:

    I was just reading comments under the last post..and here you are!

  2. Barb from Illinois says:

    Looks beautiful!

  3. Mary says:

    Hi RV Sue,

    Thank you for your advice the other day regarding finding boon docking locations in Colorado, the Wheelingit website link you sent was very helpful. As always the brightness your blog brings us is greatly appreciated. Do have a lovely day and all the very best to Bridget and Reggie.

  4. Cinandjules (NY) says:

    Three boondockers always on the prowl for the better site! Must be a hoot to watch!

    Have a great day!

  5. Pat in Rochester says:

    I’m at work. I wish was where you are!!!

  6. Suzan says:

    Ooh, I love that area! The Collegiate Peaks are up the road, Monarch mountain due west, the Sangre de Cristos southeast, and Royal Gorge to the east. Many moons ago, I went whitewater rafting down the Arkansas. What fun!

    I hope you enjoy it immensely. It’s such a gorgeous area of Colorado. When we lived in Colorado Springs, we often do day trips to Salida just for the scenery. There are some really good breakfast places in Salida.


  7. Jean in Southaven says:

    I love the river. It looks like it would be fun for someone who kayaks. My son and his two oldest sons, ages 16 and 14 are going kayaking on the Ocoee at Cleveland, TN this weekend with several more father sons. I will be a wreck until they get back home. The Ocoee there is where the Summer Olympics were held and it is treachorous. But they know what they are doing. Hope your weekend is good. Be safe.

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      I understand your nervousness, Jean. It’s the not-knowing-what’s-going-on that makes it difficult. Like you say, they know what they’re doing.

  8. Renee Galligher - Idaho says:

    Still in the Top Ten!!!!

  9. Renee Galligher - Idaho says:

    Wait. I went back and read, twice, about the strange feeling that came over you. What was it? Did I miss something?

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      I don’t know what the strange feeling is about! I recorded it in this post so when it happens you’ll know I had a premonition. Or maybe I was hungry. We shall see. 🙂

  10. I’m with Renee–did I miss it?

    It’s so hot today that after walking this morning I’ve been reading your archives, and finally caught up. I envy your travels, but also your persistence–blogging consistently for 5 years is a major accomplishment, thanks for sticking with it Sue!

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      You’re welcome, Steve. Nice of you to acknowledge my “accomplishment.” 🙂

  11. Cinandjules (NY) says:

    My guess is …..all of the good spots along the river were taken…..they had to settle for one in the full sun that was less than attractive. But wait……with six eyes carefully scanning the area…they spot a man loading his bikes onto the rack….could it be??? Let’s go crew…saddle up!

    A hah……..yes he is leaving……a site near the river is now their home! This is a cause for celebration…break out the rotisserie chicken

  12. AZ Jim says:

    Fires this time of year are so scary. I always hope when I see you camped way back in wooded areas that you have thought about escape in case one of those fires decides to be a threat to you. It’s so dry in the west this year. I always hate to see those poor people who are burned out standing there usually in tears surveying the destruction. Anyhow I hope you enjoy your short stay there. Still hot here Missy 106 now headed for 115 if the weather station is right.

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      Hi, Jim,

      Today the crew and I were out, riding around on forest roads. On our return to Salida I could see the huge plumes of smoke from the wildfire on the mountains. I imagine it’s windy up there.

      For the past two days, several times each day, helicopters fly over our camp on their way to the fire. Night before last the sky was red above the mountains in that direction, probably fire retardant. I wanted to take a picture of it, but the crew was sleeping and I didn’t want to wake them.

      • Don in Okla. says:

        I read in the Chaffee County Times today that the fire has grown to more than 14,000 acres. I talked to a lady with the paper in Buena Vista and she said she had heard that the fire will be extinguished by October!! Be careful out there!
        Don in Okla.

        • rvsueandcrew says:

          Hi, Don,

          I’ve heard the same thing from a person who has a home in the area of the fire. Thanks, I’ll be careful.

  13. DeAnne in TN says:

    It’s a cliffhanger–I think it will happen in Salida.

  14. Sue, do you remember me telling you that when I read the early entries of your blog and you turned back from the higher altitudes, just as you were getting to areas I love?

    Well, you’ve reversed it now. You are posting picture after picture of landscape I love–mountains, trees, lakes–and we can’t drive up to those elevations until we get a different tv!

    But I don’t mind. Keep those pictures coming. I feel cooler just seeing them!

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      Hi, kisstab-chick,

      I remember when you told me that. 🙂 I’m glad you’re enjoying the photos. I think I told you we’d camp in Colorado someday. 🙂

  15. Looks REALLY nice…except for the crowds. Actually, all of your sites lately look quite beautiful. That’s the San Juans for you. One of our favorite areas.

    As for us, we finally became full-timers July 1st. Woohoo! We made it. Presently staying at Escapees Jojoba Hills park for July before meandering to Oregon.

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      Congratulations, Ed! Fifteen days as full-timers! The first year on the road is so exciting!

  16. casitagirl says:

    Oh Sue…Yet another beautiful camp!!

    We are camped at Smith Lake Campground in Park Falls, WI It’s county-owned and a beautiful, peaceful private place. All sites are wooded and very private and have 30 amp connections. There’s a lake with a small beach and new playground…even a boat ramp and new shower house. Even free firewood. It’s well maintained too. $20/night.

    We’re heading west and plan to be in Glacier NP next Wednesday!

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      I think you’re enjoying this summer, casitagirl! 🙂 That’s a reasonable price for what is provided. Safe travels to Glacier!

  17. Geri says:

    Love that you got to camp near the water! YAY! Looks like a very pretty area. Have fun and hope your good premonition happens soon! However, I think finding a good site on the river might qualify! Hug the pups from us!

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      Hi, Geri!

      This is a good camp. I’ve been warned that the weekends can be rowdy, what with hordes of people coming to camp and to put in their watercraft. Today is Friday and it’s been fine. If Saturday is crazy, we can always go up into the mountains.

      Hug your pups for us!

  18. Rocky Mtn Bob says:

    Be careful and check ahead for fires, we have several going right now. So some areas you may have been looking could be closed.


    • rvsueandcrew says:

      Thanks for the reminder, Bob. The crew and I checked out some possible camps today… pretty spots. I did notice how dry everything is.

  19. Linda Rose, Muffin, Murphy, Molly & Midgy in Carmichael, CA says:

    I rafted down the Arkansas river many years ago. Looks like a great spot.

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      Rafting is popular around here. If I didn’t have the crew, I’d find a way to raft it, too.

  20. Linda (Wisconsin) says:

    Hi Sue, Bridget and Reggie.
    Just saying hi. A great read as always. Have a happy and healthy weekend with lots of adventure!

  21. weather says:

    Beautiful opening photo, Sue, wow! I agree about the best part of the day and morning light …The feeling that something important, significant or special is going to happen there is worth noting. Unless it has a specific vision or picture attached to it, sometimes, at least in my life, it’s as likely to be as or more meaningful for someone else as it is for me. I do hope you elaborate more should you notice anything going on that you associate with it.

    Good for you, getting the riverside site, Ha! It would take someone that’s become an expert at finding great places to boon dock to describe as handy a free site with a river rapidly flowing below it. I hope whatever you have/had to do in town is pleasant with nice results.

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      I’m pleased that you mention the first photo, as I really like it. The colors on the lake seem mystical to me.

      Speaking of which…. Who knows what that feeling was… very powerful, came suddenly and left quickly, as if I was told, “Take note of what happens here.” Oh well, maybe my imagination is running wild… and maybe not. 🙂 I’ll be sure to let you know which it is…

      It’s been pleasant, a bit hot in the afternoon. That’s not a hardship; that’s naptime! Hope your weekend is wonderful.

    • weather says:

      Hopefully the noise and crowd’s activity is confined mainly to the river where you are, and allows your weekend to be wonderful, too. I understand why people find riding rapids fun, it’s not my version of enjoying water though. Having been tossed around by it enough by surprise has held more excitement than I’d hoped for. No big enough problems to keep me away from enjoying swimming and most watercrafts, yet enough to give me a healthy respect for it. A few incidents like inexperienced companions tipping over canoes, especially large forceful ocean waves or being in boats caught in storms have made thrill seeking associated with water on purpose an unattractive option to me.

      My weekend on the lake involves staying on shore to enjoy it, a few errands, fun and tasks at the T@B’s and vintage rv’s campsites. Did you happen to notice if the places you found to possibly camp in the nearby mountains had an internet signal or cool wind?

      • rvsueandcrew says:

        Good morning, weather,

        You explain very well why thrill-seeking on water is not attractive for you. I’m having similar feelings. When I first retired and I had my inflatable boat, I was anxious to float in it. The near-catastrophe on the Madison River has tempered my enthusiasm. Photographing colors reflected on the calm surface of the lake is satisfying and takes a lot less effort and risk!

        Continue to enjoy “staying on shore” and all the rest that make your days wonderful.

        The boondocks I found do have internet! I was surprised at that! There’s shade (unlike here). Slight breezes, not as much as I had anticipated. I had the feeling the air pressure was weird while we were there — Grey clouds hung on the mountains…

        I would move there today, except that it’s Saturday. It makes more sense to wait until after the weekend so there’s a greater choice of campsites.

      • weather says:

        In case you or other readers are interested, your near-catastrophe post – A river float trip-, can be seen by using your .com link to your early blog pages. Though we can sometimes laugh in the middle of ridiculous situations we get ourselves into, in hind sight they seem even funnier.

        My female cousins can be a bit prissy, as in “can’t get my clothes and hair messy or wet”. A bunch of us were staying at a cabin on the Ottawa River and I was getting ready to swim out to the raft and back. The cousin closest to my age asked me if we could take a rowboat instead so she could sun bathe in style(gag).

        A huge storm blew in on our return trip and was dragging us downriver. Instead of helping to row or bailing water that was filling the boat she sat there screaming. I was trying to ask the people on shore to use the motor boat to get and tow us in. They couldn’t hear me above the downpouring rain,wind, waves, thunder and mainly her useless hysterical screams for help… so I slapped her(not hard, just enough to make her snap out of her fit) and told her she needed to be silent.
        Long story shortened-we were safely towed in and remain friends that can laugh about the incident now.

        We haven’t visited in a while, think I’ll call and invite her and her sister out for some adventure or at least a jeep ride in early autumn when the heat won’t melt them.I imagine at the moment their blouses are neatly ironed and wrinkle free. Mine’s the usual wreck from being outside doing whatever in the weeds and pine needles and has a touch of cat fur on it. I’ll clean up now because I’m off to get groceries “in town”.

  22. Pookie in Todd Mission, tx says:

    ano0ther great read…..
    thanks for the post Sue…ya doing great!

  23. Retiredcajunlady 'n Louisiana says:

    The river looks so cool and inviting…I would have to take off my socks and shoes and wade in. I hope your business in town went well, and y’all enjoyed your stay. Take care.

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      We do wade when we go there. I walk in with my waterproof KEEN sandals. I’m surprised how well they are holding up considering the abuse I give them!

  24. Oh that first photo is very special – feels like magic. I haven’t seen a pay at the dump station before. Pretty smart idea. Sad to here of the fire near Salida. We really liked that area earlier this summer. Looks like the river has slowed down some – it was crazy high and fast when we were there. Enjoy and stay safe.

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      Hi, Jodee,

      Thanks re the first photo. I think I’ve been at one other dump station that was auto-pay. I don’t remember where that was. It certainly does make the process of paying easy and quick, although the price to dump is increased to pay for it.

  25. Mindy Reed says:

    OMG ~ you are in my old stompin’ grounds ~ I used to live in Leadville right up the road from Salida!

    Beautiful area that’s for sure

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      Maybe we will go to Leadville, Mindy. I’m not sure what we’re doing or where we’re going. That’s nothing new!

  26. Barbara (Nashville) says:

    Beautiful photos, Sue. I love the mountains and lakes most of all. My favorite vacation spots. Plus it reminds me of the days my DH & I took motorcycle trips to the north GA. mountains while living in Atlanta, as well as the Carolina’s. Never was much of a beach person, guess because of my fair skin and burning so easily.
    I keep marking up my Atlas with circles of the areas you write about, as well as keeping a notebook of the routes and forest roads. Haven’t bought any Benchmark Atlas’ yet, since my wants & dreams may not ever come about.
    Well, need to get a little more work done tonight.

  27. Rover Ronda (WA) says:

    You’ve set us up on another cliffhanger! You already know what the feeling was. Don’t you?

    Perfect timing snagging that river campsite! Good for you n crew. The river is flowing fast enough to hear it right? I love the sound of a flowing river or creek. I have it as white noise in my phone as I sleep days n work nights. Of course the real thing is so much better!

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      No, I have no idea about that feeling. Maybe I’ll never know… I tend to pick up “messages” involving others, rather than myself. I’m a “receiver,” rather than a “sender.”

      If the windows are open, I can hear the river from inside the BLT, although not as much as other camps we’ve had, like along the Green River in Utah, the Tieton River in Wyoming, and the Rogue in Oregon.

      You have river sounds on your phone? Girl, you need you some river camps! 🙂

  28. MelindaK (TX) says:

    The photo of the aspens and the lake is beautiful! It kind of mesmerizes you the peacefulness comes through the photo. Good to know they have a dump station. Was the dump station at the ranger station? If you wade in the Arkansas River be very careful as there are drop offs and the water can be very swift. Can’t wait to see where you go next. That area can be very touristy. I usually wait until mid August to visit the area to avoid the crowds. Have fun and stay safe!

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      Hi, MelindaK,

      Yes, the dump station is at the forest service building which is about a mile from Salida East, give or take (because I’m terrible at estimating distance). Yes, when we wade I can see how the river becomes dark and deep very quickly.

  29. DeAnne in TN says:

    I’m sure some have heard, but Airstream is working with another partner (don’t remember) and has introduced a fiberglass travel trailer. Umm…starting price is $40,000. I’ll keep looking…if you’re interested it is the Airstream Nest.

  30. Do any blogorinos have RV GPSs? Do National Forest campgrounds and BLM campgrounds show up on them, or do they only show commercial ones?

    I’m betting they don’t, but figured I’d ask! Thank you in advance!

    • edlfrey says:

      What you are asking is not about the GPS unit but rather the maps that are available that can be loaded into a GPS unit. However, I believe you are correct when you say that the maps that are available show only commercial campgrounds and not Forest Service or BLM campgrounds.

      You do not need them, I do not have a RV GPS as you are thinking of them. What I have is a laptop with an Internet connection (usually) and can go to Google Maps and a multitude of other web sites. Using those tools I can find almost any FS or BLM campground that might be shown on any map. Then when I find it on Google Maps I right click the mouse on the location and then “What’s Here” and I am shown the GPS coordinates for that location. For example, O’Haver Lake is at 38.427222, -106.145769

      It is not like using an “app” but I don’t have any of those either. The coordinates are not very important to me. What I want to see are the roads that will get me from where I am to where I want to be. If I can see them I make up a 3×5 card with turn by turn directions that are every bit as good as a GPS unit IF what I read on many blogs is any indication of how well the GPS units provide such information. Good Luck!

  31. Denise - Richmond VA says:

    Good morning, Sue and Crew!

    The thought that keeps popping into my mind while enjoying your CO photos is how lush and green everything looks. Obviously there are dry areas, hence the fires. The lake and river photos are so beautiful and refreshing. I love the first shot of the lake, with the morning light reflected in the water through the apsens….the promise of another day full of possibilities.

    Glad you snagged the convenient spot waterside. Close neighbors in a natural setting are more desireable than those in an RV park. Hope you managed to get your errands accomplished as you had hoped. Have you noticed that you and the Crew are taking more long, refreshing naps? Maybe the altitude makes one slow down (even more), to allow maximum enjoyment of the surroundings.

    It will be interesting to learn (if you choose to share) what your gut feeling was foreshadowing. I look forward so seeing where we have landed next! 🙂 🙂

    Sending you positive thoughts and prayers that you will be able to find camps that are out of fire danger and smoke free; that you will be able to enjoy CO without having to outrun fires and smoke. Please contine to stay safe Sue, because we all love you and our Crew!

    I am getting ready to start my day. I have a few errands to run…want to get them done before the stifling heat and humidity reach peak levels. At the top of the list is stopping by the library to ensure that my library card is still valid – I have not used it for several years. I am really looking forward to checking out books and magazines electronically on my new Paperwhite! Have a great day, Sue! Sending you, Bridget, and Reggie hugs from me and Gracie pup! 🙂 🙂 🙂

    • Denise - Richmond VA says:

      I have been meaning to mention this….

      Spike’s trademark photo was one where he was soaking in water. Bridget’s is trying to hide from the camera or her classic stink eye. I believe Reggie’s might be the back of his sweet head, looking out the window, checking out/inspecting the surroundings. A close 2nd is him looking out the window, his expression reflected in the PTV’s side mirrors. 🙂

    • rvsueandcrew says:

      Good morning, Denise,

      I hope you and Gracie pup are enjoying this Saturday. I love your enthusiasm for your new Paperwhite. Now you can read in the dark at night while Gracie sleeps undisturbed. I haven’t tried checking out books from a library yet. I should do that next winter when we settle somewhere. 🙂

      Yes, the crew and I are taking more long naps than we did, say, last winter. It’s definitely the altitude. I don’t mind because we do wake refreshed and I’m not in a hurry to accomplish anything. The errands are being completed, slowly. I still need to go to the laundromat. Don’t want to do that on a Saturday though.

      Your comments are always a pleasure for me to read. You are so kind and loving. Thank you for “positive thoughts and prayers” and your concern for our safety.

      Wishing you a safe and cool day (out of the heat and humidity!)…

  32. Judi says:

    Back in 2008, I flew to Alamosa for a teaching interview in the miniscule town of Crestone. The rising superintendent and his wife took me to dinner in Salida. The drive up through the pass from Crestone was beautiful (March), and Salida was a cute little town. The Mexican restaurant has great food. I didn’t take the job because I would have had to drive either up to Salida or down Rt. 17 to Alamosa just to go shopping and they couldn’t pay me a living wage. If I had been single, it would have been a great adventure, but with a husband who would have needed employment and two elementary-aged kids, I turned it down. I still think fondly of the area, though.

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