Scouting Report – (CO-4) Lake Irwin

Fire ring at free dispersed campsite Lake Irwin near Crested Butte Colorado

The Best Free Colorado Camping:

The Crested Butte area is what you think of when you imagine the best free Colorado camping. Nestled deep in the back country is a fantastic ski town surrounded by an endless amount of free camping off of the myriad of Forest service roads. Much of the area is lush and green, brimming with scenic mountain lakes, feed by snow capped peaks. But unlike much of the national forest closer to Denver, you can dispersed camp off many of the forest service roads. It is advisable to ensure you are using the most recent motor vehicle use map, and know which roads you are on and what is allowed.  This post focuses on one of the many great free camping spots available for you to explore in the area.

Lake Irwin Dispersed Camping Area:

Lake Irwin Campground

Phone Number: (970) 874-6600

Elevation: 10,400

Lat/Long: 38.88078, -107.11011

Nearby Town: Crested Butte, Co. @ 9 miles


  • No fee
  • No potable water
  • No trash
  • Only small non motorized boats allowed on the lake no boat ramp
  • Vault toilets in the Lake Irwin Campground and a porta-potty by the lake

Note:The link above is for the paid campsite, but there are a lot of free dispersed camping sites along FSR-826.D1

Date of Report:


Road Conditions:

Very good

The road up Kebler pass is paved most of the way and the rest of the road is a well taken care of dirt road. This site is easily accessible by passenger car up to the lake Irwin campground. Forest service road 826.1D is a little more rugged, but is still passable by passenger car providing you are going slow and paying attention to where you are driving on the road. Vehicles with higher clearance (Subaru) should have no issues getting to all of the sites in this area.

General Site Information:

There is a pay campsite along with ample dispersed camping on FSR 826.1D. This is a very popular area due to its extreme beauty and if you are coming up on a weekend or over a holiday there is a strong chance that all of the sites here may be taken. If that is the case I would suggest you check the MVUM for the area as there is a huge amount of dispersed camping around Crested Butte. The views from the free sites along the forest service road are some of the finest in the rocky mountains. The best time to visit the area is late June and July when the wild flowers take over every nook and cranny of the forest floor beneath the towering trees. Everywhere you turn in this area there is a breathtaking site to be seen.

Lake Irwin

As a result of being at an elevation of over 10,500 feet you should never expect air temperatures to go much over 80 degrees. Lake Irwin is quite large so combined with its size and elevation it is cold even in the grips of summer. None the less sup boarding and canoeing are very popular on the lake as well as fishing which I hear is good if you are after trout. A wonderful trail circumnavigates the lake and takes hikers to a picturesque waterfall that feeds the lake.

At the end of your stay here I would highly recommend you plan your route home or to your next location with a stop at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison

The area is a bit remote and extremely beautiful.  There are many excellent places to stop off on 92 to take a picture of some truly spectacular scenery. As you follow the canyon north I would urge you to take the 11 mile trek to the north rim of the park and explore this remote location  in closer detail. The admission to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park  is well worth it for the incredible views of sheer canyon  walls raising thousands of feet from the raging Gunnison river below.

Nearby Activities or Attractions:

  • Crested Butte
  • Hand launch craft on Lake Irwin
  • Ample hiking near and in the close vicinity of the area.
  • Must hike trails:
  • Trail around Lake Irwin
  • Beaver Ponds Trail #516
  • Judd Falls Trail

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Blue Mesa Reservoir in Curecanti National Recreation area. – This location also has several free Boat-in campsites.

View of Lake Irwin near on of the best free Colorado camping locations.
Picture of Lake Irwin near free camping featured in Colorado Free Camping

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