Beginner’s Campground Guide: Guanella Pass near Georgetown, CO

view of rocky mountains from guanella pass campground road beginners guide

Guanella Pass is just over one hour from Denver. At 10,000 feet of elevation, it’s a much-needed escape from the city heat during the summer. Despite being that high up, it’s still easy to get to and not *that* far from civilization. The campground provides a great jumping off point for lots of hiking (also at high elevation) plus you can easily get to the mountain town of Georgetown from the campground.

Directions

Guanella Pass (the geographic location and the campsite) is just south of the town of Georgetown. Most of your drive is on I-70.

You’ll drive through downtown Georgetown (with very small streets!) before going up, up, up on the Guanella Pass Scenic Byway. The byway is initially quite steep, but is really well maintained and paved the entire way. Keep an eye out for bighorn sheep! Give them lots of space if you see them and appreciate them from the safety of your car.

The campground is on both sides of the highway. The campground host and sites 1-6 are on the right (west) side and sites 8-18 are on the left (east) side. The road through both campgrounds is well-maintained gravel that you don’t need an SUV or four-wheel drive for.

Campsites

The campground is fairly small and doesn’t have electric hook-ups so I saw way fewer RVs than I have elsewhere. The scenic byway is so steep and curvy that it’s not really recommended for anyone towing something large, but the campground accepts trailers up to 40 feet long. We were in a 22-foot camper van conversion and had no problems navigating the campground or the scenic byway.

Choosing a Campsite

There are two loops on each side of the road. The east side of the campground definitely felt more secluded, but privacy varied a lot on both sides.

We felt pretty exposed in campsite 7 on the west side of the road. (Probably why it was the only one left!) In 2022, it’s also not listed as an available campsite, so maybe they’ve permanently closed it?

Our first choices of sites would’ve been:

  • 16 (close to the road but private)
  • 18 (both far from the road and private)
  • 5 (required a bit of a walk, maybe 15 yards, to the tent pad)

Campsites 9, 10, and 12 are tucked back a little bit near a creek, which looked really lovely. They are pretty close to each other, so if you’re camping with a big group and would take up both, they could be a good fit. If you’re in 10 and 12, you have to walk by 9 to leave the campsite or get to your car. And, if you’re in 9, you have folks walking by your campsite that you may not know. But you’d be overall tucked away from the rest of the campground.

Campsites 13, 14, and 15 are right at the entrance to the west loop and felt very exposed and not private. BUT if those are your only choices, take them! The campground is such a great jumping off point for amazing hiking that it’s worth it to stay at a less ideal campsite.

All but one of the campsites are drive-in, meaning you park right where you put your tent and don’t have to walk anywhere except for campsite 5. Campsite 5 would require about 15 yards of walking to your tent site.

The campground is right on the road, so no matter where you are, you’ll likely hear cars. But, because the road is a curvy scenic byway, there are no semis, generally very few cars, and everyone drives pretty slowly.

Campsite Amenities

All the campsites looked like they’d recently been upgraded. The tent pads (not an actual pad, just a flat and level surface) looked practically brand new. They were huge and very flat (and as smooth as crushed gravel can be).

This specific campsite (#7) is not listed anymore online for some reason, but does give you an idea of how spacious and nice the campsites are!

Each campsite also has a fire ring (a metal container for campfires) but they don’t have a grate, so you don’t have anywhere to place a pot or pan unless you brought your own grate. You could easily cook things on a skewer, or use the large picnic table for a campstove.

The campgrounds don’t have bear lockers, so you need to keep all of your food and toiletries (really anything with a scent) are locked in your car overnight.

Campground Fees and Reservations

First-Come, First-Served Campsites

All of the campsites on the west side of the road (sites 1-6) are first-come, first-served. This means that they can’t be reserved in advance. You just show up and see if something’s available.

To snag a first-come, first-served site, leave as early as possible since there’s no guarantee one will be available when you arrive. We got there on a Monday afternoon and there was only one left! Don’t expect to show up Saturday and find anything for the weekend; you’ll definitely need to arrive Thursday or Friday morning to have a shot.

Quick etiquette note: Sometimes a campsite looks empty, but it’s not. There are little wood posts at the driveway for each campsite. If it’s reserved, there will be a piece of paper on the post that has a last name and dates of reservation on it.

If that paper says the campsite is reserved the dates you’re there, but the person hasn’t arrived yet, it is not cool to swoop in and poach their campsite.

Yes, it’s frustrating if everything is taken after you already drove ALL THE WAY HERE, but please be kind and respectful of others. Imagine how you’d feel if you’d drove ALL THE WAY HERE to your reserved campsite only to discover some a-hole has taken it. When in doubt, ask the campground host for advice!

Campsites You Can Reserve

Campsites 8-18 are on the east side of the highway and are available for reservations. Reservations can be made six months ahead and also go fast! As of January 6, 2022, all Friday and Saturday reservations are already booked in June.

Campground Fees

For the 2022 season, first-come, first-served campsites are $21 per night. Reserving a campsite is $29, which you can do online with a credit card. If you’re doing first-come, first-serve, you’ll need cash (exact change!) to pay if you find an available campsite when you arrive.

You don’t need to pay a fee to drive up Guanella Pass or access the area in general since it’s in a National Forest.

Toilet Situation

Extremely mediocre, unfortunately.

Vault toilets are non-flushing toilets basically positioned over a very deep hole. I know that sounds bleak, but there is a huge variability of quality depending on how new or well-maintained vault toilets are. Unfortunately, the ones at Guanella Pass are old, don’t have a light inside, and were full of bugs and quite smelly when I visited. Definitely a low-light!

It should go without saying that there isn’t running water or electricity, so pack your hand sanitizer (and headlamp, although that does attract the bugs at night).

Nearby Activities

Tons of hiking! It isn’t the most beginner-friendly since you’re quite high up (starting at nearly 11,000 feet). The Silver Dollar Lake trailhead is a mile from the campground, which was a gorgeous, if challenging, hike. Take lots of breaks, bring the essentials, and you’ll be okay!

purple wildflowers in the foreground of a view of a mountain range on a sunny day
Views from the Silver Dollar Lake trail near the Guanella Pass Campground

Mount Bierstadt is also a short drive away with lots of hiking opportunities that don’t all involve climbing to the top of a mountain.

If you’d rather explore Georgetown, there is a walking path around the lake, a scenic train ride, and wildlife overlook in addition to lots of shops and restaurants in the cute little downtown!

Other Intangibles

You can buy firewood from the campground host, and if you’ve forgotten anything, Georgetown is 20 minutes away. It has a grocery store and anything else you’d need (including cell service, which you won’t have at the campground).

Overall Impression

Guanella Pass is a gorgeous escape from the city (and its heat) without driving too far away. The campsites are really beautiful and well-designed, even if a few lack privacy. It’s a perfect starting point for beautiful hikes through the mountains with enough options for a multi-day stay.

Don’t forget your packing list! Purchase my clickable pdf below for just $5.

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