guanella pass camping and hiking

Updated: Aug 28

Camping and hiking are woven so deeply into the fabric of Colorado that they are commonly referenced in the same sentence. Colorado is an ultimate playground for outdoor enthusiasts. Whether you're a beginner or an avid adventurer, Colorado welcomes you. Guanella Pass is one of our favorite areas to go camping for two main reasons. There is truly something for every level of outdoor enthusiast. And, it's actually one of the closest areas to hike and camp near Denver, Colorado. We, of course, love Guanella Pass for numerous other reasons like the wildflowers and wildlife, campground choices, endless hike options, and a truly gorgeous scenic byway drive.

Guanella Pass is a scenic and historic byway that runs north to south, connecting the historic mining town of Georgetown to another small mining town called Grant. That road was created in the 1860s as a way for old wagons to pass from town to town. Today, the road is well paved and climbs to an elevation of 11,000ft+ where you will be welcomed with stunning views of several mountain peaks and crisp mountain air. The most famous site is Mt. Bierstadt, one of the best 14ers (a locals term used endearingly for a peak that is over 14,000ft in elevation) to climb in the state of Colorado. On the south side of the pass on the scenic byway, there are beautiful sprawling meadows, jutting mountain peaks, and a beautiful tree-lined creek bed called Clear Creek.


Here along the Guanella Pass county road, there are several organized campgrounds, three to five dispersed camping areas with multiple spots, and dozens of hike options for all skill levels and types of adventures. If you find yourself adventuring in Colorado in the summer, look no further than Guanella Pass! Below is our full guide on where to camp both on the North and South side of the pass, where to hike, and what to do while you're exploring this part of Colorful Colorado.


South Side of Guanella Pass Campground Options


Burning Bear Campground

Cost: $22 per night

Size, Type, & Availability: 13 campsites that can accommodate RV's and tents. It is open from June to September for partial reservable sites and partial first-come-first-serve campsite options. From September to January, all sites are first-come-first-serve.


Amenities: A well-maintained restroom, picnic tables at each site, fire pits with grates, and a pump for non-drinking water. Keep in mind there are no trash receptacles, so pack all of your waste out.


We have used this organized campsite several times for a few reasons. It's within walking distance to multiple hiking trails, it offers beautiful mountain views, and the campground isn't too big - and generally pretty quiet. The spots are nicely sized with lots of space to spread out. The sites vary from having some shade coverage to no tree covering. In the middle of the summer, you'll definitely want some shade! There is a small trail leading through a meadow that will lead you to the parking lot for the Abyss Trailhead and the Burning Bear Trailhead. It's a win-win for us when we can walk directly from our campsite to a hiking trail and not have to hop in the car. Since there are only 13 campsite spots, we recommend either booking a spot in advance or showing up before noon to grab a first-come-first-serve campsite.


Geneva Park Campground

Cost: $22 per night

Size, Type, & Availability: 26 campsites that can accommodate RV's and tents. It is open from June to September for reservable sites and first-come-first-serve campsite options.


Amenities: they have a well-maintained restroom, picnic tables at each site, and fire pits with grates. Keep in mind there are no trash receptacles, so plan on packing your waste out.


If you are looking for some shade for those mid-day hot temperatures and a more private campsite option, then this is your ideal campground. Pretty much every spot in the campground offers plentiful shade and you will find yourself fairly distant from the next campsite over. If you're looking for a good trail nearby, there is one hike within walking distance from the campsite called the Geneva Creek Trail. Plus, it's just a couple minutes to drive to the Abyss and Burning Bear Trailheads.


Dispersed Camping

There are several dispersed camping sites along the road that leads to the Geneva Park Campground. If you go past the Geneva Park Campground, you will find yourself on a rugged road. We recommend a high-clearance or 4x4 vehicle to access these sites. We are certainly not experts on dispersed camping, so we recommend checking out this guide before heading out to ensure that you are fully equipped with what you will need. Protecting the land is vital, so please do your research.

North Side of Guanella Pass Campground Options


Guanella Pass Campground

Cost: $21 per night

Size, Type, & Availability: 18 campsites, 11 for RVs and 7 for tents. It is open from July to September for reservable sites and first-come-first-serve campsite options.


Amenities: they have a well-maintained restroom, picnic tables at each site, and fire pits with grates. A dumpster is located on-site for waste disposal.


This campground has a good variety of sites with some shade and sun.


Clear Lake Campground

Cost: $19 per night

Size, Type, & Availability: This is an 8 spot campground that accommodates tents and small campers. All sites are first-come-first-serve and the campsite is open from late June to mid September.


Amenities: All sites include a fire pit and grate, picnic table, shared restrooms, and non-drinkable water.


This campsite is the closest to Georgetown (4 miles), so if you're looking to explore all that this little mountain town has to offer while still spending your nights in nature, then this is your best bet. There is also a lake right near the campground that could easily be used for paddle boarding or kayaking. To avoid the heat and a potential sunburn, plan on a morning or evening lake adventure. Lastly, as always, camping in Colorado is always busy so make sure to show up early in the day to find your spot for that night.


Dispersed Camping

As a warning, we've personally never seen the dispersed camping sites on this side of the pass and don't have a lot of solid information about them. What we have heard is there is a handful of dispersed camping sites near Silver Dollar Lake and Naylor Road. If you can spot these campsites, then you'd be well-positioned to do some of the best hikes on Guanella pass like Mt. Bierstadt and Square Top Mountain. Once again, we are certainly not experts on dispersed camping, so we recommend checking out this guide before heading out.

Guanella Pass Hiking


South Side of Guanella Pass


Abyss Trailhead to Helms Lake


Distance: 11.7 miles out and back (19 kilometers)

Elevation Gain: About 2,400 feet (731 meters)

Peak Elevation: 12,200 feet (3,718 meters)

Cost: Free

Dogs: Allowed on a leash


This trail is considered moderate to difficult depending on your comfort level with hiking at altitude. The trail is mostly a gradual incline with a few spots of steep incline and rocky terrain. When you're headed up, don't forget to look back at the incredible views throughout the journey. Once you're at the top, you will find a beautiful breezy alpine lake with views of jutting peaks all around. We weren't sure if it was the breeze coming off the lake or the sweat, but we got a little chilly at the top on a mid-summer day. From Helms Lake, you can choose to head on to Abyss Lake (another 3 miles) or call it a day and head on down.


Abyss Trailhead to Abyss Lake


Distance: 17 miles out and back (27.3 kilometers)

Elevation Gain: About 3,333 feet (1,015 meters)

Peak Elevation: 3,133 feet (4,000 meters)

Cost: Free

Dogs: Allowed on a leash


If you find yourself at Helms Lake with a little more gas to burn, then we say go for the gusto and make your way all the way to the top. We'd love to tell you all about Abyss Lake, how beautiful it is, and how it is so worth the extra climb -- but we never made it up to Abyss Lake. We can't exactly remember... but we think our decision to turn back had something to do with getting back to camp to crack open a craft beer and cook up something delicious over the campfire!


Burning Bear Trailhead


Distance: 7.5 miles out and back (12 kilometers)

Elevation Gain: About 1,253 feet (318 meters)

Peak Elevation: 11,153 feet (3,368 meters)

Cost: Free

Dogs: Allowed on a leash


Unless you are looking to go on an extremely rigorous adventure, we can not recommend this hike enough for all it has to offer. The calming sound of the creek running right by the trail, then on to the epic views of the open meadow and the area peaks, and several meadows of wildflowers, it will not disappoint! To get to the trailhead from the Abyss Trailhead parking lot, follow the west side of the Guanella Pass road to the south, and eventually, you will see a trailhead with a small gate off to the right of the road.


Geneva Creek Trailhead


Distance: 14 miles out and back (22 kilometers)

Elevation Gain: About 2,171 feet (661 meters)

Peak Elevation: 12,000 feet (3,657 meters)

Cost: Free

Dogs: Allowed on a leash


We have never hiked this trailhead, but it is highly rated and is considered a moderate trek.

North Side of Guanella Pass


Mt. Bierstadt (A 14er!)


Distance: 7.5 miles out and back (12 kilometers)

Elevation Gain: About 2,782 feet (847 meters)

Peak Elevation: 14,000 feet (4,267 meters)

Cost: Free

Dogs: Allowed on a leash


This is certainly one of Colorado's most famous 14ers, so be prepared to see quite a few people along the way. Our two tips for climbing 14ers are: know the best practices for altitude sickness and start this hike very early in the morning due to dramatic weather changes. Most days, the weather can start to shift for the worst around 10 AM each day. Trust us, you do not want to feel like you are at the mercy of Mother Nature on top of a giant mountain peak. Most people start the hike at 4:30 or 5 AM. Due to the early start time, be sure to pack a headlamp or flashlight as you will be hiking in the dark in the beginning.


Squaretop Mountain


Distance: 7.2 miles out and back (11.58 kilometers)

Elevation Gain: 2,447 feet (746 meters)

Peak Elevation: 13,794 feet (4,204 meters)

Cost: Free

Dogs: Allowed on a leash


Squaretop Mountain, annoyingly shy of a 14er, is less crowded than its neighbor, Mt. Bierstadt. Don't be fooled by the line of cars along the side of the street, because the majority of those cars belong to people who are hiking Bierstadt. The trail begins gradually, with slights ups and downs before coming upon an Alpine Lake. From the lake, the trail juts straight up the mountain to the top. Our legs were on fire during this hike and we had to stop every 20ish steps towards the top! As mentioned before, start this hike very early. We mistakingly began around 9 AM on the Fourth of July and ended up running down the mountain in the middle of a hail/lightning storm. Don't be like us.


There are endless other hikes on Guanella Pass like Alpine Lake Hike, Shelf Lake, and Silver Dollar Lake.

Other Activities


Guanella Pass Brewery

If (or rather when) you're exhausted from all of those mountain hikes, stop on by this brewery in Georgetown. They have a variety of beers with historic ski poster branding. Their brewery is dog-friendly and the beer is available for take-out as well.


Georgetown Loop Railroad

Travel back in time with a train ride through the rugged Rocky Mountains. This four-mile loop takes its visitors back to what it was mining in Colorado was like in the 1800's. A variety of cars are offered like Coach (open air), Parlor (closed with food and drinks), and President (VIP). Other activities are available like gold panning and mining tours. We've never taken this tour, but it's definitely on our bucket list!


Mad Jacks Mountain Brewery

This brewery in located in Bailey, Colorado just down the road from Guanella Pass. The owners lived in Germany for a few years, tasted too many beers to count, and were inspired to open up their own brewery in Colorado. The food, beer, and outdoor seating make for a great time!


One last tip: if you're returning to Denver via I-70, stop in Idaho Springs at Beau Jo's for some famous Rocky Mountain pizza pie. Don't skip out on adding hatch green chile to your pizza! *drooling now*


For the love and adventure,

Daniel

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