NFS Campground Review – Cayton, San Juan Forest, Rico, CO

View near camphost site at Cayton. "Shaggy" the marmot (on the rock) has been co-camp-host for many years here.

A wonderful forest service campground high in the SW Colorado mountains on Hwy 145 near Rico, CO.

Link to campground here: Cayton Campground, Rico, CO
Link to map location here: Cayton Campground, Rico,CO

  1. Site Quality = 4.5/5
    For forest service it rarely gets any better than this. The sites at Cayton were entirely renovated a few years back and it definitely shows. They are large, spacious, flat compacted dirt with good separation (bar a very few exceptions), nice selection of open or shaded and great sitting areas. Each site also has a picnic table, fire-pit and an area to pitch a tent. There are 2 loops
    -> A lower “big RV” loop (sites 2-20) all of which have 50 Amp hookups and several of which sit right next to the stream (particularly sites 10, 13-16), but do have the disadvantage of being right next to the road as well
    -> An upper “small RV” loop (sites 21-27) which is further up the hill (away from the road) and has just as big sites as the lower loop, but simply no hookups. Our 40-footer could fit into either loop without issue, frankly.
    We thought all the sites nice, but the most private were probably #10, #11 in the lower loop and #21, #22 in the upper. My only (veeery minor) ding is that the lower loop sites do get some noise from the Hwy which runs right next door. However the lovely river sound washes out most of it.
  2.  Facilities = 3.5/5
    Very decent facilities here. There are several new (modern) and spacious pit toilets and several on-site drinking water spigots. Also a dump station but this is *only* for black tank (you are legally allowed to dump gray at your site, believe it or not).
  3. Location = 5/5
    I really think this is a fabulous location. Set high in the CO mountains there are stunning views from several points in camp as well as jeeping (Bolam Pass goes right from the entrance) and direct access to the river from the campground entrance area (this is apparently a prime fly-fishing spot). There is a lovely “hidden” trail next to Site #21 and endless hiking at Lizard Head Wilderness only a few miles north on Hwy 145. Also you’re only ~6 miles from Rico (with restaurants, cafe) and ~15 miles from Telluride (shopping, restaurants etc.)
  4. Pet Friendliness = 5/5
    Fabulous spot for doggie. Lots of space to hang out in camp as well as access to romp and play in the river (from your site or just outside the main campground). On-site walking trail near site #21 as well as miles of hiking in nearby mountains.

Overall Rating = 4.5
 Camp next to river and mountains at 9,400 feet!

Summary: Well, we simply LOVED this campground and area. Set beautifully in the high Colorado mountains at 9,400 feet, this is the gateway to endless hiking in the stunning Lizard Head Wilderness and the cool towns of Rico & Telluride. The campground is set right next to a stream with spacious sites, good separation and great “sitting areas”. Selection of choices from river-side (#10-16), to upper loop, from electric (50Amp) to nonhookup and from more open to fully shaded. LOTS of outdoor activities here including hiking, fly-fishing, jeeping and sightseeing. Very decent access throughout (a few tightish turns in the back of the lower loop, but nothing that worried us).  The only minor ding I could give the place is that the lower loop is right below Hwy 145 and you can hear some of the traffic in camp (mind you this is true of almost all the campgrounds on this stretch of road), but from our site most of the noise was washed out by the running river. In summer this spot is perfectly cool and absolutely delightful. This was most definitely our kinda camp and we would certainly come back.

 Extra Info:  NO Verizon signal here (zippo, zip, nada) -> free WiFi at the Dew South Cafe in Rico ~6 miles south. Sites cost $20/night for electric (50Amp), $15/night for non-hookup. 27 sites on 2 loops, with 18 electric. 16 sites are reservable, with other half first-come, first-serve. On site dump station (for black tank only -> you are legally allowed to dump grey at the sites).

 Extra, Extra Info – BOONDOCKING: There are actually a slew of boondocking sites in the open forest service and BLM land alongside Hwy 145. Two particular areas near milemarker 43 and 44 looked easily accessible, open and firm enough to take big rigs. If you have a smaller/lighter rig there are some more private and simply stunning spots up at the top by Lizard Head Pass (take the dirt road to the right towards East Fork trailhead at the pass and you’ll see several previously used spots)

Typical pull-through site (#1 shown)
Typical back-in site (lower loop #12 shown)
Front view of our site (#15)
View of lovely "sitting area". This was our site (#15). The river runs right behind (Paul is standing there) and Hwy 145 up above to the left.
View down lower campground loop (site #6 on left, #5 behind in the back)
Another view down lower campground loop. Our site #15 on right, with #16 & 17 behind.
Another view into lower loop. Sites #20, 19, 18 shown left to right
View down upper loop. Sites #25, 26, 27 shown front to back.
View of facilities
Hanging out by the river near camp
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We LOooVE Comments, So Please Do

  1. Steve says

    Another great posting. How did the MH do at the nearly 10K ft level. I’ve been told they get a little sluggy at that level.

    Bet the night sky was just right for a telecope!

    How busy is the highway at night? Logging trucks with jake breaks or just cars?

    • libertatemamo says

      Our big ol diesel pusher did just fine. We got 400 hp so didn’t feel a thing up there. Oh and highway was really fine at night. Not alot of truckers on this route (at all). Honestly the only thing we could hear inside the MH was the stream (it was really flowing). Nina

    • libertatemamo says

      This is definitely a more windy road with some bigger passes and a couple of spots w/ a smaller sholder.
      We were fine w/ it, but depending on how chicken you are :) you might not like this one. The road before
      Cayton (coming from Dolores) is less windy than what comes after (the biggest curves are from Cayton to Telluride).
      So, coming from Dolores to the campground you might be OK.

  2. Deas says

    Beautiful spot. What size rig do you think would fit in the Boondocking site at the pass you mentioned? Also, you said you would be looking for a smaller rig when you trade. Curious what you would consider and would you be ok giving up the washer.dryer to do it? Would you stay diesel or accept a gasser?

    • libertatemamo says

      Hi Deas,
      Up at the pass the main issue the roads are quite rough and get muddy when wet. There are some firmer patches around, but the road/mud was the reason I suggested lighter rigs only. The wheel clearance on our MH would be too low plus we’re too heavy (worried about sinkage). We saw a truck and one smaller 5th wheel (maybe a 25-footer?) when we were there. So maybe around that size? It all depends on conditions of course.

      As for going smaller I think we’d like to get into the 30-foot range at some point. That would give us space (esp. w/ slides), but get us small enough to access more spots. And if we could we’d stay diesel. We LOVE the dp…such a great engine and it goes forever.


  3. Big Canoe says

    We test drove a diesel front engine from Monarch – Vesta 35. It was not as wide as your rig and seemed easy to handle. No jacks just airbags for level. Also, no option to purchased used. We need to drive a pusher to see how much quieter the rig is. It was a little loud on the accel.

    Ok, will you or won’t you pass on the washer and dryer? Its an ongoing discussion with my wife Jen. I really like the smaller rig, but I cannot find one that has room for the W/D.

    • Big Canoe says

      I think I am having some blog issue on my replies. Just for your info, Deas and Big Canoe are the same. I added my google address to Blog today. Maybe it will be consistent in the future. You guys enjoy it. Would like to know the temps you are getting on your high elevation locations. I am at 81 degrees at 3k elevation in GA. Not bad considering Atlanta is looking at 95.

      • libertatemamo says

        Gotcha! Temps up at elevation (8K or more) here in CO are sitting around 70-80 dropping to 40-50 overnight. Nice and dry too…practically no bugs. Below 8K it can warm up quick depending on where you are.

        Your 80 at 3K in GA is pretty darn good!


    • libertatemamo says

      The pushers are definitely quieter up front. I’ve driven behind “the beast” and can tell the difference.

      As for washer dryer that is a good question. We do use it when we have hookups, but obviously don’t when we’re dry camping. We’re going more dry camping these days so are using it less than we did last year. I have to admit I do really like having it (sure nice when you have hookups), but could probably go without if pressed. It’s a tough one!


      • says

        Hi Nina! I’m Deas/Big Canoe’s wife Jen. We’ve both been following your blog and getting some great information from it. We went to the RV show in Redmond OR and as Deas mentioned test drove the Vesta. Loved it! I was ready to purchase on the spot! But we’re still doing some research. One thing we’re debating about is whether to jump straight into full timing or doing a test run first. I want to just jump right in and hit the road full time, but Deas is worried we won’t like it so he wants to buy a used trailer and do a short month or two trip prior to us moving to a MH. I’d love to hear your opinion on this. Do you go straight to full timing or did you do shorter trips first?

        • libertatemamo says

          Hi there!
          I’m a kind of all or nothing gal so I was ready to jump right in and that’s exactly what we did. We bought the RV at the first ever RV show I’d ever been to and 6 months later we were living in it. I guess my view was always that if we didn’t like it we could always go back. But I fully appreciate that not everyone is like me :) If your hubby wants to try it first I’d probably recommend renting for a month or so. It’s an easy way to try the lifestyle without any commitment.

  4. says

    We really appreciate your campground reviews…. especially your extra notes on boondocking sites. Your blog and your generosity is invaluable!


  5. Sue Bank says

    We have a 38 ft. diesel pusher and we absolutely love it. We often look at larger rigs, but keep coming back to our “Beluga”. It has two slides and is perfect size for us and our three big dogs. Dave can put it anywhere and when we test drive the 40-42 ft. models, we always feel the jump to 40 ft. is just too much of everything. I think you’d be very happy in a little smaller MH and be surprised at how livable they really are. By the way, we have a washer/dryer and agree with your assessment of them.

  6. bob says

    Love your writeup and pictures. Is this a reserveable campground. If not, how tough was it to get a spot. Any overhanging tree issues at the camp sites.

    • libertatemamo says

      Yup, the campground is reservable (16 out of 28 sites are reservable). I would think that if you get there early in the week you’d be fine getting one of the non-reservations sites, but you can also book online. We found the trees to be well-kept at all the sites. They’ve really done a nice job with this campground.

      • bob says

        Thanks for the comments. I am new to RV’ing — just purchased a 32 foot MH a couple weeks ago and am tyring to plot out trips to the SW Colorado area for next spring/summer. Your reviews have been immensely helpful. James Robb SP, Ridgeway SP, and Cayton definitely on my radar now. Thanks

        • libertatemamo says

          So happy the reviews are helpful! And congrats on the new rig. Do let me know how you like the spots in CO next year. We may well cross paths (CO is just fabulous in summer!)

  7. bob says

    One final question on Cayton. We are in a motorhome with no toad thus we are limited to exploring only what is within walking/biking of the campground. Does Cayton have hiking trails or biking roads nearby that do not require a vehicle to get to. It appears Lizard Head wilderness (trails) is nearby — would we have to bike up 145 to get to it (not sure if this is even allowed being a highway). Thanks for the help.

    • libertatemamo says

      There is one “hidden” trail at the campground in the upper loop (next to site #21) which is a good length but no other developed trails at camp. You can certainly bicycle to the Lizard Head Wilderness (we saw many bikes on the road while we were there). It’s 3-5 miles to the first trail (Cross Mountain trail).

  8. Sylvia says

    Great review, couldn’t have said it better myself. I grew up near the area and now I meet up with my brothers and sisters every year to enjoy our childhood days in what we call “God’s Country”… This year we are staying closeby at another campground, but next year we are definitely booking a week at Cayton, we absolutely love this campground…especially all the humming birds.


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