Yampa River State Park consists of one large developed campground, plus several small primitive campgrounds, day-use areas, and put-ins located along a 134-mile stretch of the beautiful and wild Yampa River. The park's unique setup is designed with paddlers and rafters in mind.
The Yampa's headwaters are located in the rugged and remote Flat Top Range in northwestern Colorado. From there, the river meanders its way down through montane valleys, eventually reaching Steamboat Springs before cutting sharply westward. Making its way towards its confluence with the Green River, near the Utah border, the Yampa flows through spectacular canyons and across stark but beautiful high desert terrain. Apart from traversing some of the most gorgeous country in Colorado, the Yampa also stands as one of its least altered rivers.
For all these reasons, and more, the Yampa River is a premier destination for paddlers and rafters, many of whom take multi-day to multi-week treks down the river. But you need not hop in a boat to appreciate this mighty waterway. Yampa River State Park features a lovely nature trail and day-use area. Here, and along several other stretches of the river, fishing, birdwatching, and photography opportunities abound. The park's central location (just a few miles west of Hayden) makes it a great home base from which to explore all that northwestern Colorado has to offer, from stunning canyonlands to high mountain peaks.
If you're traveling with an RV or camper, you'll find a scenic 34-site campground waiting for you at Yampa River State Park. If you're planning on making a paddling trip down the river, there are several primitive campsites you can stop at along your journey.
Yampa River's headquarters and main campground are located right off of US-40, a major road that cuts east-west across northern Colorado. Though the park sits along a relatively flat stretch of the route, travelers who are coming from the east, past Steamboat Springs, will have to contend with some steep and winding stretches as they come over Rabbit Ears Pass.
Sitting over 6,000 feet in altitude, this stretch of US-40 can also experience winter weather any time from October through May. Visitors should check the local forecast before heading out.
Access to the park's additional riverside campgrounds and day-use areas can range from easy to challenging. Some are just a short distance from US-40, while others require many miles of driving down narrow, rural roads. RV and trailer traffic may not be recommended on some of these.
Though the Headquarters Campground features mostly back-in sites, parking shouldn't pose much of a problem to those who are under their site's length limits. Campsites are well spaced from one and other.
Once you are parked, you'll be within easy walking distance of the riverside day-use area, the nature walk trailhead, the picnic area, and the campground's restrooms and laundry station.
The Headquarters Campground is, appropriately, located right near Yampa State Park's headquarters building. It's the only non-primitive campground within the park's multi-campground system, and it's also the farthest upriver (being located just a few miles west of the town of Hayden).
A few small trees offer partial shade, but the campground is, for the most part, open and grassy. Camping here, you'll have great views of the high-desert hills and mountains that line either side of the Yampa, and you'll be within a stone's throw of the river itself.
In total, this modest campground boasts 49 sites, 35 of which are suitable for RVs with 50-amp electric hookups. No water or sewer hookups are available, but the park does have freshwater spigots, and there is a dump station near the entrance. In addition to the RV sites, there are 12 primitive tent camping sites. Each requires a short walk-in.
All sites, regardless of their type, sport picnic tables and fire rings. The campground also has modern restrooms with showers, plus a laundry station. You can stop in at the nearby park office to learn about current river conditions, or get suggestions on what else there is to explore in the area.
The Headquarters Campground is reservation only. Reservations can be made up to six months in advance, and same-day reservations are permitted.
Camping at primitive riverside sites is first-come, first-served. Camping at the Headquarters Campground requires a reservation, though same-day reservations are allowed.
One of Yampa River State Park's unique features is its collection of far-flung campgrounds. In addition to the main campground, the park manages several primitive campgrounds along the river, some of them over 50 miles downriver of headquarters. These are meant to accommodate those taking multi-day raft or paddling trips along the Yampa.
Each of the park's primitive campgrounds sports just five to ten sites, all of which are tent-camping only. Most offer modern restroom access, day-use areas, and boat launches, and all have picnic tables and fire rings.
What Yampa's primitive sites lack in amenities they more than make up for in beauty and solitude. Set well off US-40, you'll be able to take in the dramatic scenery offered by the Yampa and its surroundings while staying clear of any large crowds.
In order of ascending distance downriver from headquarters, Yampa's primitive campgrounds are located at Duffy Mountain, Juniper Canyon, Maybell Bridge, and East Cross Mountain. There are several other primitive sites managed by other parks and agencies along the Yampa, too.
For a unique overnight experience, you can stay in one of Yampa State Parks' two tipis. Made in the traditional style of a Ute tipi, the sizable tent-like lodgings can sleep up to three. There's no furniture or hookups, so you'll want to bring all the gear you'd normally bring camping (save for the tent). The park's tipis are located in the primitive tent camping section of the Headquarters Campground, and those who stay here will have access to all the campgrounds amenities (restrooms, showers, laundry, etc.).
Rafting and paddling are, undoubtedly, the Yampa River's greatest draws. For well over 200 miles, the Yampa's wild waters carve their way through some of the most spectacular landscapes the West has to offer. Imposing canyons, colorful cliffs, peaceful cottonwood groves, and seemingly endless stretches of harshly beautiful high desert await those adventurous enough to take on Colorado's most untamed waters.
Paddling trips here can last anywhere from a few hours to multiple weeks. Put-ins and beaching areas are scattered across the river, and many of them have small campgrounds and day-use areas.
The Yampa and its tributaries boast world-class fly fishing, while nearby forests and mountains are home to well-stocked lakes and rivers of their own.
There are several great shore fishing spots right near the Headquarters Campground, but those who venture farther afield will be rewarded with solitude and even better catches. Trout, small-mouth bass, pike, chub, and more can be caught in the area. Wherever you decide to cast, you'll be guaranteed an amazing view. Make sure you have a valid Colorado fishing license before heading out!
Though Yampa State Park doesn't have many hiking trails of its own, hiking opportunities in the area are plentiful. Yampa's one designated trail is an easygoing, mile-long nature walk, located near park headquarters. This trail is a great way to introduce yourself to the fascinating flora and fauna that thrives in the narrow green band along the river.
The state park's primitive camping areas along the river are surrounded, for the most part, by BLM land, which itself offers dozens of miles of rugged trails. Very arid and supremely rugged, the high deserts and canyonlands of northwest Colorado are a beautiful, if not inhospitable, place to explore.
Several other very different, but equally stunning, wildernesses lie within easy driving distance of Yampa State Park's main headquarters. The Flat Tops Wilderness, in White River National Forest to the south, and the Mount Zirkel Wilderness, in Routt National Forest to the north, both offer exceptional hiking. Dense coniferous forests, alpine lakes, and craggy peaks await adventurous trekkers in these high-altitude preserves.
Whether you're paddling down the Yampa, trekking across the high desert that surrounds it, or looking down towards its waters from high up in the Flat Tops, you will find unmatched photographic opportunities in and around Yampa State Park. The diversity of landscapes that can be found within a couple of hours' drive of the park's headquarters is phenomenal, and each of those landscapes takes on a unique character depending on the season. Wildlife photographers, too, will find plenty to keep themselves occupied, as several dozen bird species can be found along the river, while lots of big game species roam the foothills and mountains nearby.
The Yampa's waters are in many spots like an oasis in the desert. They support a rich abundance of greenery, if only within a few hundred yards of their banks. Dozens of bird species can be found along the Yampa, either as year-round residents or as seasonal visitors. Those camping or paddling along the river will want to bring their binoculars along! Fox sparrows, brown-capped rosy finches, Wilson's phalaropes, Virginia warblers, black-chinned hummingbirds, and American white pelicans are just a few of the species that birders may see here.
Though hunting isn't permitted on the (very small) tracts of land under the purview of Yampa State Park, the park is located within a couple of hours of some of the best hunting grounds in the Rockies.
The BLM and Forest Service lands that surround the Yampa are home to a diverse array of large and small game species. Pronghorn, elk, bighorn sheep, moose, mountain lion, turkey, ptarmigan, grouse, and quail are just some of the animals pursued in the area. Information on hunting regulations and tags is available through Colorado's Parks and Wildlife Division.