It’s camping season: the best NoCo campsites


Stock up on marshmallows and graham crackers, air out that sleeping bag, and find your hammock because camping season has arrived.

There is nothing better than a weekend in the mountains, sleeping on the ground (with ample padding) and waking up to the gentle sound of the Powder River.

We are fortunate to have such good access to so many campgrounds near Fort Collins. With Horsetooth Reservoir, Poudre Canyon, Rocky Mountain National Park, and Red Feather Lakes, you have plenty of options.

Despite all the camping options, it is best to book now as there are also a lot of people who love to camp. To access the Upper Poudre Canyon, you’ll need to wait until at least Memorial Day weekend or until mid-June for some campgrounds to open.

Here’s a guide to planning a great camping trip this summer, with some of Xplore’s favorite picks.

Ideal for families

Mountain park

Why go: You have electric pitches, toilets, water, a playground and even a coin-operated shower. Children will be comfortable and entertained.

Or: 23 miles to Poudre Canyon on Colorado 14 from US 287.

Sites: 55

Elevation: 6,500 feet

Approvals: Vaulted toilets, fire grids, picnic tables, coin-operated shower cubicle, drinking water, playground, horseshoe pits, basketball hoop

Costs: $ 20 per night non-electric single site; $ 25 per night single electrical site; $ 40 non-electric double site; $ 50 double electric site. (Individual sites can accommodate up to eight people.) Plus booking fees.

Reservations: Call 877-444-6777 or visit www.recreation.gov.

Information: 970-295-6700 or visit www.fs.fed.us/r2/arnf

YOUR GUIDE: To Rocky Mountain National Park

Beaver meadows

Why go: The scenery is amazing, with stunning views of Longs Peak and easy access to the elk meadows. In summer, the campsite turns into a village, with motorhomes and tents from all over the country. Loop D is largely tented campers.

Or: Rocky Mountain National Park, via the entrance to Beaver Meadows. Turn left on Bear Lake Road then travel 1.2 km, turn right at the camping sign.

Sites: 244

Elevation: 8,160 feet

Approvals: Toilets (flush and vault), picnic tables, fire ring, generators, food storage lockers

Costs: $ 26 when the water is on; $ 18 when the water is off, plus the reservation fee.

Reservations: Highly recommended in summer. Can be prepared up to six months in advance at www.recreation.gov, www.reserveamerica.com or by calling 877-444-6777.

Information: www.nps.gov/romo

Ideal for hiking

Colorado State Forest State Park

Why go: Most sites won’t open until at least mid-June, but if you’re looking for less popular campgrounds than Poudre Canyon, this is your ticket. Your playground is the 71,000 acres of forest and North Park, the vast expanse of sagebrush in Jackson County. Nearby, Walden is the moose capital of Colorado. The Crags campsite area is of choice, with close access to Lake Agnès. The North Michigan Reservoir is your place for fishing. You can also take the cabin route or explore the Never Summer Nordic yurts.

Or: 66 miles to Poudre Canyon on Colorado 14 from US 287 to Moose Visitor Center.

Sites: Ranger Lakes has 32 electrical sites. Northern Michigan has 48 non-electric pitches (some are just tents) and six cabins. Bockman has 52 non-electric sites. The Crags have 26 non-electric pitches (access to the Crags is steep, narrow and winding. Not recommended for trailers or motorhomes). Seven yurts and two cabins available through Never Summer Nordic. Backcountry camping is permitted at various locations within the park, including Ruby Jewel, Kelly, Clear, and American Lakes.

Elevation: 7,990 to 10,200

Approvals: Dump station at Ranger Lakes, pit toilets at all campgrounds. Water is available at the maintenance station near the northern Michigan entrance.

Costs: $ 10 to $ 20 per night; $ 70 for small cabins; $ 100 for large cabins; plus a $ 7 daily pass. Nordic Yurts Never Summer: $ 60 to $ 110 per night. Colorado State Parks Annual Pass available for $ 70.

Reservations: Yes, www.coloradostateparks.reserveamerica.com and www.neversummernordic.com.

Information: 970-723-8366 or cpw.state.co.us/placestogo/parks/StateForest

MORE HIKING: Top 5 of the fourteen beginners

Browns Park

Why go: In the Laramie River Valley, adjacent to Rawah Wilderness, Browns Park is a hiker’s paradise, with access to the McIntyre and Link trails nearby. Both of these trails go up to the Medicine Bow Trail on the ridge of the Medicine Bow Mountains. Up there you’ll beat most of the people in Poudre Canyon.

Or: 52 miles to Poudre Canyon on Colorado 14 from US 287. Turn right on County Road 103 / Laramie River Road and head north 16 miles. Turn left on County Road 190. Campground is on the left in 2.5 miles.

Sites: 28

Elevation: 8,432 feet

Approvals: Vaulted toilets, tent mat (no water)

Costs: $ 14 per night;

Reservations: No; all sites, first come, first served

Information: 970-295-6700 or www.fs.usda.gov/arp

Ideal for having fun in the water

Dowdy Lake

Why go: This is a beautiful and popular campground with many sites offering scenic lake views. Bring the kayak or canoe. Try the trail that connects to the popular Mount Margaret Trail where you can hike and mountain bike. The nearby West Lake Campground is also a solid destination.

Or: Travel 21 miles north on US Highway 287 to Red Feather Lakes Road (Larimer County Road 74E). Take this road west for 22 miles. Turn right and the entrance to the campsite is a kilometer and a half from the road.

Sites: 62, including 10 pitches for tents only

Elevation: 8,100 feet

Approvals: Vaulted toilets, fire grills, picnic tables and drinking water

Costs: $ 20 per night for non-electric sites and $ 25 for electric sites, plus reservation fee

Reservations: Yes, call 877-444-6777 or visit www.recreation.gov.

Information: 970-295-6700 or www.fs.usda.gov/arp

Horse Tooth Tank

Why go: You can rent kayaks, canoes, paddleboards, jet skis, and party boats at Inlet Bay Marina. Highly Recommended: If you have a kayak or canoe, take advantage of the pristine, but private, boat-only sites along protected coves and the peaceful west shore. For more luxury, book a night in the 2009 Airstream model motorhome available for rent. The old school style motorhome is equipped with new school technology such as a flat screen TV.

Or: West side of Horsetooth Reservoir and north of Inlet Bay to Dixon, Quarry, Orchard, South and North Eltuck and Soldier coves, as well as along the west side of the reservoir between Quarry and Orchard coves.
Sites: 155 in total, 124 standard tent / motorhome pitches, 15 boat pitches, seven cabins, four lodges, four walk-in, one Airstream

Things to do: Boating, fishing, swimming, hiking, wildlife viewing.

Elevation: 5,200 feet

Approvals: The nearest fire rings, picnic tables, water, electricity, restrooms are at Dixon and Orchard coves.

Costs: $ 20 per night for non-electric; $ 25 per night for electricity; $ 20 for the boat; $ 60 for cabins; $ 99 for the Airstream trailer; plus booking fees.

Reservations: Highly recommended. Call 800-397-7795 or visit www.larimercamping.com. Reservations can be made up to 180 days in advance.

Information: 970-679-4570 or visit www.larimer.org/ressourcesnaturelles

HORSE TEETH TANK: Off the coast, another world

The best of Canyon Poudre

Jacks Gulch

Why go: About 6 miles from the canyon and the Powder River, Jacks Gulch allows you to leave the canyon crowds behind, but you’re still close enough to river recreation. It is quiet and has many trails starting directly from the campsite that will take you along streams and through meadows with the colors of wild flowers. You also have access to Beaver Park, taking you into the Comanche Peaks Desert. If you have a horse, there is no better campsite in the area as the campsite has corrals and horse campsites.

OrTravel: 26 miles to Poudre Canyon on Colorado 14, turn left on Pingree Park Road (Larimer County Road 63E). Go south a little over 6 miles to the campsite on your right.

Sites: 69, including 56 pitches for RVs up to 50ft, eight tent-only pitches and five horse campsites in a loop with small corrals

Elevation: 8,100 feet

Approvals: Vaulted toilets, fire grills, picnic tables and drinking water.

Costs: $ 20 per night for non-electric sites; $ 25 for electrical sites.

Reservations: No

Information: 970-295-6700 or www.fs.usda.gov/arp

Lower narrows

Why go: This tent-only campsite is paradise along the Poudre River. Several sites (Nos 11-14) give you direct access to the edge of the river. Close access to kayaking and fly fishing.

Or: 20 miles to Poudre Canyon on Colorado 14 from US 287.

Sites: 8, all for tent only

Elevation: 6,400 feet

Approvals: Vaulted toilets, fire grills, covered picnic tables and drinking water.

Costs: $ 19 per night, plus reservation fee.

Reservations: Yes, call 877-444-6777 or visit www.recreation.gov.

Information: 970-295-6700 or www.fs.usda.gov/arp

Edward Novy and Carmen Behr spend time at their campsite along the Poudre River in Ansel Watrous on Wednesday August 20, 2014.


Sally J. Minick