The smell of a good campfire, the rustle of a grove of aspens, the taste of a meal cooked outside. These are the joys of camping and the Rocky Mountains offers more than its share of wonderful places to enjoy this simple recreational art.
While not comprehensive, the following list is a few of the favorite places of Collegian workers. There are many sites in the area for those folks who prefer recreational vehicle villages (some with laundry rooms and swimming pools), but this compilation only covers a handful of established, fee-required campgrounds and those areas where folks can dispersed camp for free.
Only 46 miles northwest of Fort Collins is the pristine Roosevelt National Forest area of Red Feather Lakes. To reach the area, drive north on the Highway 287 for 17 miles and then head west on Red Feather Lakes Road (County Road 74 E) for 24 miles. Some of the campgrounds are:
Bellaire Lake: To reach Bellaire Lake, take County Road 74 E to County Road 162 (this is a left turn at the Pot Belly Restaurant and Bar). Go south on County Road 162 for about two miles and look for the campground sign on the west side of the road.
At 8,600 feet, Lodgepole pines hug Bellaire Lake and its two loops and more than two dozen campsites. There are hookups and water available and the lake is a fun spot to fish. Just as one will for most other established campgrounds, access www.recreation.gov for more details. The cost of a campsite starts at about $17 a day and goes up if electrical hookups are needed.
On the same road as Bellaire Lake, the forest also contains several dispersed campsites on both sides of the road. Look for small signs indicating certain sites, such as 1-5 (one great area on the west side of the road is Swamp Lady-look for the sign). These sites are free and first-come, first served. Make sure to bring your own water because most of these areas do not sit on lakes or streams. The campsites are huge and afford great privacy and some amazing views.
At 8,100 feet, Dowdy Lake can be reached by taking 74 E to Dowdy Lake Road. Head north on Dowdy Lake Road for about a mile to reach the campground. There are more than 50 campsites at Dowdy and hookups are available. Costs and reservations mimic those of Bellaire.
Just southwest of Dowdy is West Lake at 8,200 feet. Of the three campgrounds in this area, Dowdyâ€™s 30 sites afford the most privacy. There are spruce and Ponderosa pine trees. Hookups are available and costs and reservations are the same at Dowdy and Bellaire. Fishing is abundant at West and Dowdy lakes.
About 25 miles north of Fort Collins (take the 287 north for about six miles and then head west for about 15 miles on Colorado 14) is the magical Poudre Canyon. While there are dozens of established and dispersed camping areas, one of the closest is Ansel Watrous (also, itâ€™s a short walk to the Mishawaka Inn if you donâ€™t feel like cooking over the open fire). At 5,800, thereâ€™s a bit more air here than in Red Feather Lakes, and the 19 sites line the Cache la Poudre River, which is a wonderful sound to fall asleep to (and catch trout in). Reservations and costs are available at www.recreation.gov.
About 30 miles southwest of Fort Collins on State Highway 34 (going toward Estes Park) is the heart of the Big Thompson Canyon and its river, the Big Tommy. Camping is available on SH34. There are three campgrounds just below the take-out area on the river near Road 29 (closer to Loveland) and there are quaint fee areas in Drake at the River Forks Inn and in a small area next door.
Last but certainly not least, for those looking for the ultimate in privacy and elevation, consider Wyomingâ€™s Snowy Range. Take the 287 North for about 60 miles and then head west out of Laramie on the 130 for about 30 miles, where one lands in the cool town of Centennial. Less than a couple of miles west of Centennial, campgrounds start cropping up. There are dozens of fee and dispersed areas to choose from but a particular favorite is Brooklyn Lake, eight miles west of the town and located at a whopping 10,500 feet. For $10 a night, campers can not only take in the site of the beautiful lake but also the every-present glacier. See recreation.gov for more details.