There are a lot of options for camping within two hours of Denver. Red Feather Lakes dispersed camping is one that should be on your list. Numerous lakes, vast forests, stunning blue skies, and plenty of camping options turn this sleepy little area into a recreational gem.
Lakes and Scenery
Red Feather Lakes is not a misnomer. The entire area is about 37 square miles, and there is over a half of a square mile of lake surface. Some lakes have camping near the edge, others have private residences, and some lakes are completely undeveloped.
Dowdy Lake is the biggest and most popular, but Red Feather Lakes dispersed camping is always an option.
The area is full of ponderosa pines with aspen groves located in the wettest areas, but the rock outcroppings are the real gem of the area. They are an accumulation of large, granite boulders fairly small in size with the majority being under 50’ across.
Some of the piles stand hundreds of feet high, making for great little hikes with spectacular views. The trees have been able to take root between the boulders, so even though the hills in the area are extremely rocky, there is substantial vegetation throughout.
There are not many sheer rock faces or jagged peaks in the area. And the elevation is quite low, around 8,000 feet. So if you’re seeking some laid-back camping and easy hiking trails, this is the spot for you. But if you’re expecting intense hiking and sights similar to Maroon Bells or some of Colorado’s more epic mountain peaks, I suggest looking elsewhere.
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Conveniently Located, But Still Peaceful
Staying within two hours of Denver is something a lot of people shoot for, and therefore, makes a lot of the recreation areas crowded. Red Feather Lakes is not like that. Even though it’s relatively close, the crowds are quite mild.
During peak season, however, the most popular campgrounds do fill up. It is possible to find secluded spots if you’re willing to search and stay in dispersed areas rather than at campgrounds.
One reason for the lack of crowds can be attributed to the nearby Poudre River. The camping areas on and around the Poudre attract the majority of the crowd because it’s the easiest to get to from Fort Collins. There are also more roads to play with off-road toys, so if that’s your thing, you should look into Poudre River instead of Red Feather Lakes.
And if you’re looking for a hustling downtown hot-spot, Red Feather Lakes is not the place for you. A gas station, coffee shop, and a couple of essential stores are basically the only businesses in the area.
One more benefit: Getting to Red Feather Lakes dispersed camping areas doesn’t involve driving on I-70! Take I-25 north, then exit just past the town of Fort Collins. Head straight west through the town of Livermore and eventually, you’ll find Red Feather Lakes.
Of course, there could be traffic on I-25, but it usually beats I-70 during the busiest recreational times.
Where and How to Camp at Red Feather Lakes
There are many options for where to stay at Red Feather Lakes. There are multiple campgrounds which have reserved and first-come-first-served campsites. You can also find many dispersed camping areas, some accessible by car and some by backpacking only. Red Feather Lakes dispersed camping should not be missed.
This is bear country and it is an area where we all have to work to minimize our impact so that we don’t destroy the beauty. For more information about being “bear aware,” check out the Colorado Parks and Wildlife videos posted here.
Learn more about preserving nature’s beauty through leave no trace principles on this website.
Dowdy Lake has the largest and most popular campground in the area: Dowdy Lake Campground. It has 52 RV sites and 10 walk-in sites for tents only. You can make reservations up to 6 months in advance for the RV sites on Recreation.gov.
Peak season can get pretty packed here, so make a reservation early if you’re set on staying next to Dowdy Lake with an RV. Electrical hookups are at each RV site, as well as tent pads, picnic tables, and fire rings with grills. The campground includes toilets, drinking water, trash collection, and firewood onsite. There is no RV dump station.
There are other campgrounds at West Lake Campground (reservation link) and down south at Bellaire Campground (reservation link). These are both smaller than Dowdy Campground but offer similar amenities.
You can find a lot of great information about Red Feather Lakes by visiting the Forest Service website. The majority of the campgrounds at Red Feather Lakes are in the Canyon Lakes Ranger District.
There are many cabin rentals and other lodging options if you’re looking to avoid sleeping in a tent. Hipcamp.com is like the Airbnb of camping.
Or find an awesome RV to rent on Outdoorsy!
Or if you simply want to get Off Path and do some Red Feather Lakes dispersed camping, you have options around Red Feather Lakes. One of our favorite areas is a little north of the main Red Feather Lakes next to Lost Lake (distinct from the Lost Lake near Steamboat Springs). At Lost Lake, you will find a small group of lakes surrounded by dispersed camping sites – some you can drive to and some you have to walk to.
This area attracts fewer people than the Dowdy Lake area because the road to get to Lost Lake is a little rough and isn’t that well maintained at times. So take it slow and use a car with some ground clearance. It’s not anything technical or crazy; plenty of RVs were up there and we even saw some sedans at the lake. I wouldn’t recommend taking a sedan though.
There are two other smaller lakes near Lost Lake, which are essentially large ponds, and they have campsites all around them. We found a nice little rock outcropping right on the edge of one with a perfect tent site that was at least 300’ from the water. Great spot for Red Feather Lakes dispersed camping.
Really want to get away? Go a little further west from Lost Lake to Creedmore Lake. You’ll have to hike away from the car a little bit. There are also a lot of forest roads with dispersed camping to the west of the main area near Dowdy Lake.
You can also find dispersed camping in the area around Bellair Lake Campground immediately the south of Red Feather Lakes. This area is easier to access so you can expect to find a few more people here. Here is a link to a review of the area.
Here is the Forest Service link regarding dispersed camping in the area. You will also need to study and understand the Motor Vehicle Use Map (MVUM) to make sure you are camping in a permitted area. Here is the link to maps, and this area falls under the North Half of the Canyon Lakes Ranger District. Instructions for how to print the maps are on this site. These maps are generally MUCH more reliable than Google Maps in isolated areas.
Backpacking Near Red Feather Lakes
Backpacking trails can be found throughout the area. One beginner-level trail lays just east of the mean Red Feather Lakes area. The Mount Margaret Trailhead has five designated campsites within the first 2.5 miles, complete with a fire pit and bench. The hike is flat and easy, but the area is still full of beautiful vegetation, rock formations, and wildlife. No reservations nor permits required.
We hiked about 3 miles in, turned around a half mile, and camped in a nice meadow surrounded by a lush aspen grove. There was a gentle stream flowing through the aspen trees about 300’ from where we slept; the perfect water source.
Summary of Red Feather Lakes Dispersed Camping
Red Feather Lakes dispersed camping should not be missed. It’s a beautiful area with numerous options for camping of all types. Gorgeous lakes are ready for a good swim, and plenty of peaks need to be conquered to see stunning views. It is a unique part of the state with large boulder outcroppings spotted throughout, and heavily forested nearly everywhere. Avoid the people and avoid I-70 with this Colorado gem.
If you’re wondering how in the world I found these areas instead of the usual Dowdy Lake area, check out How to Find Campsites, and pay attention to the discussion on Strava heat maps. It takes some effort to find hidden spots!
What are your favorite camping spots in Colorado? Let us know in the comments below.
More on camping in Colorado:
- Top 9 Spots for Camping Near Winter Park
- Camping Near Hahn’s Peak and Steamboat Lake
- 17 Best Spots for Camping Near Mesa Verde
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