Lakeside camping in Colorado: A quick guide to 7 of the state's best spots (2024)

There’s nothing quite like opening the flap of your tent to the view of a lake, watching the rising sun’s warm glow dance across the water reflecting Colorado’s mountain majesty.

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Yes, in setting a course for a camping trip this summer, we’re thinking about lakes. We’re thinking about these seven scenes of splendor.

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Two anglers fish the Upper Chicago Lake at 11,800 feet as the sun begins to sink below the mountains.

Chicago Lakes: The proximity to Interstate 70 and Denver means you’re likely to find plenty of day-trippers along the trail to this pair of lakes tucked in the wilderness. From Echo Lake trailhead beside the road up Mount Blue Sky, plenty might venture in and out, but it’s well worth staying the night.

The best camping is near lower Chicago Lake. The upper lake is above treeline and exposed. Remember Forest Service rules about camping at least 100 feet from water and trails.

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A hiker takes in the view of Island Lake from the Land of Lakes overview Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2023, on the Grand Mesa outside Grand Junction, Co…

Grand Mesa: For its claim as the world’s largest flattop mountain, it’s surprising how underappreciated Grand Mesa can seem along the paved, scenic byway touring it between Cedaredge and I-70. Even more surprising: Grand Mesa is home to hundreds of lakes.

Island Lake, Little Bear, Ward Lake, Crag Crest and Jumbo campgrounds are some to consider, all close to shores. You also can rent cabins from outfitters, including Grand Mesa Lodge and Thunder Mountain Lodge.

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Colorful Colorado: At a remote village, magic in the mountains

Three-year-old Hendrik Oberhamer pauses along the shore of Hiawatha Lake in April while looking for crayfish near Red Feather Lakes Village.

Red Feather Lakes: You don’t hear much talk about Red Feather Lakes among Denver and Colorado Springs folks. But northern Coloradans have long flocked to the quaint hamlet situated amid picturesque fishing holes such as Hiawatha Lake.

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Dowdy Lake, Bellaire Lake and West Lake are just a few of the popular campgrounds. For a little more family comfort and spoils, check out Alpine Lodge at Red Feather Lakes and Beaver Meadows Resort Ranch.

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Amphitheatre Peak in the Flat Tops Wilderness Area can be seen from Trappers Lake.

Trappers Lake: This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, which protected places “where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” Those words are said to be inspired by Arthur Carhart’s reflections on a place in Colorado: Trappers Lake.

It’s as good a year as any to visit the lake deep in Flat Tops Wilderness. You will want to consult directions outlined by a Forest Service webpage, which details five campgrounds nearby. Another option: Trappers Lake Lodge.

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A motorboat pulls a person in a tube as the sun sets over Trinidad Lake in this 2020 photo.

Trinidad Lake: The old mining town on Colorado’s southern border is steadily marketing itself as a recreation hub with the ongoing development of its iconic backdrop, Fishers Peak. A trail to the summit is finally open (upper part closed for raptor nesting March 15 through July 31).

The state park on the other side of Interstate 25 offers a perfect base camp. Don’t delay on camping reservations; while not as busy as Lake Pueblo up the highway, Trinidad Lake is beloved by boaters and anglers.

Twin Lakes Recreation Area: This Lake County site is a Colorado favorite for good reason. For its array of nearby activities on foot, bike, boat and ATV. And for the smorgasbord of scenery featuring some of the state’s tallest peaks between Buena Vista and Leadville.

The lofty reputation means campgrounds fill fast, especially Lakeview and White Star campgrounds, which require reservations. Others are first-come, first-served.

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Willow Creek basin in southern Colorado has been a regular work site for local nonprofit Rocky Mountain Field Institute, which spent recent ye…

Willow Lake: Perched near 11,500 feet in Rio Grande National Forest, many pass this waterfall-fed lake en route to the 14,000-foot summits of Challenger Point and Kit Carson Peak. Others stay put, very content amid the woods and melody of that cascade.

The trailhead is reached off a dirt road rising from the funky town of Crestone. Be prepared for a steep hike covering about five miles — with views of the Sangre de Cristo mountains and San Luis Valley all the way.

Lakeside camping in Colorado: A quick guide to 7 of the state's best spots (2024)
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