Camping

Where To Camp: Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests & Thunder Basin National Grassland

by Daniell LaFleur

camping medicine bow routt national forests

Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests & Thunder Basin National Grassland may be the greatest hidden gems in the Rocky Mountains. With just under 60 campgrounds and a slew of dispersed camping opportunities, there’s something for everyone here.

The sprawling Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests & Thunder Basin National Grassland covers just under 2.9 million acres of land across Colorado and Wyoming. The combined name is a bit of a mouthful, so we won’t blame you for shortening it to a catchy acronym like MBRTB.

Whatever you call it, just don’t call this under-the-radar gem short on scenic vistas. The spellbinding landscape covers several majestic mountain ranges, including the Snowy Range, Sierra Madre, Pole Mountain, and the Flat Tops.

With campsites deep in the Rocky Mountains, camping here will provide ample solitude and recreation opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts.

Here’s a sampling of the best campgrounds and dispersed camping areas at MBRTB, organized under the three major sections of Medicine Bow, Routt, and Thunder Basin.

Medicine Bow National Forest

Medicine Bow National Forest covers areas across southern Wyoming and has become a popular recreation destination for locals and out-of-state visitors. Wherever you choose to pitch your tent here, you’re guaranteed to wake up to spectacular views that’ll leave you speechless every day.

Vedauwoo Campground

Vedauwoo Campground
Photo: Clark Harris

Why you should camp here: Slumber among giant boulder formations believed to have been created by playful spirits.

  • Reservations accepted: No
  • Best seasons: Spring, summer, fall
  • Campsite type: Tent, RV, car camping
  • RV Hookups: No

In Medicine Bow’s Pole Mountain area, the Vedauwoo Recreation Area is a must-see landscape with an equally rich history. The weathered Sherman Granite formations were once used as a hideout by outlaws, while Native Americans who traveled here believed the boulders were stacked by playful spirits.

The 28 campsites at the Vedauwoo Campground have been thoughtfully placed around the main park to blend into the landscape. The sites are farther apart from each other than most campgrounds, providing an even more unique and secluded experience.

Camping at such a beautiful location gets even better with its low price point, especially considering the campground provides drinking water, vault toilets, picnic tables, and fire pits.

Vedauwoo is a popular recreation destination for rock climbers and hikers, so remember to bring your hiking shoes and climbing gear!

North Fork Campground

Why you should camp here: Fish this fork of the Little Laramie River right from your campsite.

  • Reservations accepted: No
  • Best seasons: Summer, fall
  • Campsite type: RV, car camping, tent
  • RV Hookups: No

In Wyoming’s Snowy Range, the North Fork Campground lies along the North Fork of the Little Laramie River. North Fork is one of the area’s most popular campgrounds, so you can always expect to find a crowd here.

The North Fork Campground’s 60 campsites are large enough for big RV rigs and provides plenty of space between sites. Nothing beats the low price point here for such a large site with amazing views!

Enjoy your down time at camp by fishing this picturesque river, or hop in an OHV and kick up some dust on the nearby trails. The area offers plenty of scenic trails for hiking, all of which are easily accessible from camp.

Sugarloaf Campground

lewis lake medicine bow
Photo: Mike Coghlan

Why you should camp here: Splash around in icy snowmelt lakes at 10,700 feet in elevation.

  • Reservations accepted: No
  • Best seasons: Summer
  • Campsite type: Tent, small RV, car camping
  • RV Hookups: No

Libby and Lewis Lakes make Sugarloaf Campground a dreamy location to bring the kayak or paddle board. The campground is surrounded by towering peaks like Medicine Bow Peak that create gorgeous, sweeping views.

Sugarloaf lies in an area of 102 alpine lakes, making it a fisherman’s paradise. Situated just below the timberline at 10,700 feet in elevation, the campsites offer unobstructed views of the surrounding Snow Range and an open sky for spectacular stargazing.

When you’re not enjoying an afternoon on the water, grab your hiking boots and hit the trail. You’ll find a number of popular trails near the campground, including Medicine Bow Peak Trail, Lost Lake Trail, and Gap Lakes Trail.

Hog Park Campground

Why you should camp here: Enjoy a thrilling day on the water with endless activities at Hog Park Reservoir.

  • Reservations accepted: Yes
  • Best seasons: Summer
  • Campsite type: Tent, small RV, car camping
  • RV Hookups: No

You’ll find the Hog Park Campground in the Sierra Madre Range near Encampment, Wyoming. It’s a large campground with 50 campsites, but don’t let that number fool you — the remote location translates into fewer campers, so you’ll still find plenty of peace and quiet here.

Thanks to the campground’s distance from town, campers at Hog Park will enjoy unrivaled views of the Milky Way with minimal light pollution.

Kayaks and paddle boards are popular at Hog Park Reservoir, and there’s a boat ramp where you can launch wake boats and pontoons. The reservoir is stocked with rainbow trout, brook trout, and hybrid Splake, so bring your fishing pole and cast off from the shore or your fishing boat.

Note that watercraft over 10 feet in length require a Wyoming Aquatic Invasive Species Decal, so be sure to plan ahead or you’ll get booted from the water.

Reserve Now

Bow River Campground

Why you should camp here: Endless fishing opportunities between Bow River, Sand Lake, and Turpin Reservoir.

  • Reservations accepted: No
  • Best seasons: Summer, fall
  • Campsite type: Tent, small RV, car camping
  • RV Hookups: No

The Bow River Campground is far north in the Snowy Range near the town of Saratoga. Bow River flows right by camp, and with only 13 campsites you’re practically guaranteed to have the waters to yourself.

OHV riding, mountain biking, boating, and hiking are all great activities in this area. Popular trails nearby include Rock Creek, Sheep Lake, and Crater Lake.

Sand Lake and Turpin Reservoir are regularly stocked by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, making this a great fishing spot for the family.

There is no trash service here, so be sure to pack everything out. Don’t be dismayed if the campground is full — there are plenty of dispersed camping options in the area.

Keystone Cabin

Why you should camp here: Stay in this solitary cabin that sits in a small clearing in the Snowy Range’s thick forest.

  • Reservations accepted: Yes
  • Best seasons: Year-round
  • Campsite type: Cabin
  • RV Hookups: No

You’ll find the Keystone Cabin deep in the Snowy Range forest, surrounded by beautiful scenery and far removed from the hustle and bustle of the city. The remodeled ranger station can sleep six comfortably and includes amenities such as showers, a full kitchen, refrigerator, beds, and a wood-burning stove.

Open year-round, the cabin is accessible by car in the warmer months, and by snowmobile in winter. This cabin is a great location for a group trip into the Snowy Range, or an intimate stay for two.

There are plenty of recreation possibilities accessible from this cabin, including hiking over the summer and cross country skiing in the winter. The thick forest here is home to moose, elk, bobcats, mountain lions, and black bears, so you’ll enjoy exciting wildlife watching year-round.

Reserve Now

Miller Lake

Why you should camp here: Wide open spaces and a mossy valley make this more than just a fisherman’s paradise.

  • Reservations accepted: No
  • Best seasons: Summer, fall
  • Campsite type: Tent, car camping, small RV
  • RV Hookups: No

Nestled in a fairytale-like valley with high peaks all around, Miller Lake offers unparalleled views with wide open spaces and lush green scenery. At 9,100 feet above sea level, this is truly an alpine sanctuary.

The designated campground here is closed, but Miller Lake is still an excellent (and free) campsite for dispersed camping.

Of the 14 campsites that were once maintained by the forest service, you’ll find seven are still easily accessible and usable. That may not sound like much, but usage is light here so you’ll rarely find it full.

Miller Lake is the perfect spot for a weekend getaway — just remember that there are no services and Leave No Trace principles apply, so come prepared!

Routt National Forest

In Northwestern Colorado, Routt National Forest covers a long strip of land through some of the most wild and protected mountain ranges in Colorado. Routt provides year-round recreation while remaining secluded.

Big Creek Lakes

Why you should camp here: Endless hiking trails, equestrian-friendly campsites, and an expansive lake.

  • Reservations accepted: Yes
  • Best seasons: Spring, summer, fall
  • Campsite type: Tent, car camping, RV
  • RV Hookups: No

Big Creek Lakes is one of the most popular campgrounds at Routt National Forest thanks to its large campsites and proximity to North Park, the “moose-viewing capital of Colorado.” The Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area is also close by, where adventurous hikers will find world-renowned trails that are easily accessible.

Boating and paddling are popular at Big Creek Lake, and the lake’s 343 acres of water provide ample space for everyone to play. The local trails are great for horseback riding, and many campsites offer horse stalls for guests to bring their four-legged friends.

A little less than half of the 54 campsites at Big Creek Lakes are reservable, making this a great spot for folks who plan in advance as well as weekend warriors looking for a last-minute getaway. Given the lake, trails, and amenities, the price point for these campsites is tough to beat.

Reserve Now

Hahns Peak Lake

Why you should camp here: Camp right along the alpine shoreline of Hahns Peak Lake with views that are stacked with high peaks.

  • Reservations accepted: Yes
  • Best seasons: Summer, fall
  • Campsite type: Tent, car camping, RV
  • RV Hookups: No

Hahns Peak Lake Campground has 23 single sites and three large group sites available. Group sites are rare in Routt National Forest, so you’ll definitely want to book these campsites well in advance if you’re planning a family reunion.

Located just 30 miles north of Steamboat Springs, Hahns Peak Lake is a great home-base location for road tripping through this part of Colorado. Steamboat Springs is a popular tourist destination for skiing, hiking, and hot springs, so there’s plenty to do around here.

The lake itself is great for fishing, boating, and paddling right from camp. Only non-motorized or electric motorboats are allowed on the lake, so it’s ideal for canoes, kayaks, and SUPs.

Be sure to pack your camera, too. Campers will enjoy views of Hahns Peak, surrounding mountains, and colorful valleys that erupt with wildflowers in season.

Reserve Now

Pines Campground

Why you should camp here: Camp right along a fork of the Michigan River and enjoy the peace and quiet of this isolated retreat in Routt National Forest.

  • Reservations accepted: No
  • Best seasons: Summer, fall
  • Campsite type: Tent, car camping
  • RV Hookups: No

With only 11 campsites, the Pines Campground is all about peace and quiet. You’ll enjoy fresh mountain air at 9,200 feet while the soothing sounds of the rushing river send you off into dreamland every night.

Hiking, backpacking, and OHV riding are all popular activities around here. The campground also provides easy access to the South Fork of the Michigan River, so it’s a great spot for fishing.

There’s no potable water at the Pines Campground, so be sure to come prepared. If there are no sites available when you arrive, there are plenty of dispersed camping opportunities in the area.

Sheriff Reservoir Campground

Why you should camp here: Paddle in Sheriff Reservoir and look out over the unique Flat Tops range.

  • Reservations accepted: No
  • Best seasons: Summer, fall
  • Campsite type: Tent, car camping
  • RV Hookups: No

Located near Yampa, the Sheriff Reservoir Campground is one of the most isolated spots in the Flat Tops area. The reservoir itself is only a short walk from camp, offering boating, fishing, and beautiful views of the Flat Tops Range.

The shore and dam at Sheriff Reservoir are easily accessible for hikers. When you’re ready to branch out from the lake and explore the area, follow the popular Black Mountain Creek Trail that begins at the dam.

The campground’s smaller campsites only provide enough space for 17-foot vehicles. If you’ve got a larger RV, you’re better off looking for a dispersed camping spot nearby (which should be pretty easy, by the way — the area offers plenty of dispersed camping opportunities).

Teal Lake

Why you should camp here: Wondrous blue hues from Teal Lake and surrounding vegetation create a picturesque alpine shoreline.

  • Reservations accepted: No
  • Best seasons: Summer
  • Campsite type: Tent, car camping, small RV
  • RV Hookups: No

Located close to Walden, North Park and Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area, Teal Lake offers plenty of recreational activities for outdoor enthusiasts. The small campground features a boat ramp and ample space for a fun afternoon on the lake, and you’ll find popular hiking trails right next to the camp.

Most of the campsites at Teal Lake sit right on the lake, offering spectacular views. The campground offers potable water and restroom amenities, too.

While the single campsites at Teal Lake are available first come, first served, there’s a reservable group site that can accommodate up to 30 people. You’ll want to book this group site well in advance, as it fills up quickly during peak season.

Meadows Campground

Why you should camp here: Camp right on the famous Rabbit Ears Pass and enjoy some of the most isolated fishing spots in Colorado.

  • Reservations accepted: No
  • Best seasons: Summer, fall
  • Campsite type: Tent, car camping, RV
  • RV Hookups: No

Rabbit Ears Pass is a popular snow-sport destination over winter, but come summer you’ll find it’s an isolated summer camping spot at the Meadows Campground. It’s a fisherman’s paradise with world-class fishing spots right next to camp, so don’t forget your fishing gear!

At over 9,300 feet of elevation, you will surely feel the alpine atmosphere here. Popular hiking and OHV trails are close to camp, making it easy to explore the area on foot or behind the wheel of an ATV.

When you’re ready to venture farther away from the campground, the resort town of Steamboat Springs is close by.

The Meadows Campground provides restroom facilities for campers, but there’s no potable water. Be sure to bring enough water for drinking and cooking, or you’ll be heading to Steamboat Springs to quench your thirst

Thunder Basin National Grassland

Thunder Basin National Grassland is an area in eastern Wyoming that was originally settled during the 1800’s under numerous Homestead Acts. The land later became open to the public as a National Grassland. Today it’s used for livestock grazing, mineral production, wildlife habitat, and of course, outdoor recreation.

Recreation here in this vast grassland includes hunting, hiking, OHV riding, and fishing. There are four rivers that make up this landscape: Cheyenne, Little Powder, Belle Fourche, and the Little Missouri.

A very unique activity here is to watch the coal-trains run through this landscape. From Forest Route 492, you can sit directly over the train tracks and watch the trains go by.

There are no established campgrounds at Thunder Basin National Grassland, but dispersed camping is popular here. Since all camping here is dispersed wilderness camping, you’ll need to pack out all trash and follow Leave No Trace ethics.

Little Powder Reservoir

Why you should camp here: Enjoy solitude where grasslands meet water to create sweeping views and spectacular birdwatching.

  • Reservations accepted: No
  • Best seasons: Year-round
  • Campsite type: Tent, car camping
  • RV Hookups: No

Campers will find solitude and excellent fishing where the Little Powder River meets its reservoir. There’s a primitive boat ramp providing easy access to paddle boards and boat fishing, and if you keep your eye to the sky you’ll probably spot a few raptors overhead fishing for food themselves.

When you’re ready to explore beyond the reservoir, the primitive campground provides access to several local hiking trails. Shade is hard to find at this location, so camping here in the colder months is usually preferred.

Turner Reservoir

Why you should camp here: Fish right off the pier of Turner Reservoir with camp just a short walk away.

  • Reservations accepted: No
  • Best seasons: Year-round
  • Campsite type: Tent, car camping, small RV
  • RV Hookups: No

Turner Reservoir is way out there in Thunder Basin National Grassland, so seclusion is a given. It’s also a wondrous fishing location with a booming brown trout population.

With a high clearance vehicle, you can camp right by the reservoir and sleep under the stars. There’s no shade here, and deep in the grasslands you will have a clear view of the night’s sky.

Abundant fishing and a secluded location make this a great first dispersed camping spot to bring the kiddos for some family fun.

Kellogg Reservoir

Why you should camp here: Camp in the pines atop the hill and enjoy scenic vistas of the grasslands below.

  • Reservations accepted: No
  • Best seasons: Spring, summer, fall
  • Campsite type: Tent, car camping, RV
  • RV Hookups: No

Half a mile away from Kellogg Reservoir, you can camp in the shady Ponderosa Pine forest and look over the grasslands from the top of a loft hill. The reservoir is a protected wildlife habitat so there’s no fishing here, but you’ll enjoy spectacular views from the shady hilltop.

This is one of the few shady areas in Thunder Basin National Grassland, which makes it one of the most popular dispersed camping spots. There’s plenty of space for mid-sized RVs, but don’t push your luck with a large rig.

For more resources and information on dispersed camping location of Thunder Basin National Grassland, check with the USDA Forest Service or visit ForestCamping.com.

Gear Up For Your Camping Trip

Ready to pitch your tent? Gear up for your next adventure with our favorite camping mattresses, camping cots, and wool camp blankets.

Get your weekly adventure fix

Join thousands of readers getting epic hiking, camping and travel ideas every week.

Related posts