11 Best Places to Camp Near Lakes in Colorado

by Daniell LaFleur
Updated February 19, 2022

best lake camping colorado

Except for the occasional thunderstorm, Colorado summers have a reputation for being some of the sunniest, hottest, and driest. So, it’s no surprise that we flock to bodies of water to camp on in these warmer months.

Whether you’re into fishing, paddling, swimming, or just want the view and a chance to splash around when it gets too hot, lake camping in Colorado is hard to beat. But in a state that is home to over 4,000 lakes, there are many lakeside campgrounds out there.

So we’ve compiled a list of some of the coolest waterfront campgrounds — as well as some unbelievable hidden gems — to help narrow down your options.

While camping and recreating near any lake in Colorado, please follow Leave No Trace principles. Fresh water is one of the most valuable and disputed-over commodities in Colorado — so please do your part to keep these waters clean so we can all continue to enjoy them!

Related Read: 7 Rad Campgrounds in San Juan National Forest, Colorado

1. Chambers Lake

chambers lake colorado
Photo: Jeffrey Beall

Why you should camp here: Northern Colorado’s go-to spot in Poudre Canyon offers world class trout fishing and relaxation.

  • Reservations accepted: Yes
  • Best season: Summer, Fall
  • Campsite type: Tents, RV’s
  • RV hookups: No

Chambers Lake is a reservoir situated at 9,200 feet above sea level and 60 miles from Fort Collins. Arapaho National Forest, which surrounds the lake, is well known for its epic hiking trails.

Some of which, you can access right from the Chambers Lake campground. If you do hike around the area, be bear-aware as bears are often seen in the area. The campground provides bear-boxes for safe food storage.

Along with hiking, you can enjoy fishing, no-wake boating, and paddling on the lake. Several species of trout call this lake home, making it easy to spend the day casting. There is a small playground for children to play in at camp as well.

A major perk that keeps campers coming back to Chambers Lake, is the 20-40 feet between campsites. Even though there are a total of 51 campsites for RV’s and tents, everyone has plenty of space to enjoy their bit of Chambers Lake in solitude.

Chambers Lake campground fills up fast. You can reserve a spot 6 months in advance, so claim yours soon!

Reserve Now

Related Read: 9 Glorious Places to See Colorado’s Fall Colors

2. Lost Lake

lost lake colorado

Why you should camp here: Lose yourself at this high-alpine lake that lives among some of the largest aspen groves in the state!

  • Reservations accepted: No
  • Best season: Spring, Summer, Fall
  • Campsite type: Tents, RV’s
  • RV hookups: No

In Gunnison National Forest near Crested Butte, you can “get lost” at Lost Lake’s campground. This is a very small campground where you cannot reserve sites, but don’t be deterred! Lost Lake is very much a hidden gem and you will likely find a spot on arrival.

The landscape of this area is nothing short of stunning! Some of the largest aspen groves in the state surround the lake and nearby mountains, making this a gorgeous area to camp in the early fall and spring. To escalate the view even more, Lost Lake is situated in a large cirque at the base of East Beckwith Mountain.

There is a 2.1-mile trail that circumnavigates the lake from camp accompanied by trailheads just down the road. Horse riding is very popular in the area; there are even a few campsites made just for horse trailers.  Campers can also fish and paddle the lake.

Related Read: 8 Small Towns in Colorado You Don’t Want to Miss

3. Echo Lake

echo lake camping colorado
Photo: Kent Kanouse

Why you should camp here: Get the most out of your time at this smaller campground that is surrounded by trailheads and some of Colorado’s favorite 14ers!

  • Reservations accepted: Yes
  • Best season: Summer, Fall
  • Campsite type: Tents, RV’s
  • RV hookups: No

Sitting up high at 10,600 feet above sea level, Echo Lake is an easy escape from the bustling Denver area. Its high elevation means chilly nights year round, but the lack of mosquitoes is absolutely worth it. Echo Lake Campground is on the way to one of Denver’s favorite 14ers, Mount Evans.

Hiking is a very popular activity among campers here since the Mount Evans Wilderness Area and Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest surround this campground. There are also several trailheads located in the campground. Echo Lake is a one-of-a-kind base camp to enjoy a weekend of summiting mountains!

If Echo Lake doesn’t sound amazing already, there are only 17 campsites! Which means you get plenty of peace and quiet to enjoy your time here.

Reserve Now

Related Read: 12 Best Places to Visit in Colorado for Unforgettable Adventures

4. Little Bear Campground – Island Lake

island lake colorado
Photo: Robert Waltman

Why you should camp here: Nothing comes close to camping on the world’s largest flattop mountain within Colorado’s largest national forest!

  • Reservations accepted: No
  • Best season: Spring, Summer, Fall
  • Campsite type: Tents, RV’s
  • RV hookups: No

Colorado’s Grand Mesa is the largest flattop mountain in the world! This marvel is home to 500 lakes, and over 3,000 miles of trail throughout the accumulative Grand Mesa National Forest.

From the campground, you can follow Island Lake Trail along the southern edge of the lake. Other trailheads such as World Lake Trail, Crag Crest Trail, Deep Slow Reservoir Loop, and Forest Service Road 115 to Scotland Trail can all be found close to camp. Fishing is also very popular in the lake, and the campground is even complete with a fish prepping and cleaning station.

While Little Bear campground does not accept reservations, you can reserve a spot at its neighbor, Island Lake Campground if you are worried about getting a site. Ironically, Island Lake Campground is not directly on its namesake like Little Bear is. But it is only .1-miles away from the lake. Island Lake Campground also offers RV hookups.

Related Read: 10 Best Hikes in Colorado for Getting Out into Nature

5. Arapaho Bay Campground – Lake Granby

Arapaho Bay Campground
Photo: Misty Faucheux

Why you should camp here: Relax in calmer waters than the surrounding Lake Granby, hike the abundant trails nearby, and fish for Kokanee Salmon!

  • Reservations accepted: Yes
  • Best season: Summer, Fall
  • Campsite type: Tents, RV’s
  • RV hookups: No

Arapaho Bay Campground lies on its namesake which makes up the very eastern tip of Lake Granby. Lake Granby is one of the largest reservoirs in Colorado, and the waters can be rough if you are hoping to paddle board or kayak. However, Arapaho Bay has natural barriers that creates stiller water for such activities!

Close to camp, you will find the more secluded Monarch Lake. Monarch Lake is so tucked away, it feels more like a lake you stumble upon on a backpacking trip. Except you parked and walked 200 feet! Monarch Lake and Arapaho Bay provide some stellar paddle boarding, lake kayaking, and fishing. Speaking of fishing, you can find Mackinaw and Kokanee Salmon in the bay!

The nearby towns of Granby and Grand Lake are hosts to some of the best recreation in the state! Between the lakes, Winter Park Ski Resort, the western edge of Rocky Mountain National Park, and world class mountain biking parks/trails, there is something for everyone here!

Reserve Now

Related Read: Mile High Hiking: 15 Best Hikes Near Denver, Colorado

6. Haviland Lake

haviland lake campground
Photo: Angela Dukich

Why you should camp here: Enjoy some top-notch recreation and relaxation in Colorado’s San Juan National Forest.

  • Reservations accepted: Yes
  • Best season: Spring, Summer, Fall
  • Campsite type: Tents, RV’s
  • RV hookups: Yes

Haviland Lake can be found in San Juan National Forest, north of Durango. Some campsites are along the shoreline, and all sites have easy beach access. As if beach access wasn’t good enough, the campground is filled with ponderosa pines and aspens to provide shade and privacy between campsites.

Hiking, fishing, horseback riding, and no-wake boating are all very popular here. Several trailheads are close by, and the Forebay Lake Trail takes you to its namesake from camp.

San Juan National Forest boasts 1.8 million acres of land, and is spread across such a diverse landscape. The terrain here ranges from high-desert mesas to alpine forests and high-peaks. You certainly won’t be bored exploring this piece of Colorado!

Reserve Now

Related Read: 9 Woodsy Cabin Rentals Near Durango, Colorado

7. North Michigan Reservoir

North Michigan Reservoir
Photo: Jeffrey Beall

Why you should camp here: Visit the “moose-viewing capitol of the world,” and spend the days hiking, fishing, and boating in this tucked-away state park.

  • Reservations accepted: Yes
  • Best season: Summer, Fall
  • Campsite type: Tents, RV’s, Cabins, Yurts
  • RV hookups: No

State Forest State Park is a true hidden gem that Northern Coloradoans hold dear to their hearts. This area, near Walden, is known as the moose-viewing capitol of the world! And State Forest State Park provides ample solitude to let those moose flock to the park when they come down to eat.

If you have an opportunity to go on a fall camping trip, I highly recommend spending it at North Michigan Campground! The aspen groves and high peaks that make up this State Park’s landscape are nothing short of remarkable in the fall.

To enjoy these views, hike any one of the dozens of trails in the park during your stay! My personal favorite trail to get those changing-aspen-leaf views is Kelly Lake via Hidden Valley Trail. Other recreation activities in the park include horseback riding, hunting, boating, and fishing.

Reserve Now

Related Read: 7 Gorgeous Winter Camping Spots in Colorado

8. Kite Lake

Kite Lake Colorado Camping
Photo: Flickr

Why you should camp here: Truly escape to this isolated lake and camp at the base of four 14ers!

  • Reservations accepted: No
  • Best season: Summer, Fall
  • Campsite type: Tents
  • RV hookups: No

Kite Lake Campground is also the trailhead for the popular 14er linkup trail known as the “Decalibron.” The Decalibron is a summit linkup of Mt. Lincoln, Democrat, Cameron, and Bross. Surprisingly, the trail itself is only a 7.6-mile loop. And I highly recommend if you are thinking of camping at Kite Lake!

Kite Lake sits in a surreal alpine basin surrounded by those peaks that rise above 14,000 feet. The campground is very small, like only 5 sites type of small. While the campground is small, don’t be deterred by this! Your biggest challenge will be finding a parking spot, not a campsite. This is because so many people use the parking lot for the trailhead. Since the trail is relatively short, hikers usually don’t end up staying the night.

Due to the campground sitting at such a high altitude, there are very few trees or any type of shade in the area. So, come prepared with plenty of sun layers and sunscreen. The road to the campground is very rough and only recommended for high-clearance vehicles.

Related Read: 21 Best Waterfall Hikes in Colorado

9. Pearl Lake

pearl lake colorado
Photo: Michael Kirsh

Why you should camp here: Skip the crowds and enjoy this notoriously peaceful campground in the Steamboat Springs wilderness.

  • Reservations accepted: Yes
  • Best season: Summer
  • Campsite type: Tents, RV’s, Yurts
  • RV hookups: Yes

Pearl Lake Campground attracts fewer people despite having 38 campsites. This is because there are larger campgrounds that are closer to Steamboat Springs than Pearl Lake is. If you’re looking to skip the crowds and you’re okay with a longer drive, then Pearl Lake is for you!

The mountain peaks and vast forest surrounding the campground provide an excellent backdrop for many activities. One of those is fishing since large trout are commonly reported! Others include paddle boarding, non-motorized boating, and hiking the state park’s trails.

While you can reserve the yurts year round, the road is heavily snowed in during the winter. Getting to the yurts will require a snow-mobile, backcountry skis, or snowshoes. However you get there, a winter yurt adventure does not sound boring!

Reserve Now

Related Read: Traveler’s Guide to the Best Colorado National Parks

10. Beaver Lake

Why you should camp here: When a campsite feels so remote it’s hard to believe you didn’t have to hike in to it, you’re probably in for a good time.

  • Reservations accepted: No
  • Best season: Spring, Summer, Fall
  • Campsite type: Tents, Small RV’s
  • RV hookups: No

The nearby small mountain towns of Ouray and Montrose are well known for their rock and ice climbing. And Beaver Lake Campground exemplifies that small-town feel with only 11 campsites and some epic views.

Nestled in the Uncompahgre National Forest, campsite views include the lake, a sprawling meadow, and steep cliffs. Hiking and OHV trails are great for campers to explore. OHV driving is popular on surrounding trails by local day-users. Fishing for trout is ideal on this alpine lake. From the campground, you can also access the Cimarron River to fish.

The remoteness of this campground is what makes it special, but it adds some extra planning to your trip. Remember to pack in all the water, food, and trash bags you will need during your stay. There is no trash service, so all trash should be packed out. It is also important to store any trash and food in your car or bear canister at night to avoid any unwanted guests.

Related Read: 11 Easiest 14ers in Colorado for Newbies to the High Peaks

11. Horsetooth Reservoir South Bay

horsetooth reservoir

Why you should camp here: Fort Collin’s backyard reservoir is perfect for “stay-cations” and some low-key camping fun.

  • Reservations accepted: Yes
  • Best season: Year round
  • Campsite type: Tents, RV’s, Boat-in
  • RV hookups: Yes

Horsetooth Reservoir’s South Bay Campground offers over 150 campsites perfect for any adventure. There are even 15 campsites you can only reach via boat. The boat-in sites are in small inlets or shores along the reservoir and there are only 2 sites per inlet, and 1 per shore. Talk about privacy!

Horsetooth can be crowded in the summer, but it’s hard to beat a quick getaway like this one! I wouldn’t recommend camping here if you are looking for peace and isolation since Horsetooth is so close to town. But if you’re from around the area and just looking for some easy camping fun, or you’re taking the kiddos out for the first time, then this campground is perfect!

Family-friendly and with plenty of amenities, space, and options, there’s something for everyone here. One great perk of camping near town, you can always just pop in for some great food or the local breweries such as Odell and New Belgium for some post-outdoor activity brews.

Reserve Now

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