When it comes to camping along the Cache La Poudre River, we believe the higher up the canyon the better. Heading where the air is cooler, the woods are thicker and the wildlife is bigger- to us- is worth the extra miles.
Unfortunately many of the established campgrounds in the Upper Poudre Canyon don’t open until late June due to snow- Chambers Lake, Tunnel and Grandview Campgrounds to name a few. There’s no way we’ll wait until July to start our camping season. Dispersed camping is always an option in the spring months but sometimes, especially with kids, you want a bathroom, a fire pit and a picnic table.
Big South Campground is approx. 1.5 hours from Fort Collins right off of Highway 14 and opens for the season in late May.
We’ve “ended up” at Big South a few times.
The first couple were on Fridays after work, when spots are few and far between if you can find one at all. (I’ll be writing a post on campsite availability soon.) Both times the same spot (site 1) was open, the one closest to the road.
Obviously it had been passed up by many other campers. There must be something inherently wrong with it. I let its vacancy define it. Of course we had a great time despite having convinced myself we had a sub par campsite.
Our visit this year was unplanned as well. In early June, we had to cancel our camping trip to Silverton due to C having a low-grade fever. We decided it would be better to be 1.5 hours from home than 8 hours with a possibly sick kiddo who may or may not force us to cut our camping trip short.
At first I was disappointed as we set up camp at Big South.
Then I looked around. The canyon is narrower here, the river is fast, the subalpine conifer trees are tall. It really is one of the most beautiful spots on the Poudre.
“Ol Faithful” as we’ve come to call Big South Campground is now one of my favorites. I won’t let the fact others pass it by sully its name. We’ve made some great camping memories here. It probably gets overlooked due to its proximity to the road, but the river’s roar drowns out most of the highway noise. Three of the four sites are right on the river and depending on the river level the campground provides its own little beach where the kids can throw rocks and put their very well supervised toes in the water. Since we arrived on a Wednesday we had our pick of all four sites and decided on number 4. It has a nice open space for the kids to run, a wooded area right by the river and a fire pit perfectly situated to sit by the fire and watch the river simultaneously.
There are three notable drawbacks to Big South Campground: 1. I’m not sure I ever fully relaxed being so close to the river at its highest level with a 20 month old 2. No trash 3. No water
When there are still diapers to change, no trash is a bit more, ummm, noticeable… Since we were not planning on dispersed camping we only brought our smaller water container. We felt like interlopers as we drove through Aspenglen Campground to fill our jug multiple times and dispose of trash. Luckily it was only a five-minute drive away.
If you can’t camp at the site you want, love the site you’re at. Or plan your camping trips six months in advance or come better prepared for dispersed camping. But always remember you are in a beautiful place, you are outside and you are with the ones you love.
What are your favorite campgrounds in Poudre Canyon?
Distance: 47miles, approx. 1.5 hours from Fort Collins
Amenities: Vaulted toilets, picnic table, fire pit
Highlights: Gorgeous views, sites not too close together, access to hiking (we walked to the Big South Trailhead from our campsite)
No Water, No Trash
Availability: 4 sites, all first come first serve
Hiking: Easy access to Big South Trail, Blue Lake, Long Draw Road
Open Season: May 26th – September 25th, 2016
Visit the USDA Forest Service website for more info: http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/arp/recreation/camping-cabins/recarea/?recid=36623&actid=29