The sun is setting on the summer of 2016 and it’s possible we’ve already had our last camping trip of the season. (Unless we make it up in October. Weather permitting. We’ll see. I’ll keep you posted.)
But if our dispersed camping trip to the Red Feather Lakes area stands as the last, we can rest assured we squeezed every last drop out of this summer. We made good on our early spring plans to spend as much time outside as humanly possible with two small kiddos, full time jobs and limited vacation hours.
A New Area to Explore
Red Feather Lakes is a popular destination we had yet to explore ourselves. The friends we camped with are very familiar and since this was another last minute trip we opted for dispersed camping versus many of the established campgrounds all throughout the lake district. The reservable campgrounds such as Dowdy Lake fill up fast, especially on the weekends.
Just an hour from Fort Collins the area is a spiderweb of forest service/old logging roads and I highly recommend taking along a Motor Vehicle Use Map for Canyon Lakes and Roosevelt National Forest. These are available for free at the Canyon Lakes Ranger District Visitor Center located in town at 2150 Centre Ave. I first went to pick mine up on a Wednesday, note: they are closed Wednesdays.
This map would have come in handy when we got lost back here a few years back while attempting to find a back way to Chambers Lake in the dark, in the rain. We did see a bear though- which is the only time I’ve seen a bear in the wild so (in hindsight) it was totally worth it.
These backroads are not what you might call a classic beauty, no roaring rivers, no pristine lakes, no majestic vistas but it’s still the Colorado mountains- it’s beautiful, just different. It’s more rugged. It’s seen things. At around 9,000 feet elevation the ponderosa forest shows signs of past fires and beetle kill. Stark trees that have either survived or not survived fires and epidemics.
A Place to Make Camp
Dispersed sites are abundant here and our group snagged a spot right at the junction of Deadman Road and 502 Forest Service Road. But driving around on a Saturday in August, we saw many empty sites. I’d feel comfortable driving here after work on Friday and finding one. Some were shady right on little creeks, others would be perfect for large groups. Most had established fire rings but unfortunately due to dry conditions there was a fire ban therefore no campfire this trip. However, we didn’t let a lack of fire keep us from having s’mores, we just roasted marshmallows over a propane grill. Where there’s a will there’s a way.
A Trail to Hike, Stairs to Climb, Stories to Tell
There is no shortage of activities in these mountains. Whether hiking, biking, fishing or climbing a giant tower is your thing, Red Feather has you covered. On this trip we decided to visit Deadman Lookout, the “Visitor Center in the Sky” and Killpecker Trail. Stay tuned, I’ll feature these two adventures soon.
When beginning this post I desperately wanted share some Northern Colorado lore regarding the origin of the name of Deadman Road, but, spoiler alert, it is in reference to a logging term: an object buried in or secured to the ground for the purpose of providing anchorage or leverage.
But I bet we could improve on that for a future trip when we can have a campfire and the girls are ready for ghost stories.
Distance/Directions: Approx 1 hour from Fort Collins, (depending how far down Deadman you go) From Fort Collins take highway 287 north out of town, turn left on onto Red Feathers Lake Rd (11 miles past turnoff to Poudre Canyon) When you get just past the town of Red Feather, the road forks, stay on W County Road 74 E, this is Deadman Road. Again, please take a map.
Amenities: Dispersed sites typically have a fire ring. That is all.
Highlights: Close to home, plenty of sites available, access to many outdoor activities
Lowlights: Sites littered with glass, cigarette butts and the occasional shotgun shell
Tips: Bring your own shade just in case your site doesn’t provide enough, lookout for the upcoming Dispersed Camping post that will include many more tips.
Hiking: Lots of hiking opportunities in the area, we chose Killpecker Trail
Open Season: Deadman Road can be hard to get through in the early spring, but waiting until late summer means the possibility of having fire bans in Larimer County and therefore no campfires. I’d suggest trying early July for these sites.
Would we go back? Yes! I’m looking forward to exploring the area more, new campsites and new trails. A nice option for last minute weekend trips, no reservations and not too far.
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