Red Feather Lakes: Northern Colorado’s Best Kept Camping And Fishing Secret

Your Red Feather Lakes Camping Vacation Starts Here

After two epic years of road-tripping across America by RV, we found our perfect spot for a summertime base camp in Red Feather Lakes near Fort Collins.

red feather lakesBetween 2007 and 2009, we passed the turnoff to this hidden gem at least three times. Whenever we traveled to points north on U.S. Highway 287, we had no idea that beyond the rolling ranch lands that drifted west toward Walden lay deep blue mountain lakes, dramatic rocky outcroppings and a little frontier village that time forgot. If it weren’t for the affordable land showcased in local real estate magazines, we would have kept on searching for our dream property. Instead, we found exactly what we were looking for.

After telling friends that we finally found a place in the mountains near Red Feather Lakes, they asked, “Why do you live there? There’s nothing to do there!”

“Exactly!” I replied.

Red Feather Lakes is a place where northern Colorado locals visit to escape the crowds. While the tourists play in nearby destinations like Rocky Mountain National Park or kayakers swarm the Poudre River, laid-back locals quietly point their wagons — and ATVs — west on County Road 74E (Red Feather Lakes Road) to find solitude and summer fun.

Nestled in the Mummy Mountain Range at an elevation of 7,890 feet, this rugged alpine region was known as Mitchell Lakes in Colorado’s earliest days. But in the 1920s, the village of Red Feather Lakes was officially established and named in honor of Princess Tsianina Redfeather, a greatly admired Native American mezzo-soprano opera star whose great-great-great grandfather died nearby after a brutal battle between the Cherokees and the Pawnees. In celebration of the acclaimed singer’s connections, local lakes were re-christened with Native American names such as “Hiawatha” and “Shagwa.”

red feather lakes cabins

Red Feather Lakes is a place to escape the crowds.

As word of this secluded getaway grew and nearby Estes Park boomed, local real estate developers dreamed of creating their own resort destination town. But development was slow, even after electricity came to the region in 1952. Dozens of quaint, lake-front log cabins were built and a few essential businesses were established, but the grandiose plans of creating another Estes Park never materialized. Maybe it’s because of the one-way-in, one-way-out paved road to get here, but today Red Feather Lakes remains virtually the same as it has been for the last 60 years.

Red Feather Lakes is an easy 45-minute drive from downtown Fort Collins, making it a great weekend destination. The community is surrounded by thousands of acres of the Roosevelt National Forest, where trout fishing, no-wake boating, hiking, riding and camping are the order of the day.

Campers can make their temporary homes at Bellaire, Dowdy or West Lake forest service campgrounds, which feature basic services such as electric hookups, hand-pumped water and vault toilets. More adventurous souls who prefer camping outside of established areas have thousands of acres of public forest land, streams and lakes to explore. RVers need to remember that the closest dump station in the area is located in Fort Collins, so use care when filling those holding tanks.

If a comfortable bed and a fireplace is your ideal retreat, there are dozens of home rentals in the area. Local property manager Barb Bowman of Kenosha Mountain Security can connect you with some of the most luxurious rentals in Red Feather, but if your goal is to experience the frontier lifestyle, Lone Pine Realty has rustic log cabin rentals tucked away in pine and aspen forests.

red feather lakes fishing

There are many available home rentals near Red Feather Lakes.

Off-roaders don’t have to stray far from the village to find back-country adventures. Take a journey deep into the heart of the national forest and you’ll eventually end up in Walden or even Steamboat. Other back roads lead to the Poudre River (CR 14) or Creedmore Lakes. On weekends you’ll find a few hikers and equestrians on the Mount Margaret Trail, a relatively flat, 8-mile casual hike offering spectacular 360-degree views of Red Feather Lakes.

Common Questions About Red Feather Lakes, Colorado

Is Red Feather Lakes Open?

Yes, Red Feather Lakes are always open.  Camping might not be available all year long, but you can access almost all county and state lake areas all year.

Can you swim at Red Feather Lakes?

You can swim in certain areas of Red Feather Lakes.  It’s best to check the lake or camping site to be sure.  If it’s not available where you are camping, try another area or ask the locals for the not so public areas.

How far is Red Feather Lakes from Fort Collins?

The drive from Fort Collins to Red Feather Lakes takes about 45 minutes on a good day.  This can be a little longer depending on weather and which route you take to get there.

What kind of fish are in Red Feather Lakes?

Some of the most common fish in Red Feather Lakes are brook trout, lake trout, salmon and mountain whitefish. There are other less common types of fish and some say they are not that great to eat.  So catch and release might be your best bet.

Other Things To Do In The Area

To experience one of the most unusual attractions in the Red Feather area, point your vehicle east back on CR 74E to CR 68C and head south to the Shambhala Mountain Center, a Buddhist retreat with the world’s largest stupa, a sacred monument said to promote harmony, prosperity, longevity, good health, peace and freedom from ignorance. The memorial was created, according to Buddhist traditions, to honor a respected teacher. The construction took 13 years, and it is said that its strong enough to stand for 1,000 years. The family will also enjoy a visit to the Deadman Lookout, which was once used to spot fires in the area. It sits high above the wilderness area and provides visitors with a view of the world below.

Choose A Restaurant

And after a long day in the woods you won’t go hungry. Red Feather Lakes has four full-service restaurants. Travel south or north on CR 74E for breakfast, lunch and dinner fare at Crystal Lakes, Beaver Meadows and Glacier View resorts. On weekends you can join in with locals at the karaoke machine and belt out your favorite tunes at the Pot Belly Deli, Restaurant and Bar. The service is awesome, and regulars highly recommend the burrito and bacon burger. The Trout Tavern is another great option that receives high ratings from customers. They say this is because of the hospitality, service, and the delicious food. Be sure to try one of their great sandwiches and top it off with a yummy dessert. If you want to enjoy a relaxing drink, check out their cocktail menu. Last- but- not- least, DaLonna Mae’s Cafe provides fantastic sandwiches and salads. If you place a call-in order, be sure to check out their containers. They are fully compostable plant-based products. Think green!

If You Go

To get to Red Feather Lakes Colorado, drive north of Fort Collins on U.S. Highway 287. Turn west on CR 74E (Red Feather Lakes Road) and travel about 25 miles to Red Feather Lakes. Turn North on CR 179 (Prairie Divide Road) to reach Red Feather Lakes Village.

Planning a trip to Red Feather Lakes will offer you a bundle of opportunities to enjoy the things you like best in this little slice of heaven.

Check out some other towns in Colorado that you might to visit!