Red Feather Lakes: Northern Colorado’s Best-Kept Secret
Between 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.”
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.
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.
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.
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
If You Go
To get to Red Feather Lakes, 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.
Poudre River/Red Feather Lakes Tourist Council
U.S. National Forest Campground Guide: Roosevelt National Forest Campgrounds: Colorado
Kenosha Mountain Security Vacation Rentals
Lone Pine Realty
Red Feather Lakes Trading Post
Shambhala Mountain Center
Pot Belly Deli, Restaurant and Bar
24340 W County Road 74e, Red Feather Lakes, CO 80545