Just a short 2 hour drive from Denver (depending on traffic) is a most magical area nestled snugly between Colorado’s highest peaks in a lush mountain valley. A clear stream feeds a picturesque lake held in place by sheer granite cliffs of the Elk Mountains. Cottonwood Lake Campground is a first come first serve campground and it is by far the nicest pay campground we’ve ever stayed in. Beware of ravenous chipmunks.
Each campsite has been totally remodeled and are a nice distance from each other. The restrooms are clean (if you are in to that sort of thing) while the scenery and access to activities is truly unparalleled. Hiking, mountain biking, fishing, SUPs, whitewater rafting, canoeing, wildlife, birding, hot springs? This place checks all the boxes.
Most campsites are easily large enough for two huge tents and two cars. Ours was so big, we had room for two tents, two trucks, and our trailer as well, with plenty of room to stretch out.
The sites are extremely level and the fire pits are clean and waiting for firewood. The camp hosts were very nice and asked how they could improve the experience. I don’t know, maybe a topless magician who wanders around to each campsite and performs for free, then leaves you a brace of firewood? Seriously, there’s not much to improve on here.
The lake itself is one of the most scenic in the state. Especially in the fall when leaves are changing. It sits at 9,550 and is clear and vast. The busy shore is on the east along the road but once you are out on the water it feels like you have it all to yourself. The fishing is easy if you have a vessel and can get away from the shore, and supposedly there are Northern Pike in the lake. We only caught stocked Rainbows which we kept for supper. And they were freaking delicious.
The drive up is too easy. Once you get to Buena Vista just take the exit to Cottonwood Pass. Watch for the sign on your left for Cottonwood Lake and head that direction. You can’t miss it.
Local attractions are the 14ers that beckon to be climbed, Cottonwood Hot Springs which remains a little janky, Mt. Princeton Hot Springs which is super nice, and an abundance of literally endless outdoor activities. Be sure to drive into town on your way out and get a smoothie at The Blend. Best in Colorado.
If you’ve read this far, thanks! Bonus for you! Dispersed camping past the campground abounds. Just pass Cottonwood Lake Campground and the gravel road runs at least another five miles until it gets to be a 4-wheeler road. Tons of dispersed along Cottonwood Creek here. The secret is out.