Campground – Cottonwood Lake

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.

Evening on the lake with fish rising to red quills, or something.

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.

Camping like we mean it by god.

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.

MH on the SUP.

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.

Me and the float tube and the mountains.

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.

Me watching an expert clean fish. Facial hair and plaid shirts all around.

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.

The moose who wandered into the lake for lunch.

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.

Published by willbarch78

I grew up in the middle of nowhere Texas. The nearest Walmart was a full two hours away. My family still runs a ranch back home that I grew up on, but at some point in my treasured youth I hung up the idea of becoming a cowboy, and pursued my passion for architecture. Today I still find myself trying to fit in to a life that has treated me with the average ups and downs one can expect after a certain number of years. My wife and I moved to Denver after attending Texas Tech School of Architecture in Lubbock as we needed a grade change from the Llano Estacado. We camp with our three growing girls all summer and into the fall while I write and create and fly fish to maintain sanity. Life is moving fast as our careers and children progress in all areas, so being outdoors with each other keeps us mostly grounded.

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