Category: Carter lake

The Complete Guide to Camping at Carter Lake, CO

Carter Lake, a 1,100-acre reservoir near Loveland, Colorado, truly has something for everyone. It is easily accessible from the Front Range, but thanks to its 1,000 acres of surrounding wilderness,…

Carter Lake, a 1,100-acre reservoir near Loveland, Colorado, truly has something for everyone. It is easily accessible from the Front Range, but thanks to its 1,000 acres of surrounding wilderness, it feels peaceful and remote. This beautiful area is popular with families, water lovers, and adventure seekers alike. Planning a Carter Lake camping trip is the perfect way to experience this incredible landscape.

The reservoir features tons of camping options including five developed campgrounds located all along the nearly 8-mile length of Carter Lake, nearby RV and car camping sites, and even some free dispersed camping.

In this post…

 

What to Do at Carter Lake

There’s no shortage of fun activities to keep you entertained at Carter Lake. Water enthusiasts will enjoy lots of great boating, fishing, sailing, swimming, and even scuba diving! On dry land, there are great options for hiking, cycling, picnicking, and rock climbing.

Two Kayaks in the sunset at Carter Lake, Colorado

Watersport enthusiasts will love all of the activities at Carter Lake!

 

Carter Lake Campgrounds

Carter Lake stretches three miles long, with its southern end just west of Berthoud, and its northernmost tip closer to Loveland. All along this spectacular shoreline, you’ll find dozens of unique camping opportunities for both tents and RV’s.

Carter Lake’s five developed campgrounds are located along the southern, eastern, and northern shores of the reservoir. Backcountry and dispersed camping are not permitted; you must camp in a designated site at Carter Lake.

The map below shows all of the campgrounds included in this guide.

Campgrounds with a green tent icon are the developed campgrounds at Carter Lake, the blue camper trailer icon represents RV  and car camping campgrounds near the reservoir, and finally the red tent icon represents dispersed car camping options in the surrounding area.

Enjoy!

Reservations & Permits

In addition to a park entrance permit, you’ll also need a separate permit to camp at Carter Lake. Reserving your campsite online or at the Larimer County Administration Office will provide you with a camping permit.  Daily and annual entry permits can be purchased at the entrance stations located at the north and south entrances to the reservoir.

Click here for more information on park entrance permits

If you plan on camping at Carter Lake on a summer weekend, advance reservations are necessary, as the campgrounds are nearly always at capacity. It is possible to reserve a site at all five of the campgrounds through the Larimer County website or by calling 1-800-397-7795.

Reservations can be made anywhere from 180-1 day(s) in advance, but book as early as possible for summer weekends. Additionally, it’s important to note that there’s a two-night minimum for weekend bookings April-September, and a three-night minimum for holidays.

Click here to make a camping reservation at Carter Lake 

It may be possible to find a campsite at Carter Lake without a reservation if you’re camping on a weekday and/or outside of the peak summer months. If you are arriving without a reservation, you’ll need to first go to the Larimer County Administration Office to pay for your campsite and get your camping permit (1800 S. County Road 31, Loveland, CO 80537). You cannot pay for a first-come, first-served campsite at Carter Lake. The Administration Office is typically open from 9:00am-4:00pm, 7 days a week.

The only exception to this rule is if you are camping between November 1st-February 28th. If you want to make a same-day reservation during those months, you can do so online.

Camp chairs set up around a campfire at Carter Lake

Don’t forget your cooler and your camp chairs for your trip to Carter Lake!

 

What to Bring

Preparing for a Carter Lake camping trip involves more than deciding which campground best fits your needs. There is also the important job of making sure you have all the right gear you’ll need to ensure a great trip.

We’re sure you’ll already have the essentials like a great tentsleeping bags, and camp chairs, but below are some of our favorite items specifically for camping at Carter Lake:

  • Coleman Camping Stove – This camping classic is perfect cooking up campsite dinners.
  • Pop-up canopy – The sun in Colorado can be extremely strong. We recommend bringing a portable shade structure like this one.
  • Portable water container – These portable water containers are a lifesaver.
  • Cooler – A good cooler is essential to any camping trip. We can’t recommend Yeti enough!
  • Waterproof phone case-Take photos and enjoy the water without worrying about your device!

When to Camp at Carter Lake

Camping is permitted year-round at all five developed campgrounds at Carter Lake. Nighttime temperatures remain well below freezing during the winter months. For that reason, we only recommend winter camping at Carter Lake for the heartiest and most well-prepared campers out there!

Due to its elevation of 5,760 feet, mornings and evenings are routinely quite chilly even in the late spring and early fall. On the other hand, expect very hot temperatures from June-September.

Carter Lake is very popular and get can quite crowded in the peak season (April-September).

A speedboat with autumn trees in the background

It’s possible to camp at Carter Lake all year.

 

Developed Campgrounds

While all of the campgrounds at Carter Lake have plenty of amenities and are easy to get to, each offers its own unique advantages. For example, only some have water views and/or shoreline access, others are closer to the marina, and only a portion of the sites have electrical hookups.

A few important details that apply to all of the campgrounds:

  • There is a maximum group size of six people at the Big Thompson, Carter Knolls, and North Pines Campgrounds and eight people at the Eagle and South Shore Campgrounds.
  • All campgrounds allow for up to two vehicles and one camping vehicle (RV, trailer) per site.
  • RV’s can fill up water and use the dump station at the south entrance to the reservoir.
  • Cell phone service is generally available throughout the area, although there is no wifi at any of the campgrounds.

Keep reading to learn about all of the Carter Lake Campgrounds and find your perfect campsite.

Big Thompson Campground

Number of Sites: 8 sites
Fee: $20/night (weekdays), $26/night (weekends April-Sept), $30/night (holidays April-Sept)
RVs: Yes, no hookups
Reservations: Recommended during summer months. Click here to reserve.
Season: Open year round. Water may only be available from offsite spigots in the winter.

Click here for a map of the Big Thompson Campground

The Big Thompson Campground is located along the northeast shore of Carter Lake. It is close to the marina and the northern entrance to the reservoir.  All sites have beautiful lake views, although they are located high above the beach and require a short hike to reach the water.

With just eight sites, Big Thompson is a small campground with basic facilities. Amenities include a drinking water tap, vault toilets, and trash receptacles. Every site has its own picnic table and fire pit. There are no electrical hookups, but the pull-through sites can accommodate RVs up to 40 feet long. Campers can use the showers at the Eagle Campground, which is conveniently located just down the road from the Big Thompson Campground. Site T4 is ADA accessible.

It is highly recommended to make an advance reservation during the summer months, and especially so on holiday weekends. Reservations can be made below:

Click here to reserve your campsite at the Big Thompson Campground. 

A view of the Big Thompson Campground from across the road

The Big Thompson Campground.

 

Carter Knolls Campground

Number of Sites: 7 sites
Fee: $20/night (weekdays), $26/night (weekends April-Sept), $30/night (holidays April-Sept)
RVs: Yes, no hookups
Reservations: Recommended. Click here to reserve.
Season: Open year round. Water may only be available from offsite spigots in the winter.

Click here for a map of the Carter Knolls Campground

This small campground is perched on a rocky overlook on the east side of Carter Lake. The Carter Knolls Campground is conveniently located near the swimming beach, and it’s roughly halfway between the northern and southern entrances. Although its lofty position means that it can get extremely windy at times, it also makes for fantastic views of the entire reservoir and surrounding area. It’s possible to hike down a short, steep trail to reach the waterfront from the campground.

Sites C8 and C9 are tent-only and require a short walk from the parking area. Site C5 is best suited for larger RVs, as it can accommodate rigs up to 55 feet long in a pull-through spot. The other sites (with the exception of C8 and C9) can accommodate RVs up to 20 feet long in back-in spots.

Amenities at the Carter Knolls Campground include a drinking water tap, vault toilets, and trash receptacles. All sites have a picnic table and fire pit, and there is a nice picnic pavilion located at the center of the campground. Campers can shower at the Eagle Campground, and RV’s can fill up water at the south entrance to Carter Lake.

It is highly recommended to make an advance reservation during the summer months, and especially so on holiday weekends. Reservations can be made below:

Click here to reserve your campsite at the Carter Knolls Campground

The picnic pavilion with Carter Lake behind it at the Carter Knolls Campground.

The Carter Knolls Campground.

 

Eagle Campground

Number of Sites:  47 sites
Fee: $32/night (weekdays), $42/night (weekends April-Sept), $48/night (holidays April-Sept)
RVs: Yes, 50 amp electric hookups.
Reservations: Recommended. Click here to reserve.
Season: Open year round.

Click here for a map of the Eagle Campground

Located across the road from the marina and near the northern entrance to Carter Lake, the Eagle Campground provides easy access to variety of activities.  This is one of the larger and more developed campgrounds at Carter Lake. Although the campground is not adjacent to the water, sites E2-E21 have lake views. The remainder of the sites are located in a lovely meadow below the road. The campground enjoys a wooded setting, which provides shade, privacy, and some shelter from the wind.

All of the sites at the Eagle Campground can accommodate RVs and provide 50 amp electrical hookups. There are back-in and pull-through sites available, and some sites can fit big rigs up to 75 feet long. Sites E23-E25 are ADA accessible pull-through sites.

Amenities at the Eagle Campground include flush toilets, drinking water, coin-operated showers, trailer parking, and a playground. All sites have a picnic table and a fire pit. The marina shop, which sells some snacks and basic items, is directly across the road.

It is highly recommended to make an advance reservation during weekends and summer months. Reservations can be made below:

Click here to reserve your campsite at the Eagle Campground

A picnic table and a campsite at the Eagle Campground, Carter Lake

The Eagle Campground.

 

North Pines Campground

Number of Sites:  4 sites
Fee: $20/night (weekdays), $26/night (weekends April-Sept), $30/night (holidays April-Sept)
RVs: Yes, no hookups.
Reservations: Recommended. Click here to reserve.
Season: Open year round.

Click here for a map of the North Pines Campground

The North Pines Campground is tucked away in a quiet, pretty location on the northern edge of Carter Lake. It is next to the private Carter Lake Sailing Club, the North Pines boat ramp, and the Sundance hiking trail. It’s very close to the northern entrance to the reservoir. With just four sites, it is the smallest of all of the Carter Lake campgrounds.

Although there are no electrical hookups, all four sites at the North Pines Campground can accommodate RVs. Big rigs should aim for site N3, as this is the only pull-through site and can fit RV’s up to 50 feet long. All of the sites have at least partial lake views, but site N4 has the best views and water access.

Amenities at the North Pines Campground include a drinking water tap, vault toilets, and trash receptacles. Each site has a picnic table and a fire pit. Campers can use the showers at the Eagle Campground, which is conveniently located just down the road from the Big Thompson Campground.

It is highly recommended to make an advance reservation during the summer months, and especially so on holiday weekends. Reservations can be made below:

Click here to reserve your campsite at the North Pines Campground

 

South Shore Campground

Number of Sites:  51 sites
Fee: $32/night (weekdays), $42/night (weekends April-Sept), $48/night (holidays April-Sept)
RVs: Yes, 50 amp electric hookups.
Reservations: Recommended. Click here to reserve.
Season: Open year round.

Click here for a map of the South Shore Campground

The South Shore Campground, located on the very southern tip of Carter Lake, is the largest campsite in the area. However, due to the fact that it is set back from the main road, it has a peaceful and remote feel. The campground is next to the South boat ramp, reservable picnic pavilions, and the Sundance hiking trail.

The campground has 45 standard electric sites and six tent-only sites that are set on a hillside overlooking the lake. The lower sites have closer water access, while the sites higher on the hill may provide better views of the area. RV’s are permitted in the standard electric sites, all of which are pull-though. Some sites can accommodate RV’s up to 60 feet long, while others are much smaller. Sites S1-S3 are ADA accessible, and sites S3, S5, S7, and S17-S21 provide the best water access.

Amenities at the South Shore Campground include drinking water, vault toilets, trash receptacles, and horseshoe pits. All sites have picnic tables and fire pits.

It is highly recommended to make an advance reservation during the summer months, and especially so on holiday weekends. Reservations can be made below:

Click here to reserve your campsite at the South Shore Campground

A dirt road and RVs parked at the South Shore Campground, Carter Lake

The South Shore Campground.

 

 

Camping near Carter Lake

RV campgrounds

North Shore RV Park

Number of Sites:  7 sites
Fee: $25/night (dry site), $45/night (hookups)
RVs: Yes, 20/30/50 amp electric, water, and sewer hookups.
Reservations: Recommended. Click here to reserve.
Season: Open year round.

This RV park is located just minutes from the northern edge of Carter Lake, and provides easy access to the marina and the North Pines boat ramp. The facilities are nothing fancy, but it’s a great option for RV campers seeking full hookups, or those unable to score a reservation in one of the Carter Lake campgrounds. There are also cabin rentals available on the property.

Amenities include picnic tables, fire rings, laundry facilities, and trash services. There’s a boat/RV storage area and a general store onsite, as well as a restaurant next door. Pets are welcome.

More Information

 

Car camping sites

Flatiron Reservoir Campground

Number of Sites:  36 sites
Fee: $32/night (weekdays), $42/night (weekends April-Sept), $48/night (holidays April-Sept)
RVs: Yes, 50 amp electric hookups.
Reservations: Recommended. Click here to reserve.
Season: Open year round.

Click here for a map of Flatiron Reservoir Campground

Flatiron Reservoir is a small reservoir located northwest of Carter Lake. It’s another great option for tent and RV campers looking to enjoy Carter Lake, as it’s less than 10 minutes from the marina. Just like all of the developed campgrounds at Carter Lake, the Flatiron Reservoir Campground is managed by Larimer County, and the same rules apply in terms of reservations, permits, and regulations. You can use the same entry permit to access both Carter Lake and Flatiron Reservoir.

The Flatiron Reservoir Campground runs along the edge of the water and has 33 standard electric sites and three tipis. Sites F10, F12, F13, F14, F16, F18, F20, F21, F24, and F25 have the best proximity to the water. Sites F6, F8, and F19 are ADA accessible.

All of the standard electric sites can accommodate RVs, and all except for two are pull-through. Site sizes vary, so bigger rigs should check to make sure they can fit before reserving.

Amenities at the Flatiron Reservoir Campground include drinking water, vault toilets, a fishing pier, volleyball courts, and horseshoe pits. Each campsite has a picnic table and fire pit.

Click here to reserve your campsite at Flatiron Reservoir

 

Estes Park KOA

Number of sites: Plenty!
Fee: Varies
RVs: Yes, full hookups available.
Reservations: Recommended. Click here to reserve.
Season: May 1st-October 15th

Campers willing to travel a bit further afield can reach the Estes Park KOA in less than an hour from Carter Lake. The Estes Park KOA is located east of the town of Estes Park, just above Lake Estes. Of course, the main attraction here is nearby Rocky Mountain National Park, so those looking to explore both RMNP and Carter Lake will appreciate this location.

There are a variety of accommodations at Estes Park KOA, including tent sites, cabins and several options for RV’s.

Amenities include cable tv, wifi, showers, and a dog park.

More Information

An RV in the daytime with trees in the background.

RV’s will have plenty of camping options near Carter Lake.

 

Free dispersed camping

Unfortunately, there is no free dispersed camping in the immediate area surrounding Carter Lake. However, if you’re willing to travel a bit further, there are some good options on the many acres of Forest Service land that are located about an hour west of Carter Lake, near Rocky Mountain National Park.  You can find more information about dispersed camping on USFS land here.

If you have any questions about the dispersed camping options outlined below be sure to reach out to the USF office that oversees that area:

US Forest Service Office: 303-541-2500 or 970-295-6700

Coyote Hill Road

Your first option for free dispersed camping near Carter Lake and RMNP is along Coyote Hill Road, located just outside of Estes Park. Also known as Forest Service Road 119, it is recommend to come with a high clearance 4×4 to reach the campsites. This area is located about an hour’s drive from Carter Lake.

Parachute Hill/Johnny Park Road

Parachute Hill Road and Johnny Park Road are both good options for free dispersed camping, and are about one hour and fifteen minutes from Carter Lake. To access the camping area you’ll take Highway 7, which runs between Estes Park and Allenspark to Boulder County Road 82. From here, head east towards the Johnny Park Trail before turning off on FS Road 329.

Pole Hill Road

The Pole Hill Road dispersed camping area is accessed from Highway 36 just south of Estes Park. Look for the Pole Hill Road intersection just before Highway 36 begins its descent into Estes Park. 4WD is a must here and also be sure to practice Leave No Trace principles as there have been many complaints from surrounding land owners. Keep in mind that your map application may show a shorter, more direct route from Carter Lake on a private road, but you’ll need to take one of the longer routes (either via US34 or US36) to avoid trespassing. Both of these longer routes take about an hour to reach Carter Lake.

A blue and an orange tent with sunlight coming through the trees.

Dispersed camping allows you to find more peace and solitude than at a developed campground.

 

Carter Lake Camping Must Know

Pets

Pets are welcome at Carter Lake, provided you follow a few guidelines:

  • Pets must be kept on a leash at all times (max length 10 feet)
  • Pets may not be left unattended
  • Pets are not allowed at the swim beach

 

Where to get supplies

Preparing for your Carter Lake camping trip involves more than just finding the perfect campground. you’ll also need to be sure you have all the supplies you need before heading out. Luckily, Carter Lake is well served by a few adjacent towns that have all the services you could possibly need.

You’ll find your best options to stock up on camping supplies near Carter Lake below:

  • Berthoud, CO: Located immediately to the east of the Carter Lake, Berthoud is likely your best bet for finding any last minute camping supplies. This lovely town features grocery stores, liquor stores, gas stations and restaurants.
  • Loveland, CO: Located to the northeast of Carter Lake, Loveland is the bigger of the two nearby towns and therefore has a wider range of services. You’ll find grocery stores, gas stations, outdoor shops, medical offices, and anything else you might need here.

Additionally, there is a small shop at the Carter Lake Marina and a general store at the nearby North Shore RV Park, both of which sell snacks and some basic supplies.

 

Fires

Fires are generally permitted. but only in the designated fire pits provided at all of the campsites at Carter Lake. Seasonal fire restrictions are common, however, so be sure to call 970-619-4570 or check this website before your camping trip.

 

A paved road with Carter lake in the background

Have a great trip!

That’s it!

We hope you’ve found all of this post’s information on Carter Lake camping to be helpful, and we know you’ll find the perfect campsite for your upcoming adventure! Be sure to let us know in the comments below if you have any questions or had a great time out camping!

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