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Staying in the Wild West while Boondocking in Red Feather Lakes

Tom and I wanted to take a camping trip while we were in Fort Collins, but because of weather and timing, it didn't really work out for the first couple of weekends. Lucky for us, one of Tom's friends from the Wilderness First Responder course (Josh) invited us to go camping in Red Feather Lakes with his girlfriend (Jen) and him.

We didn't really know much about the place, but were told the area was really nice and everyone who's been there has really enjoyed it. The front gate to the area was closed to cars because they were coming off the winter, and there might have still been snow or ice on the roads. However, you could still hike through. We quickly set aside our camping essentials, checked the weather for Red Feather Lakes, and stuffed everything we needed into our packs.

Jessica wearing backpack
checking how the pack fits

The next day we headed over to Josh's apartment to caravan over to the site, and we were greeted with a surprise. They were talking about adding extra stuff to the cooler. There were still a few things to pack; Jen was in jeans; and they kept their gear loose in the trunk of their car. Tom and I had prepared for backcountry camping, and Josh and Jen had packed for car camping. Thank goodness it wasn't the other way around!


The area we headed to was situated in a National Forest, but we could stay there for free. This is because the area is undeveloped. Think no hookups for RVs, no restrooms, and no water. You can stay in one of the hundreds of campsites available as long as no one else is using it and you don't stay longer than 14 days. My dad was telling us about this type of camping when we were visiting in Nebraska. He called it boondocking. Imagine our surprise when we found out that's what we were going to do on this trip. I couldn't wait to tell my dad about it after the camping trip had ended.

Weather Surprises

As with any camping trip, knowing the scheduled forecast is important, but so is knowing the seasonal weather. For example, April - June is hail season in the area, and these don't show up in the forecast. We were caught in a couple of hail and sleet storms while we were at our campsite. While we would've been fine waiting it out in our tent with the rain fly on, what made the trip really enjoyable was the tarp. Josh and Jen brought a tarp that we strung up between the trees to give us and the dog shade while we hung out at the campsite. When the heavy weather came through, we listened to the pop-pop-popping sound of the hail from comfort of our camp chairs... and still within close proximity of our warm fire.

hail on ground with campfire
the view from under the protection of our tarp

It's also nice to know if there are going to be any astrological phenomena. Going camping usually brings us away from the bright light pollution of the city, and provides the darkness that allows the stars to shine even more brightly. There was no getting through the clouds on the first night, but the clear skies afterwards allowed us to see Jupiter by the full moon. Our friend Max brought a telescope and focused the lens on the moon. We could see the craters so clearly! (Fun fact: the dark side of the moon has more craters.)

two people looking at the dusk sky
Josh & Jen searching for Jupiter and the moon

Full Moon & Jupiter behind trees
Full Moon & Jupiter


Depending on when you go, trails or roads might not be accessible. Most of our hiking was done on the access roads exploring the different campsites and seeing the different views. One of the sites had an amazing view, but you had to go up a steep gravel road with lots of bumps and potholes to get there.

On our second day, we took a trail through the woods, trying to see where it would take us. We ended up taking a detour up the side of a hill and climbing up these huge rocks to catch a glimpse of our surroundings and take a snack break before coming back down.

We also took a hike past the entrance gate onto the roads that were closed to cars due to winter weather. Along the way, we spotted a small creek that had mini "falls" caused by the recent rain. I have this fascination with water and wanted to see what it looked like upstream . We found a really cool camp site located by the creek and stopped a bit before heading back.


This seemed to me like the Wild West of campgrounds. I didn't have to check in anywhere or pay. I could bring my own firewood. There were no quiet hours, and our friends could hear the sounds of Lil Wayne playing from another camp site in the middle of the night. We all heard the popping of gunshots through out the day. No one was hurt, but I also recommend wearing bright clothing and being aware of your surroundings if you come out here on a busy weekend like Memorial Day.

Josh had never shot a gun before, so Max took this as an opportunity to teach him about shooting and, of course, proper gun safety. Then we set up targets from trash other people left behind, made sure the area was clear, put some holes in various cans, and shattered some clay pieces. We ended up collecting a lot of trash between the debris from shooting and picking up the things we found on the way back to camp.

While the trip wasn't the backcountry experience we were expecting (or like any other camping trip I've ever been on), it was still a very enjoyable one. We were well prepared and showed up with an open mind. Just another example how flexibility is used in more places than the yoga mat.


Have you ever had an experience that didn't go as planned? Let me know how you overcame it in the comments below.

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