Horsetooth Reservoir Camping: What You Need To Know

The sun sets over Horsetooth Reservoir and there are trees and a road in the foreground leading to great camping.

Outdoor recreation is foremost on the minds of almost everyone living in Colorado. In Larimer County, Horsetooth Reservoir provides the perfect venue for camping and water activities.

In recent years this resolute body of water has acted as a protector to surrounding communities. For instance, as a water source for battling wildfires, providing crystal clear drinking water for Colorado’s Front Range, and as a respite from the rigors of workweek life. Weekend warriors and hardcore adventurers alike find Horsetooth’s waters and shoreline the perfect playground for their camping escapes. 

A dry golden brush trail weaves into the hills around Horsetooth Reservoir with a simple fence and trees in the distance.

About Horsetooth Reservoir

Created in 1949 by the building of four earthen dams. Horsetooth Reservoir is 6-½ miles in length and measures nearly ½ mile wide, with 25 miles of shoreline. It sits just west of the town of Fort Collins, Colorado, and is braced on the west by rock formations of Dakota Sandstone. 

The reservoir was intended to provide a more consistent supply of irrigation water to farmers on the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains, damming the Poudre River for regulated release. But what once was just a municipal service has morphed into a major recreational destination in north-central Colorado. Today many ply its waters for fish and sport, while others play on the lake’s shores and beaches.

Horsetooth Reservoir Campgrounds

Horsetooth Reservoir camping should be considered a competitive sport. As the three most popular campgrounds are constantly sporting recreational vehicles and tents during the lake’s high season. All three of the following campgrounds utilize a reservation system. So everyone gets a fair chance at experiencing time at this sought after destination.

South Bay Campground

4200 W County Rd 38 E, Fort Collins, CO 80526

Open seasonally from April through October (weather permitting), South Bay Campground has 124 campsites with electric hookups.

Several sites are on the water, but the campground is located along a very busy road, making for not-so-quiet camping experiences. A shower house and restrooms are available, along with a dump station and water access with a boat ramp.

You may stay up to 14 days and prices can run up to $54 per night. In addition, there is a $9 non-resident fee and a $9 reservation fee added to the campsite cost. It’s a very busy campground, as its location is prime – close to a large metropolitan area.

Inlet Bay Campground

4200 W County Rd 38 E, Fort Collins, CO 80526

Inlet Bay is also open seasonally from April through October, with 53 electric hookup sites to offer. Many sites are along the waterfront, and restrooms and a shower house are onsite.

There is also a free dump station with campsite reservations costing $45 after all fees are included.

Cellular service seems to be better here than at any other campgrounds around Horsetooth Reservoir, but this location is also along a busy road, creating a bit of noise for campers.

A man rows along Horsetooth Reservoir in a red canoe looking for a place to set up camp along the red rock shore.

Fort Collins / Lakeside KOA

1910 Lakeside Resort Ln, Fort Collins, CO 80524

Located along its own lake just east of Horsetooth Reservoir, Lakeside KOA offers 200 full hookup sites. Each campsite is spacious and has its own fire pit, picnic table, and concrete pad.

The campground offers a good number of amenities, along with a dog run, dump station, seasonal chuckwagon, and train. There are even private hot tub sites, catch and release fishing, and paddleboat rentals.

Prices range from $60 to $70 per night and the sites are big rig friendly.

Best Time to Visit Horsetooth Reservoir

Horsetooth can get extremely busy on weekends and at the height of summer, but with 156,000-acre feet of water on which to play, there is usually enough room for everyone to indulge in their favorite water sport.

Camping can be cut-throat, with a limited number of campsites for an ever-increasing populace, but most allow online reservations.

Late spring or early autumn visits are less hectic and can be more scenic, with the surrounding landscapes full of new growth or colorful seasonal changes. 

Horsetooth Reservoir water shines in the evening light with snow lightly covering the mountains, rocks, and trees.

Things to Do at Horsetooth Reservoir

There’s no lack of activity while camping at Horsetooth reservoir, as outdoor recreation knows no bounds here. Fishermen flock to the shore or explore the waters by boat, and paddle boarders, sailors, and water skiers skim the surface, as well. Swimmers even have their own beach, and scuba diving is a popular distraction at Horsetooth. 

Others take to the land beyond the shoreline, attacking mountain bike trails, rock climbing, or hiking through several nature preserve areas and designated open space regions. And bouldering has become a newfound passion for many on the Dakota Hogback rock formations on the west side of the lake.

Winter provides the perfect palette for cross country skiing, ice fishing, and snowshoe jaunts. Trails that follow Horsetooth Reservoir along its eastern border offer great options for safe cold-weather walks. And Lory State Park on the northwest side of the lake has hunting available for licensed hunters, providing access to the licenses at its visitor center.

Conclusion

It’s a clear conclusion that Horsetooth Reservoir is one of northern Colorado’s worst kept secrets when it comes to recreation.

The lake has not only added a consistent supply of water to surrounding agricultural lands but by doing so, Horsetooth has inadvertently created a central meeting place for those seeking outdoor adventure. If its offerings attract your attention, be sure to add the reservoir to your “Must See” list.

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