Float to Camp

Looking for the perfect campground? Leave the drive-thru loops to the cars and paddle into these sites that are only accessible by boat.

yours all yours Curecanti National Recreation Area is the perfect spot to seek paddle-in camping. it also could come under national park protection under the proposed core act in Congress now. photo Courtesy NPS/Lisa Lynch

Boat-in camping is a fun way to avoid the crowds, but it requires a bit more preparation than drive-up sites. First, you’ll have to protect your gear from water—both the stuff you’re paddling across and precipitation. Be sure to pack dry bags, especially to stash your essentials. Also, don’t head out on a paddling adventure without experience and some water-safety training. Ensure your craft is well-maintained and ready for the journey ahead. You don’t want to find out your boat is leaky halfway across a lake.

Many areas require watercraft permits and inspections, even for canoes and kayaks, so plan accordingly. Be sure your equipment is clean and free of invasive species such as hitchhiking aquatic snails, which can devastate sensitive ecosystems. Be sure to follow safe boating practices, check regulations, and always have PFDs for everyone on board. Consider bringing a way to notify people if you need help in an emergency since cell phones will not work in many areas.

Weather is also an important consideration when you go boating. During a lightning storm, you don’t want to be anywhere near the water. Know the forecast, keep an eye on the skies and have a plan to reach safety in a hurry in the event of a storm. Wind storms can also create waves and hazardous conditions.

Ok, with all of that necessary info out of the way it’s time to have fun. Here are a few nearby gems to enjoy the art of boat-in camping:

Horsetooth Reservoir, Colorado

Just outside Fort Collins, Larimer County’s Horsetooth Reservoir features 15 boat-in campsites. While the exact site locations vary based on water levels, each campsite can accommodate a maximum of four tents and up to eight people. Backcountry restrooms are available near some sites, while others require Leave No Trace techniques (bring a small shovel or prepare to pack it out) for disposing of human waste. Enjoy swimming, fishing and even scuba diving between lounging at your camp on the reservoir. You can reserve these sites online at larimer.org

Curecanti National Recreation Area, Colorado

Located along the Gunnison River, Curecanti National Recreation Area offers three reservoirs with boat-in camping opportunities. Turtle Rock on Blue Mesa Reservoir is a favorite canoe spot since it’s close to Elk Creek Marina. A bit farther out, Cebolla offers two campsites nestled in cottonwood trees with rocky cliffs nearby. Lake Fork is in a shady area near a quiet cove. Backcountry camping is also available in some locations of Blue Mesa Reservoir, though you will need to check on restrictions. Morrow Point Reservoir is available for canoe and kayak camping, but keep in mind the access route requires climbing or descending 232 stairs (inflatables anyone?). Dam releases can quickly create dangerous boating conditions, so also check the reservoir levels information on the National Park Service site to avoid them. Backcountry permits are required for boaters and available at nps.gov/cure.

Flaming Gorge Reservoir, Ashley National Forest, Utah

Hideout Canyon’s boat-in campground will put you far from the crowds on the Flaming Gorge Reservoir. The campground is only available for those who boat or hike in and offers 18 sites as well as flush toilets. Be aware that it’s located among cliffs at 6,000 feet, so the sites have limited shade. Reservations are strongly recommended via recreation.gov

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