Spread over the Rocky Mountains west of Denver, Colorado, the Arapaho National Forest covers more than 700,000 acres. It's a true outdoor playground — clear, cold rivers run through deep evergreen forests and wildflower-studded meadows, and snow-covered peaks rise in every direction. Hiking trails abound; there are 30 routes in the spectacular Indian Peaks Wilderness division alone. Off the trail, you'll find picnic areas, scenic drives, fishing, camping, and mountain biking. Whether you're seeking solitude and high-elevation adventures or you're more comfortable in a crowd, the Arapaho National Forest has plenty to offer.
The weather in the Arapaho National Forest can change on a dime, with sunshine one moment and wild thunderstorms or even snowstorms the next. The temperature can change dramatically with elevation, which means that high-mountain campgrounds often feel 20 degrees colder. With an RV, you can choose any campsite knowing that you'll be warm and comfortable each night. Make your trip more convenient by renting an RV from RVshare near your home or your destination.
Pull into a campsite next to St. Louis Creek at St. Louis Creek Campground. Surrounded by forests and views of the mountains in the distance, this is a beautiful, central spot to explore the Arapaho National Forest. Each site includes a picnic table and fire pit, and you'll find vault toilets and drinking water in the campground. RVs that are 25 feet or shorter are welcome. Sites are first-come, first-served, so it's a good idea to arrive early at this popular spot. Rates start at $22 per night during the campground's June-September season.
Bring an RV up to 30 feet long to Idlewild Campground, which sits at 9,000 feet above sea level. You won't find hookups here, but the gorgeous forested sites are worth the trip. The campground offers drinking water, trash service, and vault toilets. The popular town of Winter Park, Colorado, is just 1 mile north. All sites are first-come, first-served. Due to heavy winter snowfall, Idlewild is open from mid-June to the end of September. Rates start at $22 per night.
If you prefer glamping to rustic forest camping, River Run RV Resort is a luxurious option. Located in Granby, Colorado, this high-end RV resort offers all of the comforts you're after: full hookups, cable TV, Wi-Fi, a general store, hot tubs, and a wellness center. Families love the games and sports facilities, and there's even a yoga lawn for a bit of stretching. You can rent golf carts in the resort or hop on a shuttle to a nearby restaurant or wilderness area. When the sun's out, head to the lake to rent a paddleboard or kayak. Both back-in and pull-through sites are available; rates start at $86 per night.
Located between Denver and the Arapaho National Forest, Base Camp at Golden Gate Canyon is a convenient place to camp while you explore the wilderness. With cabins, tent sites, and RV sites, there's something for everyone. The 19 RV campsites offer water and electric hookups, a grill, and a picnic table; reserve in advance if you need one of the few 50-amp spots. Pick up snacks and firewood in the camp store or liquor store, and fill up at the gas station before you hit the road. In the campground, you'll find free Wi-Fi, a laundry room, hot showers, and a playground. RV sites start at $60 per night for up to four people.
Hike to the top of 12,804-foot Byers Peak on the Byers Peak Trail. Starting at 10,780 feet at the trailhead, this route runs through sub-alpine areas and past the tree line, often traversing snowfields that last well into the summer months. Look out for spectacular wildflowers, and be sure to bring your camera for the panoramic views of the peaks and valleys from the summit. The first 1.9 miles is a shared-use trail; keep an eye out for mountain bikes.
Length: 8.8 miles
One of the most popular trails in the Arapaho National Forest, the Mitchell Lake Trail takes you through stands of aspen and up to the high-alpine Mitchell Lake and Blue Lake. The latter lives up to its name; the striking blue water reflects the rugged peaks above, creating the ultimate Colorado vista. Usage levels are extremely high, so make sure to arrive at the trailhead well before 7:00 a.m. to get a parking spot and beat the crowds.
Length: 6.8 miles
The Crater Lakes Trail is another well-trodden route, and for good reason — the views of Lone Eagle Peak, Mirror Lake, and Crater Lake are unparalleled. Along the way, you'll see wildflowers, a rushing creek, flowering meadows, and deep forests. The route is particularly beautiful in the fall when the aspens turn a mind-boggling shade of yellow.
Length: 15.2 miles
If you're interested in bagging a fourteener — a mountain that's taller than 14,000 feet — head for the Mount Evans Ridge Trail. From its start at Summit Lake, it takes you along a ridge and up to the summit of Mount Evans. Afternoon thunderstorms are frequent and potentially dangerous for hikers; plan to start early in the morning for the best weather, clearest views, and safest conditions.
Length: 5 miles
Intensity: Difficult to Very Difficult
If you're looking for a family hike, Lost Lake Trail is a lovely, kid-friendly option. The elevation gain is just 800 feet, and the trail itself is well-maintained and frequently used. As you hike through pine and aspen forests, you'll pass an old log cabin, a waterfall, and beautiful valleys. Bring snacks and plan to spend some time at Lost Lake before heading back down to the trailhead.
Length: 2.8 miles
Short and easy, the Rainbow Lakes Trail is ideal for kids and novice hikers. It gains less than 300 feet in elevation over 1.2 miles, so your crew can enjoy the views of each lake and beaver pond. This trail enables you to access the Arapaho Glacier Trail, which passes the Arapaho Glacier Overlook and terminates at the historic Fourth of July Mine.
Length: 2.4 miles
Intensity: Easy to Moderate
Hiking is the most popular way to experience the Arapaho National Forest, but there are plenty of other activities to keep you busy. If you want to see the wilderness at a faster pace, try mountain biking, road cycling, or horseback riding. Rock climbers flock to Boulder Canyon and the Chicago Lakes Trail, and anglers can try river, stream, and lake fishing all year. The forest's many lakes offer motorized and non-motorized boating. For a relaxing experience, take a drive down the National Scenic Byway or one of the five State Scenic Byways. If you're visiting in the winter, try skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or snowmobiling.
Arapaho National Forest is home to a wide range of wildlife and plant species. You can find elk and moose as well as smaller animals like red foxes and long-tailed weasels. There are over 208 species of birds, so birdwatchers are sure to enjoy their time at this national forest. As for plants, hikers will find a variety of flowering plants as well as trees. The easiest place to experience wild Colorado is the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, which offers a range of easily accessible trails and recreation areas.
Address: 2150 Centre Avenue, Building E, Fort Collins, CO 80526
Fee: Entry fee $0
Boasting enormous swaths of pristine woodlands, meadows, and mountain peaks, Arapaho National Forest draws adventurers from around the world. This Colorado forest offers something for every visitor, whether you want to bag a fourteener or enjoy leisurely strolls by alpine lakes. With an RV rental, you can enjoy everything the region has to offer at any time of year.