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Common Questions About Larimer County Natural Resources

Photo of Horsetooth Reservoir
  1. What areas does Larimer County Department of Natural Resources manage?
    The Department manages a variety of reservoir parks, open spaces, and trails throughout Larimer County, from Estes Park to Loveland to Fort Collins to the northern County border. For detailed information, visit Parks, Reservoirs, Open Spaces, and Trails.
  2. What are your prices?
    For areas that require entrance permits, you'll need a permit for each vehicle for each day or for each vehicle + boat trailer combination for each day. You can purchase daily permits, good from day of purchase to noon the following day, or you can purchase an annual entrance permit, valid for a physical year, month of purchase through month of purchase the following year. Annual entrance permits are transferable among vehicles registered to the same household.

    Boats carried on or in a vehicle (e.g. kayaks, canoes) come in under the vehicle entrance permit. Vehicles with trailered watercraft come in under the vehicle + boat trailer combination permit. All permits are displayed in the vehicle passenger-side window.

    To camp, you must buy a campsite in addition to the entrance permit. If you do not have a camping reservation, you must check in at specific locations in the parks. Check the signs at entrance stations.
  3. Where does the money go?
    Revenue generated from permit sales goes directly back into your parks and open spaces to pay for operating expenses (for example: trash collection, restroom supplies, picnic tables, etc.) and personnel expenses (for example: rangers and maintenance staff out in the field).

    Your Open Lands Program operates on a quarter-cent sales and use tax. This money is used to protect open spaces, natural areas, wildlife habitats, regional parks, and trails.
  4. Why do the water levels fluctuate at Carter Lake, Flatiron Reservoir, Pinewood Reservoir, and Horsetooth Reservoir?
    These are Bureau of Reclamation reservoirs used for water storage. In the winter the reservoirs are filled and in the summer they are drawn down when the farmers call for water. Cities use the water, too, for industry and drinking water.
  5. How deep is the water?
    At Carter Lake, the average depth is 80 feet, with the deepest point being 180 feet. The deepest point in Horsetooth Reservoir is 212 feet.
  6. How big are the reservoirs?
    Horsetooth Reservoir is 6.5 miles long and 1/2 mile wide with several coves. Carter Lake is 3 miles long and 1 mile wide, an oval. Pinewood Reservoir is 100 acres. Flatiron Reservoir is 47 acres. Mary's Lake across from the Estes Park Campground at Mary's Lake is 42 acres, and East Portal Reservoir by Estes Park Campground at East Portal is 2 acres.
  7. Where can we boat? Do I have to have my boat inspected for Aquatic Nuisance Species (ANS)?
    You can boat at Carter Lake and Horsetooth Reservoir. Pinewood Reservoir has no-wake-speed boating—perfect for canoeing and belly boats. Flatiron Reservoir does not allow boats (this includes belly boats) due to rapidly fluctuating water levels. No boats are allowed at Mary's Lake or East Portal Reservoir.

    There are vessel capacity limits on both Carter Lake and Horsetooth Reservoir. Those limits are often reached on weekends during the summer. At high water Carter Lake's maximum capacity is 187 boats. At high water Horsetooth Reservoir's maximum capacity is 380.

    Horsetooth Reservoir and Carter Lake require mandatory watercraft inspections for Aquatic Nuisance Species (ANS). This includes inspection of watercraft motors, trailers, compartments, and any other associated equipment or containers before launch or departure from high risk waters. The only exclusions to these inspections are: hand-launched rafts, kayaks, belly boats, float tubes, canoes, windsurfer boards, sail boards, or inner tubes.

    For more information on ANS inspections and boating access hours view the inspections and boating hours page.
  8. What's the altitude?
    Horsetooth Reservoir – 5,430 feet; Carter Lake – 5,760 feet; Flatiron Reservoir – 5,470 feet; Pinewood Reservoir – 6,580 feet; Hermit Park Open Space – 7,880 to 8,964 feet; Estes Park Campgrounds at Mary's Lake and East Portal – 8,000 to 8,200.
  9. What is the access to dams?
    Due to the Bureau of Reclamation's security requirements, no recreation activity is allowed on any of the dams, or within 100 feet of any of the dams while on land.
  10. How can I get current information about the reservoirs?
    The best way is to Like our page on Facebook or Follow us on Twitter where staff provide real time updates from the field. Also, you can go online to Parks, Reservoirs, Open Spaces, and Trails, select the area you want, then "Current Conditions." The US Bureau of Reclamation often posts up-to-date information about Colorado lakes and reservoirs.
  11. When are you open?
    Some campgrounds are closed during the colder seasons. However, most parks and open spaces are open year round. Seasonal closure of Red Mountain Open Space is December to March because of winter weather changes and the wildlife requirements as set forth in the Management Plan for Red Mountain Open Space. The Keyhole Trail at Devil's Backbone Open Space is closed approximately March to mid June for nesting raptors.
  12. Any place to hike close by?
    At Horsetooth Reservoir you can walk the shorelines around South Bay and Inlet Bay. Horsetooth Mountain Open Space offers 29 miles of trails, and nearby Lory State Park has 25 miles.

    Carter Lake has a 3-mile trail on the west side and a .2-mile trail on the southeast. There are 4 miles of trails at nearby Pinewood Reservoir and Ramsay-Shockey Open Space. Devil's Backbone Open Space, which is about 10 miles from Carter Lake, has another 13 miles of trails.

    Hermit Park Open Space has two trails totaling about 5 miles, connecting to approximately 12 miles of trails in the National Forest next door. Rocky Mountain National Park is about 15 minutes away from Hermit Park Open Space. For more information see our Trails information.
  13. Are the campgrounds near the reservoirs?
    Campgrounds are located all around the reservoirs. Some campsites are right next to the water, some are a little farther away. Hermit Park Open Space is 3 miles from Lake Estes. Mary's Lake is right across the road from Estes Park Campground at Mary's Lake, and East Portal Reservoir is within walking distance of Estes Park Campground at East Portal.
  14. Are the campsites close together?
    It depends on the campground design; however, most allow a reasonable amount of room between campsites.
  15. How big are the campsites?
    Campsites vary in size from walk-in tent sites to pull-through sites for large RVs and 5th wheels.
  16. Are there drop-in campsites?
    During the recreation season, Memorial Day through Labor Day, unreserved campsites are first-come, first-serve. Many visitors make reservations during this period, so unreserved sites are very limited. From October through April, almost all sites are available first-come, first-served.
  17. What is available at each campsite?
    Every designated campsite, with the exception of boat-in sites, has a numbered site marker, fire ring with a grill, and a picnic table. Some campsites have electrical hookups with 30 and 50 amp plugs, and a 20 amp GFI. Estes Park Campgrounds at Mary's Lake and East Portal have 30 amp plugs only. At Hermit Park Open Space, Kruger Equestrian Campground, a horse corral is provided at each campsite.Every campground has drinking water and toilets. Full hookup sites include a combination of water, sewer, and electricity. Full hookup sites are only available at Horsetooth Reservoir and at Mary's Lake and East Portal Campgrounds.
  18. How many campsites do you have?
    Over 600 campsites, 24 camper cabins, and a vintage airstream rental unit.
  19. Do you have full hookups?
    Yes, Horsetooth South Bay and Estes Park Campgrounds at Mary's Lake and East Portal have full hookup sites. There are electrical hookups at several other campgrounds. There are two dump stations at Horsetooth Reservoir (one at Inlet Bay and one at South Bay), one dump station at Carter Lake (at the South Entrance on County Road 8E), one dump station at Hermit Park Open Space; and both Estes Park Campgrounds at Mary's Lake and East Portal have dump stations as well. During the recreation season, drinking water is available in every campground.
  20. How many people are allowed on a campsite? How many vehicles? How many tents?
    The numbers depend on the specific site: however, the maximum for the largest sites is 8 people; 1 camping unit (for example: RV camper, pop-up) with an additional camping unit at an additional fee, and 2 tents; or 4 tents and no camping units.
  21. Can we camp in our boat overnight?
    Yes, you can, as long as you follow all Colorado State Boating Regulations and Coast Guard Regulations for lighting and overnight mooring. At Horsetooth Reservoir, boat-in campsites are available on the west side only, north of Inlet Bay. These sites can be reserved on the reservation system. Boat-in, land camping is not allowed at Carter Lake.
  22. Is camping allowed on the shores?
    The only shore camping allowed is boat-in camping along the west side of Horsetooth Reservoir, north of Inlet Bay. These sites can be reserved on the reservation system.
  23. How long can we camp in your parks? Can we just move to another space after the time limit?
    The maximum time limit is 14 days within any 30-day period anywhere in the entire system. That means if you have stayed for 14 days in any campsites in any of our parks, you must leave for at least 16 days before returning.
  24. Are there shelters at the campsites?
    No, most campsites do not have shelters, although there are a few at Carter Knolls Campground at Carter Lake, at Flatiron Campground at Flatiron Reservoir, at Inlet Bay Campground at Horsetooth Reservoir, and at Pinewood Reservoir.
  25. What are check-in and check-out times?
    For campsites: You can come into your campsite at noon on your arrival day. The campsite must be vacated by 11 a.m. on the departure day. For camper cabins except Hermit Park Open Space: Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend, check in is 1 p.m. Go to campground to campground host site. After Labor Day weekend through before Memorial Day weekend, check in is 1 – 4:30 p.m. only. Go to cabin. A ranger will be by to check you in. If you will not be checking in by 4:30 p.m., call at least one day in advance to make special arrangements: (970) 619-4570 (Mon – Fri, 8 – 4:30). Cabins must be vacated by 11 a.m. on departure day. For camper cabins at Hermit Park Open Space: Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend, check in is 1 p.m. – 8 p.m. only. After Labor Day weekend through before Memorial Day weekend, check in is 1 – 4:30 p.m. only. Go to Information Center to register and check in. If you will be checking in later, call at least one day in advance to make special arrangements: (970) 619-4570 (Mon – Fri, 8 – 4:30). Cabins must be vacated by 11 a.m. on departure day.
  26. How do I make camping reservations and how far in advance can we reserve sites?
    To make a camping reservation call 1 (800) 397-7795 or go to www.larimercamping.com.

    You can reserve sites no sooner than 180 days and no later than one day before you want to come (for example: If you want to camp on Friday night, you have to make your reservation by Thursday night).
  27. Do I get a refund if it rains the whole weekend?
    No refunds are given for weather.
  28. Are there trees?
    It depends on the specific campground. Some campgrounds have trees and some campgrounds are in the open with few trees. At Carter Lake, Eagle Campground is in the pines, while South Shore Campground has cottonwoods. At Horsetooth Reservoir, the South Bay Campground has few trees except around the tent sites. Inlet Bay Campground has some trees. Flatiron Reservoir has some campsites in the trees and some campsites in the open. Hermit Park Open Space and Estes Park Campgrounds at Mary's Lake and East Portal have several wooded areas.
  29. What kind of toilets do you have?
    Each campground has "semi-primitive" vault toilets. Horsetooth South Bay, Horsetooth Inlet Bay, Eagle Campground at Carter Lake, Estes Park Campground at Mary's Lake and Estes Park Campground at East Portal have flush toilets in the shower houses.
  30. Are there playgrounds?
    There are playgrounds at Eagle Campground at Carter Lake and at Estes Park Campgrounds at Mary's Lake and East Portal.
  31. Are there showers?
    Yes. Horsetooth South Bay, Horsetooth Inlet Bay, Eagle Campground at Carter Lake, Estes Park Campground at Mary's Lake and Estes Park Campground at East Portal have their own shower houses. They are open for the season through October 31, 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Showers at the Estes Park Campgrounds take quarters (minimum $2); all other showers take tokens ($1 per token, minimum 2 tokens) which can be purchased onsite.
  32. Can we have fires?
    Unless there is a fire ban or fire restrictions, campfires are allowed in the fire rings. You must bring your own wood. At boat-in sites, fires must be below the water mark in a make-shift ring. See Regulations.
  33. Where can I get firewood?
    You'll need to bring it with you, or purchase it at a store before you get here. The Carter Lake Marina sells firewood. There is no wood gathering allowed in any of our parks. B.Y.O.W. – Bring Your Own Wood!
  34. Are pets allowed?
    Pets are allowed and must be on leash, not more than 10 feet long, at all times. Owners must not leave their pets unattended and they cannot be tied to trees or bushes at the campsites. A maximum of 2 pets are allowed in each Camper Cabin. Pets are not allowed in the vintage airstream. See Regulations.
  35. Is alcohol allowed?
    The only alcohol allowed is 3.2%, in cans only. No glass containers or kegs are allowed in the parks. See Regulations.
  36. Can we swim?
    Swimming is allowed at the swim beaches only. There is a swim beach at Horsetooth Reservoir and a swim beach at Carter Lake. See Regulations.
  37. Can pets be in the water?
    Pets can be in the water but are not allowed at the swim beaches due to health concerns.
  38. Can we rent boats and jet skis?
    At Horsetooth Reservoir, you can rent jet skis, fishing, pontoon and pleasure boats, plus overnight slips at Inlet Bay Marina (970-223-0140). At Carter Lake, you can rent fishing, pontoon and pleasure boats, and overnight slips at the Carter Lake Marina (970-667-1062)
  39. Do you have disability sites, bathrooms, fishing areas? What is wheelchair accessible?
    There are wheelchair-accessible campsites and bathrooms throughout the parks. Flatiron Reservoir has an accessible fishing pier. Pinewood Reservoir has two sections of accessible trail.
  40. Bikes allowed? ATVs, dirt bikes, snowmobiles allowed?
    Mountain bikes are allowed. Only street-licensed vehicles are allowed to operate in the parks. ATVs, dirt bikes, snowmobiles, scooters, go-peds, pocketbikes, and similar devices are not allowed.
  41. Can we bring our own barbeques?
    Yes, although there may be limitations if a fire ban or fire restriction is in effect. Signs are posted when a fire ban or fire restriction is in effect. Check with entrance station staff or rangers if you are unsure.
  42. Can we do fireworks on July 4?
    No, in order to protect the resources, no fireworks are allowed. The fire danger is too high. See Regulations.
  43. Is there somewhere nearby we can get supplies, buy fishing licenses, get bait?
    At Horsetooth Reservoir, there is a small convenience store at the south end of the reservoir. Inlet Bay Marina is a full service marina with limited provisions. There are many stores in Fort Collins, about 4 miles away.

    For Carter Lake, Flatiron Reservoir, and Pinewood Reservoir, the Carter Lake Marina sells fishing licenses and has limited bait and supply options. The cities of Loveland and Berthoud are about 10 miles east.

    Click here for retail outlets that sell fishing licenses.
  44. Are there restaurants nearby?
    Fort Collins, Loveland, Berthoud, and Estes Park offer a wide variety of restaurants.
  45. How's the fishing? What fish are in the lakes? Is ice fishing allowed?
    It's great! The reservoirs are periodically and regularly stocked by the Colorado Parks & Wildlife. Depending on the reservoir, fish may include: walleye, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, wipers, rainbow trout, cutthroat trout, brown trout, lake trout, slake, carp, bluegill, yellow perch, black crappie, kokanee salmon, tiger muskie, or sizzoid shad. For more information on the CDOW stocking report go to their website at: http://wildlife.state.co.us/Fishing/Reports/StockingReport/

    Ice fishing is NOT allowed. Water levels fluctuate too much which creates unsafe conditions.
  46. What is the weather like?
    It depends on the time of year. Spring and early summer (April - June) can be wet and rainy with warm days and cold nights. Summer months (June - August) can have warm to very hot days, cool evenings, and sometimes cold nights. July and August may bring thunder and lightning storms. Fall (September, October, and November) usually brings warm days, cold nights, little moisture, and no crowds. Winter (December, January, February, and March) is cold, with occasional snow storms.
  47. Do you spray for mosquitoes?
    No. Due to West Nile virus, we suggest that campers use personal, over-the-counter mosquito sprays.
  48. Do you have group use areas?
    We have six reservable group pavilions, for day use only: Horsetooth South Bay, Hermit Park Open Space, Carter Lake, Flatiron Reservoir, Lions' Open Space, Horsetooth Sunrise Day Use. They can be reserved from 730 days to 3 days in advance. Hermit Park Open Space and Horsetooth South Bay are popular ceremony sites. To make reservations: www.larimercamping.com or 1-800-397-7795. There are no designated group camping sites, so groups need to reserve several individual sites together.