The North St. Vrain Backcountry Campsite hides in a lodgepole pine forest. It sits on the north side of Thunder Lake Trail after it crosses North St. Vrain Creek in Rocky Mountain National Park’s Wild Basin. The two-site camping area makes an ideal base camp if you’re hiking up to Mertensia Falls, Thunder Lake, Lion Lake, and Trio Falls. The campsite, lying at 9,560 feet, is 3.5 miles up Thunder Lake Trail from the Wild Basin Trailhead. The trail gains 1,060 feet of elevation from car to camp. Allow three or four hours to backpack to the site. The campsite has a privy between its two sites. Get water from North St. Vrain Creek, but boil or treat it before use. The campsite is free of snow by June 1.
- Reach Wild Basin Trailhead by driving south from Estes Park on Colorado Highway 7 to Wild Basin Road. Turn right or west on Wild Basin Road to the park entrance station. Continue to the end of the road and a parking area located two miles from the highway. Wild Basin Ranger Station is located at the trailhead. Hike 3.5 miles up Thunder Lake Trail to the campsite. The path to the campsite is 0.8 miles from Ouzel Falls. Look for a wood sign on the right that points the way to the site.
- A backcountry permit is required for all overnight camping in Rocky Mountain National Park’s backcountry. Get permits at the Park Headquarters Backcountry Office next to Beaver Meadows Visitor Center west of Estes Park, at the Kawuneeche Visitor Center north of Grand Lake, or at the park website.
- To obtain a permit you agree to obey National Park regulations for backcountry camping. The Backcountry Use Permit must be with you at all times and a tent tag must be displayed on your pack while hiking and on your tent. You must follow your planned itinerary so campsites aren’t overused or crowded. You also receive a tag to place on the dashboard of your vehicle, allowing overnight parking at trailheads without being towed.
- Practice a Leave No Trace ethic when camping at the North Saint Vrain site. Pitch tents in designated areas near a silver arrowhead. Secure food and garbage. Black bears are here so stash food in a bear-resistant canister, which is required May to October at all campsites below timberline. Keep food, trash, and scented items in the container and store it 200 feet from the campsite. Don’t camp below dead trees; wind storms blow branches off them.
Recommended season(s): June to September.
—Stewart M. Green