South Meadows Backcountry Campsite lies east of Big Meadows group site and Tonahutu Creek on the edge of Big Meadows, the largest montane meadow in Rocky Mountain National Park. The single campsite, located at 9,550 feet, sits in a lodgepole pine forest. The shortest approach to the site is by hiking 1.8 miles up Green Mountain Trail, gaining 750 feet of elevation. Alternatively, the campsite is 4.4 miles from Tonahutu Trailhead to the south. Allow a couple hours to hike from car to camp from the Green Mountain Trailhead. No privy is at the site so bring wag bags for proper sanitation. Get water from nearby Tonahutu Creek, but boil or treat before use. The campsite is snow-free by mid-June.
- Find Green Mountain Trailhead by driving north from Kawuneeche Visitor Center on U.S. 34/Trail Ridge Road for 3.1 miles to a parking lot and trailhead on the right or east side of the highway. Hike up Green Mountain Trail for 1.8 miles to the campsite. At the junction with Tonahutu Creek Trail, go right and look for a wooden sign on the left. Cross the creek and hike east on a path past East Meadows group site to the campsite. Alternatively, hike 4.4 miles up Tonahutu Creek Trail from Tonahutu Trailhead on U.S. 34.
- 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 Kawuneeche Visitor Center north of Grand Lake, or at the park website.
- You agree to obey National Park regulations for backcountry camping when you get a Backcountry Use Permit. The 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 South Meadows. Pitch tents in designated areas near a silver arrowhead. Secure food and garbage. Store food in a bear-resistant canister, which is required from May to October at all campsites below timberline. Keep food, trash, and scented items in the container and stash it 200 feet from your site. Don’t camp below dead trees; wind storms blow branches off them.
- There’s no privy at the campsite. Bring at least two RESTOP wag bags for human waste to avoid site contamination. In an emergency, dig a six-inch deep hole and bury waste and toilet paper. Make sure you’re at least 200 feet from the campsite, water sources, and trails.
Recommended season(s): Mid-June through September.
—Stewart M. Green