Cat’s Lair Backcountry Campsite is a hideaway camping area among trees and rock outcrops above East Inlet Creek in western Rocky Mountain National Park. The quiet campsite, lying at 9,200 feet, makes a good stopover if you’re backpacking up to the string of lakes, including Lake Verna, in the upper cirque below the Continental Divide. Reach the site from East Inlet Trailhead on the east side of Grand Lake by hiking on East Inlet Trail for four miles. The trail gains 810 feet from car to camp. Allow up to three hours to backpack to the site. A short path, marked by a wooden sign on the right side of the trail, leads south to the campsite. There is no outhouse at the side, so bring wag bags to practice proper sanitation. Get water from East Inlet Creek, but boil or treat before use. The campsite is usually snow-free by the beginning of June.

Pro Tips

  • Find East Inlet Trailhead from the town of Grand Lake by turning east off U.S. 34 onto West Portal Road. Follow the road for two miles on the north side of the lake to the trailhead at the end of the road. Hike east for 4.0 miles on East Inlet Trail. Look for a wooden sign on the right and follow a short path south to the campsite near the creek.
  • 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 the Cat’s Lair campsite. Pitch tents in designated areas near a silver arrowhead. Secure food and garbage. Black bears live 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.
  • There is no privy at the campsite. Bring at least two RESTOP wag bags per camper 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): June to September.

    —Stewart M. Green

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