Gross Reservoir is a well-kept secret just 45 minutes outside of Denver.
The east side, for day trips and picnics, is managed by Denver Water as its one of our water supply reservoirs filled with melted Colorado snow. The side to camp on is the west side and it’s managed by Roosevelt National Forest service (and a bit trickier to get to). No human contact nor motorized boats are allowed on the lake (so, mostly canoes and hiking) which means you get a peaceful, quiet, pristine lake largely all to yourself.
The east side is limited to day hikes, picnicing and launching small watercraft. The west side (from Coal Creek Canyon up Lazy Z Road) becomes dirt road quickly and then an entrance to camp grounds (all free, 20+ spots, no reservations, no crowds).
Here are some tips for first timers looking to camp at Gross Reservoir:
There are no facilities, no water, nothing. These are primitive sites that merely have a number and a fire ring. Pack it all in and be sure to pack it back out.
Drive Your High Clearance Vehicle
The road up from Lay Z Road requires a high-clearance vehicle that can handle a bit of a bumpy, rocky, steep climb. If you have the car or truck that can handle big rocks, dips, ruts, and big hills it’s very much worth the trip. This pre-requisite alone means you won’t see more than a dozen other folks, even on a busy weekend (we recently went up on the 4th of July).
Drive As Far As You Can
The further you go, the better the spots become as you get closer and closer to the lake itself. Drive as far as you can make it, take note of the best camp sites you drove past, then turn around and lay claim.
The end of the road is a dirt parking lot and then you can hike to set up camp (which most folks do). Don’t be tempted. Just drive a few minutes back and pick one of the dozen or so spots you passed on your way down.
Embrace the ‘Dead End’ Roads
Some of the road is meant to be for dirtbikes and offroading but now have campsites on them. So, while there may be unappealing detours off the main path, those will likely result in a canyon or meadow all to yourself.
It Gets Windy Up High
The higher you go up away from the lake, the more the wind will roll up the canyons and up off the lake itself. Be mindful of where you set up camp as you may wake up to all-night wind roaring at your tent. I recommend setting up backed-up near a tree to also shield you from potential rain.
Hike to the Lake
Spend a few hours and hike down the road or through the meadows to the lake. You’ll likely find a beach you can have all to yourself which should make for good a lunch break. If you take the road, you won’t face much challenge. If you go ‘overland’ then you will be rewarded with wildflowers (alongside plenty of prickly weeds that stick to your socks).
If you’re looking for adventure, its just a short drive west of town. Enjoy your time at Gross Reservoir!