“Colorado” has long been a byword for the American frontier. For those wishing to experience the raw and ragged beauty of the Rocky Mountain State, there’s no better way than by camping. That said, camping certainly needn’t be an exercise in deprivation.
While primitive tents provide the most basic shelter, motorhomes and log cabins offer luxurious accommodations. They’re all “camping,” because they all take you into the Great Outdoors.
The first image that comes to most people’s minds, when the word “camping” is used, is probably life under canvas.
Little Molas Lake Campground, San Juan National Forest
Located a little more than two miles above sea level, the scenery and experiences atLittle Molas are extremely rugged. Four peaks encircle the campsite, remaining snow-covered all year. Andrews Lake is close and convenient, while a more challenging six-mile hike along Molas Pass, to Cascade Canyon, ends at a stunning waterfall. Be aware that, even in summer, snow is not uncommon; pack accordingly.
Pinyon Flats Campground, Great Sand Dunes National Park
East of the central-Colorado San Juan Mountains, the San Luis Valley comprises a truly colossal high basin with Great Sand Dunes National Park to the southeast, boasting the largest dunes in America. Year-round, it’s possible to rent sand skis and snowboards, then ski the steeper dunes. In late spring — usually May — melt-water flooding Medano Creek creates an impromptu and entirely natural water park.
Saddlehorn Campground, Colorado National Monument
Saddlehorn boasts 80 established campsites, but — because it’s the only venue within in the Monument — it fills up quickly in peak season. The Monument Canyon Trail, a six-mile hike, is the park’s most famous attraction; many hundreds of miles of lesser-known, back-country trails are also available. Cyclists are catered to by a loop road.
Using a pop-up camper combines realistic wilderness access with a level of camping provision that typically exceeds even the best-equipped tents. Pop-ups can be towed to some of the most remote campgrounds, after which the tow vehicle can be detached and used for excursions.
Given its proximity to the town of Salida, and that the famous 486-mile Colorado Trail passes right through the campground, Angel of Shavano remains surprisingly little-known. The camp is at more than 9,100 feet above sea level, so activities require good health. Trails lead to the summits of both Mount Shavano and Mount Tabeguache; at 14,000 feet, these excursions are not for the faint — or weak — hearted. North Fork Reservoir, accessible only by four-wheel-drive vehicles, offers excellent fishing.
In the centre of the state, west of Denver, access to Guanella Pass is easy and the rewards fabulous. Of Colorado’s more than 23 million acres of public land, camping here affords one of the state’s most spectacular experiences. With a pop-up hooked to a competent four-wheel-drive, you can follow the Guanella Pass Scenic Byway from end to end. Best of all, roadside camping is made easy on the south side of the pass. From there, hike to the top of Mount Bierstadt or Square Top Lakes.
Oh Be Joyful Campground, Crested Butte
The town of Crested Butte typifies most people’s image of a remote mountain town, located at the farthest reach of a valley clad in Alpine meadows, surrounded by incisor-like, saw-tooth mountain peaks. Drive a dirt road north of town to find the campground, where activities include fishing on the Slate River, hiking trails to Garfield Peak and even kayaking (when water levels allow).
As noted, the term “camping” covers all accommodations that are more closely related to outdoor living than spas or hotels. Staying in an authentic log cabin can deliver the utmost in luxury, without crimping the romantic and adventuresome idea of experiencing the mountains.
Bassam Guardstation and Cabin, Buena Vista
This is the place to really reach out and touch an authentic settler experience. Rolling hills drift out from the roots of the Collegiate Peaks, divided by valleys centered on burbling creeks. Aspen groves line the watercourses, and in one such the Bassam Guardstation’s single-room log cabin hunkers, secretive and secure. Fish the nearby Arkansas River, prowl the valley’s game trails — deer, elk and wild turkey are common — or just take a couple of good books and nestle in beside the potbelly stove.
Located in a valley at the base of the San Juans, Dutton is a renovated ghost town. All the cabins are settler-era buildings, some original to the area, others transplanted from southern Colorado. On the banks of the Dolores river, the Hot Springs resort offers excellent fly fishing, as well as hiking and mountain-biking. There’s a renovated hot-spring bathhouse, and the saloon/dancehall complex serves local meats, vegetables and wines.
Located along the Uncompahgre River in the high Colorado Plateau, countless miles of hiking trails radiate out from the town of Ouray. The camp offers two fully-furnished deluxe cabins and nine no-frills, rustic camp cabins which share a bathhouse but have their own heating, grills and picnic tables. Most are pet-friendly. Jeep Wrangler Rubicons are available to rent, so you can explore the ghost towns and ore roads.
The challenge with Colorado for RVers isn’t lack of choice, but accessibility. With today’s A-Class rigs commonly exceeding 40 feet in length, winding mountain roads can be demanding. As ever, though, Colorado offers something for everyone.
This site accommodates the biggest of rigs with ease. 43 level, shaded sites are equipped with 50 amp hookups, are at least 45 feet long and are wide enough for slideouts; 37 are pull-through. Deep in the Rockies, Aspen-Basalt is located close to the Roaring Fork River, famed for its Gold Medal fishing. Also nearby are national and state parks, ghost towns, hot mineral springs and hot air balloon rides.
This resort is ideal for RVer rallies, with clustered sites, a community lounge and game room, barbeques and shaded picnic areas. Named for its proximity to Garden of the Gods National Natural Landmark, the entire site offers spectacular views of — and easy access to — world-famous Pikes Peak. Other close-by activities that welcome groups include Arkansas River raft tours, a wolf and wildlife exhibit, downtown historic Colorado Springs, the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Red Rocks Canyon and the U.S. Olympic Training Center.
Tiger Run, in Breckenridge, is accessed via scenic roadways dotted with charming mountain towns and breathtaking overlooks. Reaching the park is no disappointment, either, with a heated pool, laundry and complementary WiFi. The nearby ski resort blankets five peaks of the Rockies’ Ten Mile Range, while out of season there are hiking trails, mountain biking and alpine slides. On the Swan and Blue Rivers, there’s fly-fishing, boating and whitewater rafting.
Perhaps the most enduring image associated with camping is that of a family. Children of all ages are excited by the prospect of living on the land, inside a small womb of light and warmth set against a vast backdrop of mountains or plains. Even duties like cooking and cleaning up — which may be chores at home — become bonding activities.
Whatever your choice, Colorado offers every camping experience you could wish for.