Vail Valley camping season begins in the White River National Forest |

Vail Valley camping season begins in the White River National Forest

Senior couple holding hands outside sunny rural campsite
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The slogan is true — when it comes to the National Forest, it’s all yours. You can backpack, hike and camp about anywhere within the forest, but for a slightly more refined experience, the actual campground will provide a nice setting for campers.

The White River National Forest is the most visited forest in the United States, with 13 million visitors per year. It spans across parts of Eagle, Pitkin, Garfield, Summit, Rio Blanco, Mesa, Gunnison, Routt and Moffat counties. It offers 68 family campgrounds, six group sites, 17 picnic areas and 26 other developed sites such as interpretive sites, overlooks and boat launches.

Those campgrounds are now mostly open across the White River National Forest, for the most part, with a few exceptions in higher elevation campgrounds. It should be noted, however, that some of the roads accessing these campgrounds are still closed. Roads will open in the Flat Tops wilderness area in Eagle and Garfield counties on June 1 to access the Coffee Pot Spring campgrounds, and June 21 to access Deep Lake and White Owl campgrounds. Aside from those areas, campgrounds within the Eagle County areas of the White River National Forest are now open and accessible with reservations starting today.

Fees at most of the concession-operated campgrounds have increased slightly since last year to help offset the increased costs of the higher minimum wage that was implemented Jan. 1, according to the Forest Service. The fees in most campgrounds within Eagle County’s section of the White River National Forest vary from $6 at Coffee Pot Spring campground off Colorado River Road near Dotsero to $23 at the Gore Creek campground at the other side of the county near East Vail.

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The Forest Service has a few recommendations for those who plan on camping this spring, summer and fall.

A food storage order is in place for developed recreation sites and designated dispersed sites on the Aspen, Sopris, Eagle, Holy Cross, Rifle and Blanco Ranger Districts. Food and all attractants (garbage, pet food, beverages, etc.) must be acceptably stored either by hanging, sealed inside containers inside vehicles, sealed inside a bear-resistant container or canister while outside of vehicles or stored within a food locker if available at the site.

When visiting, recreating or living in or near black bear or moose country, it is always important to be aware that you may encounter one of these animals at any time. Most conflicts between people and black bears or moose are the result of people approaching too closely, or allowing a bear to obtain garbage, pet and livestock feeds.

Keep dogs on leash while in the campground or at the trailhead.

Be careful with fire and make sure it is dead before leaving your campsite. Please do not leave your fire unattended even for a brief minute.

Keep an eye on the weather. Afternoon thunderstorms can build suddenly and bring lightning or high winds. Carry appropriate clothing when out on an excursion and seek shelter if a storm is approaching. Watch for falling trees or tree limbs.


If you make it up to campgrounds within Summit County’s areas of the White River National Forest, then the Dillon Ranger District has issued a new forest order effective at identified campgrounds and high-use camping sites that requires mandatory storage of food, garbage and other items which attract bears. The order requires food and other attractants be properly stored when not in immediate use until Oct. 1, 2018. The purpose of this order is to protect visitors from conflicts with bears and to protect bears from habituation and possible destruction of problem animals, according to the ranger district.

The areas requiring proper food storage include all developed campgrounds and several dispersed camping areas including Rock Creek, Peru Creek and Keystone Gulch drainages. The order is posted on kiosks at the entrance of each area. The order requires unattended food, garbage or attractants, (including animal carcasses harvested from hunting and fishing, stoves and cooking utensils as well as coolers) be stored when not being used in one of the following ways:

In a bear resistant container.

A food locker (available at Blue River and Cataract Campgrounds by early June).

A closed and locked vehicle.

Properly hung in a tree at least 10 feet off of the ground and four feet from the tree trunk or branches.

“This food storage order is about keeping people and bears safe,” said Ashley Nettles, wildlife biologist for the Dillon Ranger District. “Once rewarded, bears can become emboldened. In past incidents, people have reported bears that approach campers undeterred by human presence. This is not normal bear behavior and these bears can become dangerous to people.”

The Forest Service works in close coordination with Colorado Parks and Wildlife and campground concessionaires on bear management issues. Multiple bear incidents last fall and summer, and reports of bears on the move at campgrounds and high-use camping areas this spring, have prompted this food storage order. Several incidents last season involved bears feeding on human food, garbage and other attractants such as cooking waste, toiletries and pet foods when visitors were absent from camp or sleeping.

Violations of the food storage order could be punishable by a fine of not more than $5,000 for an individual, $10,000 for an organization or imprisonment for not more than six months, or both (16 U.S.C. Section 551; 18 U.S.C. Sections 3559, 3571). Forest Service personnel can consider the circumstances of the situation and elect to give a warning notice or educate visitors of the importance for proper storage of food, garbage and attractants.

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