Aspen-area campgrounds busy while lodge business lags |

Aspen-area campgrounds busy while lodge business lags

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Janet Urquhart/The Aspen TimesAbby Kauffman and her brother, Ben, dip their feet in a cold creek at Difficult Campground east of Aspen on Monday. The Kauffman family, visiting from Texas, managed to reserve a spot at the busy campground - just barely.

ASPEN, Colorado – Reservations at Aspen hotels and lodges are down this summer, but area campgrounds are turning visitors away.

Since June’s rains gave way to weather more hospitable to camping, campgrounds near Aspen and in the Crystal and Fryingpan River valleys have filled up regularly, particularly on weekends.

“Our reservations are up – about 10 percent, it’s safe to say,” said Connie Stafford who is, with her husband, John, area manager for Thousand Trails, the concessionaire that operates many of the U.S. Forest Service campgrounds in the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District.

Campsites are most easy to come by early in the week; things start getting tight on Thursdays as the weekend approaches, Stafford said.

Area campgrounds offer a mix of sites that can be reserved in advance and first-come, first-served accommodations. A check of online reservations Monday indicated many of the reservable sites around the Roaring Fork Valley for the next few weekends have already been snapped up, leaving campers without a pre-booked site to take their chances.

At Redstone I and II, located south of Carbondale in the Crystal River Valley, all of the reservable sites for the coming weekend have been booked. There were three openings for a single night, a Friday or Saturday, on the following weekend. Individual sites there run $23 to $32 per night, according to the website, making them the priciest around.

The reservable sites at the three campgrounds located along Maroon Creek Road, below Maroon Lake near Aspen, are particularly popular. Those sites are operated directly by the Forest Service rather than contracted to a concessionaire. Of the five reservable sites at the Silver Queen campground on Maroon Creek Road, there were two, single open nights available between July 24 and Aug. 16, according to the reservations website.

At the 46-site Difficult Campground east of Aspen, 24 sites are available to reserve; the rest go to whomever nabs them first. At $19 per night, the Difficult sites are among the more expensive near Aspen (nightly rates for Aspen-area campgrounds range from $11 to $19), but the campground is close to town.

“We will be full every weekend until Labor Day,” predicted camp host Richard Johnson at Difficult. The campground was packed last weekend, forcing late arrivals to search elsewhere – some drove back over the Continental Divide to try their luck; others headed for campgrounds in the upper Fryingpan, at least an hour’s drive away.

“We were sending them away. It was unbelievable. It will be that way again this weekend,” Johnson said. “We just don’t have enough campgrounds.”

The Kauffman family, from Arlington, Texas, was lucky enough to secure a reserved site at Difficult, where they arrived Sunday and planned to stay through tonight. Ginni Kauffman said she got online to reserve a site three to four weeks ago and discovered she was almost too late.

“There were only two sites available, and we got one of them,” she said.

Go to for a direct link to campgrounds in the White River National Forest, which surrounds Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley.

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