Savor the end of camping season
Vail CO, Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” With the traditional camping season nearing an end, remember to stay calm. Do not rush to the nearest fire pit, stuff yourself full of hot dogs and house a case of Coors Light.
Instead, think about the best way to spend this fleeting time with nature. Some of the local campgrounds close Sept. 7 ” that leaves you with three weekends to get your camp on. If you focus, you can complete a trifecta of memorable camping trips. Even better, some of the campgrounds don’t close at all.
As long as you’re willing to bundle up, you can continue camping well into the winter. Here’s a breakdown of five camping hotspots within an hours’ drive of the Vail Valley, because let’s face it: Some of these places will close before you get the time to research them yourself.
Location: Off Highway 24 between Red Cliff and Camp Hale
The perks: Getting to Homestake is half the fun. A scenic highway winds along Battle Mountain, passing a ghost town, rumbling over a bridge and taking the driver along cliff-hugging curves unfettered by guard rails. Once the camper reaches Homestake, a creek runs along the dirt road. “The views are fantastic and it’s right on the creek,” said Dan Bogardus, manager of The Bag and Pack Shop in Avon. “It’s such a large area, it’s pretty much always easy to find a spot up there.”
While the Gold Park campground awaits seven miles down Homestake Road, campers can choose to park their tents in the wilderness along the road. Leadville resident James Morlan, 47, likes to camp near Homestake Reservoir ” a great base for exploring the Holy Cross Wilderness. “That’s some great primitive camping up there,” Morlan said.
The downside: Ah, the distinctive call of the … Toyota Prius. Along with chirping birds and gurgling water, visitors to Homestake might get an earful of road noise. “There’s some traffic on the road,” Bogardus said. “I wouldn’t say it’s huge but there are people driving by and some people aren’t real respectful. They drive a little too fast on the road.”
In addition to cars, watch for patches of private property. Those “No Trespassing” signs mean business.
The crowd: “You get a variety,” Bogardus said. “It’s accessible by RV so you’ll see people with huge RV setups and people with little tents.”
Activities: Fishing is best in ponds and slow-moving water, Bogardus said. Hiking trails are plentiful and mountain biking is possible on the road. There is some intermediate to advanced rock climbing on the right-hand side of the road.
Campsite Details: Gold Park consists of 11 sites with basic amenities (think vault-style toilets, picnic tables and fire rings). The fee is $14. The camp closes Sept. 7.
When: Outside the official campground, no set open or close date exists. Hard-core campers even snowshoe into the area in the winter.
Directions: From I-70, exit No. 171 in Minturn, follow Highway 24 east through Minturn for three miles. Continue to follow Highway 24 east for nine curvy miles along Battle Mountain. Turn right onto Homestake Road. Camp along the road, avoiding private property, or continue south for seven miles to Gold Park campground. The Homestake Reservoir is roughly another four miles south of the campground, according to signs.
Location: East Vail
The perks: Location, location, location. For those looking to stay close to Vail, Gore Creek Campground is an appealing option. Just 10 miles east of the village, campers can safely evacuate to one of Vail’s five-star eateries. “It’s right next to town,”
Bogardus said. “It’s close by for out-of-towners who can’t afford or don’t want to pay for a hotel room.”
The downside: “It’s kind of close to the highway,” Bogardus said. “You probably get some highway noise.” He also urges visitors to be careful about bears.
The crowd: Tourist types tend to flock to Gore Creek because it’s so close to Vail, Bogardus said. “You’re not going to see a lot of locals there,” he said.
Activities: Visitors can hike Gore Creek Trail to Gore Lake or take Deluge Creek Trail to Deluge Lake. If hoofing it fails to appeal, campers can sneak off to Vail Village for gourmet meals or gondola rides.
Campground details: With 25 sites in the White River National Forest, Gore Creek is a relatively large campground. It boasts spots large enough for RVs and tent areas that require hiking. It has vault-style toilets, fire rings and picnic tables. The fee is $16 per night.
When: The campground closes Sept. 7.
Directions: From Vail, go four miles east on I-70 to exit No. 180 (East Vail). Go straight ahead from the exit for two miles east on Bighorn Road.
Location: South of Minturn
The perks: Hikers have a good reason to bump all the way up Tigiwon Road to the Half Moon campground. The site is a great launching off point for some of the most challenging hikes around: Notch Mountain and Mount of the Holy Cross. Situated at 10,300 feet, and right at the Fall Creek trailhead, the campground is popular with the 14er crowd. “If you start at Half Moon campground, that can save you a lot of time in the morning,” Bogardus said.
The downside: “It gets a lot of traffic,” Bogardus added. Also a downer for fishermen, a tiny stream trickling through the campsite is the only water.
The crowd: “I think you’re going to see a lot of people who are prepared for big hikes,” Bogardus said. “No RVs because the road’s not really practical for that.”
Activities: Campers lacking a day pack, overnight pack, or heck, even a fanny pack, will feel hopelessly left out. Half Moon is a staging ground for the 10- to 12-mile hike up Mount of the Holy Cross, or the three- to four-hour trek up Notch Mountain. Tigiwon road can be fun to mountain bike, Bogardus added.
Campsite details: Containing seven campsites, Half Moon has vault toilets, picnic tables and fire rings. The fee is $10 per night.
When: Although no set open or close dates exist for the campground, snow makes access tough. However, the road does become a snowmobile trail in the winter. The road is closed from May 1 through June 20 to protect elk in the area.
Directions: From the Minturn I-70 exit (No. 171), follow Highway 24 east for about five miles. Turn right onto Tigiwon road. After about six miles, the driver reaches the Tigiwon Community House. Continue upward for about two miles to the Half Moon Campground.
Location: South of Eagle
The perks: Driving to the park is like stepping back in time. Complete with horse crossing signs, Brush Creek Road becomes increasingly rural as it moseys through farms and rolling mountains. At 42 acres, Sylvan Lake is petite but picturesque.
Complete with showers, flushing toilets and drinking water, the campsite offers many of the luxuries of home. “For families or people who don’t really like roughing it, but still want to camp, they have lots of stuff for ya,” Bogardus said.
The downside: “You’re going to see more people because it’s so developed,” Bogardus said.
The crowd: Expect to see car campers and an RV crowd, Bogardus said.
Activities: The lake is stocked with rainbow trout and is home to brook trout.
Fisherman also have access to East and West Brush Creeks, where brown and brook trout abound. Along with fishing, visitors to the lake can rent canoes, kayaks and paddle boats.
Campsite details: Sprawling across 1,500 acres, the state park is surrounded by the White River National Forest. It has 44 campsites, along with a dozen cabins and yurts. Camping is $14 per night, plus visitors need either a $6 daily pass for each car or an annual state park pass for $60. Reservations are suggested for campsites through the end of September. Reservations for cabins and yurts are necessary year-round. For reservations call 800-678-2267 or visit http://www.parks.state.co.us.
When: Camping continues until the sites are blocked by snow; cabins and yurts stay open year-round.
Directions: From the I-70 exit in Eagle (No. 147), head south on Eby Creek Road. At the roundabout, take the first right onto Highway 6 west. At the next roundabout, follow signs for Sylvan Lake Road. Continue south on Sylvan Lake Road for about two miles. Turn right onto Brush Creek Road and continue southeast for about eight miles. A large Sylvan Lake State Park sign will appear on the left. At the Y intersection, head right for about six miles. Turn right at the Sylvan Lake State Park sign to get to the lake and campsites.
Location: South of Eagle
The perks: Hugging East Brush Creek, Yeoman Park Campground is a relatively secluded fly fishing haven, Bogardus said. “It’s a cool spot,” he said. “It doesn’t get a lot of traffic. It’s pretty easy to access.” Continue a few miles southeast to Fulford Cave Campground, and the visitor can explore the eighth largest cave in the country.
The downside: Bogardus couldn’t think of a downside, but here’s one: Suppose the camper gets lost in the Fulford Cave, and cannibalistic beasts attack just like the that movie, “The Descent.” Hey ” it could happen.
The crowd: “I think you see a lot of local and regional people,” Bogardus said. “It’s not quite as well known as a lot of stuff around here and it’s far enough from the Front Range that people will generally stop before they get there.”
Activities: Fishing for trout in the creek or exploring the cave. Bogardus suggests bringing a helmut and three sources of light into the cave.
Campsite details: Yeoman is the larger campground with 24 sites. Fulford Cave has seven sites. Both are located in the White River National Forest, and feature vault-style toilets, picnic tables and fire rings. Fees for both campgrounds are $8 per night.
When: Campers become scarce around mid-October and officials stop maintaining the site.
Directions: From the I-70 exit in Eagle (No. 147), head south on Eby Creek Road. At the roundabout, take the first right onto Highway 6 west. At the next roundabout, follow signs for Sylvan Lake Road. Continue south on Sylvan Lake Road for about two miles. Turn right onto Brush Creek Road and continue southeast for about eight miles. A large Sylvan Lake State Park sign will appear on the left. At the Y intersection, head left for about six miles to Yeoman Park Campground. Continue for about another mile to Fulford Cave Campground.
High Life Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 970-748-2938 or firstname.lastname@example.org.