Summer Car Camping; Colorado Style |

Summer Car Camping; Colorado Style

Kent Roberg

Winter or summer, the true spirit of Colorado is one of adventure. Few places in the country have more natural beauty, sunny days, National Forest and Wilderness Areas than Colorado. Whether you are new to the High Country or a longtime local there is no easier, more convenient way to experience the beauty of Colorado than car camping.

The car, or preferably truck or SUV, can serve as an excellent base camp for longer expeditions or day hikes, or it can be a symbol to your connection with civilization and provide a quick return to town and a supply shed for urban amenities. The good news is you don’t have to have a masters degree in wilderness survival to enjoy the great Colorado outdoors via automobile. Great adventures are to be had for those with a few days on their hands and a relatively reliable vehicle.

The basics


Bring all you can load in the vehicle. Steaks, eggs, milk, juice and anything else you couldn’t imagine stuffing in a backpack and carrying to the top of a fourteener is fair game for the expert car camper.

Beer, beer, beer and some extra beer. There is nothing better than a comfy camp chair, a warm fire and a cold one under the Colorado sky. Bring plenty and revel in the fact you won’t have to haul ’em more than 10 feet from the car.

Remember, the food is for you and yours, don’t feed the wildlife. Many popular camp spots are on the daily rounds of Gray Jays, commonly know as Camp Robbers. These guys are bold, don’t give in. Bears and other wildlife also inhabit Colorado. Be smart: Don’t leave your food out to tempt them, and hang what you can from a tree.

Managing the campfire

Another real luxury of car camping is the ability to bring a few dry logs and paper along. This reduces the amount of foraging for deadfall (depending on where you are camping foraging may not be allowed) and ensures your warmth and enjoyment through the evening. Always start your fire in a designated fire ring and check with the forest service or local authorities to see if burning restrictions are in place. Never leave your fire unattended and be sure the fire is completely out before you retire for the evening.

Setting up the camp kitchen

The kitchen area is one of the most important aspects of a successful car camping outing. Before you go it is a good idea to buy a large Rubbermaid tub to serve as a mobile container for all your utensils, seasonings, paper towels, trash bags, wet naps, camp stove, coffee pot and any other odds and ends. This will greatly reduce the amount of time you spend getting ready and will also serve as an excellent table or staging area in your camp kitchen.

Choose the spot for your camp kitchen carefully. A flat, partially shaded area near the campfire is ideal. A metal folding hanging rack or two are great to help create flat prep surfaces and are inexpensive and easy to store. The camp kitchen is a one-man show so organize things so they are within easy reach. The cooler, stove, racks, utensils and trash should all be organized to create an efficient cooking environment.


Fulford Cave Campground

elevation 9,400 feet

This is a great campground with exceptional adventure nearby. The campground hosts seven sites, a vault toilet, drinking water and a trash receptacle. Reservations are not accepted. This scenic site offers many recreational opportunities including a scenic hike to Lake Charles as well as a popular underground cave waiting to be explored.

Fulford Cave is accessible from this campground via the Fulford Cave trail, #1875, after a short .7-mile hike. If you are planning on exploring the cave be sure to bring multiple light sources, extra batteries and waterproof clothing. The cave is dark and damp and has some wonderful features for those willing to explore. Spelunking, as cave exploration is often called, can be a dangerous activity. Never enter the cave alone and be sure to keep your group together. Use some common sense and a day spent exploring Fulford Cave will be remembered for years to come.

Lake Charles is accessible via the Lake Charles trail, #1899. The hike is approximately 5.4 miles and ends at an elevation of over 11,200 feet. The scenic alpine lake is certainly worth the effort. Be sure to bring plenty of water and rain gear as well as an extra layer. The weather can change very quickly in the mountains and being caught unprepared can prove fatal. Carry a map and a compass and know how to use them. Extra food is essential as well. Be sure to inform someone not in your group of your itinerary and return time.

Turquoise Lake

elevation 9,869 feet

Located in the San Isabelle National Forest, this is a great destination for its natural beauty, easy access to the Colorado Trail and unrestricted boat access. Eight campgrounds and more than 300 campsites surround this high alpine reservoir. Turquoise Lake is part of the Arkansas/Frying Pan water collection project and holds 129,440 acre-feet of water. The lake is stocked with various species of trout including Mackinaw, Rainbow, and Brook trout. A fishing license is required. There are two boat launches and a wide variety of watercraft on the lake at any given time.

The Colorado Trail covers more than 500 miles of Colorado back country. It crosses some of the most rugged mountains and river valleys over sections of seven national forests. To get a taste for the great trail try a day outing. The country around Turquoise Lake and the Colorado Trail offer stunning views of the Sawatch Mountain Range including the highest peak in Colorado, Mt. Elbert, at 14,433 feet.

Homestake Valley

elevation: approximately 10,000 feet

This is one of the most popular car camping destinations in Colorado. Located in the White River National Forest, Homestake Valley offers two organized campgrounds, Gold Park campground and Blodgett, with facilities as well as plenty of spots tucked in along the road to the reservoir, 11 miles from the beginning of FDR 703.

This is a great location because of the many opportunities for outdoor recreation. Homestake Creek cuts through the center of the valley and offers great fishing as well as some of the most secluded car camping spots in Colorado.

There are many hiking trails including the scenic hikes to Lake Whitney, Fancy Creek and Holy Cross City. The whole area surrounding Homestake Valley was once populated with many mining camps during the early days of Colorado history. Holy Cross City is one such abandoned location. It also serves as a stop along a very popular 4-wheel-drive trail.

Lake Whitney is a popular and scenic destination from the Homestake Valley. The hike begins with a good climb, then opens up into beautiful mountain meadows before becoming submerged in a dense forest and finally reaching the pristine alpine lake. This is a great day hike for the adventurous car camper. The trail head is on your right about 3 miles in on FR #703. Parking is to the left.

Homestake Reservoir is at the end of Homestake Rd. #703. The reservoir is part of the Homestake Water Collection and Storage System built in the early 1960s to provide water to the Front Range. Turquoise Lake and Twin Lakes near Leadville are also part of this system. Stroll across walkway to the other side of the reservoir and enjoy the gorgeous views of Homestake Valley as well as the alpine reservoir or bring a canoe or kayak and explore this very large man made body of water.

Vail, Colorado

Support Local Journalism

Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User