With the weather being so outstanding, we decided to pack up the fam and head up into the mountains to get a weekend camping trip under our belts. We had previously taken the little guy camping back in Texas for one night. This trip was a test of our two-night capabilities.
Finding A Campground
After researching campsites in the National Forrests around Denver we discovered that there are WAY too many to even begin to choose from. There are so many options! Luckily the brother-in-law had a spot that he recommended so we started planning to camp at Peaceful Valley Campground. The National Forrest has a website for reserving camp sites but we were way too late to get any reserved spots so we were looking for places with a lot of walk-up spots.
Although Peaceful Valley fit the bill, when we arrived around 5PM (later than we had originally wanted) the campsite was full. Womp, womp. Remember the last paragraph where I said there were a TON of campgrounds? Well luckily I had written down 2 or 3 campsites in the area that we could use as backups, so we made our way 15 minutes up the road to Olive Ridge Campground and were greeted by a lot of open walk-up spaces and a beautiful view of Long's Peak in the distance.
Not being familiar with the campground layout we ended up picking the first open sites we came across as it was starting to sprinkle a bit and we wanted to at least get the tents set up before any real rain came in. This put us on the front side of the campground near the highway...not ideal, but also not terrible. Unfortunately, most of the "good" spots are the ones that are available for reservation; but there is a sprinkling of walkups on each loop.
- The Pika Loop is the farthest from the highway and will be the quietest
- The Sneezewood Loop is closer to the highway but has a couple really cool sites with big boulders.
- The Dipper loop is all walk-up and close to the highway. Sites 3-15 are a little further up the hill from the highway and might be a bit quieter
The campsites were really nice, each complete with a slightly raised gravel platform for a tent, a fire ring, a large picnic table, and a bear-proof storage box. We had a blast cooking and camping. We made dutch oven lasagna, Oreo cream cheese filled cinnamon rolls, breakfast sandwiches, burgers/hotdogs, and giant marshmallows.
A couple pro-tips:
- On the lasagna, since you cannot cook the noodles, bring an extra jar of pasta sauce to ensure all the noodles get some. Otherwise you will be eating lasagna nachos like we did. Also, if you want, brown some ground beef to add to the layers.
- On the cinnamon rolls, they take a LONG time to cook in the dutch oven. You can keep adding coals to the top but be careful on the bottom. I ended up burning the bottom half of the bottom layer of rolls.
Our little guy did AMAZING in the tent. Granted, to make sure him and the Mrs. were comfortable I had brought a giant air mattress and LOTS of blankets/sleeping bags. The first night was pretty mild, maybe in the high 40s/low 50s and with 3 humans + 2 dogs in the tent, it stayed warm in there. The second night though was likely in the high 30s. Even so, our warm-blooded toddler decided that blankets were mostly unnecessary and kept kicking them off. He still slept like a champ.
We had fun walking the dogs around the campsite and letting the tiny human run around and explore.
We spend part of our Saturday in Estes Park exploring. Their downtown area is really nice. They have a big parking garage for folks who want to explore the town or take the shuttle into Rocky Mountain National Park. We parked there and took the really cool river walk a little ways into Downtown. With the little guy getting hungry, we headed back to the parking lot to eat sandwiches before heading out to find a short trail to hike. Unfortunately, many of the trails around the town are closed to dogs. After one failed attempt we headed to Lilly Lake to hike (also closed to dogs). So just myself, the brother-in-law, and his girlfriend did a really quick mile and a half hike around the lake. The lake does have amazing views if you opt to take the ridge trail on the north side of the lake.
Packing up was simple enough and we all headed out. We stopped in Boulder on our way home to get lunch and it was a disaster. Our dogs, who had behaved all weekend basically went wild and a crabby toddler who got used to being able to go anywhere all weekend was not happy with being restricted again. The pizza we got was good though.
All in all, this was an outstanding camping trip and we had a blast. We will definitely be heading up again. We are building out our quick-draw camping kit so that we can just get food and head to the mountains with a bin or two of gear without having to spend a week packing everything up.
Each time we go, hopefully our kit gets more solid and easier to manage.