This past weekend we went on a short one-night camping trip near Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) and had such a great time. We didn’t do any major planning or packing, just a couple of hours Saturday morning, and then we started driving during nap time, and by the afternoon we found a campsite (more on that below), then we woke up Sunday and took off for a hiking destination that was in the direction of home, and we made it back to our house by late afternoon. It was a short but sweet trip that left everyone happy and tired.
One thing that still overwhelms me since moving to Boulder is how crowded hiking and camping areas are in this area. I understand that it’s the confluence of living near a large urban area (with a high percentage of people that like to get outside) and living near some of the most beautiful scenery in the country (I may be biased), but wow – there seem to be crowds at every campground, on every hiking trail, and on every road. I’ll get used to it eventually. The problem is that it makes it hard for non-planners like us to go for an adventure on a whim.
Our plan was to drive into Rocky Mountain National Park, and get a campsite at one of the campgrounds within the park. “Summer’s over, of course there will be open sites,” was our thought. So wrong. BUT, everything turned out ok, even great…
We drove through RMNP – this was our first time driving through the park from the east side to the west. The views were stunning!
We had heard from a friend that she had no trouble camping on the west side of the park the previous weekend, so once we couldn’t get a site in the park, we decided to just head west, get outside the park and find a site.
We were lucky enough to find something at Willow Creek Campground. It was a well-maintained campground with views of the reservoir and fall foliage. The campground wasn’t too crowded when we arrived in the late afternoon, but did fill up by the time we went to sleep. The sites were a perfect place to park our van with a nice amount of privacy between us and the neighbors. Even though we packed the tent, we ended up sleeping in the van because Alex was excited to “sleep on the roof” (the bed in the pop-up area of the van).
After a good night’s sleep, we packed up and headed back into RMNP for hiking. There’s only one main road through the park, I drove it on Saturday and C drove it on Sunday, which was great, because that meant that we both had a chance to take in the views. On Sunday, we stopped at Milner Pass (at the Continental Divide) to do our hiking. We ended up hiking just a half mile or so to an open meadow, and there we stayed for about an hour – letting the boys play and explore before heading back to the car. All in all, it was about a two hour pit stop, but it was just enough to satisfy the boys before getting back into the car and napping for the ride home.
*When it comes to hiking guides for RMNP, my dad sent us this one, and it’s become an instant favorite. The level of detail is amazing; it may be more than you need if you’re just passing through, but if you plan on spending more time in the park, it’s a great resource.
This was such a simple weekend. No plans, just the goal of getting outside and exploring more of Colorado. I’m happy that we stayed close to home and got to know our “backyard” a little better. But even more than that, I’m so happy that the boys have yet another camping trip under their belts. They are both content while outside exploring and playing, and they seem to shine when there’s a bit of adventure involved. I’m sure many parents experience the impact nature has on their children, so these observations aren’t profound, just re-affirming. I can’t count the number of times Alex said that he was happy, and he tried to really hammer home his point on Sunday morning while doing his best to convince us that we should really camp for another night. What a guy.
A note about the National Park Service Pass : The fee to get into RMNP park is $20/day or $30/week, but an annual NPS pass is only $80, so on the second day we ended up buying the annual pass. If you save your receipt, I think you have about 60 days to upgrade a previous national park entrance fee to the pass. I’m so happy we bought the pass, because now I feel like we’re more likely to head into the park on a whim (it’s only an hour from our house!). Plus, the pass gets us into any fee areas managed by the National Park Service… which makes me hopeful that we’ll take advantage of it and go on a few more adventures than we may have without the pass. Eighty dollars seems like such a small price to pay to support the NPS and to allow our boys (and us) to have some amazing experiences.
Looking back at these photos, I’m already nostalgic for this short 24 hr adventure. If you don’t have any plans this weekend, hop in the car and head into the wild – you won’t regret it! xo