ENP 27 Camping and Visiting Colorado’s National Parks with Joshua Berman
04/24/2020Photo by Joshua Berman.Bryan speaks with Moon Travel Guide author Joshua Berman all about camping and visiting the national parks in Colorado. His book Moon Colorado Camping comes out May 12, 2020. The book is well timed since we hope to visit Colorado’s national parks in summer of 2021. Colorado has a campsite and a park for everybody that will suit anyone’s preferences. It can be daunting, which is why this guidebook is a great resource to help plan your trip.
Moon Travel GuidesThank you to our sponsor for this episode, Moon travel guides. If you've traveled the Americas, then you already know moon travel guides are the go to guides for truly immersive experiences. With coverage of every National Park and more outdoor adventures across the US. You can count on Moon's local expertise, unique recommendations and strategic advice to help you plan an unforgettable trip. Whether you're hiking in the heartland, or camping on the coast, wherever your wanderlust may lead, there's a mood guide for you.
Moon Colorado book cover - by Joshua Berman
Moon Colorado CampingIt's a comprehensive guidebook to the best campgrounds in Colorado. There are 480 separate campgrounds listed in the book. Each campground listing comes with a micro-guide to the region on what activities are available near that location including national parks, national monuments, national forests and hot springs among other attractions and activities like fly fishing.
The guidebook has icons to indicate characteristics available at each campsite. For example, if you need a place for an RV hookup, accessibility, a playground, permits pets, fishing or biking, you can find what you want. The book also indicates the specific size of the RV that the campground may accommodate.
Camping and Visiting Colorado’s National ParksColorado has four national parks and eight national monuments located around the state. Visitors may do a loop of the four national parks, which includes Rocky Mountain National Park, Mesa Verde National Park, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Connecting those parks gives you a nice loop through the state, which also includes several hot springs. You may camp in the parks if you get lucky enough to get a site or you can camp in the national forests around the parks. There are a lot of options, but it's getting harder to reserve a spot inside the parks with the growing popularity.
Weekends and the summer in the national parks are crowded. If you're able to camp during the week, that’s a better option. Camping during the week really is not much of a problem. Inside the park and for the more popular campgrounds, you do need reservations. More and more of those campgrounds take reservations usually six months in advance. There are many options just outside the parks. With the glamping trend, Josh has updated this latest edition to include campground options with those options and more amenities. One example is a camping resort called River Run in Granby that has cabins, apartments, yurts, teepees, and all kinds of activities.
Estes Park and other Gateway Towns to Rocky Mountain National ParkAll of the national parks in Colorado have wonderful gateway towns to welcome visitors and offer services including lodging, restaurants, stores and activities. Estes Park has some great outfitters for camping, hiking and other outdoor gear. Many outfitters also offer guided trips that can help you get into the park, into the backcountry, or skiing or snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park. On the other side of Rocky Mountain National Park is Grand Lake and Granby, which are also quintessential mountain towns that have access to the park and other wild areas.
Raising outdoorsy kids means plenty of downtime at the campsite. Pictured: Camp Dick Campground, near Rocky Mountain National Park. Photo by Joshua Berman.
Camping at Rocky Mountain National ParkRocky Mountain National Park has five front country campgrounds. Timber Creek Campground is on the west side of the park and the rest are on the east side of the park. One of those is the Long's Peak tent only base camp for the people who are going to summit Long's peak, which is one of the biggest fourteeners. Hikers camp at that base camp and wake up at 3:00am to get on the trail.
The main front country campgrounds, Moraine Park is the largest. The campsites on the western D loop are fantastic with incredible views. There are granite rocks and forests for the kids to play in. They can run off and then you can hike right from there down to several trailheads. Other parts of the campground are busy with a lot of traffic going through the group areas well as shuttle buses. You should choose your site carefully on one of the outside loops rather than in the middle of the traffic.
Taking friends from Nicaragua to Rocky Mountain National Park. Photo by Joshua Berman.
Fourteeners and High Peaks of ColoradoA 14er or fourteener is a mountain that is 14,000 feet or more above sea level. That's one of the things that Colorado is known for with 54 fourteeners, way more than any other state. That also means there are hundreds of thirteeners or mountains above 13,000 feet. The guidebook lists campgrounds that are the best for accessing some of those 54 14,000 foot mountains.
Visiting and Camping at Black Canyon of the GunnisonBlack Canyon of the Gunnison is a less visited park. There are two main campsites inside the park: the North Rim and the South Rim. It's an extremely steep and deep impressive canyon on the Gunnison River. It's in the west central mountains tucked away in the Rocky Mountains. There's a really nice campground on the South Rim that's bigger. The sites are relatively private because there are oak trees that form these pockets around the campsites. On the North Rim, which takes between two or three hours to get to from the visitor center, is way out there. It's a much smaller campground that gives you access to hiking trails on that side. Then there are other smaller camping areas as you go upstream on the Gunnison River to the National Recreation Area and a dozen or more campgrounds that are on National Park Service land.
Most people visit the park between 1-2 days from the South Rim and take in the beautiful overlooks, do some short hikes and drives, and learn about the area. Going down into the canyon takes some commitment. Some people book a guided trip on the river. There is amazing fly fishing, world class in some spots. There are also longer hiking trails.
Campsite on an outer loop of Piñon Flats in Sand Dunes National Park and Reserve. Photo by Joshua Berman.
Visiting, Camping or Staying at the Lodge in Mesa Verde National ParkMesa Verde National Park is in the high desert in the Four Corners region of Colorado, located southwest of Durango, Colorado. It is a fascinating archaeological site. There are 5000 recognized archaeological sites in Mesa Verde including 600 cliff dwellings. Most people are there to do an archaeological based tour, but the landscape is fantastic also. The ancestral Pueblo people, who lived there built these cliff dwellings on the high altitude. It's a mesa, which is a big flat-topped hill. It rises in the geography so you can see it for miles around. To know that you're walking where these people walked thousands of years ago is pretty incredible. The park offers fascinating guided tours that visitors should do to hear about what you're seeing there. Combine the guided tours with your own explorations for a great visit.
Mesa Verde has unique lodging inside the park. The Far View Lodge sits on a high shoulder of Mesa Verde with scenic views into three states. There’s also the large Morefield Campground.
Boulder Teardrops, one of many camper options in Colorado. Photo by Joshua Berman.
Dark Sky CertificationSome of Colorado's national parks and monuments have the dark sky certification. Due to COVID-19, Josh had to postpone a float trip down the Green River to Dinosaur National Monument to write an article on some of those campsites. Part of the article was going to be about the dark sky designation that dinosaur National Monument just got.
Josh’s Favorite National Monument and Historic SiteJosh gives Saddlehorn Campground at Colorado National Monument a scenic rating of 9 out of 10. He thinks this campground may have the best sunrises in the whole state set on top of 2000 foot cliffs. His guidebook has a handful of 9 and 10 ratings. Thousands of people drive by Colorado National Monument without realizinhg that it is there. It's just south of I-70 in the western part of the state near the Utah border.
Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site in southeastern Colorado near La Junta is a unique site. It's a replica of an 1840s trading fort where the park rangers dress in period. The grandson of the actual Kit Carson is one of the rangers there.
The Junior Ranger program is alive and well at all four of Colorado's National Parks. Photo by Joshua Berman.
Visiting and Camping at Great Sand Dunes National ParkGreat Sand Dunes National Park is in its own category. There are sand dunes juxtaposed next to the jagged 14,000 foot Sangre de Cristo Mountains. It's hard to imagine how they got there. Piñon Flats Campground is on the edge of the dunes with the mountains rising behind it. Most of the campsites have that incredible view. You definitely want to make reservations on the outside of the loop for the best views and go when the creek is running. There's a freshwater creek of snowmelt coming out of the mountains that flows over the base of the dunes, which is all sand. If you're there at the right time, the wide and shallow (6-8 inches in depth) creek will be running through. Kids have fun rolling around in the very fine sand and freshwater. It’s a really cool phenomenon and neat thing to see. It's like a beach, but it's not like a beach.
Colorado Off-SeasonDon’t let winter scare you away. It's a great time to visit the parks in the off season. Some of the parks have campgrounds that stay open year-round, but have fewer services in the winter. The water may be shut off, but the prices will be cheaper. The real gem are the ones that have some kind of yurts or cabins. Some of them are backcountry that you have to ski or snowshoe to reach them. Some of these campsites are inside the parks and some are just outside the parks on public or private lands.
RV CampingThere are 42 state parks in Colorado many of which are on lakes and reservoirs that have big campgrounds that may accommodate all sizes of RVs. There are also many private campgrounds made for that.
One time Josh was at the Moraine Campground in Rocky Mountain National Park with one of his daughters on a rainy early spring day. The campground was empty with maybe 8 out of 267 sites occupied. Josh looked out the tent window to see his daughter exploring with the mountains as a backdrop oblivious to the rain and she looked really at home. That’s the goal to get them feeling at home at places like that.
Josh Shares a Favorite Colorado Camping Moment
Discussion includes the following:0:32 Thank you to sponsor, Moon Travel Guides
2:18 Description of Moon Colorado Camping guidebook
5:20 Camping and Visiting Colorado’s National Parks
10:35 Estes Park and other Gateway Towns to Rocky Mountain National Park
12:19 Camping at Rocky Mountain National Park
14:07 Fourteeners and High Peaks of Colorado
14:58 Visiting and Camping at Black Canyon of the Gunnison
18:06 Visiting, Camping or Staying at the Lodge in Mesa Verde National Park
20:15 Dark Sky Certification
20:37 Josh’s Favorite National Monuments: Colorado National Monument and Bent’s Old Fort
23:50 Visiting and Camping at Great Sand Dunes National Park
26:27 Colorado Off-Season
28:05 RV Camping
29:28 Josh Shares a Favorite Colorado Camping Moment
Resources:Get the updated guidebook, Moon Colorado Camping
Follow Joshua Berman
Twitter: @tranquilotravel Instagram: @tranquilotravel
Note: This episode is coming out in spring of 2020 during COVID-19 please be safe and follow recommended guidelines. If you are going to a national park, check the website for specific closures and guidelines for that park. The content of this interview is to inspire travel once it is safe to do so. Thank you and we hope you and your loved ones stay healthy.
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