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  • Writer's pictureJessica Stough

Colorado Camping Trip - Wolf Sanctuary, Garden of the Gods, & More - Part 1

“You have to be like wolves: strong alone and in solidarity with the pack.” – Unknown

It’s been a bit over a week that we have been back to reality after our incredible annual trip to our home away from home. As always, it was a wonderful, freeing experience. There is something so freeing and grounding about spending days on end in the mountains, hiking, camping, and soaking up the Colorado sun – oftentimes, with little to no signal to connect us to the trials and tribulations of the “real” world.

Even better than spending that time by myself, having the opportunity to spend that time and have those experiences with Zac and my best friend (don’t tell Zac or the other dogs) brings the trip to a whole other level. If there is a better way to connect to nature than walking with a dog who will run ahead to explore, but always look back and wait to make sure his people are there with him – I don’t know what that is.

While we are out there, I spend so much time just disconnecting that a true play-by-play of the trip can be difficult. That being said, I will still provide the most important highlights and details, and have chosen to split the trip up into two posts.


As with all of our trips to Colorado, we stopped at a halfway-ish point to sleep before completing our journey. Typically, we drive until we are tired and stop at whatever hotel is closest to us at that time. However, this year, I made sure to book campsites for our journeys there and back. Finding places on a whim can be difficult, we have found, the week surrounding the Fourth of July.

Our first campsite was at the Ogallala / I-80 KOA in Nebraska. It offered good pet amenities, nice enough showers and bathrooms, and decent sized tent sites. We really had no complaints besides the fact that there was a rodeo or giant party of some sort going on right down the road, which led to some very loud music as we were trying to get to sleep (which was, obviously, not something that the KOA could have helped).

The next morning, we were off to officially start our journey.

Garden of the Gods – Colorado Springs, CO

As many times as we have been to Colorado, we had never (before this trip) made the trek to the Garden of the Gods Visitor and Nature Center. We decided to see what all the hype was about, and I am happy that we did. The visitor center, nature trails, and park itself are all free to visit. The park also offers multiple additional options for exploration: bike and e-bike tours, Segway tours, rock climbing, and more.

Being in the Garden of Gods felt like an entirely different place. It gives the same vibes as Sedona, Arizona or the Red Rocks Amphitheatre area. The red rocks are incredible to view, and the layout and way that they have formed in the Garden of the Gods is even more spectacular. Seeing rock formation upon rock formation, greeting others as they hiked or went horseback riding on the trails, and even spotting rock climbers from afar was a great experience.

For Fido: Garden of the Gods is very dog-friendly. Dogs are welcome in any of the park, including the visitor center, as long as they are well-behaved and on a 6-foot leash. It was very warm when we were there – the temperature gauges reading nearly 90°F. I would be very mindful of bringing plenty of water for any hikes or travels while in the park, as our furry friends can get overheated quickly.

I could go on and on forever about the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center, but will instead try to (somewhat) contain myself and my new-found adoration for these amazing creatures. The center has multiple options for tours, ranging from a simple hour-long walk-through guided tour to private experiences inside the cages with their wolves. It is a non-profit organization that does a ton to educate its visitors about the incredible wolves, while also taking amazing care of the other animals like singing dogs, coyotes, and foxes.

I went back and forth for way too long about whether I wanted to spend the money for a private tour to get inside the cages with the wolves. Ultimately, we agreed and decided to choose a simple walk-through tour for much cheaper, which we both knew would let us explore the establishment (and also make up our minds on whether we would want to do a private tour a later year).

The tour was incredible. We learned so much about the wolves, their populations reaching close to extinction, their (very limited) rehabilitation of numbers and populations, and the struggles they have today. We also learned a lot about foxes, coyotes, and singing dogs. To finish off the tour, our group all did our best wolf howl. In response, all of the creatures at the establishment howled back in unison. As silly as it is to say, the experience actually left me with goosebumps.

The current range and numbers of the American Wolves

To keep the details of the wolf sanctuary short(ish) and simple, I’ve compiled a few interesting or important wolf facts:

  • There is a huge myth that wolves kill a lot of livestock. According to Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center (CWWC), “[a]ccording to the USDA, out of the 100 million cows that are raised in the United States every year an estimated 4 million of them die. 3.8 million of those losses are due to disease and weather. That means that only about 200,000 livestock losses are predatory. Of those, coyotes and feral dogs cause the most losses. Even birds of prey kill more livestock than wolves do. Wolves also respond well to non-lethal deterrents to scare them away from livestock. When hazing and responsible livestock management work together livestock losses are almost zero.”

  • “Wolves pose little threat to humans. In the last 150 years there has only been a small handful of incidents in which wild wolves have injured people and only four fatalities. You’re more likely to be crushed by a vending machine than injured by wolves” (Source: CWWC).

  • The average weight of a female wolf is 60-80 pounds, while the average weight of a male wolf is 70-110 pounds (Source: International Wolf Center (IWC)). To put that in perspective, the average weight of an Alaskan Malamute is 70-90 pounds, and male English Mastiffs typically range between 150-250 pounds.

  • Wolves, on average, live longer in captivity than in the wild. They typically live up to 13 years in the wild, but can live up to 16 years in captivity (Source: IWC).

  • The average wolf pack size is 5-8 wolves (Source: IWC).

Anyway, I’m essentially now in love with wolves, want a wolf-dog as my next pet, and cannot stop sharing information about them with everyone who asks how our trip went.

The first Colorado campsite we found during our trip was somewhat near the wolf sanctuary. After we finished our evening tour, we went for dinner and had originally planned to head straight to the Fairplay / Alma area. However, due to some very extended wait times at dinner after the sanctuary, we instead decided to set up camp close by then head to South Park County the following morning.

That decision was how we ended up at the Manchester Creek Road dispersed camping area. The first thing I noticed about the area was that they actually had a restroom at the entrance area (typically, these are few and far between for dispersed campgrounds or unpaid sites). The next thing we noticed was the sheer number of ATVs and OTVs in the area. Nearly every camper or tent that was already there had two or more at their site, and many of them flew past us as we drove through to find a site.

The reviews of the area are very mixed. However, one thing is nearly certain – if someone is an early-to-bed-early-to-rise sort, it is difficult to get to sleep early here. Many of the ATVs and OTVs continue riding up and down the dirt road throughout the night. Some reviews stated this would go on until 10PM, but when we were there, they were still driving up and down after 1AM. For those that are either a heavy sleeper and / or a night owl, there will be no issues.


After that night was when we finally made our way to the heart of the mountains. However, I think I have probably shared enough for this post, and will leave the rest of the trip for the next one. Until then, I will continue to Photoshop pictures of Buzz with wolves to prove to Zac that he needs a new wolf-dog brother or sister.

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