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  • Writer's pictureJessica Stough

Colorado Camping Trip - Hoosier, Paddleboarding, Mount Elbert, & Denver - Part 2

“The journey of life is sweeter when traveled with a dog.” – Unknown

We are nearly a month removed from our trip to Colorado now. Here I am, finally sharing the second half of the trip, but already ready to go back. In addition, we are now officially on the countdown for our next vacation. I’m also getting the itch to sign up for another race (because I don’t have anything officially on the docket except for a few “non-race” races – like the Knoxville Cancer Relay, pacing a few amazing friends for their 100 mile races, and the IMT Des Moines Marathon Relay). I’m getting tired of the heat and being stuck inside in the evenings. I’m also doing a lot of reading (and catching up on some of my go-to TV shows). Basically, I'm just ready for another vacation.

I’m in that place where I feel like I’m constantly busy, and never have enough time for everything that needs to be done (never mind the fact that I have made some time for TV). On the flipside, though, I also can’t really list off anything “big” that has been going on since we got back from vacation. It’s just been little things here and there that have had us constantly on the go.

Those that know me know that I am not complaining that we have been busy, as I love being on the go. I have a really hard time slowing down and having free time. It is just so weird to look back and realize an entire month has gone by in the blink of an eye. Honestly, it’s really hard to believe that it is already August. This entire year feels like it has absolutely flown by.

With all that, let’s delve into the second half of our trip to our home away from home in the mountains!


Hoosier Pass – Halfway between Alma, CO and Blue River, CO

Once we made our way into South Park County, we spent our time with short hikes and mini adventures to continue getting more acclimated to the altitude and to, of course, take in all of the views we had missed since the previous year. Eventually, by late that evening, we ended up making our way to Hoosier Pass for some additional hiking and our next campsite.

There are many trails throughout Hoosier Pass that allow for easy hiking – some of them have very little incline while others seem to be constantly uphill. We trekked our way up the Hoosier Pass road until we got a wonderful view of the mountains around us, then set out on our way back to our campsite.

Much like at Manchester Creek Road, the camping was dispersed. Sometimes, with these dispersed sites that are first-come-first-serve, it can be difficult to find a place to stay. However, we fairly easily found a site and set up there. Even for the Fourth of July weekend, it didn’t seem to be completely overfilled, which is a very nice surprise.

We spent two days on the Upper Colorado River. The first day, I rafted (holding on to Buzz so he wouldn’t jump out), while Zac paddleboarded. We went just a few miles on the river the first day, but Zac was pretty proud that he went through some fairly tricky rapids on the paddleboard. There were actually a few rapids that were not recommended for beginners that he went through (which made me worried for his life, but he was confident in himself and went for it anyway). After a few hours of wonderful waters and weather on the river, we pulled off to camp at the Radium Recreation Area.

After a night at Radium, dealing with a surprise windy rainstorm but also having a great campsite dinner with Zac’s uncle Barry and some of his friends, the next morning we were all ready for more rafting and paddleboarding. On the second day, with some easier waters, I traded my spot on the raft for a paddleboard. Buzz tried the paddleboard for a while, too, but eventually decided he felt much safer in the raft and ditched both Zac and me to ride with his uncle Barry the rest of the trip.

Vail Pass Recpath – Vail, CO

This trip, we were lucky enough to get an opportunity to rent some bikes for the Vail Pass Recpath. Another win for uncle Barry, he offered to shuttle us to the top of the pass for a nice bike ride. He dropped us off, then drove to a meeting point toward the end of the trail.

The pass made for a gorgeous 13.5 mile bike ride, especially with the beautiful weather that day. As we rode along, we were headed directly toward the sights of the mountains for a good portion of the trip. Everyone knows I love to run. Biking isn’t always my thing, but there is something incredible about the wind in your face as you fly along a bike trail looking straight at the mountains.

The path gave us some great views of the mountains but also took us right into Copper Mountain. The trail twisted and turned along a creek through Copper Mountain, so not only did we see the mountains but we also got to enjoy the water.

I would highly recommend the route for anyone looking for a simple, fast bike ride (headed down from the top into Copper Mountain) – or anyone looking for a challenge (riding up from Copper Mountain). The trail is quite steep, so riders can make it their own by choosing which direction to take on the path.

Mount Elbert Hike – Twin Lakes, CO

Oh, Mount Elbert, the big hike of our trip this year. Every year, we make an effort to cross at least one fourteener off of our bucket list. This year, we decided to go with the tallest peak in Colorado, a well-known and highly traveled moderate class one (find out more about the class rankings here).

Early the night before, we made our way to Twin Lakes to find ourselves a good campsite near the trailhead of Mount Elbert. As we wound our way up the gravel road toward a higher elevation, we began to see multiple dispersed campsites – some already taken for the evenings but with plenty of options still. We eventually settled on one about a half mile away from the trailhead (which meant we knew we’d have to get up extra early the next morning to tear down the tent so we could drive to the trailhead, as we did not want to hike an extra half mile each way to and from the campsite).

We made some dinner, packed our hiking bags, and finished up the evening with some s’mores over the fire before heading to bed at an early time. As we got settled into the tent for the evening, we started our conversations around when to wake up the following morning.

Me: I think we should probably get up about 3:30.

Zac: Are you kidding me? We don’t ever start that early.

Me: Uh, yes we do. Last year we were already hiking by 4:30.

Zac: I don’t believe that.

Me: *shows actual photographic evidence from a SnapChat of Buzz hiking with a timestamp of 4:37 AM the year before*

Zac: Fine, how about 4:00?

Me: *sets alarm for 3:50, because I know Zac will shuffle around for at least 10 minutes before actually waking up*

The next morning, we tore down our tent and got changed in record speed, ate bananas for fuel on our way to the trailhead, and were on the trail by 4:40. There were already quite a few cars at the trailhead at that time, with some hikers already well on their way and others getting ready to start while we parked.

After we returned from our vacation, I had someone ask if I was ever afraid of bears when we started our hikes so early in the morning. The Elbert campground area did have signs that said we were in bear country, yes, but it was also one of the two busiest trails for a fourteener we’ve been on thus far. We’ve always had plenty of light to see between our headlamps and Buzz’s night gear, and everyone who knows me knows that I talk enough to scare any bears away instantly. However, for an extra precaution, if anyone is fearful, they could purchase themselves a bear bell like this one or even look into bear spray like this one, the kind we purchased for Alaska.

I am, in fact, not fearful of running into bears while on the trails. Although I am aware and keep my eyes open, the thought has never really scared me. Instead, I’m too focused on the morning we have in store for us. I’m focused on one foot in front of the other, out there with my main person and main doggo. I’m focused on the moon peeking through the clouds, on the tree roots winding their way across the trail, on the sounds of nature in the night. Eventually, as the sun begins to rise, I’m then focused on taking in all of the sights around us as they begin to take shape in front of us. By the time we were able to officially ditch our headlamps, we had made it close to treeline and had some wonderful views of the mountain ahead too.

The hike was a tough incline that just got more and more difficult as we made our way to higher elevation, much like all of the fourteeners we have completed. Coming from sea level for our day-to-day makes the 14,000 foot elevation a bit tricky, but we always manage. Plus, the views are always worth the climb. There is nothing like taking a journey by foot to the highest mountain around. It is the closest thing to feeling like being on the top of the world that I think I will ever experience.

At the summit, we took some pictures, had some snacks, and chatted with others that reached the top at the same time. The thing about the hiking community (much like the running community) is that I have never met someone rude on the trails. People are always willing to talk about the trek, the day, or our lives. On this hike, we even met someone who had chosen Elbert to celebrate his upcoming birthday. He summited with some friends, then decided he was going to run back down the mountain on his own (his friends meandering far behind him).

Buzz, coming back up the mountain to check on us as we make our way down after he ran ahead. Check out all of the people making their way up the trail!

By the time we got to the bottom ourselves, he was waiting on a rock near the trailhead for the others. I couldn’t help but notice that he had a lot more dirt (and blood) on his knees and arms than he had when we saw him take off from the summit. Of course, with the big mouth that I have, I asked him if he had fallen. “A few times, actually,” he said in response.

And just like that, we were back to the trailhead.

Mt. Elbert looked a lot different from afar, after we had conquered the hike.

Once we got back to our truck, we immediately both changed into flip flops. My feet were beat up. I had taken the hiking boots out only once before this trek, and it was a big mistake. My socks were too thin, which created a ton of rubbing and blisters.

Despite the blisters and exhaustion, we drove our way back down the winding road to civilization – feeling accomplished now that one more summit had been checked off our bucket lists. The next thing on our agenda, of course, was to go grab some food for refueling purposes. Our lunch of choice was a Mexican restaurant with unlimited chips and salsa, queso dip, and a burrito for him with a fajita meal for me.

After our Elbert hike, we took Friday as an easy hiking day. I knew that Buzz and I had a race coming up, and that we both needed to take it easier in between the two events. We did some light hiking and hung out with Barry some before finally saying “see you later” to the mountains once more (because I don’t like saying “good-bye” to the mountains).

It was that afternoon that we made our way back up to Denver to spend some time with a good friend for a delicious meal. We had some amazing food, grabbed ourselves some ice cream, and spent some time catching up before heading north to Westminster.

Our trips to Colorado are about the only trips that I do not proactively over-plan everything. This year, though, I did pre-plan a few of our camping sites. One of those was a night at Standley Lake Regional Park. As we made our way to the park, I thought it would be a good idea to drive out to the starting point for the next day’s race to gauge the distance and drive from our campsite, along with the parking situation.

When we got to the starting point for the race, however, I found that there were multiple hotels all around – each within just blocks from the starting line. I had prepaid about $35 for our campsite (about 20-25 minutes away from the race), but when I saw that there were hotels so nearby, I asked Zac his thoughts on just renting a hotel room.

It was then that one of our very few pre-planned things for the trip quickly vanished and we ended up flying by the seat of our pants (as we do in Colorado) and booking a hotel room for that night. I was absolutely pumped because it meant that I could properly shower the night before and the morning after the race before we made our start home. I also helped sell it to Zac because it meant that Buzz and I could walk to our race, and he could sleep in or lounge around or whatever he wanted while we did so instead of having to come along for the adventure.

All-Out Dog Days 10K – Westminster, CO

That next morning, Buzz and I took a few walks – we walked to try to get him to potty, then again from the hotel to the packet pickup, then back to the hotel for a bit before the start of the race, and eventually back to the race start.

There were so. many. dogs. at the starting line! I was (of course) in Heaven. Buzz also enjoyed saying hello to all of the other dogs and people that would greet him. By the time we were ready to toe the start line for the 10K, he was so ready to run. We lined up next to an adorable dog who I later learned was named Kona. Kona’s owner looked at him then at Buzz, and said something along the lines of, “That little dog will have to take twice the steps you will to run the same distance!” I smiled, we made some polite conversation, then we were off.

Buzz and I started a few people back, then slowly made our way up to the front and past the first dog (shoutout to that dog – he was running FAST with just three legs!). Kona and his owner were hot on our trail, and passed us at Buzz’s first pee stop. Then, we passed them at Kona’s pee stop. The entire race went like this up until the altitude hit me too hard and I had some slow-down breaks. Kona finished as the first dog, with Buzz shortly behind him snagging second place dog.

Kona and Buzz made fast friends and Kona’s owner and I even became Facebook friends too. Both of the dogs (and third place dog, too) won some pretty cool gear from Superganix™. I’m thankful for fasty-pants Buzz because their prizes had gifts for the dogs and their people, and I have definitely been using and loving the Superganix™ CBD Relief Balm for when I have aches and pains from running.

After Buzz and I refueled with food and I had showered, we checked out of the hotel and were ready for more adventures. Our initial thought after heading out was to stop at the Denver Zoo. However, sometimes flying by the seat of our pants doesn’t work out extremely well. We found that they require scheduled tickets and we wouldn’t have been able to get in for quite a few hours.

Instead, we made our way to the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. A win for us – they had covered parking that allowed Buzz to hang out in the shade (comfortably, on a few pillows and blankets, with access to food and water) in the air-conditioned truck while we explored the museum. I also made sure to check on him multiple times during our exploration of the museum to ensure that he was absolutely fine.

The museum was awesome. They had so many incredible exhibits, including a good number of interactive exhibits. I do not feel that I’ve been in any other museums that have such a wide span of exhibits – this museum had everything from rock and minerals and an “After the Asteroid” exhibit to an “Expedition Health” exhibit (that actually, along with other things, shared a lot of really cool information about living and being at high altitude) and a Prehistoric Journey.

After the museum, we made our way to our final lunch before heading back toward home – Stem Ciders (a dog-friendly place for those that want to sit outside!). Their ciders and their food were delicious. It was an awesome place to stop and take in the downtown views before starting our trek home. For those planning to bring their pup to Denver, the city of Denver has a good list of places to stay or take Fido for walks or playtime. BringFido has their own list of places in the area as well, including multiple breweries that are dog-friendly.


Now, back home for about a month, I am basically the most exciting person around because I am publishing a blog post and waiting for Zac to bring home some pizza for dinner. I’ll probably go to bed early, prepping for another morning run and dreaming of our next trip.

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