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  • Writer's pictureJessica Stough

Colorado Camping Vacation - Pt. 1

“Hiking is not escapism; it’s realism. The people who choose to spend time outdoors are not running away from anything; we are returning to where we belong.” – Jennifer Pharr Davis

Today marks exactly one year since I took the plunge to start this blog. It’s crazy to think about what one year can do. So much can change in 365 days – yet so much can stay the same.

A journey to foster care, another trip to Hawaii, and running my first marathon were not things I had on my one-year plan at this time last year. However, writing this blog, our recurring annual trip to Colorado, and more were things that were planned. Between the planned and unplanned, life always keeps us on our toes.

No matter what this year has brought, I could not think of a better way to celebrate the one year anniversary of this blog than by diving into our most recent trip to our home away from home. Ever since our first trip there, I’ve known that my heart belongs in the mountains. It becomes even more apparent when we are out there, sleeping under the stars, hiking our way along trails and through mountains.


Day 1

When we first got to Colorado, we drove straight to Alma to take a short hike and stretch our legs. After our hike, the temperatures dropped a bit and it started to rain. The weather allowed for the perfect opportunity to drive into Fairplay and get some lunch at Mr. Burro Cafe.

After lunch, we made our way to one of our favorite places in the area, Blue Lakes. We have made a point to camp in the area the last few years, as it is such a great location. However, we got there fairly late in the afternoon, and all of the first-come, first-served dispersed campsites were taken aside from one (which had no tree coverage at all). Instead of setting up camp, we decided to check out a cabin we had never explored just a bit from the dispersed campsites.

Since we couldn’t find a campsite we were excited about, we made our way to another dispersed camping location nearby, McCullough Gulch. Hikers and campers can head past the Quandary Peak (which is a fun hike!) and continue toward the right when the road splits. This road then gradually descends down into additional dispersed camping. There were a few people out there, but there were plenty of open spots – which allowed us a perfect place to set up our new tent for the first time.

Day 2

The next morning when we woke up, the sunrise was absolutely gorgeous. I did some journaling at the campsite as Buzz and Zac woke up, then we headed toward the nearby trails in search of an old cabin we had been told about.

We started down the Wheeler Pass Trail. Very soon, we realized that there was quite an incline to this trail, and that we had started down the wrong path. There were no old cabins in sight, and the trail was going in the wrong direction from what we had been told to go. We turned around, then headed down another trail, one that I now realize to be unnamed.

We found the old cabin we had been told about, poked around, then headed back to camp to take down our tent for more adventures. Buzz was more interested in whether or not I had brought treats for him than he was interested in the cabin.

Later that day was when we made our way to the Colorado River. Our amazing tour guide (and uncle!), Barry, got his raft ready to go, then we met up with some of his friends. We all drove out to Pumphouse Recreation Site to get ready to start heading down the river.

That first day on the water, Zac, Buzz, and I rode along in the raft. We traveled along the river for about 4.5 miles to Radium Recreation Site. We snagged ourselves a large campsite to stay the night there, had some delicious tacos, and enjoyed the warm weather at our campsite.

While there, we also met a nice biker. He had ridden into camp to find some water and he looked exhausted. After talking to him for a while, we found that he was actually riding for the Great Divide Mountain Bike Ride, which covers nearly 2,700 miles from Canada to Mexico. Zac and I gave him some fresh water, someone else at the camp gave him an ice-cold Coke (we won’t talk about how a Pepsi should have been provided instead), and then he was back on his way to continue on his journey.

Day 3 – The Fourth of July!

The next morning, we got out on the water bright and early to meet up with some other friends who had camped at another location along the river. From there, we had a full day of rafting, paddleboarding, and hanging on the river. Zac and I blew up one of our paddleboards – so one of us was on the paddleboard while the other stayed in the raft with Barry and Buzz.

We made a stop at one of the campsites along the river for lunch, and Zac and I were able to walk around and find some old mining buildings. Then, later in the day, we were actually offered the opportunity to borrow someone else’s paddleboard so we could both complete the trek on boards.

We finally took out at State Bridge Recreation Site, which made our trip about 10-12 miles along the river that day. I managed to paddleboard nearly 8 of those miles (and also managed to avoid getting sunburnt anywhere except on the tops of my feet – despite using excessive amounts of sunscreen).

When we got ourselves out of the water and got our rafts and paddleboards all packed up, all I wanted was a snack. I made my way back to the truck to find that my gummy bears had all melted together into one giant gummy bear. I was hungry and hot, despite having had a great time on the river, but the sad news about my gummy bears made me a bit hangry.

Naturally, Zac saved the day when he found an adorable camper selling 'Mountain Pops'. My cherry lemonade pop was red, white, and blue to celebrate the holiday. All of their ingredients were locally sourced, organic, and made in small batches – and the pops definitely made for a great cold treat after being on the water all day.

Afterwards, we made our way to Kremmling to eat dinner at Los Amigos Mexican Restaurant. I don’t know if it was from being on the river all day or if it truly was one of the best taco salads I’d had, but – their chicken taco salad was one of the best I’ve ever had.

After dinner, we made the hour and a half trek back to Alma. I had originally anticipated the traditional Fourth of July celebrations for ourselves that day – a pancake breakfast (they had one in Frisco!), a parade or two, and maybe some fireworks to end the evening (but only if the fire danger was low enough). However, the day honestly couldn’t have gone any better than the way it played out (aside from my gummy bears, of course).

For anyone interested in whitewater rafting or paddling, I found a site that shows the water levels, temperatures, and more information about common rafting rivers and river sections. For those that are interested in rafting commercially, here are the top ten white water commercial rafting trips, according to Viator.

Please know that rafting or paddling on the rapids can be very dangerous, and it can be especially dangerous if the water levels are not where they typically should be. Always use extreme caution and be sure to wear a PFD or life vest when going out on the river, especially if doing so alone.

Day 4

After rafting for two days, we decided to do something completely different. The next day, we made our way up to Leadville for our first-ever train ride – on the Leadville Train. There are so many different train rides to choose from in Colorado that it took a while to decide which one to sign up for. Leadville was one of the closest to where we had been staying, and it was also the only one that specifically shared that it was dog-friendly – so it was clearly a winner.

The train ride was so cool. The train started off by heading uphill backwards. We trucked along past Leadville into the mountains, and rode for just over an hour to the top. As we rode, our conductor narrated the trip for us, sharing details about the scenes around us and anything else relevant.

Once we reached the top, the train stopped and started heading back down the hill (in the proper direction). Partway down, the train stopped at the French Gulch Water Tower. The conductor allowed anyone interested to get off the train to explore and take pictures. He also offered to answer any questions anyone might have. We would’ve probably gotten out had the weather not taken a sudden turn shortly before the stop – it started to rain and even hail. Somehow, others still decided to get out and take a look around, but we were happy to stay on the train during this time.

Had we had additional time that day, we may have even thought about the Zip-Line and Train Ride Special they offered. The zip-line tour went directly over the train tracks, and it would have been so much fun had the timing of the zip-line tour been right as a train was flying by. We’ve zip-lined a few times before, though, so we were fine with moving on for more exploration after the train ride.

We then decided to explore more of Leadville. We had been to town once before years ago, but only went for a long bike ride. We never explored or shopped in town. This time, though, we explored some of their main street.

Our first stop was to Melanzana Outdoor Clothing. They are a locally owned and operated clothing store. They can be shopped by appointment only, and have limits on how many appointments a person can have each year – they do not sell nearly any of their clothes on their site either. We didn’t know they were appointment only, so they allowed us to come in and look around a bit but we were not able to purchase anything (besides their hats and overstock items). At first, I thought this was weird. Then, I realized that they actually make all of their clothes right there in the store. The reason they put limits on amounts of items purchased and appointments is to allow everyone to have equal opportunities to buy their products.

We stopped at a few additional stores as well, including Leadville Race Series (I even met some people who had run the Leadville 100 – I could’ve stayed there and talked to them all day!). We also stopped in at Two Dog Travel, an adorable shop that caught my attention by the name.

That evening, we made our way to a new campsite. We traveled to Tarryall Reservoir and found some dispersed camping just a bit out of the way off the main road. There, we made ourselves a fire and soaked up the scenery around us.

For more information about where to camp in that area, I found had some helpful tips on different types of camping spots.


When I initially set out to create a recap post of our trip, I thought for sure I could fit everything easily into one post. However, as soon as I sat down and started writing, I realized that was going to be a difficult feat without making the post way too long for people to read. Instead, I decided to break it into two parts – days one through four (part one) and days five through eight (part two).

For now, and for the one year anniversary post, I hope everyone enjoys reading about the first few days of the trip. Soon enough, I will be sure to share the second half of the trip and, per request, more information and pictures of our new tent. Until then, though, I'll be dreaming of our next vacation and relaxing for the final few hours of my vacation before heading back to the daily grind tomorrow.

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