If you had big ideas about camping this summer, but it still hasn’t happened, don’t worry. The coming months in Northern Colorado are gorgeous and there are some ways to make “camping” fuss-free.
Outfitters take the hassle out of a camping trip and leave you to enjoy the fun stuff.
Like many other adults, my days are typically packed with work, kid stuff, crossing items off the to-do list and collapsing into bed. When I awake the next morning, I find that the list has grown even longer overnight.
The idea of a girls weekend of camping sounds terrific in theory. It’s the type of plan that I talk about, but never do. Sometimes I even get it planned, but cancel at the last minute because I’m too busy.
So I planned a trip. I didn’t cancel. Escape Campervans in Aurora graciously loaned us one of their “Maverick” campervans and I took off for the weekend with my gal pal, Carie.
When I think of camping, I remember friends and family roasting marshmallows by the fire. Family camping trips of the past, my little brother swinging in a hammock, and the notorious “night of the bear” with lifelong friends, a classic story that grows with all the expected embellishments whenever it’s retold.
But the nostalgic memories are interrupted by a stark realization: In order to go camping, I needed to collect our camping gear. Once upon a time it was all organized into a couple of plastic totes, I swear. That was until the kids camped outside and pilfered through the totes for lanterns and sleeping pads. Then there’s the summer that the basement flooded, and we had to move everything. In the past decade, this is about as far as the camping trip ever gets. I give up. How about a movie night instead?
But this time a multi-colored camper van beckoned me. With its bright colors and self-contained convenience, it simplifies camping. Everything I needed was efficiently included in the van: beds (two of them!), cooking utensils, a camp stove, water, a solar-powered refrigerator, bedding and even maps and a guide book.
“The convenience is highly appealing to our customers,” said Katie Hubbard of Escape Campervans. “We remove much of the stress from the process, so you can get on the road easily and enjoy yourself knowing that everything you need has been provided.”
What did I need to pack?
Food, clothes, flashlight. I can do this…
On the Road
The 16-foot van was probably the largest vehicle I’d ever driven. I’m not going to lie, I was nervous to take a left turn. At about 10 minutes in, my nerves calmed. At about 20 minutes in, I felt confident. At 30 minutes in, I was downright exuberant, excited about what the weekend getaway would bring and waving at those who glanced my way.
There’s something about driving the Peak to Peak Highway in an aqua, purple and pink camper van that soothes the soul. Each Escape Campervan is custom-painted by an artist, making the fleet eye-catching and unique.
So unique that people asked us about the van. Some just took a good, long stare, while others were bold enough to ask if they could peek inside.
The scenic byway runs from Highway 7 in Estes Park (where it passes Lily Mountain and Twin Sisters Peaks), then turns south just past Allenspark on Colorado Highway 72, through Nederland, Blackhawk, Clear Creek Canyon and then to Interstate 70.
We made a quick stop at the Colorado Cherry Company on U.S. Route 36. The fourth-generation family-owned diner is a charming stop for a slice of Americana, cherry pie made from Grandma Lehnert’s original recipe. There’s also ice cream, breakfast and lunch items, numerous varieties of pie and cobbler, and beverages.
Another great stop is the helpful and convenient Estes Park Visitors Center, at 500 Big Thompson Ave. Surrounded by ample parking (great for larger vehicles!), the center offers piles of free information inside. It is also a hub for the free summer transportation, which will take you to the multitude of taffy, ice cream and gift shops in Estes Park and even to Rocky Mountain National Park. There are also trails that lead from the center east to the Lake Estes Trail and west through the downtown riverwalk.
Rachel Oppermann, public relations coordinator, said the area is seeing an increase in the number of Front Range visitors driving up to Estes Park for day trips.
“We are, quite literally, a base camp for Rocky Mountain National Park,” she said. “Plus, people say they love the feel of our town. There’s a lot of older, unique architecture here, as well as locally owned stores and restaurants.”
When looking for a place to camp, the main requirement is flat earth. Other than that, it all depends on what you are looking for, be it peace and serenity or convenience and amenities. You can park in a rustic setting in the forest (following all rules for local jurisdictions), a minimalistic tent site with a fire pit, or a fully powered site that allows you to plug in the heater and a cell phone charger.
Carie and I chose a tent site at an Estes Park campground with a fire pit and access to power.
After a busy day of driving, elk-spotting and touristy shopping, a campfire was in order. On this night, the dark chilled air gave way to the throbbing glow of the fire and the rich smell of a blistering hot dog cooking on a stick.
The campervan sat quietly and patiently behind us. It complemented our campfire experience, holding the food and utensils we needed. It welcomed us to our beds once the fire burned out.
Our van sleeps five people. The seated bench and table easily transform into a large bed that can sleep three. Two more people can sleep inside the pop-up tent on top of the van. Escape Campervans even supplies linens. This is where I slept, and I loved it, feeling like a little kid in a blanket fort.
Though I felt a bit overwhelmed at the prospect of a weekend camping trip after a busy week of work, the getaway accomplished its goal. I felt refreshed, rejuvenated and ready for another road trip.
From isolated, dispersed camping opportunities, to full electricity hookups with access to showers, the Estes Park area offers a full range of camping options. Do your research because many spots require reservations. Following is a small sample of options.
Rocky Mountain National Park offers both reserved camp spots and first-come, first-served spots. Get there early. Though some spots are tent-only, there are plenty of spots for campers. Check the length limits if you’re taking an RV. Escape Campervans fit well within the limits, but you’re out of luck if you’re hoping for an electrical hookup.
Also, check out national forest land. Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests offer reserved camp spots, unreserved, and dispersed camping. The fees vary, but it is legal to car camp for free in these areas. There are no amenities such as toilets or showers, but there is quiet and privacy.
Estes Park Campground at Mary’s Lake run by the Estes Valley Recreation and Park District, offers sites ranging from $35 to $60 per night depending on amenities.
Estes Park KOA, whose motto is, “Remember. It’s not Camping. It’s Kamping.” And hey, if Kamping gets you off the couch and in front of a campfire, who’s to judge?
Along Peak to Peak Highway
Colorado Cherry Company
Delicious homemade pies, ciders, syrups and other goodies. Two locations, one in Big Thompson Canyon, the other in Pinewood Springs;
Chapel on the Rock
Located on the grounds of the Camp St. Malo Vistor & Heritage Center, this gem in Allenspark is a must see for those seeking beauty and serenity. Chapel open to the public daily 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; www.campstmalo.org
Rent an outfitted Campervan that comes ready for an adventure.
(877) 270-8267; www.escapecampervans.com
A peer-to-peer RV rental company, like Airbnb but for RVs. A variety of sizes and models available. (877) 723-7232, www.outdoorsy.com
A Colorado Teardrop trailer can be towed by most vehicles. Various sizes and prices. (720) 432-6817; http://coloradoteardropcamper.com
Freelance writer Michelle Ancell teaches journalism at Colorado State University. To comment on this article, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.