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Thread: Camping in CO

  1. #1
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    Camping in CO

    Hi, all! My wife, 2-year old and I are heading west to Colorado in May for a couple week road trip (around May 7). We really don't know what we're going to do the whole trip, but for sure are interested in camping (just car camping as not interesting in hiking to sites with a toddler yet).

    Any good campgrounds within an hour and a half of the denver area? We're pretty flexible of where we can go since we don't have any other plans right now.

    It would be great if there are some trails somewhat near by where I can sneak off and do some rides.

    We looked into Rocky Mountain National Park a bit and see how they have Morraine Park Campground and Longs Peak.

    How is riding and camping in May? Crapshoot since there might be rain and poor trail conditions?

    Any input is appreciated. Thanks, guys!
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  2. #2
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    In mid to late May, The Great Sand Dunes. Nice camp sites, possibility of nice warm weather, the creek is flowing (it's essentially a beach without the deep water) - lot's of fun, esp for the kids. 3 1/2 hours from Denver but worth the trip.

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    That's awfully early in May to be planning any trail activities biking, hiking whatever in the Mountains. We've been fairly snow free this winter on the Front Range, but the West Slope is getting buried under well above normal amounts of snow. And, we haven't even gotten into our snowiest months yet.

    There are a lot of guys here that are into backcountry skiing that were still carving turns well into June last year.

    You might try around Buffalo Creek though. Much lower, good riding/ hiking.

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    +1 Buffalo Creek. there are campsites (car camping basically) and the trails are right there where you camp.... assuming its dry which is a good possibility but never definite with late season weather in CO. i usually camp/ride there a few times during the summer cool area/trails

  5. #5
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    As OBD said, May is going to be pretty darn early for the mountains. Golden Gate Canyon SP is a bit "drier" than up high... May might be good. Elevenmile Canyon is also a really nice place - May could be good there.

    Oh - and Sand Dunes is *definitely* a good place... especially for kids. Just killer camping and playing down there.

    Here are some pics from May a few years back in RMNP just above Bear Lake:

    <a href="http://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/H2thvyDf6TE7hYpyR0ta4g?feat=embedwebsite"><img src="http://lh4.ggpht.com/_HOJPscV4X8k/SZ7ptSvYJaI/AAAAAAAAAmY/U5cznwRqAY8/s800/DSC_6563.jpg" /></a>

    <a href="http://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/RELTCUiRv4Iqw8VEJii3vA?feat=embedwebsite"><img src="http://lh5.ggpht.com/_HOJPscV4X8k/SZ7qGOtK0hI/AAAAAAAAAmg/2Y8KXy8zNhQ/s800/DSC_6604.jpg" /></a>

    <a href="http://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/DCpVH4Wh7Vt2Ue2XVHZXvw?feat=embedwebsite"><img src="http://lh6.ggpht.com/_HOJPscV4X8k/SZ7qLOyP73I/AAAAAAAAAmo/MKbf_H2ZK1Q/s800/DSC_6592.jpg" /></a>

    <a href="http://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/zc56fzGmbEbVHx5wnDozKw?feat=embedwebsite"><img src="http://lh5.ggpht.com/_HOJPscV4X8k/SVK4iS1xicI/AAAAAAAAATc/wVSaBwl3myg/s800/Notch_coul02.jpg" /></a>

  6. #6
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    I have to warn you about the Sand Dunes though - it blows. As in, if you encounter wind down there it is not fun. I don't know that it is within 1 1/2 hours of Denver either, but it is better early season camping, though check the overnight lows for Alamosa. Being a mtn valley, it is one of the coldest spots in the state during the Winter. Maybe by early May it is desert warmth?

    Golden Gate Canyon SP and Buff Creek are good suggestions for hiking/biking/fishing. Golden Gate is not too far outside Golden.

    A good spot to camp, and have access to family activities, would be just Northwest of Colorado Springs. I forget the name, but if you go through Wildernet you could find it. IM if you need help. There is a long paved bike path in the valley, which does also lead to singletrack, some activities up by the resorvoir, and could easily daytrip to Cheyenne Mtn Zoo for the kiddos, or the Pike's Peak Cog Rail in Manitou Spgs.

    Have fun!

  7. #7
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    May in Colorado... could be the best camping trip your wife and toddler ever go on or the last.
    Gone are the days we stopped to decide,
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  8. #8
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    Eric Z-

    What type of car camping are we talking about?

    Well established campgrounds with facilities closer to Denver:

    Lake Dillon- Facilities, campsites, close to shopping et al. Close to Breckenridge, Keystone, Frisco
    Buffalo Creek- Few facilities, campsites, closer but not too close.
    RMNP- a good sampling of the Rockies, relatively close to Denver.

    For shear beauty of Colorado, nothing beats the Sangre De Cristos and San Juan Mountains but they are not 1 1/2 hours from Denver and most campsites require a 4 wheel drive and or some hiking. The Sand Dunes National Monument is West of the Sangre De Cristo mountains and definately worth a look as others have posted.

    Higher elevations will still have snow and some campsites don't open until Memorial Day and require reserving sites

    Have you been camping in Colorado before?
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    It really depends on exactly what you're looking for, but another option would be Bear Creek Lake Park. It's basically right in a western suburb of Denver. The nights won't be too cold, and there won't be any snow (probably). There are family trails right there (bike path and off road), amongst many other things, and good front range trails for you to sneak off to within a few minute drive - (Mt Falcon, Lair o' the Bear, others). You are still very close to city stuff too, and can easily get to the mtns for day trips.

  10. #10
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    this is great info. thanks, all! i'll try to answer questions and ask some more here:

    i have not been camping in colorado before (only skiing at the various resorts)- only camping around the midwest (il and wi). i understand the volatility of the weather and how it may not be the ideal (or even decent) conditions. i guess i didn't know until you guys mentioned it.

    the type of car camping i'm looking into is driving the car to the site, setting up camp, and then doing some basic hiking and biking. nothing extreme at all. would of course be nice to have some scenery to enjoy as well.

    the reason i am choosing co for our trip at this time is because of the availabilty of my wife's time off from school and i'm up for a nice change of our shorter road trips in the midwest.

    i'm okay with colder weather overnight as we'll be prepared for that, but i see what you mean about trails not being in a suitable condition. it would be nice to have paved trails around as we will also pull my son in a trailer.

    our trip will consist of camping probably 2 to 3 or maybe 4 nights (depending on conditions)- the rest will be in hotels whereever we decide to go in the area. we don't need to stay near denver; however, that's just a reference point for me.

    also, thanks for the pics, ss- I guess that puts things into perspective about the weather in may

    we do have a lot of flexibility of where we go since we really don't have any plans so i'm open to anything. ideally, we would go over the summer and we're still checking if that's possible; however, may is a guarantee when we can get out there.
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    Quote Originally Posted by jugdish
    May in Colorado... could be the best camping trip your wife and toddler ever go on or the last.
    well put i better be careful.
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    [QUOTE=Eric Z]this is great info. thanks, all! i'll try to answer questions and ask some more here:

    i have not been camping in colorado before (only skiing at the various resorts)- only camping around the midwest (il and wi). i understand the volatility of the weather and how it may not be the ideal (or even decent) conditions. i guess i didn't know until you guys mentioned it.

    the type of car camping i'm looking into is driving the car to the site, setting up camp, and then doing some basic hiking and biking. nothing extreme at all. would of course be nice to have some scenery to enjoy as well.



    You may want to look at Lake Dillon as your base of operations. I don't recall when they are open, but it will fit your style of car camping and you have trees, water and your in the heart of the mountains. Your wife may also like the fact that there are resteraunts/shopping close by.
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  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by jonny boy
    I have to warn you about the Sand Dunes though - it blows. As in, if you encounter wind down there it is not fun. I don't know that it is within 1 1/2 hours of Denver either, but it is better early season camping, though check the overnight lows for Alamosa. Being a mtn valley, it is one of the coldest spots in the state during the Winter. Maybe by early May it is desert warmth?
    I'd imagine early May would be kind of dicey in the Dunes. We went at the end of May/early June and had a couple REALLY windy days, a cold day, and some nice days... crapshoot pretty much like anywhere above 6K feet around here.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by andychrysler
    It really depends on exactly what you're looking for, but another option would be Bear Creek Lake Park. It's basically right in a western suburb of Denver. The nights won't be too cold, and there won't be any snow (probably). There are family trails right there (bike path and off road), amongst many other things, and good front range trails for you to sneak off to within a few minute drive - (Mt Falcon, Lair o' the Bear, others). You are still very close to city stuff too, and can easily get to the mtns for day trips.
    Very good point. Chatfield State Park would also be one of these "suburban" options. There's some singletrack, paved path, river, lake, and Waterton Canyon close by.

  15. #15
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    Not sure I'd recommend Summit County/Lake Dillion for camping in May.
    I don't think much is open then anyway

    plus

    We get our last snow of the year typically around Mother's Day.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ban'd4life
    You may want to look at Lake Dillon as your base of operations. I don't recall when they are open, but it will fit your style of car camping and you have trees
    There may not be any LIVE trees left there by this summer.

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    ...Also think western slope options - Glenwood Springs/Carbondale (3 hrs west of Denver), or Grand Junction/Fruita (4 hours). Or, the Salida area is 2.5 hours south and is sort of a "banana belt" surrounded by mountains.

    All of the above offer a variety of fun experiences and great scenery.

    Lower elevation is a must that time of year for camping. Higher up it's called "mud season."
    Last edited by Scrambler; 02-20-2009 at 11:48 AM.

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    i'll be doing some research on some of the places you guys mention. we're pretty experienced campers, but there's always the challenge with a 2-year old and weather issues.

    obviously, a big part is what sites are open that early in may- by checking some websites, some open 5/1, but i'm sure that's tentative with weather.

    i think i'll be looking into these:
    -buffalo creek
    -lake dillon
    -big bear
    -chatfield
    -golden gate canyon

    i am partial to state/national parks versus private campgrounds.

    thanks for your help, everyone!

    i guess i will need to be flexible and set those expectations with my wife since it might be great in may, but also can be bad.
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    Quote Originally Posted by SkaredShtles
    There may not be any LIVE trees left there by this summer.
    why is that?
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  20. #20
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    Mueller State Park is pretty neat. Just West of Colorado Springs. Lot's of trees, views and trails. Cabin options too. Might take the weather out of the equation a little.

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    Another possibility might be near Red Feather Lakes, I'm not sure how early Dowdy Lake opens, it might be open year round. There are several small campgrounds in the Poudre Canyon with almost instant trail access, but I'd be too scared to take a 2 yr old there if yours is anything like my 2 yr old grandson.

    There is camping around Horsetooth Res., just west of Ft. Collins, but it's Urban camping at best as they cater to the Winnebago crowd more than tent campers.

  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by Eric Z
    why is that?
    Bark beetle.


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    Quote Originally Posted by SkaredShtles
    Bark beetle.
    holy crap. that blows!
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  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by onbelaydave
    Another possibility might be near Red Feather Lakes, I'm not sure how early Dowdy Lake opens, it might be open year round. There are several small campgrounds in the Poudre Canyon with almost instant trail access, but I'd be too scared to take a 2 yr old there if yours is anything like my 2 yr old grandson.

    There is camping around Horsetooth Res., just west of Ft. Collins, but it's Urban camping at best as they cater to the Winnebago crowd more than tent campers.
    yeah, my 2-year old is pretty active- actually, very active. half the battle is getting him away from the campfire and staying away from poison ivy/oak, etc. it's still tons of fun though.

    i'm not too much of a fan of the urban camping scene, but understand there's a middle ground too. ideally, down the road as my son gets older, we will be able to really see and enjoy colorado!
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  25. #25
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    Try West Magnolia. It is a mile or two out of Nederland and 30 minutes west of Boulder. Car camping with biking/ walking trails next to the sites. I have taken my to kids there.

    http://trails.mtbr.com/cat/united-st...4_5844crx.aspx

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    Another option that very well may be good if the higher elevations are cold and/or snowy - Fruita. Highline Lake is a VERY nice family-friendly campground in the desert. Lots of big cottonwood trees for shade, Fruita trails are very close by... Colorado Nat'l Monument, dinosaur bones to see... etc.

    Warning: it COULD be hotter than Hades in early May too.

    Edit: I see someone already mentioned Fruita...

  27. #27
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    Last summer we spent a couple nights at the new Hermit Park Open Space (Larimer County) just outside of Estes Park/Rocky Mountain NP. The sites were quiet, pretty and perfect for car camping. There is a bit of available hiking nearby (towards Homestead Meadows) and some nice rocks to clamber around on near where we camped (for the 4 and 6 year olds). It's a bit pricey, but might fit your plans. If it's a cold/snowy spring, though, you'd have sheltering trees but may have to deal with significant snow.

    On the other hand, they also have some small cabins which would be nice in the shoulder season.



    Enjoy your trip.

  28. #28
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    Hermit park would be good. Good camping and it's only a couple miles out of Estes. Almost always dry in May, too. For that early on in May, I'd stay either east of the Divide or on the Western Slope (but that's a lot farther than 1.5 hrs) Ft Collins/Larimer County have plenty of great camping - check out the Larimer County web page. Buffallo Creek is also low elevation enough that it will be nice. Anything pretty much in Larimer will have good hiking/biking trails from camp. Buff Creek, too. Golden Gate would be good, but may be snowy up high. My guess is that Ned will be wet early May. My $.02
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    i'll add fruita and hermit park to my list.

    i'm still checking to see if the western range is an option. we're driving from chicago so it's about 14 hours to denver and then another 4 hours to the western side of co. anything is possible- that's what so nice about having such loose plans right now.

    thanks again, all!

    i'm trying to think of the best way to find out the conditions before we head out in may- i know weather can dramatically change in hours so i'm thinking of course check weather online, but then also calling/e-mailing some of the parks i'm interested in. anything else?
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  30. #30
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    That's a great idea - keep a bunch of options available. If the FR is dodgy, head to Fruita... if that's not so great, head to Sand Dunes... if it's all $hite, you could always go to New Mexico.

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    Lake Pueblo State Park, hundreds of car camp sites, great trails, warm, no snow.

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    Eric, make sure to check this board before you come out. Even if weather is good, trail conditions may not be. There's almost always a thread on the subject. If you can't find one, start one. Regardless of where you end up camping, there will be a good, fun, dry trail around here somewhere.
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    Quote Originally Posted by ignazjr
    Eric, make sure to check this board before you come out. Even if weather is good, trail conditions may not be. There's almost always a thread on the subject. If you can't find one, start one. Regardless of where you end up camping, there will be a good, fun, dry trail around here somewhere.
    good idea! thanks. will do!
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  34. #34
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    Another place that might be nice, and again I'm not sure when they turn the water on and the like, is Curt Gowdy St Park just across the border in WY, although that would be very weather dependent as well.

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    Quote Originally Posted by onbelaydave
    Another possibility might be near Red Feather Lakes, I'm not sure how early Dowdy Lake opens, it might be open year round. There are several small campgrounds in the Poudre Canyon with almost instant trail access, but I'd be too scared to take a 2 yr old there if yours is anything like my 2 yr old grandson.

    There is camping around Horsetooth Res., just west of Ft. Collins, but it's Urban camping at best as they cater to the Winnebago crowd more than tent campers.

    Unless they open up the primitive sites before the water gets too high...

    To the OP: Check out Poudre River canyon - there are some pretty good spots (at least 20 different campsites) about 30 miles up the canyon which are probably 2 hours max from Denver, will be snow free (unless you go up past Big South trail head area) and you have Hewlett's Gulch, Youngs Gulch, Dadd Gulch which are all nice rides. One spot (I can't remember the name) is JUST past the Pingree Park road turn off and is a few hundred yards from the main road. May will be cold, FYI our last day of frost danger for planting is May 15 at 5,000 feet in Fort Collins - but the farther you go up obviously the colder you get at night. The tent in the pic is a 3 season and there have been a few nights in June when we camped above 8,000 feet and we've frozen out *&$%#'s off!
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  36. #36
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    Castlewood Canyon makes for a nice day trip. Not sure if there are camping facilities though.

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    thanks, 2melow! it's very nice to have all of these options! also, nice pic- rei hobitat tent?
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  38. #38
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    2 yr olds and rushing water don't mix

    Quote Originally Posted by Eric Z
    thanks, 2melow! it's very nice to have all of these options! ?
    His pic's are in slack water and though they are probably the best options in the Ft. Collins area, in May, the Poudre is a white water kayakers dream and a 2 yr olds death.

    The Poudre is a raging torrent in May, the campgrounds are only 10-15 ' away. Do you want to be that vigilant to shepherd your 2 your old from drowning and not get a chance to relax for yourself ??

    That's why I gave the heads up warning.

  39. #39
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    Quote Originally Posted by Intenserider2
    Try West Magnolia. It is a mile or two out of Nederland and 30 minutes west of Boulder. Car camping with biking/ walking trails next to the sites. I have taken my to kids there.
    +1.. West Mag would be a great choice assuming it's not packed in with late snows (big if). Just enough outback to feel a little rugged but still very close to Ned if something comes up. Much of it gets cell coverage and the best part is you'll be surrounded by great trails straight from your campsite. Much better experience than being stacked side-by-side in tents like Golden Gate.

  40. #40
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    Quote Originally Posted by onbelaydave
    His pic's are in slack water and though they are probably the best options in the Ft. Collins area, in May, the Poudre is a white water kayakers dream and a 2 yr olds death.

    The Poudre is a raging torrent in May, the campgrounds are only 10-15 ' away. Do you want to be that vigilant to shepherd your 2 your old from drowning and not get a chance to relax for yourself ??

    That's why I gave the heads up warning.
    i appreciate the heads up warning. i would like to relax a bit, but the realism is with a 2-year old, that's nearly impossible. i agree with limiting the dangers as much as possible.

    i'm just happy i have options for my trip- i know some will not work out due to weather, etc, but it's still nice to look at a bunch of different places.
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  41. #41
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    The FS campgrounds around Lake Dillon will not be open and unless it gets very dry and warm, there will not be any mountain biking in Summit County in early May.

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    wind can blow for several days on end in the spring, and it can blow around the clock. Hence, the sand was deposited right there.

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    Quote Originally Posted by thump
    +1.. West Mag would be a great choice assuming it's not packed in with late snows (big if). Just enough outback to feel a little rugged but still very close to Ned if something comes up. Much of it gets cell coverage and the best part is you'll be surrounded by great trails straight from your campsite. Much better experience than being stacked side-by-side in tents like Golden Gate.
    i'll definitely check into west magnolia. it sounds like exactlly what i'm looking for.

    is this the type of place that just has 1-2 campgrounds or a state park or something like that? or many options?
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  44. #44
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    It's all national forest area. Quite a few options. Camping is free (not improved/no facilities). It's pretty much a giant networks of interconnecting FS roads and trails. Only downside for camping is the occasional motos and hippies. Lots of riding options.

    These are a little old but still pretty close:
    http://bma-mtb.org/resources/WestMagFS2005r.pdf
    http://bma-mtb.org/getinvolved/westmag_mapc.jpeg

    I live just a mile over.. PM me as the date draws closer and I can give you a snow report. It's at 8500 feet so it'll still get cold at nights during May.

  45. #45
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    Quote Originally Posted by thump
    It's all national forest area. Quite a few options. Camping is free (not improved/no facilities). It's pretty much a giant networks of interconnecting FS roads and trails. Only downside for camping is the occasional motos and hippies. Lots of riding options.

    These are a little old but still pretty close:
    http://bma-mtb.org/resources/WestMagFS2005r.pdf
    http://bma-mtb.org/getinvolved/westmag_mapc.jpeg

    I live just a mile over.. PM me as the date draws closer and I can give you a snow report. It's at 8500 feet so it'll still get cold at nights during May.
    thanks, thump! is there any hiking needed to make it to a place to make camp? the reason i ask is that we're not into hiking in at all since we'll have a 2-year.

    thanks again.
    ez
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    To beat this dead horse some more...

    Here are some of the "what's rideable" discussions from May '08.

    Summit County
    Summit County Trails???

    Georgetown Area
    Georgetown starting to dry out…

    Front Range
    FR report?


    Bottom line:
    1) Early summer conditions below about 8000 ft.
    2) Mud season btw 8000 and 10000 ft.
    3) Winter above 10000 ft.

    Unless there is a snowstorm, then all bets are off... May.

  47. #47
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    Quote Originally Posted by Scrambler
    Here are some of the "what's rideable" discussions from May '08.

    Summit County
    Summit County Trails???

    Georgetown Area
    Georgetown starting to dry out…

    Front Range
    FR report?


    Bottom line:
    1) Early summer conditions below about 8000 ft.
    2) Mud season btw 8000 and 10000 ft.
    3) Winter above 10000 ft.

    Unless there is a snowstorm, then all bets are off... May.
    i appreciate you beating the dead horse! it's nice to know what's out there at that time. thanks, scrambler!
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  48. #48
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    Quote Originally Posted by Eric Z
    thanks, thump! is there any hiking needed to make it to a place to make camp? the reason i ask is that we're not into hiking in at all since we'll have a 2-year.
    Nope.. plenty of it's easily car accessible. Just remember you are in the mountains, so we do have big kitties, foxes and black bear running around. Nothing to really worry about, but keep a close eye on the 2 yr old wondering around and don't keep unsealed food around the tent.

  49. #49
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    Quote Originally Posted by thump
    Nope.. plenty of it's easily car accessible. Just remember you are in the mountains, so we do have big kitties, foxes and black bear running around. Nothing to really worry about, but keep a close eye on the 2 yr old wondering around and don't keep unsealed food around the tent.
    very cool! yeah, i'm definitely aware of wildlife, but a good reminder with a 2-year old now. thanks!
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  50. #50
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    Moab

    Drive right past the Front Range and head to Grand Junction. Camp at Colorado National Monument and ride Fruita. Then, head out to Moab, where the weather is almost guaranteed to be great.

    Come back to the Denver area in mid-August.

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