It’s the night before a much-anticipated family outing and I’m going through the mental checklist…
Sleeping bags and pads
Camp stove and solid food supply (with extra snacks)
Dog beds, collars and food bag
First aid kit
Diaper bag…diaper bag! Gah, I forgot to grab extra diapers!
This isn’t our “first rodeo,” as they say. My husband and I have spent the last decade prepping ourselves and our gear cache for anything from spontaneous overnighters to extended week-long adventures. Two years ago, however, a new level of planning happened: cue baby #1.
We took our first family camping trip when our son was three months old. Just below a 12,616-foot Greyback Mountain in Southern Colorado, we found ourselves nestled together at treeline as we embraced the rain, graupel and (eventual) late day sunshine that often comes with mid-summer camping in the Rockies.
Short and long of it: we survived.
Two and a half years later, baby #2 on the way, and — you guessed it —I’m still forgetting stuff (“mom brain” is real, y’all). But, what really matters, is we are still getting out there.
Together, our family has slept in red rock deserts, camped among tall pines and lazy rivers, braved torrential downpours and lighting storms, lost ourselves under star-filled skies, spilled food in tents, endured backcountry diaper blowouts and shared delicious meals around campfires and camp stoves from the flatlands to the high country. Here are a few of our favorite family-friendly campgrounds and backcountry campsites.
Colorado National Monument, Fruita, CO
Our family tends to shy away from established campgrounds for fear of rowdy neighbors or confrontational pooches. However, “Loop C” in Colorado National Monument’s Saddlehorn Campground is everything a family could hope for!
Why go? Quiet sites, running water, and access to clean bathrooms.
Mesa Verde National Park, Cortez, CO
The benefits of established campgrounds can seem like a no-brainer for new parents who desire access to picnic tables, grills, bathrooms and paved roads just in case a quick exit is needed. Mesa Verde National Park’s Morefield Campground has all the amenities and plenty of available sites (over 200) for families to choose from after a day of exploring Pueblo ruins and the history of ancient people who once inhabited the area.
Why go? If the cultural history of the park isn’t enough to lure you in, the vast views should. From the Morefield Campground, families can explore trails that meander through great wildlife habitat and lead to views of the surrounding landscape of mountains and valleys.
Rabbit Ears Pass, Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests
Prior to having kids, my husband and I would often “dirt bag” it after a day on the road or the trails — fold down the seats, pull out the sleeping bags and crash in the car the night before alpine starts. These days, ground and rooftop tents are our family’s home-away-from-home when visiting the Steamboat Springs area, and sites are available all along Highway 40.
Why go? Not only are the views gorgeous, but fly fishing families can indulge in easy-access high country ponds (with willing trout) and, if you want to skip camp breakfast one morning, Steamboat Springs and delicious breakfast options are a quick drive down the pass.
Kenosha Pass, Pike and San Isabel National Forests
Camping along Kenosha Pass gives our family a central camping locale to our favorite hikes and mountain biking trails between Denver, Breckenridge and the I-70 corridor. Along the pass, there are two U.S. Forest Service campgrounds, but we prefer finding a dispersed site along one of the Forest Roads off Highway 285.
Why go: Families can access the city or several popular mountain towns within an hour’s drive as well as hiking/biking trails and waterways (lakes, rivers, high country creeks) with great fishing.
Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, Mosca, CO
It’s a rough road, but worth it. Great Sand Dunes National Park not only boasts the tallest dunes in North American but also features some incredible backcountry camping opportunities. Medano Pass Primitive Road, a rugged, 22-mile, 4×4 road on the Preserve side of the park, provides access to 21 backcountry campsites. The route features four miles of sand road, nine creek crossings, a few technical rocky sections and endless fun for the off-road rambling family!
Why go? After a day hiking the dunes, families can enjoy spectacular night sky viewing in camp since the area is protected from light pollution.
Chihuahua Gulch, White River National Forest
Shoutout to the hardcore adventure parents out there! Grab your kid carrier, plenty of trail snacks and maybe some pain killers for the end of the day. This six-plus mile (round trip) multi-use trail features great landscape and wildlife views and hiking to a campsite can offer a true wilderness experience for families.
Why go? Families looking for a more “wilderness” camping experience will appreciate Chihuahua Gulch, the surrounding views of Greys and Torreys Peaks and a high country lake that any kid would love to dip their feet in! Note, this trail is rated “difficult” and features steep, rocky sections above treeline. Research the area and plan ahead before seeking a campsite.