By Susanna Nilsson
In the doldrums of the 9-5 working Betty’s life, a three-day weekend is a blessing. Or a disaster. Memorial Day 2016 was going to be my first solo camping trip. I picked a lovely campsite in the National Forest near Kenosha Pass and had packed my car. Nothing was going to deter me from enjoying some much needed time in the woods to read, relax and air out all of my camping gear after a winter in storage. Except that weather was supposed to be dreary. And I couldn’t find firewood. And I ended up working late when I was hoping to already be on the road. No matter, I stopped by a friend’s house in Boulder and grabbed some firewood from his house. I packed an extra sleeping pad and my warmest layers. I once again felt confident that I was prepared and now I was on my way!
Heading South, I watched the sun start to set as I ended up stuck in road construction traffic. The original plan was to get to my campsite before it got dark. I turned off toward the campsite at dusk. I decided so pull over and pick a spot on the BLM land about 10 miles from my desired campsite. I pitched my tent near a grove of trees and piled up some flat rocks to set up my Coleman stove to cook dinner. Sasha was sniffing around the campsite as I unpacked and set up my sleeping quarters as fast as I could before it got too dark. I heated up a can of soup, ate quickly and packed up all the food items into the car (bear country, have to be safe!) and crawled into the tent to read. The dreary weather was rolling in and I heard the rain and wind on the tent. It was only 8pm but I was in for the night.
I awoke the next morning to ATVs and motorbikes revving around the dirt roads and the sounds of gunshots and clay pigeons. While I was hoping for serenity and peace, I had not made it to my destination, and the BLM land around me was clearly for a different purpose than the one I was seeking. I packed up the site and tried to find my destination campsite, but by this time they were all claimed. I did not consider this trip to be a success. The lack of trails and trees were boring, I was nervous about getting hit by a stray bullet and irritated by the loud roaring of the dirt bikes. I was relieved when I arrived home, but not deterred. As a member of an outdoorsy family, I’ve been camping since I was a kid and have had many incredible camping experiences. While being in nature has its discomfort, the experiences have always been rewarding. I knew that I could learn and grow from this experience as well. This particular trip is what I refer to as “type 2” fun, and did end up being an unforgettable experience.
Despite my bleak story, there’s no need to think of camping as pulling into a roadside KOA full of generator-humming RVs, or booking reservations at a National Park months in advance. All kinds of camping is available to Betties seeking wilderness sanctuaries. In this post, I’ll share some advice for dispersed camping (what has been great!) as well as some backpacking tips.
Dispersed Camping Overview
Dispersed camping refers to the often free (!) sites that are drive up and dispersed all over Colorado. Many of these sites are on National Forest and BLM lands. Some sites do require AWD or four-wheel drive, but many of them are accessible to anyone. I’ll save my favorite spots for upcoming Bold Betties events ;) but I am happy to share some great local spots for you to look into when plan your own weekend getaway in Colorado!
Ideas for your next dispersed camping adventure:
Hahns Peak/Bear Ears (near Steamboat Springs)
White River National Forest (near Aspen and Vail)
Roosevelt National Forest (near Eldora Ski Resort)
Golden Gate State Canyon Park (near Golden/Arvada)
Ok I Know Where I Want to Go, What Next?
Research! First thing to do is check the state park website and make sure that the sites are available (seasonal closures, fire restrictions, etc) and what kind of amenities are available. Dispersed camping may only just be a fire-pit, but some locations will have picnic tables, restroom facilities etc. Some sites may have a fee but many are free. Will there be water at the site or do you need to bring it all with you? How close to your car will your site be?
When you arrive, during your stay and before you leave your site, always make sure that you adhere to Leave No Trace Principles.
Ten Car Camping Tips For a BOLDER Experience
- Download a stargazing app. At night you can find your favorite constellations
- Make a stew or chili ahead of time and freeze it. It will help keep your cooler, well cooler and it makes a hearty meal post hike
- Bring at least 2 gallons of water per person per day for your car. In addition to drinking you need water for cooking, cleaning and teeth brushing. Alternatively, you can purchase a water filter if you are close to a water source and don’t have the room for that much water. I highly recommend a water filter for all backpacking trips.
- Take some alone time, even if you are camping with others. Going for a walk to take pictures or sitting down to sketch, journal, mediate or read will go a long way in helping you find some peace in nature
- Card and Dice games are great for buggy or rainy occasions. We once played euchre with 4 people in a tiny 2 person backpacking tent to avoid swarms of mosquitos
- Hydroflasks are worth it
- This is my favorite backpacker meal
- Stir fry mixed veggies + tofu or chicken + curry or teriyaki sauce is my favorite, easy camping meal. Serve with Naan or pita.
- Starbucks Via instant coffee is the best coffee for your buck in terms of size and taste
- Yoga mats make great tent “floors” put them under your pad for extra cushion. They also protect the floor from scratches and dog paw prints.
Discover your Bold!
If you camp alone, let people know where you are going. Be sure to explore, hike, fish, birdwatch, stargaze, take photos, meditate, laugh and engage with nature once you are up in the mountains. What has been your favorite place to car camp? Have you had any “type 2” experiences that you laugh about now? What camping tips would you like to share?
NATURE, the gentlest mother,
Impatient of no child,
The feeblest or the waywardest,—
Her admonition mild