April 13, 2018: As I continue making maps and notes with links about my next big RV trip around Colorado, I’m getting more serious and excited, so I’m still happy dancing.
When I leave Tucson at the end of this month, I’ll spend a few more weeks in Arizona at the Grand Canyon and Antelope Canyon, then I’ll go through Monument Valley in Utah before getting to my first Colorado destination, Mesa Verde National Park. Several friends who know of my love of these kind of cliff dwellings have told me I can’t miss this one and I agree!
“Mesa Verde, Spanish for green table, offers a spectacular look into the lives of the Ancestral Pueblo people who made it their home for over 700 years, from AD 600 to 1300. Today the park protects nearly 5,000 known archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings. These sites are some of the most notable and best preserved in the United States.”
Picture from NationalParks.org: Step into the past and experience the lives of one of America’s oldest cultures, the Pueblo people. Listen to the stories these cliffs tell and reflect how man can weave his life so seamlessly with nature.
My ultimate goal is Rocky Mountain National Park and to get there in plenty of time for at least a few weeks of exploring. But I want to take my time and see as much as possible along the way. Below is my basic plan, but I always like to leave myself wiggle room to change my mind and go with the flow. I still have details I have to take care of before I leave Tucson and the timing of all of those can’t be totally controlled. And even though I hate to make reservations anytime and would prefer to just wing it and go with how I feel at the moment and where I want to be, that carefree part of the fulltime RVing lifestyle seems to be no more. There are so many more RVers on the road now, and especially in Colorado, I’ve heard you really need reservations early. So I’ve made some in areas that I know for sure I want to explore for a week or so and will hope for the best the rest of the time.
(Click for larger version)
May 16-24 (8 days) Explore: Mesa Verde National Park – The route into the park is steep, narrow, winding mountain road. Depending on weather, traffic, road construction, plan at least two hours just to drive in and out of the park. Scenic with overlooks; spectacular views into four states. (Getting Around)
I know I could see Mesa Verde from my next stop in Durango, but the distance between there and my park is 57 miles. From here it’s only 9 miles. I’d rather be close for easier/longer exploration of Mesa Verde, since the road into the park takes so long.
Canyons of the Ancients National Monument (28 mi) – The Anasazi Heritage Center is southwest Colorado’s premier archaeological museum of the Ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi) and other Native Cultures of the Four Corners region.
Telluride (74 mi) –This video was enough to convince me to go there! See from here instead of Durango (132 mi from there due to configuration of road). This also gives me a chance to see a different part of the San Juan Skyway (CO 145).
RV Park or Boondocking Options:
Morefield Campground (Mesa Verde NP $15/night with Golden Age Passport) 4 miles inside Mesa Verde. 267 sites, most dry camping; 15 full hookup sites need reservations. Most convenient to explore from within park, but no cell and spotty wi-fi service here. Maybe stay here 3-4 nights and check out other options:
County Road 34 (BLM free) 2.6 mi from park entrance on other side of Hwy. 160. Good cell; scenic views of Mesa Verde. Road is easy to find; road is rough but just go slow and take it easy.
McPhee Campground (San Juan NF) – $18/night – 16 sites with electric hookups ($6 extra). Golden Age Passport 1/2 off. 72 sites; 2 loops with paved access and parking, firewood, drinking water, hosts. Great hiking trails to scenic spots overlooking the reservoir giving a 360 degree view of the surrounding area. Stunning views, but no lakefront sites. 33 mi. from park, so not good spot to explore there from. No dump here. Campendium: This is a gem of a campground located in a great area with stunning 360 degree views a short walk away. Verizon good.
(May 24 – June 24) – Explore: Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad – Goes through San Juan National Forest and along the Animas River. Take train to Silverton, bus back to Durango.
San Juan Scenic Byway: (car only) Once you pass Silverton going north, it becomes the Million Dollar Highway, deemed a ‘most dangerous road’, as well as one of the world’s most spectacular drives. Some people are super freaked out by the road. There are drop-offs just past the white line and no guardrails.
Silverton (48 mi from Durango)- A National Historic Landmark, part of the San Juan Skyway (with the Million Dollar Highway connecting Silverton to Ouray), home to Animas Forks and the Alpine Loop. 33andFree shares good info on boondocking, driving the high mountain passes and attractions.
Ouray (71 mi from Durango; 23 mi N of Silverton) – This small intimate community is nestled in some of the most rugged and towering peaks of the Rockies. Surrounded on three sides with 13,000 foot snowcapped peaks, Ouray is home to sulfur-free hot springs with stunning views. Two-thirds of Ouray’s original Victorian structures are still occupied and have been lovingly restored in order to preserve their turn-of-the-century charm.
Aztek Ruins National Monument (37 mi from Durango) – 900-year old ancestral Pueblo Great House of over 400 masonry rooms. Walk the half-mile trail through Aztec Ruins. Discover T-shaped doorways, intact ancestral Pueblo rooms, and a reconstructed Great Kiva.
Pagosa Hot Springs (60 mi from Durango) – The Springs Resort offers many soaking tubs to choose from, 23 mineral hot springs, terraced to overlook the beautiful San Juan River.
Wow, that looks good to me. All I can think is aaaahhhhhh!
Road notes: US 550 from Durango to Silverton ok, but no further in RV. Drive car from Silverton to Ouray.
RV Park Options:
Sky Ute Casino (May 24-30) – a convenient landing spot that had reservations during Memorial Day weekend. Will explore around from there to see where to land next.
Other campgrounds I checked, like United Campground of Durango, Alpen Rose, Westerly, KOA, Lightner Creek – are already either completely booked already or rates are minimum $1,200/month!
Vallecito RV Resort – Sounded great at first with good recommendations, but it’s about 20 miles to Durango to start of Hwy. 550 that goes up to attractions like Silverton, Million Dollar Highway, Ouray, etc. I decided that’s just too far and inconvenient, so will either opt for the full hookups at Durango RV Park for a whole month or split time between boondocking and some days at full hookup parks as available. I love having options!
Boondocking Options around Silverton: (FreeCampsites)
Highway 550 (Public Forest Service free) Great spots on the water; primitive camping w/ fire rings. Water fast moving & beautiful. Road is a bit rough. 48 mi. from Durango; 24 mi. from Ouray.
South Mineral Creek (US Forest Service free) – An assortment of designated areas where dispersed camping is allowed so there is plenty of camping in the canyon on all but the busiest days. A waterfall on the creek just upstream from the campground adds to the attraction of the area. FreeCampsites: This is a very popular dispersed camping site. It’s just a few miles from Silverton, Colorado with old mining towns to explore.
Polly tip: The NF campgrounds in Silverton, in particular the various areas of South Mineral Creek, not the official NF CG at the end of the road, mostly have excellent sun exposure.
Private RV parks around Silverton, like Red Mountain, Silverton Lakes, Silver Summit have rates ranging from $44-$48/night. I suspect most are already booked anyway.
Still need to figure out: Where to stay to see Black Canyon Of The Gunnison National Park Since I can’t get up US 550 past Silverton in the RV, look for better option for a place to stay overnight. It’s 75 miles from boondocking spot at Hwy. 550 and that’s a long day trip for me. It really is a must-do, though, especially since it’s a national park that I want to cross off my list.
“Big enough to be overwhelming, still intimate enough to feel the pulse of time, Black Canyon of the Gunnison exposes you to some of the steepest cliffs, oldest rock, and craggiest spires in North America. With two million years to work, the Gunnison River, along with the forces of weathering, has sculpted this vertical wilderness of rock, water, and sky. Some of the steepest cliffs, oldest rock, and craggiest spires in North America. (130 miles from Silverton)
June 25 – 162 miles to Great Sand Dunes National Park
The tallest dunes in North America are the centerpiece in a diverse landscape of grasslands, wetlands, conifer and aspen forests, alpine lakes, and tundra. (And another park to check off my National Parks Checklist).
San Luis State Wildlife Area – This is an actual campsite with asphalt pads and electric hook ups for free! 20 minutes from Great Sand Dunes National Park and the town of Alamosa. More importantly, you’ll have gorgeous views of the lakes, the dunes, and the Sangre de Cristo mountains right from your window. Free dump.
Mountain View RV Resort (or find boondocking spot)
Explore: Royal Gorge Bridge & Park – World’s highest suspension bridge
Royal Gorge Train– Teddy Roosevelt described it best as “the trip that bankrupts the English language!” Come experience not just a memorable train ride through the Colorado Rockies, but also enjoy classes of service where we combine gorgeous scenery, great service, with delicious food, sourced locally and prepared fresh right on board the train for lunch.
Seven Falls – “The Grandest Mile of Scenery in Colorado” – This magnificent series of waterfalls is situated in a 1,250-foot-wall box canyon between the towering Pillars of Hercules.
Skyline Drive – Road ascends and follows the top of a high razorback ridge overlooking Cañon City. Soon the landscape falls away hundreds of feet on both sides, which is just a bit hair-raising! Kathi: do in car only!
Explore: Garden of the Gods Park – Garden of the Gods Park is a registered National Natural Landmark. Imagine dramatic views, 300′ towering sandstone rock formations against a backdrop of snow-capped Pikes Peak and brilliant blue skies. This world-class Visitor & Nature Center and museum is the most visited attraction in the region with all new interactive exhibits.
Red Rocks Canyon – a true gem of the Pikes Peak region. The open space is characterized by a series of canyons and ridges sculpted by erosion of the area’s uplifted rock strata.
Manitou Springs: Don’t miss – they have about 7 active springs throughout the town that you can taste each one. They all taste different. The Manitou Incline is also there and interesting to see, just wish I could climb it. (Gayl). Well, Gayl, when I saw the picture of the view, I’d love to see it, but 2,744 steps made entirely of railroad ties… I don’t care what they’re made of, I don’t think I’m up for that, either!
Manitou Cliff Dwellings! I had never heard of these cliff dwellings until I looked up what Gayl said above about Manitou Springs. These look great – you can go inside and touch and everything! A must-see for me, for sure.
Miramont Castle is another find that way – thanks Gayl!) 🙂 Castles and Victorian decor are my kind of thing and I wanna have High Tea there!
Cripple Creek – “One of my all time favorite towns.” (Melinda) – It’s an old mining town and you can go down into the mine in a 1000 ft elevator, very interesting tour. (Gayl)
July 15? – 64 miles to Aurora (near Denver)
Cherry Creek State Park – Friends camp hosting here – maybe a long overdue Fulltime Graduating Class of 2005 reunion in sight!
Great view: Lookout Mountain, next to Buffalo Bill’s Grave-Museum (Jason)
Mid July +/- 140 miles to Rocky Mountain National Park!
Rocky Mountain National Park Trip Planner – Drive Trail Ridge Road – One of America’s most spectacular scenic drives and every one of the many overlooks provides amazing views.
Visit Holzwarth Historic Site – Get a taste of early tourism at one of the first dude ranches in Colorado. Keep your eyes peeled for moose in the Kawuneeche Valley.
The Ultimate Colorado Waterfall Road Trip – A road trip that will take you past a few of our favorite falls. (Thanks Paul & Debbie!)
Both sides are great, but west side should not be overlooked. Park on one side or the other and drove over the top. On the east side it is nice to go UP (one way up) Fall River Road if it is open. (Joyce)
That’s as far as I’ve gotten, but I’ll update this page periodically. I’d really appreciate your best and most secret Colorado attractions in Comments below so that I have everything in one spot since I’m old and I lose stuff. 🙂