Six sites to seek out within a 3-hour drive of Den­ver

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Joshua Ber­man

Want to get away from it all, but not too far away? Six camp­grounds, all within a three-hour drive of Den­ver, can make you for­get the stress of big-city liv­ing. »

It’s sum­mer, so it’s time to get into sum­mer camp­ing mode: roof box on the car, loaded with a tent, sleep­ing bags and stove, ready to roll.

You’ve stream­lined the pack­ing process, which means more time at the camp­ground. Now you just need a des­ti­na­tion -- some­where you can get to af­ter work on Fri­day and still have day­light for set­ting up your tent.

Here are six op­tions, all within a three-hour drive of Den­ver, that will make you for­get about the traf­fic for the week­end. (Bet­ter yet, go mid­week. You might not even have to re­serve your site ahead of time.) For an­glers and wake­less boaters … and peace and quiet. Cham­bers Lake Camp­ground Cache La Poudre River Canyon El­e­va­tion: 9,200 feet Driv­ing dis­tance from Den­ver: 126 miles, two and a half hours

Cham­bers Lake Camp­ground is a quiet spot to camp among the conifers, right on the wa­ter. The lake is a reser­voir sur­rounded by Roo­sevelt Na­tional For­est, with di­rect ac­cess to Blue Lake Trail­head and the Rawah Wilder­ness. If you can get a site there, the up­per of the two loops is nicer; it over­looks the lake and sur­round­ing moun­tains from a high ridge; the lower loop has some sites with closer ac­cess to the wa­ter — you can put in and pad­dle a boat right from shore. If Cham­bers Lake is full, there are nu­mer­ous camp­grounds down the length of the Cache La Poudre River, as well as dis­persed camp­ing in the area.

There are 44 to­tal sites for

tents and RVs up to 45 feet, and seven walk-in tent sites. Reser­va­tions: 877-444-6777 or www.recre­ation.gov. $20/night for a sin­gle, $40/night dou­ble (two fam­ily) camp­site. From Fort Collins, take U.S. 287 north to Colorado 14, then west for 52.5 miles. More: Ara­paho and Roo­sevelt Na­tional For­est, Canyon Lakes Dis­trict, 970-295-6700, www.fs.fed.us.

For rafters

Echo Canyon Camp­ground West of Cañon City El­e­va­tion: 6,330 feet Driv­ing dis­tance from Den­ver: 124 miles, two hours

Though this camp­ground has a range of sites and cab­ins — from a hand­ful of peace­ful tent plat­forms and RV hookup sites to lux­ury cab­ins and fur­nished wall tents, all with views of the San­gre de Cristo moun­tains — the real draw here is the Royal Gorge. The camp­ground is part of a big­ger ad­ven­ture re­sort run by Echo Canyon River Ex­pe­di­tions, a raft­ing out­fit­ter across the street that runs trips in the gorge. Camp­ing here is less a wilder­ness ex­pe­ri­ence and more about im­me­di­ate ac­cess to the nearby at­trac­tions of the Royal Gorge re­gion, in­clud­ing the new Di­nosaur Ex­pe­ri­ence and Royal Gorge Route Rail­road.

Tent sites are $49 per night, glamp­ing tents $149. If you go for the glamp­ing: with one queen bed and sofa sleeper with linens, they sleep up to four peo­ple; ac­cess to the fire ring, elec­tric­ity, Wi-Fi and com­mu­nity bath­rooms are in­cluded. 45044 W. U.S. 50. For reser­va­tions, call 866-341-7875, echocanyon­camp­ground.com. For hik­ers and moun­tain bik­ers Du­mont Lake Camp­ground South of Steam­boat Springs El­e­va­tion: 9,500 feet Driv­ing dis­tance from Den­ver: 134 miles, two and a half hours

Lo­cated near Rab­bit Ears Pass, this camp­ground is in a wild­flower-filled meadow with views of the Park Range. Hik­ers and moun­tain bik­ers can travel up For­est Route 311 to the Fish Creek Trail, which de­scends through sub­alpine mead­ows, past lakes, to the pop­u­lar Fish Creek Falls near Steam­boat Springs.

The camp­ground is ad­ja­cent to a lake and pic­nic area. There are 22 sites for tents and RVs up to 40 feet. Reser­va­tions: 877-4446777 or www.recre­ation.gov. $12/night. From Colorado 131 in Steam­boat Springs, take U.S. 40 south for 16.3 miles. Turn left on For­est Route 315. The camp­ground is on the left in 1.2 miles. More: Medicine Bow-Routt Na­tional Forests, Hahns Peak-Bears Ears Dis­trict, 970-870-2299, www.fs.fed.us.

For bird­ers and other soli­tude-seek­ers

Crow Val­ley Camp­ground Pawnee Na­tional Grass­land El­e­va­tion 4,800 feet Driv­ing dis­tance from Den­ver: 84 miles, one and a half hours

Pawnee Na­tional Grass­land is a haven for mi­grat­ing birds. Cre­ated in 1954, it cov­ers 193,000 acres of pub­lic land in­ter­spersed with pri­vate wheat fields and pas­tures. A bird­ing check­list — more than 300 species have been spot­ted here — and a brochure de­tail­ing a 36-mile tour through the grass­lands for cars and moun­tain bikes are avail­able at the camp­ground. A pop­u­lar and worth­while hike to Pawnee Buttes is a half-hour drive to the north­east. The camp­ground is small, scenic and quiet when there are no large groups present. It is also re­mote, so be sure to stock up be­fore en­ter­ing the Grass­lands. There are a few cot­ton­woods for some shade but not much.

Ten sites for tents and RVs up to 35 feet. Reser­va­tions: 877-4446777 or www.recre­ation.gov. Sin­gle sites, $12/night; dou­ble sites, $16/night. From Fort Collins, take Colorado 14 to Brig­gs­dale. Turn north on County Road 77. The camp en­trance is on the left in 0.2 mile. More: Pawnee Na­tional Grass­land, Pawnee Ranger Dis­trict of­fice in Gree­ley, 970-346-5000, www.fs.fed.us.

For alpine wilder­ness Echo Lake Camp­ground South of Idaho Springs

El­e­va­tion: 10,600 Driv­ing dis­tance from Den­ver: 46 miles, 1 hour.

On the north­ern edge of the Mount Evans Wilder­ness, you’ll take the high­est paved road in North Amer­ica to your camp­site. Hik­ers based here to walk the Rest­house Trail to the Sum­mit Lake Trail to the top of Mount Evans (or you can drive). Most of the wilder­ness is above tim­ber­line, and the land­scape is rugged glacial ter­rain with alpine lakes and tun­dra.

There are 18 sites for tents and a cou­ple for smaller RVs. Reser­va­tions are ac­cepted for some sites at 877-444-6777 and www.recre­ation.gov. $17/night. From Idaho Springs, take Colorado 103 south for 13.3 miles. Turn right af­ter Echo Lake Lodge. More: Ara­paho and Roo­sevelt Na­tional For­est, Clear Creek Dis­trict, 303-567-3000, www.fs.fed.us.

For fam­i­lies with young kids

Jelly­stone Park Camp Re­sort Lark­spur, south of Den­ver El­e­va­tion: 6,726 feet Driv­ing dis­tance from Den­ver: 36 miles, 30 min­utes.

I know what you’re think­ing: why would I want to go to a com­mer­cial camp­ground right ad­ja­cent to In­ter­state 25 and two sets of train tracks? I wanted to an­swer this ques­tion, so I went with the kids for a night. To make a long story short, my girls could care less about the in­ter­state, the pass­ing trains were thrilling, and in ad­di­tion to sleep­ing in a te­pee, they jumped on a gi­ant bouncy pil­low, bot­tlefed baby goats, lined up for the flag-low­er­ing cer­e­mony with Yogi and Boo-Boo, then went on a trac­tor-pulled hay ride. We had din­ner by our lit­tle camp­fire and, need­less to say, they had a blast. Then it was a quick trip back home. There is also a play­ground, heated pool, pond, fish­ing, disc golf, bas­ket­ball, vol­ley­ball, horse­shoes, geo­caching, a daily all-you-can-eat pan­cake break­fast, hik­ing trails and ranger-led ac­tiv­i­ties for kids with the camp­ground mas­cots.

Ba­sic tent sites range from $29 to $51. Var­i­ous lev­els of elec­tric/ full hookup sites are $34 to $83. There are cab­ins, yurts, cot­tages, and te­pees as well. Make reser­va­tions at 720-325-2393, www.jelly­stonelark­spur.com

Pho­tos by Joshua Ber­man, Spe­cial to The Den­ver Post

Some of the sites at Cham­bers Lake Camp­ground are right along the wa­ter.

At Jelly­stone Park Camp Re­sort, the au­thor's kids jumped on a gi­ant bouncy pil­low (shown here), bot­tle-fed baby goats, lined up for the flag-low­er­ing cer­e­mony with Yogi and Boo-Boo and then went on a trac­tor-pulled hay ride.

Pho­tos by Joshua Ber­man, Spe­cial to The Den­ver Post

Du­mont Lake Camp­ground, near Rab­bit Ears Pass, is in a meadow with a riot of wild­flow­ers at this time of the year.

The sites at Echo Canyon Camp­ground have views of the San­gre de Cristo range — and they're close to raft­ing ad­ven­tures in the Royal Gorge.

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