It’s Saturday and as it gets closer to spring, I’m dreaming more and more about camping, so I thought I might post a throwback to our first camping trip last summer. During our first year of regular camping in 2015, we learned that we much prefer dispersed camping to camping at campgrounds. We like being further away from other people and also avoiding the drama that is trying to get a preschooler to use a pit toilet, so in 2016 we went a little closer to “off the grid” than we had during the previous summer.
Our first trip in early June was to Gordon Gulch Dispersed Camping Area in the Boulder Ranger District on National Forest Service land. Camping on National Forest Service land is our favorite because it’s free, it’s much less crowded than the state and national parks, and, perhaps most importantly, there aren’t any restrictions on dogs. We always take Pip with us when we go camping and while we bring along a leash just in case, we much prefer not to use it – he has good recall whether hiking or around the campsite, and it’s nice for him to get to do his dog thing out in nature without being constrained.
In some cases, you can camp anywhere you want on National Forest Service land as long as you’re a certain distance away from water. Gordon Gulch, which is about 5 miles north of a little town called Nederland, restricts camping to 15 numbered campsites. The downside to this is that everything is first-come, first-serve so you aren’t guaranteed a spot like you would be if you reserved at a campground. In that sense, driving out and picking a spot is always a bit of a gamble.
We left Friday morning and since it’s only about 1.5 hours away from Fort Collins, we were able to get to Gordon Gulch early and claim a marked camp site pretty far away from both the road and the main collection of campsites. There were a few people camping past us (not at marked sites…ahem), but it was pretty quiet and turned out to be a really nice spot.
We have a pretty solid camping routine down. Fridays are all about arrival, choosing a camp site, and getting everything set up and situated. There is a science to loading up the CR-V with all our stuff while still leaving room for the 4 of us + a dog.
Once we arrive and choose a spot, Chris and I set up the tent while the girls and Pip stretch their legs after the car ride. When the tent is set up, we finish unloading the car while Nora and Zara take over setting everything up inside the tent – arranging suitcases and unrolling sleeping bags. Chris and I arrange our cooking and seating areas and fix the fire ring if necessary, and then we all go on a firewood hunt.
(Sometimes chopping when necessary.)
After everything is set up and we know we have enough firewood, we go on a short hike to explore the surrounding area before it gets dark.
(We try to discourage flower picking, but it can be hard with a three year old.)
I’ve been taking my giant DSLR camera to take pictures because for the most part it seems like camping is the only time these days that I manage to take any pictures at all. These are our mini vacations and times for me, especially, to slow down and focus on family instead of business. I even manage to take a selfie or two to prove I was there too.
And it’s fun to document the adventure of our temporary home in the woods.
As you can see, just like at home, Chris cooks, but I help out by washing all the dishes. 🙂
After dinner we sit around the fire, roast our favorite vegan and dye-free marshmallows, and then go to bed early, all together cuddled up in the tent.
Saturday is all about the hike.
We wake up with the sun, eat breakfast, and pack a bag with all we need to be out for several hours: water, snacks, sweaters/jackets, hats, sunscreen, toilet paper, a trowel, bear spray, a headlamp, compass and a small first aid kit.
Then we hike, anywhere from 4-8 miles, stopping to take breaks when we need to.
Some times we have a plan or a destination in mind. At Gordon Gulch, we mostly just meandered and explored with no goals besides walking. When we came to forks in the trail that seemed interesting, we marked them so we could remember which way we came from, then turned off to see where they might lead.
Zara did a fairly good job of walking in the beginning. When she got tired, we would cajole her or bribe her into walking more, and when no one could take the whining anymore, I would give in and let her ride in the backpack.
Let me tell you, there is no better practice for some day backpacking trips like hiking multiple miles with a 35lb. three year old, water, and snacks on your back. I was only smiling like that at the beginning of the hike…
When we were all sufficiently exhausted, we got back to camp just in time for a quick lunch and to hide out a down pour in the tent.
Gordon Gulch was the only trip last year when it really rained. There were a couple of trips when we were lightly sprinkled on, but this was a heavy down pour for at least 40 minutes, with more rain off an on all evening. Luckily, it worked out that we were all sufficiently ready for some down time after the crazy long morning hike so everyone was happy to hang in the tent.
Late in the afternoon, there was a break in the rain which allowed us to go on another, shorter hike – just long enough for Zara to fall asleep in the backpack…
and for Chris to make dinner outside on the camp stove.
Sunday we have a slightly slower morning, then pack up the tent and campsite before driving somewhere new to hike. After camping at Gordon Gulch, we ended up hiking the Sourdough Trail near Beaver Reservoir.
Usually we aim for a shorter hike on Sunday, then drive home to get unpacked, showered, and reintroduced to things like electricity and running water before the start of the week.
Overall, I was pretty pleased with our trip to Gordon Gulch. We hardly saw anyone while hiking (one dirt biker early on Saturday morning, and only a couple of people Sunday), and it was pretty quiet at night. The rain made things wet and there were a fair number of mosquitoes, but that might have been less of an issue if we had chosen a campsite higher up and a little further way from the flatter areas where water was a little more likely to pool.
When we left, and even now, I would be open to going back. It was well-treed, though, the trails were nice, the rock came in handy for climbing or cooking on, and it was one of the cleaner places we’ve camped (without a ton of trash sadly left behind by less considerate campers). I’ve since read that Gordon Gulch is one of the areas that has problems with transients, but that wasn’t our experience at all, and the Sourdough Trail is one we want to remember for when the girls are ready to try their hand at a short backpacking trip.