Backpacking Missouri Lakes
Length of Trip: 2 days +
Trail: Missouri Lakes Trail
Length: 7 Miles RT
Elevation Gain: 1,000+
Where: Holy Cross Wilderness
Directions: Denver to the Missouri Lakes Trailhead
Length of Trip: 2 days +
Trail: Missouri Lakes Trail
Length: 7 Miles RT
Elevation Gain: 1,000+
Where: Holy Cross Wilderness
Directions: Denver to the Missouri Lakes Trailhead
I came across Crater Lake in The Outbound App one day and just knew I had to go there. The photos were absolutely stunning. We did our research and decided this would be a great first backpacking trip.
Length of Trip: 2 days +
Trail: Monarch Lake Trail to Cascade Trail to Mirror Lake to Crater Lake
Length: 14.8 RT
Elevation Gain: 2,100+
Where: Indian Peaks National Wilderness
Directions: Denver to the Monarch Trailhead
Destination: Grand Lake, Colorado
About: Located in Grand County are a collection of big beautiful lakes. Lake Granby, Shadow Mountain Lake and Grand Lake. Lake Granby is the biggest and where we rented a boat fo the day.
Route: I-70 W to US-40 E to Grand Lake
Distance: 98 Miles
Time: 2h+ depending on traffic
Trip Length: Overnight
Season: Summer & Fall
Sleeping: Camping or Airbnb/Cabins
Colorado is the best. Really it’s such a fabulous place to live. But you know what would make Colorado better? An ocean. If Colorado was on an ocean we would be the greatest place in the entire world but then everyone would move here (which is already happening) and then it would be too crowded.
In my 6 years in Colorado, I have only been backpacking once! So every other time we go camping its car Camping. Last year, Clay and I got our car camping set up dialed in! We have absolutely everything we need to camp in luxury out of his truck. So here is the rundown of our must-haves and how to organize it.
We have two tents, one for car camping and one for backpacking. For car camping, we use a big spacious 4 person tent from Coleman Instant Tent that literally sets up in a matter of seconds. You lay it open, fold out the arms, pull from the center, lock the arms in place and steak it down. Seriously so simple! I do wish our tent had a few more interior pockets but its still pretty great.
The Coleman Instant Tent and comes in various sizes but a 4 person easily fits a two person air mattress with room for a 2 dogs and our bags. We recently saw a “Black Out” tent at Costco that blocks out the sun which sounds pretty amazing! Once the morning sun hits your tent, it will begin to heat up!
You are car camping, bring an air mattress! Honestly, we have found the best air mattresses are cheapest. Why? Because no matter how much you spend the will inevitably pop! Our current air mattress is coming up on a year of use, that we bought at Walmart on our way to Flaming Gorge. BUT you always need to bring a backup. On our first camping trip, our air mattress popped right before going to bed and we had nothing to sleep on but piles of clothes.
To stay warm you need something insulated between you and the ground, so bring a sleeping pad. REI has some fantastic sleeping pads and I prefer the REI AirRAils Pad that is made for side sleepers. Not all pads are the same so depending on how you like to sleep you may need a different type of pad. If you want an even more luxurious experience… invest in a Paco Pad. These thick Paco Pads are seriously comfortable but do take up more space. But your car camping so ya got the room!
Bring a tarp, actually bring two. If it looks like rain you will want to put your tarp down under your tent to prevent the bottom of your tent from getting wet. You may even want to string up another tarp as a shelter. For a pretty tarp like the one below check out Tarpesty.
We actually don’t have an easy up tent. These are great when you need shade but we typically don’t spend too much daytime at our campsite and when we set these up and leave the probability that we come back and it’s still intact is very low. I have seen many tents get totally crushed by wind.
As I said, car camping means living in luxury! We typically bring out sleeping bags, pillows and sheets & blankets. We use a fitted sheet to cover our air mattress then place our sleeping bags on top. In the Summer you may want to kick off your bag and sleep with just sheets. In the winter our bags will keep us warm enough but an added blanket is nice for added weight and comfort. For me, I get really cold so having a big blanket on the side closest to the tent wall keeps me more comfortable. Or if you wanna kick a leg or not be totally constrained by your sleeping bag… bring some blankets. Don’t forget your pillow!
We both purchased new sleeping bags last year and after a lot of research we went with Mountain Hardwear Heratio and Ratio Mens Bag, both are rated for 15 degrees and have been perfect for Colorado. Plus, both are currently on sale too! Plus extra 20% off coupon at Backcountry.com
Car camping means you can bring a lot and live in luxury. In my camping kitchen essential post I break down everything you need for your camp kitchen and exactly how to organize all of it.
My Petzl headlamp last me about 10 years so last summer when it really died, I went for another Petzl. Yep, it’s under $30 and works great. I recommended Petzl or Black Diamond Brand headlamps.
Now that your campsite is perfect its time to go exploring. I have recently gifted a bag by Adventurist Backpack Co. This padded bag is great for bringing the essentials with you from work to camping and even on a short hike. The inside has great padding so you can protect your computer and all your camera gear as well. This bag is practical and stylish making it the perfect hike to town bag. Plus, for each backpack sold the Adventurist team provides meals for families in need. You can learn more about their mission here.
For longer hikes, I prefer a hydration pack. I have been rocking a little hydration pack Kelty bag for years but for longer hikes when I want to pack more gears and layers I am looking for a bag like this or this.
Now, what to pack all your clothing in! Well, I use about 9 bags just because they’re all small to medium size. But I’d love to invest in a Patagonia Black Hole Duffle. Yes, I do love everything Patagonia! I usually compartmentalize all my things, so clothing goes in a bag in my tent, toiletries and electronics stay in the passenger seat and locked at night and I usually have another bag just of shoes & jackets.
There are lots of great coolers on the market and there is one for every budget too. Yeti is the OG cooler that started it all but sells at a premium price. There are other totally comparable coolers at much lower prices such as Rtic and Grizzly. We were going to purchase an Rtic cooler last summer but there was a few months wait on delivery so we went with Grizzly. We totally lucked out in that the larger size in this two-tone color was on major sale. I highly recommend buying the baskets as you can keep foot that doesn’t need to been ice there like cheese!
For Christmas, Clay got me a smaller Rtic Soft Pack Cooler just for my cheese and smaller trips. We are also going to keep this little cooler in the car with us to keep snacks and drinks cold on longer trips. Ideally, you have 2 coolers – one only for food and one only for drinks with extra ice. This way when everyone goes to get a drink they are not opening the food cooler. Learn more about proper camp kitchen setup with coolers here.
Camp boxes are the key to having an enjoyable car camping experience. Currently, we use 3 camping boxes that are essential to our set up. Don’t buy cheap boxes. You will regret it immediately. We bought 2 heavy duty boxes with locking tops that are perfect. To organize the inside we just use cardboard board boxes cut off.
P.S. All those stickers you have laying around? Put them on the SIDES of your camp box! Putting on top will get lots of wear and tear so go for the sides.
I will continue to update this post as our car camping expertise continues to evolve. Have any questions? leave me a comment or shoot me a DM!
Now that you know how to camp… where should ya go? Check out my Colorado Guide here for some camping ideas!
Distance – 227 Miles
Time From Denver – 4 Hours
The Route – A few options… The fastest option is 285 South to Gunnison then up 135 to CB. From BV you could take Cottonwood Pass if it is open. A slightly longer but very senic route would be 70 west to Leadville > BV > Cottonwood Pass > Crested Butte. Check Google!
Nights – 2 Nights
Pit Stops – Leadville & Buena Vista
Photo-Ops – Twin Lakes, Cottonwood Pass, Lake
Sleeping Arrangements: Under The Stars or Airbnb
Since falling in love with CB last summer we have made 3 trips and plan to head back again this fall. Here is a quick run down of everywhere to go and then a longer story about our first trip to CB!
Breakfast: If you’re headed up the mountain or looking for a yummy quick breakfast head to the Gas Cafe . Don’t be deterred by the fact that this is literally inside a gas station the breakfast sandwiches are amazing. Perfect for a hangover too! For a coffee & a pastry or a quick to go meal downtown head to Mountain Oven. For brunch on a patio, we love The Sunflower and Coal Creek Grill.
Lunch: Mountain Over and The Daily Dose also offer grab and go menu items perfect to take on a hike, as does the Gas Cafe. For cheap and fast tacos Teocalli Temale is the spot, like a local Willys, Moe’s, Illegal Petes… you get it. If you can snag one of the few outdoor seats get a few tacos and margs to share.
Dinner: Secret Stash, hand down my favorite pizza in Colorado and I eat A LOT of pizza. We always order The Woodward and the “Big Ass Margarita” it’s the perfect meal. A trip to CB is not complete until you eat here. The Secret Stash sister restaurant, Bonez, also serves great Mexican dishes, delicious margs AND WHITE QUESO!!
For a more upscale experience head to Django for large tapas. My parents are still drooling over our dinner here. The Brussel Sprouts are some of the best I have ever had and the Halibut was superb as well.
Brunch: For a yummy Sunday brunch on a beautiful patio head to The Sunflower. Their Pimento Cheese BLT is to die for! The Tequila sangria is also so light and refreshing.
South CB: We ended up in South CB to meet with our wedding planner and wound up at Tassinong Farms. This wine bar offers wine on top and some great local beers. We opted for a cheese plate (duh) but the salads all looks so good!
Sweets: Ice cream from Third Bowl or a yummy pastry from Wildflower Sweets under the Secret Stash.
Sunday Farmers Market – Sunday is the farmers market along Elk Avenue (main street) with lots and lots of vendors so you can shop, eat and explore all Elk Avenue has to offer.
Shop: Favor The Kind – this Texas transplant has amazing woman’s clothing and accessories as well as home goods and gifts. For more clothing (teens to 30s) check out Retail Therapy. For sporting goods and outdoors gear check out Dragonfly Anglers, Alpineer and Chopwood Mercantile.
Hikes: From the little town of Gothic there are some great hikes. Judd Falls is a super easy hike that takes you through wildflower fields to a beautiful waterfall. For a longer hike near Gothic check out Rustlers Gultch.
For wildflowers and epic views, Snodgrass Trail is it. This hike goes from Washington Gultch to Gothic. I suggest starting on the gothic side then going to the private property sign and turning around unless you want to shuttle cars or hike from one end and back. Remember Snodgrass TRAIL not mountain trail.
Another short hike is Long Lake. There are 2 ways to get to the lake. You can take the longer super easy trail (road) or go straight up, and I mean straight up. The straight up is like a scramble but will only take 10 mins or so to get up. Once you reach the lake you will see beautiful wildflowers and a beach for swimming!
Kebler Pass is drop-dead gorgeous. Scarpes Ridge loop is a great hike with some steep elevation gains but gives you spectacular views. Pay close attention to the LOOP as we missed the right side trail and did the very vertical descent as our ascent. If your coming in the fall be sure to drive down this road as well its STUNNING. I can’t wait ot go back this fall!
Travel Crested Butte has really great guides to all the hikes in the area!
Any outdoor activity you can think of CB has it! We are planning a Ski trip for this year so yall posted on that!
Airbnb – As always if we are going to stay inside we prefer Airbnb. For a wedding this summer we found this adorable cabin right off Elk Avenue. Unless you are skiing I would opt to stay in town. Actually, even if I was skiing I would stay in town because the transport around town and to the Mountain Village is super convenient and free!
Camping – There are a number of designated and dispersed campsites around CB. VisitCrestedButte.com has the most amazing camping guide, check it out here.
CB is mountain town living! There is only a small grocery store and an Ace Hardwear so the larger stores are located in Gunnison. It may be wise to hit up a grocery store prior to getting to town. Acme Liquors across from the grocery store is great and has a huge selection!
CB is super easy to get around with great public transportation to take you from town to Mountain Village and all the way to the town of Gothic for some great hiking.
Peak Fall Foliage is historically around the end of September, while wildflowers peak mid-July
4th of July in Crested Butte was our goal but we were determined to take our time getting there. Since The 4th was on a Monday we had all weekend to get there. We left early Saturday morning after visiting some friends in Breckenridge. We stopped for groceries in Frisco before heading up to i70 to Leadville.
Leadville – Was our first stop and we hit every trinket shop, outdoors outfitter, gallery and thrift store in town. Be sure to check out the local outdoor company Melanzana for some super cozy fleece wear. We didn’t eat in Leadville but I have heard great things about High Mountain Pies. Learn more about Leadville here.
Just down the hill from Leadville on 25 South is Twin Lakes. Here we stopped off at to take pictures, and walk the dogs around. Staying on 82 will take you up Independence Pass to Aspen. But our mission was CB!
Continuing down the hill we stopped in Beuna Vista for lunch, we put our names down at Eddyline Brewing and strolled through the new South Main Street.
Ever been to Seaside, FL? Better yet ever seen the Truman Show? Well, that same idea of a perfectly planned pastel community has been applied here. It’s beautiful! But it’s like being back in Florida with Seaside on one street and Rosemary Beach on the other. In the middle of South Main is a huge park that host concerts and festivals. Grab a marg from The Beuna Vista Adventure Hub and stroll around. PS. Eddyline is bomb.com
Our next stop was Goat Farm for some local cheese but with a mix weather report we drove up Cottonwood pass to find a dispersed camping spot for the night.
For the TL: DR version of the next 3 paragraphs – we drove for 6 hours looking for the perfect camping spot and boy did we find it! (scroll for perfect camping spot photos)
Well here are the facts of camping spots on Cottonwood Pass. There is lots of dispersed going from BV to the top not so much going down. Going down to CB there is lots of reserved camping and since it was a holiday weekend they were totally booked. Once we reached the lake we were far too committed to turn around so we continued on to CB, confident we would find a spot before nightfall.
I had read about some spots on Cement Road so we headed there, first. Cement Road lead us down very long and bumpy road into this tiny valley. We literally drove looking for spots till we droped of Google Maps and the road and river basically became one. After a 32 point turn and a bump ride out of the tiny valley, we pulled into the one designated camping spot to ask for help. The camp host told us they had heard Lake Irwin Camp up Kebler Pass had a few open spots left. She said it would be at least a 30 minutes to get there, so at 6:45 with nightfall approaching we decided to give it a shot. And it was totally worth all 6 hours of driving.
The pass was stunning. We closely followed two other cars hoping they were not looking for campsites as well. When we pulled in to the designated camp ground we knew we had found our spot – beautiful lake, gorgeous views…. but the campground leader wasn’t in sight. We looped to check for opens spots and at last, there was one. The spot was kind of in a depression, next to the road, and without great views… not ideal but it would be fine. However, something told us to keep driving… and right around the bend the trees opened to the most beautiful view I have ever seen with a super exposed but PERFECT camping spot waiting for us. We were elated, excited and ready to set up camp just as the fog of the day was rolling in.
We have since returned to this special spot and plan to return again this fall. Really the photos do it justice!!
Happy National Park Anniversary Day!! Today you can visit any National Park for FREE to celebrate the Parks 101 Birthday! To celebrate I am sharing some of my favorite apps and websites that help me plan my outdoor adventure
The Outbound Collective – I love love love this app! It’s so great at finding adventures from hiking, camping, photography, kayaking, mountain biking even SUP. From the app you can search by map or activity, read trip reports & reviews and check out user generated photos of the area. Read more about the app here.
Hiking Project – I downloaded this app right before our backpacking trip and I am so happy I did. This is a great app to find new hikes but it can also track yourself on the hike by saving trips for offline use. We could see where we were on the trail, how much left to go and where we were on the elevation gain.
Gociety – If you are looking for friends to adventure with check out Gocitey. This adventure based social network connects those looking to get out and do something. Search for an event or create one and invite others in the community to join. You can also “swipe” through users to find people with similar interests to connect with.
Google Maps – DUH. Goole maps is the best. Do not use apple maps. Just don’t. If I see you using it on your phone I will take it and delete it and replace it with google maps. With Google maps you can also download a selected area to use when you are offline.
Notes – I could not live with out Notes. The standard iOS app is all I need to track my life. After researching for a trip I store everything in Notes and then share it with everyone going on the trip. I love that Notes can sync between your phone and computer so no matter which device I am doing research on everything is in one place.
Instagram – Yes, it great for sharing your adventure but it’s also a great resource for research. Long before the option to “Save a Post” I would screenshot and save places that looked interesting. Instagram is also great for checking out the conditions and weather of a location too. Want to see if the wildflowers are popping in Crested Butte search for CB and check out the most recent images. Want to see if there is still snow on the trail just type in the area you can probably find a photo from that day.
Blogs – My blog duh!! I have a great road trip and day trip guides for Colorado and other city guides here as well!
Denver Day Hikes – This website is everything. Want a quick hike in the foothills, how about one that has waterfalls and is dog-friendly too? This website will have it. You can search by distance or driving time from Denver or search based on what you wanna see on your hike. Seriously, I have been using this site since I moved here and it’s such a great resource.
RootsRated – Not sure what you want to do? Check out this site for great round ups like the best swimming holes in Colorado or the best backpacking loops in the state.
State/City Tourism Websites – Some states and cities have fabulous trip planning websites. I use Colorado.com to get an overall history of the area and learn about events. Travel Crested Butte is amazing. Their trail guide included videos and basically turn by burn photos of the trail so you can see exactly what you will see on the trail.
Designated Campsites – To reserve a federally owned campsite you will use Recreation.gov. For both federally and privately owned campsites use Reserveamerica.com. Another site to check out is HipCamp, it’s like Airbnb for land, and wweirdlythey do not have an app. For RV rentals check out Outdoorsy.com from here you can rent nice RVs or even an adorable Tear Drop trailer for your next trip.
Dispersed Camping – For whatever reason Dispersed Camping information is sometimes really hard to find. But after years of planning I have figured it out. First I will google the area + ‘Dispersed Camping’ to see if there are any blog post about the area that mentions good spots. If not, your best bet is to figure out exactly what ranger district you will be in and go to their website. On the website, you will be able to find the Road Maps or MUV Maps. These maps will show you the roads were designated camping is allowed and often a little number to indicate where a site is. I have often called the Ranger to discuss options as well. Learn more about dispersed camping here.
P.S. I just realized my back is turned in all but one of these photos ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Yall, my Pinterest dreams have come true. For our dear friends Mark and Hailey, we through a Camping Engagement Party complete with tapestries, trapestries, lights and all the cactus themed items we could find. With a little bit of planning and a combination of camping supplies and Amazon orders, we were able to transform a beautiful camping spot to an incredible boho camping dream!
The hardest part of the planning was securing a camping spot big enough for all 30 of us. We thought Piney Lake outside Vail would be our spot and even made cups from Swoozies with that on it. However, we actually ended up camping outside Winter Park off Vasques Road. There is lots of great dispersed camping in the area perfect for groups.For food, we had a friend smoke a Boston Butt and prepared everything we need for the taco bar in advance so we only had to heat up the meat and tortillas for dinner. For drinks, we had a Rose and PBR bar and a Vodka Grapefruit concoction too! We picked up the flowers that morning as well as other supplies we needed like batteries. I suggest renting a generator and avoid solar lights as they need a few days to charge up to work. Since all of us camping we had most of the supplies we needed to pull off this great party but I have linked to some items below too!
We picked up the flowers that morning as well as other supplies we needed like batteries and mixers. I suggest renting a generator and avoid solar lights as they need a few days to charge up to work. Pop up tents and zip ties were also needed to hang and secure some of the decorations. Since all of us camping we had most of the supplies we needed to pull off this great party but I have linked to some items below too
The party was a huge success and I can’t wait to throw another in and continue to dial in our Boho Camping supplies!
Destination: Great Sand Dunes National Park
About: Located in the San Luis Valley against the San Di Cristo Mountains, the Great Sand Dunes began forming 44,000 years ago. The Park is home to the largest sand dunes in North America.
Route: i-25 South then cut over after pueblo or the more scenic route of 285 then stay south after Salida
Distance: 240 Miles
Time: 4 hours
Trip Length: Overnight
Season: Year-round – Best Fall & Spring
Sleeping: Camping or AirBnb
DOGS: Dogs are allowed in this national park only on the front dunes and not in the back. This trip was a few years ago and we did not know the rules – so keep your dog on a leash! And be very mindful of the weather it can get extremely hot in the summer here. Read more about dogs in the park here.
I first visited Great Sand Dunes National Park in 2015 and fell in love with the area. The Sand Dunes are INCREDIBLE! It’s mind-boggling when your crest the first range and all you see is sand dunes. The juxtaposition of the dunes against the valley and snow cap mountains is simply stunning. This has been one of my favorite Colorado trips and it’s hard to believe its only 4 hours from my doorstep.
When the San Juan Mountains to the west and the San De Cristo mountains to the east formed they left in between the San Luis Valley. After Lake Alamosa receded and evaporated from the valley floor, prevailing winds picked up sediment and sand from the valley and deposited them at the foot of the San Di Cristo, creating the sand dunes. The two creeks that flow around the sand dunes carry that sand back to the valley only to be picked up and deposited back on the dune field. Read the full geology and history of the area on NPS.
Camping – Each time I have visited I have camped at Zapata Falls, located 7 miles south of the park. This developed campground is nestled on the side of the San Di Cristo providing absolutely spectacular sunsets. We have never had a problem finding a spot in Spring but you might want to check reservations.
Check out the NPS site for other camping recommendations.
Airbnb – There are some pretty funky Airbnbs in the area which is going to be your best bet for finding somewhere to sleep indoors. Most are located near the northern part of the park near in Crestone which is actually pretty far from the park entrance.
Hotels – There are two hotels very close to the park Great Sand Dunes Lodge and Great Sand Dunes Oasis Lodge. The Oasis actually has a general store and restaurant, the only one nearby for miles. For ritzier accommodations but a little further away check out Zapata Ranch.
Cook! The Oasis lodge is the only restaurant within 25 miles. Your best bet is to bring your own food and cook. Alamosa is solid a 40 min drive from the park and food options are pretty slim.
So if your plan on cooking, stop well before you reach the dunes as again there are only a few small convenience stores in the area and the closest full grocery store is in Alamosa.
I highly suggest going in the Spring or Fall when it’s not terribly warm and the sand is still comfortable to walk on barefoot. The area is naturally windy but be mindfull of this when checking the weather. Its much harderd to crest the dunes with the wind throwing sand at you. With the right clothing it can be doable too!
You will find sand everywhere after your trip, in your ears, armpits, and underpants. Areas that were totally covered will have sand, so be sure to bring another pair of underpants.