Southwest Colorado – June 2019

We spent the first two weeks of June traveling a loop through southwest Colorado. Below is a summary of the highlights, links to helpful resources, and recommended tent campsites. The total cost of the trip was $1,200. We used the same car and gear “set up” as we did for our longer 2018 road trip. Thanks to Dianne and Robert for joining us in Great Sand Dunes and Mesa Verde!


Great Sand Dunes NP

The Great Sand Dunes are a bizarre sight. Mountains of sand backdropped by actual mountains. We arrived about a week after peak flow in Medano Creek. The creek really makes it enjoyable, especially with younger kids that can ride the waves (yes, waves). An extended visit doesn’t sound too fun if the creek is dry. We set up in the park’s lone campground, Piñon Flats, which is very nice but lacks showers.1 The best sites are (in order): 23, 60, 28, 63, 14.


Mesa Verde NP

We made our way to Mesa Verde via a night in Durango. The drive over Wolf Creek Pass into Pagosa Springs was especially beautiful, as was the San Juan Skyway north of Durango toward Silverton. We (Sarah and Kevin) took the Balcony House tour, which is great fun (ladders and tight squeezes) in addition to the remarkable Pueblo architecture. Definitely necessary to make advance tour reservations to get the most out of Mesa Verde. We camped at the park’s only campground, Morefield. Sites are first-come; the best ones are on the upper side of the Zuni Loop (nicely shaded).


Telluride

Probably our favorite part of the trip. The major snowpack this winter meant Telluride’s mountains were still gloriously snow-capped. The drive along the Skyway between Cortez and Telluride is stunning. The Jud Wiebe Trail starts in town and yields tremendous views (just 3.3 miles but steep). The other highlight was Matterhorn Campground, 20 minutes south of Telluride (gorgeous drive) and by far the cheapest digs in the area. Hot showers and views of the San Juan Mountains. Will definitely be returning. The best sites tent sites are (in order): 11, 9, 8, 6.


Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP

Black Canyon is definitely worth a stop if you find yourself traveling along Highway 50. It was an ideal way to break up the drive from Telluride to Crested Butte. There’s not too much to do except drive along the main road and stop at viewpoints — but the views are certainly impressive.


Crested Butte

With so much snow still hanging around in mid-June, only a portion of Crested Butte’s trails were free of snow. We hiked the Upper Loop Trail, which meanders through dense aspen groves and offers great views of Whetstone Mountain across the valley. Like Telluride, camping options in Crested Butte are extremely limited. We set up shop at Rosey Lane Campground in Taylor Canyon (near Almont). Vault toilets and no showers, but the setting along the Taylor River is peaceful.2 The best tent sites are (in order): 5, 4, 6, 7, 12.


Mt. Princeton Hot Springs Resort

Our splurge on this trip was a night at Mt. Princeton Hot Springs Resort. The creekside suites are not cheap — $240 for the night (!) — but they are pretty swanky (by our standards), with two queen beds and a kitchen (no dining options nearby). Plus, a stay includes access to the pools, including the guests/adults-only relaxation and spa area. There are numerous “14ers” in the area, so it’s possible to pair a soak with an ascent. But you’d have to do that during summer, and we think autumn is probably the best time to enjoy the hot springs.


Turquoise Lake

Our final stop was Turquoise Lake, just outside of Leadville. There isn’t a ton to do at the lake itself other than throw rocks, walk around it, and fish (did see successful anglers). We camped at Baby Doe (vault toilets, no showers), and our site (#11) was definitely the best for tent camping. Probably won’t return, but another option in the area is Twin Lakes — which is ideal for hiking Mt. Elbert, Colorado’s highest peak.

  1. However, there are cold rinse-off showers at the main parking lot near the creek, and there are hot showers at a private facility not far from the park entrance.
  2. Judging by the flotillas running past our campsite, rafting the Taylor looks like lots of fun. There is a rafting trip company just 1/2 mile down-canyon from the campground.