CO: Routt National Forest & Flat Tops Wilderness
When you step away from the constant negative news feed, lose your cell signal for days, and land in a beautiful spot, you are able to finally tune out the noise, rest your mind, and open yourself to the quiet. And in that space you realize how little the noise matters, and how important the quiet is. This ~ is why we leave, so we can come back better in tune with ourselves, nature, and the world around us.
Scouting Notes: Colorado ~ Routt National Forest and Flat Tops Wilderness Area
First, some background about our connection to Colorado...
- Kurt and I lived in Denver, Colorado from 1996-2002, from ages 25-31(ish).
- DeAnn obtained her Master's Degree from the University of Denver
- We left Denver for Northern California in 2002.
- We did not return to Colorado until we came back annually for our Aspen family camping retreats from 2013-2017 with our dogs Loki (RIP) and Inge.
- This was our first trip back as a family since Loki's passing (and Solrig’s first time to Colorado).
- It was good to be back, but there is a reason we call these SCOUTING notes… We do the work ~ checking out new places so you can take away the BEST of what we have to share.
- Day 1: Minneapolis to Blue Mound State Park Campground [previous Scouting Notes here].
Early Morning, Blue Mounds State Park
- Day 2: Blue Mound State Park to Vedauwoo National Forest Campground. A great spot to stop, but sites fill up quickly! We got the very last spot on a Sunday night ~ phew!
Early Morning, Vedauwoo Campgroud, Wyoming
Tip: Use the dump station at the historical Wyoming Territorial Prison on your way from Vedauwoo to Laramie and then on to Colorado . Bring $10 cash for the donation box. (p.s. that's not our water mess).
- Day 3 & 4: Lynx Pass National Forest Campground (discussed further below)
- Day 4 & 5: Bear Lake Campground, Flat Tops Wilderness Area (discussed further below)
- Day 6: Off-The-Grid in The Badlands [previous Scouting Notes here]
Off-the-Grid in The Badlands (our new favorite place).
- Day 7: Minneapolis
Travel Time: All in (per Google) you are talking 17 hours. If you are towing a camper, you don’t drive the speedlimit Google is estimating your trip on, so it is much longer. We drove WAY too much on this trip! If we had to do it again we would aim to make day 1 a long drive day and at least get to the Black Hills.
Route: We are SO OVER driving I-80 at 90mph with semi trucks passing us all day long and never go that way anymore. For this trip we drove through Southern, MN - across SD - and then quiet 2 lane roads down to Laramie then to our destinations in CO. We reversed the route essentially on the way home. Route here. On the way home, because we were stopping at our favorite off-the-grid spot in The Badlands, we went a bit differently after Laramie. Route here.
Driving Caution: GET GAS when you see it! When we got off the highway in Kadoka, SD there was not a gas station for HOURS. Be sure when you turn off the interstate you fuel up. Same goes for on the way home. Fuel up in Laramie! It is amazingly desolate on that drive back ~ an experience like no other and we would go that way again, but there is not one single gas station after Laramie for hours (basically until Wheatland when you are briefly on I-25 ~ get gas there!).
CO Campground 1: Lynx Pass Campground, Routt National Forest
Lynx Pass is a compact Forest Service campground located in a valley with an active herd of ranched cows and a forest affected by the Colorado Beetle Kill.
The view from Lynx Pass Campground
Some campsites are large, level and provide good spacing between sites. But… most are small and uneven (i.e. bad for leveling your camper), without much separation from your neighbors. Our recommendations would be #5 & 7. Site 8 has the best view, but was not level in the least bit (Bikepackers came in the second night and camped here, which was a perfect crew to use that site).
- Sites are non-reservable, first come first served.
- Vault toilets ~ we can’t tell you about them because we are using our camper toilet during our trips due to the pandemic.
- Pump water. Drinkable, but it honestly looks like pee. In our experience campground pumps/water are regularly tested (we’ve talked to hosts and rangers), but it doesn’t mean you want to drink yellow or brown water. We had no choice as we didn’t bring much water in, but we would have preferred better quality water.
- Campfires? There was a fire ban in effect during our visit, so not this time.
- Cell signal? Thankfully NO.
Biking Day 1 ~ Lynx Pass Loop:
- Distance 8.53 mi
- Elevation Gain 802 ft
- Max Elevation 9,046 ft
- Max Climb Grade 6.6%
- (click image to link to Strava Route)
The Yampa Ranger Station suggested this campground for us based on the fact we said we were coming out to bike gravel roads, and used to always camp at Silver Queen in Aspen which is only 6 sites (we LOVE that campground!). It makes a lot of sense that they suggested this campground based on that, and also that we said we were coming to bike ~ as the Gore Pass Bike Trail System is a great asset to the area. Unfortunately this is really NOT an ideal spot to gravel bike with a limited number of routes with high elevation gains. Additionally this is not the scenery you would typically think of when you come to Colorado (snowy mountain peaks, breathtaking views, etc.), the active beetle kill in Colorado has denigrated the forests here forcing one to look at the reality of the effects of climate change (more on that later).
We always enjoy riding together, and made the most of the route we took, but we would not recommend Lynx Pass as a destination vacation spot. [see...we did the Scouting, so you don't have to!]
- There are four main cycling routes here, but unfortunately they are targeted more towards mountain bikers who like single-track (D does not), there is a lot of climbing at altitude which would complement the skills of a more athletic focused rider (not D).
- You can expect to see some of the worst washboard gravel roads you have ever seen thanks to the large trucks traveling up to the gravel pit.
- You are riding at altitude here, which can be tough on your first day in the area when you are not fully acclimated.
The view at Site 18
When we arrived here we regretted we did not come here first. This was definitely our favorite campground of the trip. THIS is the 'Colorado' you think of when you want to go on vacation.
This is a high altitude campground with amazing views of the Flat Tops Wilderness mountain range. The campground is situated right off Bear Lake in close proximity to the Yampa River. This makes it a popular spot for fisher people (Kurt caught a Rainbow Trout with his fly rod). The sites, especially the one we were in (18) are private.
Inge picnic table lounging.
Our campsite was a BEAUTIFUL place to fit in a yoga session; a highlight of the trip to be sure. [side note: we will be doing a post on yoga and cycling this fall].
- Accepts reservations (we would encourage doing that). We did not have a reservation, but as we were pulling in another Airstream was pulling out and we lucked out in getting THE best site!
- Good, clear drinkable water readily available.
- Vault Toilets. We can not speak to them as we are only using our camper toilet during the pandemic, but the buildings looked newer and nice.
- Campfires? There was a fire ban in effect during our visit, so not this time.
- Cell signal? Thankfully NO.
- Bear Boxes for food storage at campsites.
Site 27 on the main road near Horseshoe Campground.
There are numerous additional campsites up and down the main (and only) road, as well as two other campgrounds.
Kurt initially really wanted the site shown above (27 - off the main road, not in the campground) because of the view ~ obviously! But after being here for a couple of days we also thought it could be quite dusty as the road goes right by here and there was traffic. It's still a good site, but we were super happy with our view (and less dust) down in the main campground.
Skeeter Rating: Come on, are you KIDDING?! It's COLORADO, of course it is a 0 ~ that's why we come here!
Mouse Rating: 11 (see 'Trip Take Away's' section below).
- Distance 8.52mi
- Elevation Gain 612ft
- Max Elevation 10,273 ft
- Max Climb Grade 7.2%
- (click on image to link to Strava Route)
Cold Springs (behind us)
The gravel biking here looks good on Instagram, and it IS gorgeous, but the reality is it is ONE road that is all up, or all down.
We rode for two days here on the one road. The first day was hard for me ~ the combination of high altitude and climbing was intimidating and deflating all in the first mile. I wanted to quit ~ but to his credit Kurt would not let me. And I made it to the end of the road!
The second day of riding was much more fun; I was better acclimated to the altitude and I knew I COULD do it! We stopped much less and smiled more.
Words of encouragement from DeAnn + the silence and the view during a Flat Tops morning:
- Supercharge your first two days with travel and get it out of the way so that once you arrive you can truly relax (ideally for 3 full days minimum).
- If you camp in this area in September, it will be FULL of hunters! We got one of the last two sites on a Monday night at Lynx Pass Campground much to our surprise (On Monday nights campgrounds are historically empty).
- Hunting season in Colorado for Elk and Deer is basically the entire month of September. We were alerted to this before our visit by the ranger station, but it did not sink in until we arrived at Lynx pass that hunting is BIG here and A LOT of people come here to hunt.
- Leave your preconceptions and judgements at home (when you come here, and always). We both grew up in Wisconsin, and needless to say we saw some of the not so great sides of hunting. As adults, we have gained respect for hunters who act responsibly and saw that to be the case here. We were concerned when we were the only non-hunters at the campground, but were impressed with how quiet and respectful the men (and it was ALL men except D) were ~ early to bed, early to rise (which even meant when they drove off in the morning they kept their lights off so as not to wake the other campers). We learned to keep an open mind, at the end of the day people are people ~ stepping away from the divided news and really being with other people is the only way we are all going to start understanding others and get along. Those hunters probably thought us bicyclist’s were a bit odd and had thoughts on us too…
- People here are concerned and/or respectful of the pandemic. The gas station hub in Yampa has had a mask policy in place since March 19 (it says it on the pumps), and everyone going in and the people working there were wearing one. Do not assume (as I did earlier this summer) that areas like this won't be respectful. Be respectful before you see it, and wear your face mask/covering.
- Mice. There are a LOT of mice here. After hearing them chomp through our dog food packaging the first night, we drove all the way to Kremmling to get traps, and gas (advice: don’t go to Kremmling, go to Yampa). Word at the hardware store was that the mice were ‘horrible this year’. No Doubt!! We learned that we need to get some bear proof/rodent proof containers for the future to store dog food (and our food) in. The first time we had an issue with mice was last year in Wyoming, but it was at the end of our trip. This trip we caught mice EVERY NIGHT and did not get much sleep! Advice: bring mouse traps, pack human and dog food well.
- Call the Ranger Station ahead of your visit, especially if you have been seeing fires in Colorado in the news days before your trip. The Cameron Peak fire was not contained at the time of our visit, but we were reassured when we called the Ranger Station in Yampa that would not impact our visit beyond seeing some smoke (more so from the California and Oregon fires also burning at the same time). We also got advice on a campground we did not know about that was ‘bike friendly’, and where we could dump our camper on the way home. Super helpful to talk to someone before we drove two days.
- Climate Change is REAL. You will notice a lot of our pictures look hazy, that is smoke; mainly from fires in California and Oregon, but likely also some from one forest away from us in Colorado. DeAnn will be writing more on that soon (follow us on IG and our blog feed for updates).
Although our trip wasn't the best one we have ever taken, we are definitely glad we went. Riding bikes and stepping out of daily life are never a bad thing in our book. Although it will not be a top priority for us, we definitely see ourselves going back to the Flat Tops Wilderness (likely in combination with more exploration outside the area).
Thank you for joining us on the äventyr! ~ DeAnn & Kurt
äventyr gear used:
- Gräventyr Bar Bag in Olive (D) and Smoke (Kurt)
- Seat Rollio in Olive (D) and Smoke (Kurt)
- äventyr Custom Purist Water Bottles
- äventyr custom Borah Teamwear Socks
- Kurt's custom äventyr Borah Teamwear Jersey.