Summer in Colorado: Dispersed Camping 101

Name: Kate Bostwick, Class of 2018
Undergrad: University of Portland, OR
Hometown: Pendleton, OR
Fun Fact: I actually enjoy doing burpees.

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First thing’s first: the answer is yes…yes, there is time to get away from Regis for a weekend and put off studying for Cliff’s neuroscience class or practicing manual therapy skills until Sunday night…AND you will still pass PT school. One of the biggest fears I had about going back to school was that I would never have any free time. Luckily, that is not the case. If you manage your time efficiently, you always have time to do the things you love. If being outdoors is one of those things—like it is for me—you will have the time to enjoy all that Colorado has to offer. In this post I have reflected (wow—Regis has rubbed off on me!) on some of my favorite weekends spent in the mountains with my fellow classmates and have put together a detailed guide for you to explore these regions on your own!

Something that you should know about me is that I am a small-town gal who gets pretty overwhelmed in the big city. Nothing makes me happier than beating the crowd and enjoying a slow-paced weekend in the mountains with some of my close friends doing some fishing, sipping a nice cold beverage by the fire, and talking about subjects far from clinical prediction rules, dermatomes or goniometry. Personally, I like roughing it a little more than staying in a busy campground for the weekend. In order to do this, my classmates and I have done some pretty fun dispersed camping trips. If you don’t know what the heck dispersed camping is, keep reading; I highly recommend it!

Dispersed Camping: What Is It?

Dispersed camping is the term used for camping anywhere in the National Forest outside of a designated campground. None of the services that are found at a campground (like potable water, trash removal, tables, firepits, etc.) can be found at these sites; they are found on public property off of National Forest Service roads and may require 4WD, depending on the location. Dispersed camping is FREE (yay for free things in grad school!) and requires you to bring all of your own gear. Although this seems like a free-for-all, there are rules that you must abide by:

  1. Place your campsite at least 100 feet from any stream/water source
  2. Leave no trace: you must pack out everything you pack in
  3. Be bear aware: store food in bear canisters…and just be cognizant of those dang bears cuz they’re out there!
  4. Drive on existing roads and try to camp in already designated dispersed areas

    Weekend Getaway to Buena Vista
    (2 hr 40 min from Denver)

If you’re looking for a drive with a beautiful view and plenty of options for camping, fishing, and hiking, look no further than this route to Buena Vista, CO!

Directions: I-70 W past Frisco, then to CO-91 S which turns to US-24 E.

Fishing: Twin Lakes are home to numerous brown, rainbow, cutthroat and lake trout. It is a great place for shore fishing and has access to the Arkansas River close by. The Arkansas lies just across US-24 E and has public access at several points along this highway.

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Fishing at Twin Lakes

Camping: About 6 miles south from Twin Lakes down US-24 E is Clear Creek Reservoir. Turn right onto CO Rd 390 and travel a few miles west (past private property) and you will see plenty of dispersed camping sites down by the river and up the hill on the base of the mountain. Be aware that there is no cell phone service–so be prepared to have a relaxing weekend without that iPhone 🙂

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Camping up past Clear Creek Reservoir

Hiking a 14er: If you continue down CO Rd 390 you will come upon the trailhead for a trifecta of 14ers: Mt. Belford, Mt. Missouri and Mt. Oxford. While I have not done this hike, it is a beautiful and challenging option for 14er-seekers. Remember to research your trail if you do decide to complete this voyage—it’s a long one!

Hiking to Ptargamin Lake: if you go back on US-24 E and head south towards Buena Vista, turn right on CO Rd 306 and head ~15 miles to the trailhead. This is a 2.74 mile hike with options for backcountry camping at the top–not to mention a large lake full of beautiful brook trout!

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Ptarmagin Lake

Breckenridge Beauty:
(1 hr 45 min from Denver)

Directions: I-70 W to CO 9 S to Breckenridge. From Breckenridge, drive 8 miles south on CO 9 and turn right on CO Rd 850; after a few hundred yards turn right on to CO Rd 851. Quandary’s Peak trailhead will be about 0.1 mi up the road on the left with parking on the right.

Camping: Follow the above directions but go past the trailhead on CO Rd 851 up the hill and there are many spots off of this road that you can camp. If you do a little scouting, there are some pretty sweet spots to set up camp on both sides of the road.

Fishing: Instead of turning right on to CO Rd 851, continue left and head towards Blue Lakes Reservoir for fishing of any kind. There are rainbow, cutthroat and brook trout in this reservoir and it can be accessed right off the shore at the base of Quandary Peak!

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Evening at Blue Lakes Reservoir (Amanda, me, Karlee and Taylor)

Hiking Quandary Peak 14er: 14,265’: highest summit of the Tenmile Range in the Rocky Mountains. The 6.75 miles round trip hike should not be overlooked because of its short distance. This is a challenging hike with exposure and, like any 14er, variable weather to be aware of…so do your research before you head out!

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Karlee and me at the top of Quandary’s Peak (60 mph winds not pictured)

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Buffalo Creek Campin’
(1 hr 10 min from Denver)

Directions: Take I-70 W to CO 470 E to 285 S, travel past Conifer and take a left onto Pine Valley/Deckers Road (CO 126) travel ~14 miles until you see a turn off for Wellington Lake/Buffalo Creek Recreation Area on the right, CO 550.
Camping: Along this road (CO Rd 550), travel until you find a spot that you like. You will see parking signs scattered along the road that have pullouts for your car/truck and campsites around them. You can take your pick of these sites for multiple miles; so if there is a crowd, just keep driving until you have room to yourself.

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Pitstop off of the Colorado Trail near our campsite

Fishing: Cheesman Canyon Trailhead is located 7 miles south of the CO 550 turn off on CO 126. Here, you can hike in to access South Platte River for some of the best fishing on this section of the river. I love this: because you have to hike in to access spots on the river, it’s  a little less crowded on a nice weekend as opposed to fishing right off the road.

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South Platte fishing access in Cheesman Canyon

Hiking: Along road CO 550, there are multiple access points to the Colorado Trail that you can hike any distance on. A few of the dispersed sites back right up to the trail—like ours did—which makes it super accessible.

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Happy campers (Karlee and me)

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Weekend study breaks and 14ers: Meet Chris Aguirre

IMG_4621Chris Aguirre

Hometown: Chandler, AZ

Undergrad: Arizona State University

Fun fact: I can eat an entire Costco pizza faster than I can run a mile.

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When I first moved to Colorado, I was overwhelmed with how many new things this state had to offer and couldn’t wait to start trying things. Top of my bucket list: to summit one of Colorado’s 53 fourteeners.

I was born and raised in the hot-basking blaze of Phoenix, Arizona where the highest peak in the valley is an enormous 2,610 feet. Just imagining being over 14,000 feet above sea level has a certain “aww” factor to it. So, one October weekend some of us 2018ers headed out to the wilderness (just outside of Breckenridge) to camp out and then climb Quandary’s peak.

Our trek began around 8am and the steep ascent began almost immediately. The path was well traveled and very easy to follow up; with the little hiking experience I had, I began thinking that if the whole way up was like this, I was in for an easy morning! The sun was shining, the temperature was awesome, tall green pines surrounded me, and my brand new hiking boots were feeling great. This feeling lasted for about 30 minutes. The elevation quickly got to me and I found myself feeling out-of-breath like the out-of-shape college grad I was.

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All morning, our classmate, Paul, had been leading the group super fast. It was pretty perfect that we started calling Paul a mountain goat and, after we reached the saddle, we saw an actual mountain goat chilling on the mountain.IMG_4627

The great thing about being so high up was that the view kept becoming more and more unbelievable as we continued. This meant many “scenic breaks” and I was a-okay with that—it gave me a chance to catch my breath.

As we ascended above the tree line level the trail became very rocky. The wind had also started to pick up; it was getting pretty cold and hard to climb. We reached the saddle and all gathered around to talk about if we should continue with the hike. There were numerous people coming back down from the summit who were saying the winds at the top were 60+ mph and pretty dangerous. None of us really wanted to end our first 14er early, though, so we continued trekking.

The last 300 feet to the summit was difficult, but as soon as we reached the top, the view was remarkable…remarkably cold and windy. We quickly jumped into a divot surrounded by rocks to try and break some of the wind around us and avoid being blown off the mountain. Luckily, there were two other people at the summit who were nice enough to take the typical candid picture of our group at the top.

We almost immediately started to descend back down the mountain after a few great pictures so we could escape the wind and start to feel our faces again. On the way down it dawned on me that we had just made it to 14,265 feet!  We got back down to our cars and then—of course—had to stop for celebratory pizza and beer on the way home.

It is so surreal that these gigantic mountains are now right in my backyard. I think the coolest part about moving to Colorado (besides the great PT program, classmates, and faculty) is how many different places there are too explore.

What makes it even better is having classmates who share similar interests in and outside of the classroom and are always excited to try new things. Good luck to all of you on your interviews! Relax, be yourself, and hope to see you next year!