3 Hidden Gems to Visit on Your Spring/Summer Campervan Colorado Adventure
As you prepare for your campervan adventure in the magnificent Rocky Mountains of Colorado, you may be planning to visit well-known destinations like Rocky Mountain National Park, Vail, or Steamboat Springs. Nothing wrong with that, these are wonderful places to see, but if you’re the type who likes to dodge the crowds and get off the beaten path, allow us to throw out a few suggestions which may pique your interest.
Crestone & the Great Sand Dunes
Those who are interested in experiencing the pioneering, independent spirit of the West will find the quirky, enchanting, somewhat “off the grid” community of Crestone a fascinating place to experience in a campervan.
Set at the foot of the Sangre De Cristo Mountains, Crestone is a small, relatively ungoverned town that has a reputation for attracting artists, adventurers, and spiritual aspirants. An oasis of life in the surrounding arid landscape, and considered by many to be a “vortex” of subtle energies, Crestone contains numerous spiritual retreat centers, ashrams, temples, and monasteries representing a variety of the world’s spiritual traditions.
A great place to park your van and camp out here will be the campgrounds just ¾ of a mile North of town, which have access to trails leading up and into the verdant, lush Sangre De Cristo mountain range. As you hike up, you can experience amazing vistas and changing flora and fauna, as the trails take you higher in altitude.
Within just a few miles of town is the Baca National Wildlife Refuge, and a slightly longer drive will take you to the Great Sand Dunes National Park & Zapata Falls; although these are more popular and therefore likely to be crowded, they’re certainly worth experiencing, and you can always retreat back to the more secluded Crestone area afterward, with a short drive.
If vast desert canyons set against expansive, star-strewn skyscapes are what your heart is longing for, you may be considering Moab. However, a slightly less populated alternative that can be equally exciting is Saddlehorn Campground, at the Colorado National Monument.
This campground is a great home base to park your campervan while taking hikes along various trails, exploring the monument itself, and the magnificent Canyonlands surrounding it. If you’re looking for a particularly private place to escape the crowds, look for campsites down Loop B. Every campsite in the entire area is on a first-come-first-served basis.
After you find your basecamp, various trails are accessible from the campgrounds. Monument Canyon trail will lead you along to view the rock sculptures of the Colorado National Monument, and is a longer trail at 6-8 miles. Some shorter trails for majestic canyon views are Window Rock and Canyon Rim.
You’ll have no shortage of beautiful canyon views and rocky, desert beauty to take in at this excellent spot for van living.
Gunnison National Forest
Peaceful forest, lakes, and trails characterize Gunnison National Forest, and this can be yet another great place to get away from the crowds, and feel that tranquil Rocky Mountain High.
Trout fishing, hiking, and mountain biking are some of the most popular activities here, and dispersed camping is allowed almost everywhere in the park, which means you can park your campervan rental and set up camp anywhere that falls within the National Forest guidelines.
Another cool thing to do in Gunnison is to visit some of the various ghost towns strewn in and around the National Forest. Some have more structures remaining than others, but for those with a historical curiosity, they can be interesting to see, and the hikes to reach them are generally always beautiful. However, beware: many of these trails are too rough for your van, and can be easy to get lost on. A local trail map (available in Pitkin) is highly recommended.
Other points of interest include the tranquil Mirror Lake, the hand-built 432 foot long Palisades wall, and the Pioneer Museum, which has various relics of the times when European-American settlers first lived in the area.