Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Camping in Guanalla Pass; Burning Bear and Whiteside Campgrounds and Pike National forest Camping

Our new Chalet, views of Square Top Mtn, Pike N'tl Forest
 Last weekend Josh and I wanted to get out and camp for at least one night; I had my last Farmers Market booth October 2nd and we planned on running home, unpacking the market inventory, loading the camping gear and hitting the road!  We wanted to see the last of the fall colors in the mountains and to enjoy our newly bought Chalet camper!  Josh and I have been looking for a small camper for about a year now; we want to camp during the winter and that's pretty rough in a cold tent, we also wanted the ability to get off the ground at night and to still enjoy camping if it rains.  The Chalet is an A-frame style camper that is hard sided (a must out west) that folds down into a small pop-up style camper for the drive.  We weren't sure how it was going to do on a Colorado dirt road filled with mountains, potholes and more, but we were pleasantly surprised that it towed great and we made it way out into the wilderness without any problems!  

Getting there:  The best way to get to these campgrounds above drive to Grant Colorado, about 1 hour from the west metro area on 285 South.  From the small town of Grant, turn right or north on CO Road 62/Geneva Road, after a few miles the area becomes Pike National forest.  Drive up the road to find three campground (two mentioned in this posting) and numerous National Forest campsites with no fee.  Find numerous trailheads along Geneva Road including Square Top Mountain and Mt. Bierstadt trailhead.   Guanella Pass from Georgetown as of October 2010 is partially *closed* due to construction and you cannot access Mt. Bierstadt or above campgrounds from this entrance.  Click here for a map of the area.
Whiteside tent campground; far side of creek
Specs:  Whiteside Campground at 8,900 ft in elevation is a tent only campground with 5 sites located on either side of Geneva Creek, 2.5 miles up Geneva Road from the small town of Grant.  There are pit toilets and a handicapped site/toilet; but no showers, water or garbage. Pack it in, Pack it out.  This campground is very popular on weekends during the summer and fills quickly.  The sites on the far side of the water are my favorite which are under the evergreen and aspen trees.  All sites are well spaced and fairly private with views of the rushing creek and surrounding mountains.  Fees are $13 per night; $5 for day use.  The toilets were open as of October 2, 2010.
Burning Bear Campground at approx 9,500 ft in elevation is the next campground you will drive past on Geneva Road 5.6 miles from Grant.  The scenic campground has 14 sites which can accommodate 20 ft RV's or tents.  The campground is situated in one big loop with pit toilets only, no water, showers or garbage.  The sites are well spaced apart on the outside of the loop, the sites inside the loop are closer together and more open, great for a group of people.  The campground is across the street from a large meadow that provides great scenery and often wild  from the campground.  The fee is $14 per night and $5 for day use, including the use of toilets.  This campground is open year round, but toilets are not available for use all year (toilets were locked October 2nd 2010, but several campers in campground).   Both Whiteside and Burning Bear campground are two of my favorites; they have good secluded sites, great views of either a creek or the beautiful meadow at Burning Bear and both are smaller campgrounds with less spaces and people. 
Hiking:  There are numerous hiking trails along Geneva Road including the trailhead to Mt. Bierstadt and many more along the drive that are well marked with a sign. 
My fav site at Burning Bear, with rock wall and great views
The Journey:  We got home from the Farmers Market around 2pm on Saturday, packed everything up by 2:45, and we hit the road with our new Chalet!  I have never had a camper before, nor have I ever towed anything with our vehicle besides the U-haul to move to Colorado, and I was pretty nervous of the unknown as Josh towed the camper.  I had to keep thinking to myself that people tow campers much bigger than the little Chalet.  But I had nothing to be worried about as the truck and Chalet did great and we had no issues along the highway.  The real test was driving up bumpy Geneva Road, but again the camper did really well and we had no problems. 
We drove past Whiteside and Burning Bear campgrounds to test the camper along the even more rugged CO RD 1038, a dirt road which splits off of Geneva Road about 1.5 miles past Burning Bear Campground.  We drive up CO RD 1038, which is very bumpy and rocky, it's used as a 4WD road for secluded camping, dirt biking, and other ATV vehicles.  After 2.5 miles of difficult driving and passing up numerous other good national forest campsites we finally found our site; it was off the road a little bit, near the creek and with great views of Pike National Forest and Square Top Mountain.  
Map of Guanella Pass area, click for larger view
We had one neighbor visible about a quarter of a mile away, also in a small camper, we did pass several people camping in tents as well.  I was worried the tent campers would be real cold because we were at over 10,000 feet in elevation.  It was already nearing 5pm by the time we set up the camper and we decided to relax for the evening and enjoy the new Chalet.  The views from the windows were grand as we played Yahtzee, drank a beer and cooked fresh Colorado grown corn on the cob from the farmers market.  I was so glad we had made it to camp just one night, but I was a little disappointed that all of the aspen's at this elevation were already bare for the winter.  The pass was much more scenic with colorful aspens just past their peak lower along the drive closer to Grant, but we were able to see some of the last trees with color in the distance.   The Chalet has a small furnace that the old owner mentioned he had previous problems with, but Josh had it working before we left, so we were pretty sure it would be okay.  Boy we were wrong!  The furnace didn't ignite at all and the camper was very cold all night long.  When I stepped outside in the middle of the night to use nature's bathroom, the outdoors wasn't much colder than the camper or a tent would be and I thought to myself, "we have to get that furnace working otherwise no winter camping for us."  Fortunately, Josh is pretty handy and I expect he can fix it. 
The next morning we decided to cook breakfast then walk farther up the road to explore the area.  We came across trail 600 (seen on map above) and tried to hike it, but it was very overgrown with little foot trail and we had no idea where to go so we had to turn around and continue down the road.   We found a small hidden lake near our campsite and snapped numerous photos, then walked back to cook lunch and pack up.  Even though we just got out into the wilderness to camp for just 1 night, it was a night well worth it for Chalet's maiden voyage.  I am sure there will be many more adventures to come this winter! 
Here is a google map of the area; click it to input your address for personal directions.  Below are more photos of the Guanalla Pass area. 

View from our campsite!  Wow!

A high altitude lake near our campsite, you can see Chalet in the distance.

Driving out Sunday afternoon

Trail 600, a difficult trail to follow, overgrown

Views from Burning Bear Campground to meadow and mountains beyond.  All sites have this view from the campground. 

Site #1 at Whiteside campground, next to Geneva Creek, but also right beside small parking lot. 

Can you find two doggies in this photo?  They don't know what to think about the new camper yet. 

Another site at Burning Bear campground.

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