Backpacking in Colorado

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Written by bike posted on Thursday, February 25th, 2010

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Colorado is a land of great beauty and wide-open spaces. High mountain peaks give life to rushing steams ripe for fishing or whitewater rafting and steep slopes for world-class skiing and snowboarding.

A couple plans their next adventure near a high-mountain lake in southwest Colorado. (Colorado Tourism Office)

But getting to know the vast wilderness in the state in real time must be done by backpacking. There is truly nothing like star gazing after a campfire dinner high in the Colorado Rockies and waking to the first golden rays of sunlight peeking over the horizon.
Colorado has many national forests and national parks that keep the wilderness pristine and undeveloped. Days are hot and nights are cool, so bring layers and sunscreen. Thunderstorms are common in July and August, so bring rain gear to protect you and your valuables like camera and wallet.
While the possibilities for backpacking are endless, a good place to start is on all the land designated as national forests and parks. And this is just a sampling- there are over 50 state parks, national parks, national monuments and national forests!
Rocky Mountain National Park
Within this monster of a park, you’ll find the Bear Lake, Kawuneeche, Longs Peak, Moraine Park, and Wild Basin Areas. The most popular area is the Moraine Park Area, just inside either of the eastern entrances. The Wild Basin Area is the least trafficked, offering secluded recreation opportunities even though its not that terribly difficult to reach.
White River National Forest
This national forest has seven districts. The Aspen Ranger District has some fantastic mountains in the Sawatch Range and Elk Mountains. The Blanco Ranger District is in the northwest part of the national forest and has the majority of the Flat Top Mountains. The Dillon Ranger District is home to Breckenridge, and Vail is in the Holy Cross Ranger District.
Mesa Verde National Park
Explore this national park in south-central Colorado by backpacking, hiking, photographing, and viewing the abundant flora and fauna. It occupies about 80 acres near the Four Corners Region of Colorado. In addition to being a national park, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the home to numerous ruins of homes and villages built by the ancient Pueblo, Colorado people known as the Anasazi. The ruins date back to 1200 AD and include several cliff dwellings, built within caves and under cliff outcroppings. Cliff Palace is thought to be the largest cliff dwelling in all of North America.
Gunnison National Park
Black Canyon is the crown jewel of this Colorado National Park. Stay the night at one of their campgrounds on the North or South Rim. During the day, hike the numerous trails, but be aware that many pass by steep drop offs around this high canyon. Hiking actually within the canyon is done on unmarked trails with no maintenance. Not for the faint of heart!

The cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park are centuries old. (Colorado Tourism Office)


Great Sand Dunes National Park
This national park is home to one of the stranger landscapes you can find in Colorado. While it has forests and mountains, huge sand dunes pile and shift at the foot of the Colorado Rockies. Dunes reach up to 750 feet high and can be play in by building a sand castle, trekking across them, or even sandboarding down them!
The San Juan National Forest
Located in the southwest corner of Colorado, this national forest occupies almost two million acres and ten counties. It is a neighbor to the Uncompahgre National Forest to the north and the Rio Grand National Forest to the east. Within the national forest you’ll find much of the southern portion of the San Juan Mountains (west of the Continental Divide). These rugged mountains provide excellent opportunities to get away from society for a bit and get in touch with nature.
Important safety tips:
*Keep your campsite clean because bears are common in certain parts of Colorado. Hang your food from a tree or keep it in airtight containers away from your tent. NEVER bring any food, lotion or any other greasy or smelly products into the tent with you.
*Treat all water before drinking it in the mountains to rid it of water borne diseases. Also try to avoid water close to abandoned mines, as it may be mineral contaminated.

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