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    Hidden Camping Gem — Dinosaur National Monument, Echo Park

    Hidden Camping Gem — Dinosaur National Monument, Echo Park

    Dinosaur National Monument Colorado Sunset Road to Echo Park

    Deep in the center of Dinosaur National Monument lies a hidden gem of natural beauty. Positioned on the Colorado side of the park where the Yampa and Green River join in deep magnificent canyons, I found the most amazing campground I’ve ever visited. Located 6.5 hours from Denver and 5.3 hours from Salt Lake City, Echo Park Campground should be on every camper’s bucket list. I visited in early June. Chosen on a whim as we drove from Denver, I had no idea what wonders we would see in the next 24 hours.

    This part of the state is sparsely populated, and this side of the park sees fewer visitors due to the campground's location deep within the park. Getting to this area by car entails a two-hour drive from Dinosaur, Colorado. First, a long two-lane paved road takes you from the park’s East entrance 25 miles, over prairie full of deer and grazing cows, to a right turn onto a very steep and winding red dirt road. When I say steep, I mean steep. There are vehicle restrictions posted on the entrance to the road. I would be hesitant to take this road if the conditions were not dry.

    Dinosaur National Monument Petroglyphs Echo Park Camping

    This is the point when the awe inspiring beauty of the park comes alive. Drawing you further and further down through deep canyons with high walls, you feel as if perhaps you’ve taken the wrong turn and that you’ll drive right off a cliff. With the multitude of views and sights around, you may if you don’t pay attention to the road. Take time to explore the road and see the different things along the way. An old homestead, petroglyphs, caves, and crumbling log and sod cabins left by generations of private owners of the land, remain for your viewing pleasure. 

    Dinosaur National Monument Echo Park Campground Camping

    After 11 more miles you will arrive at Echo Park Campground. This scenic and wondrous place is surrounded by high rock cliffs that glow in the light of sunrise and sunset. It’s easy to see how this area was the home of the Fremont people, Native American Indians. The campground consists of 22 camping sites along the Green River, just West of the intersection of the Green and Yampa River. It is also a popular way point for river rafters as there is a boat ramp just up the road.

    Due to the proximity to the river and some low flood pools, take lots of bug spray. You’ll need it!

     After one night in this place, I was lamenting our tight schedule. I could have stayed here for days — resting in the sun, playing in the water, and exploring the many cracks and crevasse of the amazing rock walls. I will be back one day; I can promise you that.

     Dinosaur National Monument Echo Park Campground Camping

    28 Trails, 500 Miles - A Colorado Hikers Challenge

    28 Trails, 500 Miles - A Colorado Hikers Challenge

     Kenosha Pass View of South Park Colorado

    Before you die, you must complete the Colorado Trail. Spanning 500 miles and 28 segments this trail traverses the Rocky Mountains from Denver to Durango. Reaching altitude gains of 5,196 ft., this trail embodies the spirit and beauty of Colorado. If you are a Colorado loving, freeze dried food eating hiker – this is your challenge. Completing the Colorado Trail should be on your bucket list.

    Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting that you complete this challenge in one long, arduous trip. This trail is best tackled in segments. I started in June of 2015. It was early for such high altitude. The majority of the trail looked like winter was merely taking a siesta. I chose to begin my Colorado Trail Challenge at Kenosha Pass West, segment 6. With friends, dogs, and a husband along we set out for a cool early season backpacking overnight-er.

    On July 14, 2016, Gudy Gaskill, commonly known as the mother of the Colorado Trail, died at age 89. She spent more than three decades nurturing the trail from idea to reality. As executive director of the Colorado Trail Foundation, she negotiated with a variety of Forest Service district rangers, sketching routes along old mining paths, scraping up donations and cajoling the support of a host of bureaucrats. Read full Denver Post article.

    Kenosha Pass, Colorado Trail - Section 6, Park County, Colorado

    Location: North of Jefferson, Colorado
    Distance: 32.9 miles (We only did 4.2 miles)
    Difficulty: Moderate/Difficult
    Point of Interest: View of South Park

    My fitness was that of a greenhorn, I struggled from the first step up the trail. My stubborn nature beat back at the doubt caused by my pounding heart. A few more pack free hikes around Green Mountain would have been a good idea before this trip.

    This section of the Colorado Trail climbs up to a ridge that looks down and across South Park. You can see the city of Jefferson not too far off and the Mosquito Range, which holds Mount Lincoln at an elevation of 14,286 ft. Only a little more than 15 miles west, as the crow flies, is Breckenridge, Colo.

    Hiking Colorado Trail South Park County San Isabel National Forest

    After a mile of climbing up, you begin a gentle downhill hike as the trail skirts the edge of the mountains and stays within San Isabel National Forest (be careful not to stray on to the private property of the ranch below). The sky is vast here. The treed landscape opens up to sagebrush fields and grassy meadows. Even in the brown hangover of winter's brutality, the beauty of this place is calming.  

    Colorado Trail Marker signGetting lost would be difficult here. If you do find yourself worried that you may be on a game trail, look for the markers of the Colorado Trial.  These little mountain shaped white and green tags are fixed to trees, posts, and signs guiding you along all 500 miles of the trail system. Usually, when one trail intersects the Colorado Trail, this marker will be there to let you know which path to take.

    After several stops to look at the map, and many promises to my companions that we had "only half a mile more" till our campsite, we arrived at our pad for the night. Located approximately 4.2 miles from the trail head, the clearing has been occupied many times before. It had room for several tents and an established fire pit. We made camp, ate dinner, drank a little booze, and hit the hay before the sun set. I find that happens a lot when I'm backpacking. The essentials become that much more important and the distractions of daily life (TV, Internet) don't matter.

    Every year approximately 150 people complete the 500 miles of Colorado Trail. Some taking mere months, some taking several season. When will you join the list of those who've completed the trail? 

    Colorado Trail Hiking Resources

    To start planning your Colorado Trail Challenge, use these resources.

    The Colorado Trail Foundation

    The Colorado Trail on Google Earth

    South Platte Ranger District

    19316 Goddard Ranch Court
    Morrison, CO 80465

    The Colorado Trail Guidebook, 9th Edition

    This book covers the entire Colorado Trail, all 567 miles between Denver and Durango, including Segments 1-28 plus CW01-CW05. This is the first edition that covers both the CT Collegiate East and CT Collegiate West. It helps you plan your CT excursions, can guide you on the trail, and is particularly well-suited to have either in an automobile or at home. It is your official resource for hiking, backpacking, horseback riding and bicycling The Colorado Trail. Buy through The Colorado Trail Foundation

    All photos used in this post are credited to Derek Perry. Thanks for being my husband, backpacking buddy, and photographer.


    Amazing Rewards - Grand County Colorado Hiking

    Amazing Rewards - Grand County Colorado Hiking

    After a while, the Front Range hikes that are within an easy 30-minute drive of Downtown Denver will become crowded and the temperatures will reach heights that make us think of a backyard pools rather than a hike. Skip the Front Range and drive a little bit deeper into the Rockies to find the less trafficked trails with cooler temps. Take a hiking tour of Grand County, Colorado.

    I’ve spent a lot of time up in Grand County, specifically around and in-between Granby and Grand Lake. After 45 minutes on I-70 west from Denver, take the exit to Highway 40. This will take you up and over Berthoud Pass and the first town you hit will be Winter Park. Many will stop there and call it good, but I encourage you to drive on just a little further to explore an area of Colorado that doesn’t see as many visitors and hides hiking gems for all skill levels.

    YMCA of the Rockies: Snow Mountain Ranch, Waterfall Trail

     Location: West of Tabernash, Colorado
    Distance: 3 miles round-trip
    Difficulty: Easy
    Point of Interest: Waterfall

    YMCA of the Roackies Snow Mountain Ranch Waterfall TrailAs you head past Winter Park on Hyw 40, through Frasier, and on past Tabernash, you’ll come across the YMCA of the Rockies, Snow Mountain Ranch. This is private land, however the trail system is open to the public. An easy three-mile round-trip hike leads you to a beautiful hidden waterfall. This trail has been my go-to for testing out my hiking and my guests' hiking ability at altitude. Almost anyone should be able to complete this trail. In addition, it is not on many maps, so you’re assured lower traffic.

    At the trail head there is a small parking and picnic area. Last I was there, a small stream that runs the trail and length of the parking lot had overflowed, spilling into the grass with crisp spring snow melt. Follow that stream along the trail to see and ponder several beaver dams. In years past, I’ve seen lots of evidence of the beaver activity. If you stay long enough and quite enough, perhaps you can see one of these civil engineers of the natural world.

    Continuing on up the path, along the stream, you navigate a couple primitive bridges, and pass a memorial bench that offers a great place to catch your breath and look around. However, if you are feeling good, power through that rest stop and push for the waterfall. It’s not too much further. Suddenly, you’ll round a corner and be presented with high rock walls on either side and a beautiful 20 ft waterfall. Relax, take it in, maybe go up to the top. (Watch for preservation signs. Take the right route.) This trail is perfect for a quick afternoon hike, a hike with diverse skill ranges, or just for the fun of it. 

    Monarch Lake, Grand County, Colorado

    Location: Northeast of Granby, Colorado
    Distance: 4.1 mile loop
    Difficulty: Moderate
    Point of Interest: Monarch Lake, Steam Donkey

    Past Granby, north on Highway 34, at the southern edge of Lake Granby is County Highway 6. Follow this road 10 miles to Monarch Lake. This lake is a trail head for longer, more challenging hikes in Arapahoe National Forest and Indian Peaks Wilderness. However, the Monarch Lake Loop is a great trail with multiple actives available.

    Monarch Lake Steam DonkeyMy favorite part of this trail is at the very beginning. There is a cute little ranger station setup to help visitors to this area. Every day the rangers set out several humming bird feeders, and those little birds swarm! Just hanging out at the ranger station bench can give you an experience to remember. Dozens of these beautiful creature’s buzz, dive, and swoop through the air. It’s almost a choreographed show for you to enjoy.

    A mile and a half down the southern part of the loop will take you to an old steam donkey. Left over from a logging operation at the turn of the 19th Century, the steam engine, nicknamed steam donkey, was used to drag logs down the mountainside by cable to the lake and logging operations below. 



    The town of Monarch is located under Lake Granby. It was constructed in 1904 by the Rocky Mountain Lumber Co. to house its workers at the company's sawmill and box factory. The town was abandoned after a fire in 1908.

    While Monarch Lake is man-made, as is its neighbor Lake Granby, the setting is beautiful and serene. Use the loop for a moderate 4.1 mile trail, or use it as a jumping off point for our next suggested destination hike, Strawberry Lake.

    Strawberry Lake, Grand County Colorado

     Location: Northeast of Granby, Colorado
    Distance: 3.1 miles round-trip
    Difficulty: Moderate/Difficult
    Point of Interest: Strawberry Lake

    Strawberry Lake Grand County ColoradoIn my opinion, Strawberry Lake is the crown jewel of hidden hiking in Grand County. The trail head is difficult to find from Grand County Highway 6. You have to keep a keen eye out for the lightly traveled, and unmarked starting point. Look for a slightly wide point 7.6 miles after turning off of Hwy 34. Online research indicated that the GPS coordinates for the parking area is 40º 7.53' North and 105º 46.56' West, although I have not tested them.

    Be prepared for a path that climbs quickly and steeply from its hidden trailhead. My first time on this trail was after a vacation at sea-level, and I was unprepared for the steep climb. However, it was worth the effort. The lake can also be accessed from High Lonesome Trail at Monarch Lake. This part of the trail may be unmaintained, I suggest speaking with a Ranger before taking this alternate route.

    Along the way up the trail, you will cross Strawberry Creek several times. The creek and the lake gets its name from the mineral deposits in the area. These mineral deposits create a reddish hue to the water. It reminds me of tea, brewing in the warm sunlight. Although, don’t drink it. Be prepared and bring plenty of your own water.

    Once on top of the ridge line, the trail becomes gentle and guides you into Strawberry Bench. This area includes Strawberry Lake and beautiful high mountain meadows. The Forest Service has setup informational signs and a walking bridge for you to access the lake. Take care to mind the signs and walk-ways. This is a delicate eco system that can be damaged easily by too much foot traffic.

    With an amazing view of Arapaho Peak and a perfect place to sit at the very end of the floating bridge, I spent several hours there in the sun. Sketching what I saw in front of me, I found this place is peaceful and quite.

    Adams Falls, Grand Lake, Colorado

    Location: East of Grand Lake, Colorado
    Distance: 0.9 miles round-trip
    Difficulty: Easy
    Point of Interest: Adams Falls

    Adams Falls Rock Mountain National ParkRounding out your tour of Grand County is Adams Falls. This short hike enters into the southwestern area of Rocky Mountain National Park. Following the East Inlet Trail, you’ll come across crystal clear ponds and the Adams Falls Trail, which is a semi-loop that reconnects with the East Inlet Trail in less than two-tenths of a mile. Turn right at this Adams Falls junction and walk the short distance to an overlook of Adams Falls, a very impressive waterfall that drops roughly 55 feet in a series of steps through a narrow rock gorge.

    The Park Service has built a retaining wall to keep people safe, but my Mother-in-Law told me a story about a trip to this location in 1983 when there were no walls and rails. The children climbed out to the edge of the rocks to peer down at the powerful rushing water.

    If you’d like a longer hike, turn right at the fork when the Adams Falls Trail meets back up with the East Inlet trail. This will take you up to a series of five lakes surrounded by meadows. Be careful though! This area is prime moose territory. On more than one occasion when I’ve visited this trail, hikers coming down from that area have warned of a moose.

    TIP: Do not bring your dog to this trail. The trail and falls are within the boundaries of Rocky Mountain National Park. Dogs are not allowed on trains within the park. Besides, you don't want to run into a moose with Fido barking. That could be bad news!



    The falls and nearby Mt. Adams, are named after an early settler to Grand Lake named Jay E. Adams. Mr. Adams arrived in the area in the late 1800s. Prior to receiving its current name the waterfall was known as Ousel Falls.

    Grand County Hiking Resources

    While these four areas are my regular hiking haunts when hanging out with friends and family in Grand County, there are plenty of other trails and places to explore. Here are a couple of the resources I use.

    Hiking Grand County, Colorado
    By Debora Carr and Lou Ladrigan

    The updated edition of Hiking Grand County, Colorado is a comprehensive backcountry guide to Grand County's trail system and includes color photos and topo maps. Buy through REI.

    Sulphur Ranger District, Forest Service Office

    9 Ten Mile Drive, Granby, CO 80446

    Stop into this Forest Service Office and speak with the local rangers. The staff are knowledgeable and friendly. They even provide free maps of the different areas, roads, and trails for you to explore.

    Short Hikes, Beaches, and Wine

    Short Hikes, Beaches, and Wine

    Moolack Beach, Oregon Coast

    By the end of the day, my cheeks were sore from smiling. I had just spent the most relaxing and indulgent day on a secluded, undeveloped beach on the Oregon Coast. It was amazing.

     Moolack beach Yaquina Light House

    For months, I dreamed of organizing a picturesque day on the beach. We live within a five-minute hike of Moolack Beach on the north side of Yaquina Head Lighthouse. This beach is only accessed through small neighborhood trails that descend a few hundred feet down to a mostly sandy sore line. I’ve spent hours there walking the beach and collecting bric-a-brac to decorate our apartment. When the tide is really low, my husband and dog search the tide pools for interesting sea creatures to show me.

    Beach combing MoolackMost of the year, the beach is cold and windy. For this reason, there are not a lot of tourists filling up the space. You can spend hours here without seeing a soul. The only hint of human presence are the homes perched on the cliffs behind you, and the Yaquina Head Lighthouse guiding fishermen to Newport’s Yaquina Bay.

    Having guests in town, I knew this was the perfect opportunity to execute my plan. With a giddy excitement, I purchased fresh oysters, shrimp, and crab from the local fish market on the Newport Bay Front. On the way back to our place, I picked up some cheese, bread, and wine at the grocery store. I almost skipped as I jogged back to the car with the wine. For some reason the wine made it all more exciting. Despite my years being of legal drinking age, I still get excited to pair wine with outdoor adventures. Something about its presence (not just the imbibing) make everything charming and delightful.

    With food purchased, blankets and dishes packed, we headed down to the beach on a beautiful, sunny Sunday afternoon. The trail is short but steep, providing a wooded portal to the beach ahead. Along the way down the coastal evergreens create framed views of the light house and the beach. The smile started to grow deeper on my face as my guests awed at the view in front of them. Only a short hike down, we began finding a place to lay our blankets for our beach picnic.

    Moolack Beach from Cliff

    With a spot selected, out came the food and wine. My husband teased me seeing that I was near childlike excitement for our meal. He was right. These moments of excitement in my life have become fewer as adult responsibilities and concerns have taken their toll. It was invigorating and I let the smile expand to include a twinkle in my eye.

    Oysters wine shrimp beach picnicAs we consumed the meal, laughter and conversation flowed easily for all of us. Before long the food and wine were gone. It was time to take a leisurely walk along the shore. As the rest of my party sauntered in and out of the tide pools, I relaxed on the blanket with a book. It was hard to read in that setting. My mind wanted to take in the beauty of my surroundings. After a few minutes, I relented and set the book aside.

    After what seemed like hours, we all laid down for a sun bathed nap. Snuggling with my dog and husband, the constant hush of the ocean waves lulled us to sleep.

    The experiences of that day have become the calm place I take my mind during the stress of daily life. I had spent the most relaxing and indulgent day on a secluded, undeveloped beach on the Oregon Coast. It was amazing.

    Backpacking Oregon Dunes National Rec. Area

    Backpacking Oregon Dunes National Rec. Area

    Threemile Lake North Trail (1338)

    Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area Threemile Lake Trail SignIt started out rough. My dog bit my cousin at the trailhead within the first 10 minutes. As my husband and I reacted poorly and with confusion to the situation, I worried that the trip was going to be less than ideal.  

    My cousin had just biked over 80 miles to meet us at the Threemile Lake North Trail. He’s a beast. I’ve been accused of being an uber-camper and intense, but it’s all relative. He is my version of intense. As soon as the wound was treated and bandaged, he went back to transferring his stuff from his saddle bags to his backpack. In no time he was ready to hit the trail. I was amazed as he set us at a swift pace. 

    Click, grab, and drag on the map to see long./lat. of campsites, approximate trail location, and photos from the trail.

    Our route took us from the Tahkenitch Dunes — Threemile Lake North Trailhead, down the Threemile Lake North Trail, to a campsite approximately at 2.5 miles. The US Forest Service lists this trail as intermediate to difficult. In my opinion, the segment of the trail we did would be more intermediate than difficult.

    Oregon Coast Dunes Threemile Lake TrailI’m a slow hiker. With 35 lbs. on my back I tend to go about half of a normal walking pace. I’m not in the best shape either. As a work-at-home desk jockey, these trips are my meditation, rejuvenation, and punishment. The slow pace is my way of staying safe, reducing the chance of injury, and enjoying the nature around me despite the pain. I would have no such luck this evening. A fast pace was my destiny.

    We set off around 7 PM, which meant that we needed to find a campsite before dark. Pitching a tent in the dark is not fun, and hiking after dark is not safe. These facts pushed us faster into the dunes. Just as my knee was barking for a long rest and threatening to give out, we rounded the top of a hill to discover the most beautiful camping spot I’ve ever seen. Seriously. The most beautiful spot. Alas, enjoying the view and our surroundings would have to wait for the morning. The dark of night began to settle in and setting up camp took priority.

    After setting up camp and burning my Mom’s backpacking spaghetti, we all went to bed. As I tossed and turned in my sleeping bag, I prayed for the universe to turn this trip around. I was not disappointed.






    Oregon Coast Dunes Campsite View

    Being the first to wake, I made myself some coffee and sat down in the spot with the best view. The worry and pain of yesterday evening was gone. Listening to the white noise of the ocean waves and gazing at the amazing view I slipped into vacation mode. Moving slowly and without purpose, I napped and read an old backpacking book on our hill top perch. The only thing missing was a sugary drink with some fruit and an umbrella. Pulls of coconut rum from a water-bladder would have to suffice.

    Sunset Oregon DunesThis is the reason I backpack, to find beautiful natural places that are untouched by concrete and the hum of electricity. These are places that my body and mind naturally reset to a more natural rhythm. The quiet noise of nature is so loud out here, you can’t ignore it’s influence over your mood and well-being.

    On our second day, my legs were ready for more exploring. After breakfast, we set off to the beach. The short half-mile walk was hot and slow. From under my ridiculous, gas station straw hat, I felt protected from the burning sun. Unlike my husband who was already pink. I can never get that man to wear sunscreen.

    Walking the sand dunes to the Oregon Coast beachesWe took turns visiting the beach for a bit. Scooda, being a dog and all, was not allowed on the beach. This untouched beautiful Oregon Coast beach is an established nesting area for Snowy Plovers. I had never seen a natural beach before. The drift wood is stacked up in abundance and the birds are too many to count. The only thing out of place was us. So in a respectful fashion, we retreated to the grassy dunes — behind the signs about conservation — for lunch and more napping.

    Napping Snowy Plovers Oregon Sand DunesAs a species we are kind of funny that way. Napping is our go-to whenever there is time. It’s no wonder either. We are all connected, spinning, typing, and running toward the next task. Even out here in this beautiful space, I had to work at being relaxed. Boredom is easy for the “plugged in” here, but the vigilant adventurer knows to ignore the tug of “what’s next” and go back to sleep.

    Our hike out the next day was slower than on the way in. With our cousin leading the charge, we hung back and took it slow. I’m never one to rush out of the woods and nature. I would linger forever here if that wasn’t such a horribly uncomfortable proposition. Unfortunately, the draw of a shower and clean clothing pulled us forward. Just as I resigned myself to the work-a-day life waiting for me, I remembered the block of cheese and beer tucked away, chilled, and waiting for me in the car.

    All photos of Oregon Coast Dunes National Recreation Area used in this post are credited to Derek Perry. Thanks for being my husband and photographer.