The Crestone Eagle, June 2006:
Five near and nice places to car camp
by Thomas Cleary
This, the first of two articles, will outline five wonderful car-camping locations. Next month we will look at several short hike-in camping locations. Some of these camps are the old standbys, new only to newcomers, but hopefully, if you read on, there will be a few new-to-you, too. Please keep in mind that most of the car camping sites are ‘fee for service’ and even if no one is around to police paying your fee, it is good karma to pay it. It is legal to ‘primitive’ camp (no amenities) anywhere on Forest Service land, but please use pre-established camps, practice Leave No Trace (lnt.org), and leave them better than you found them.
North Crestone Creek Campground
The first on the list of local car-camps has to be North Crestone Creek Campground. A mere two miles out of Crestone and accessed by heading north on Alder St., following the road as it curves east on Mica Ave. and turns north again on County Rd 71. Follow it until you reach the self service fee station at the entrance of the campground. It is a nice camp with a creek and hiking at its upper (east) end. Cost is $5 per night, which might go up for summer. It is a nice mini-getaway and doesn’t even pinch the gas budget.
Valley View Hot Springs
Second is Valley View Hot Springs. Not managed by people with uniforms bought with tax dollars, it is a non-profit managed by the Orient Land Trust for the benefit of us, the people. Actually, they might not wear any kind of uniform, as Valley View is a clothing-optional, rustic camping and soaking experience. It is located at the east end of County Rd. GG, accessed from the junction of highways 17 and 285 near Villa Grove. Sites are in the scrub oak forest or on the hillside. During the summer, take a hike up to the bat cave for an amazing wildlife experience. Cost is $24 per person per night and includes both days of soaking. Come early and stay late. Reservations are a must and can be made up to two weeks in advance. Call 719-256-4315 or go to olt.org for more info.
Farther afield, and just outside the San Luis Valley, is O’Haver Lake. This Forest Service Campground wraps around a fish-stocked lake. It is located by driving two miles north of the Poncha Pass summit on Hwy 285, then turning west onto Marshall Pass road, following signs to O’Haver Lake for about three miles. Hikes are nice out of the west end of the campground up Grays Creek, or for a full day hike, drive farther up the Marshall pass road to a high traverse (~10,500’) and go for the summit of Mount Ouray (~13,825’). Cost is about $7-10/night.
Beaver Creek Reservoir
A similar lake in the southwest corner of the Valley is Beaver Creek Reservoir. Its access road is located one mile west of South Fork on Hwy 160, where you need to turn south across a bridge onto Forest Service Road 360 (aka. the Beaver Creek Rd) then travel about three miles to the first campground, another short mile to a second, or two miles more brings you up to and past the lake to a third campground. All are nice, either having stream or lake, with the former being a little quieter. Cost is about $7-10/night. Fishing tends to be good for kids.
The last Valley favorite is Penitente Canyon, found at the west end of County Road G. After you go through the jig in the road and pass the ‘don’t blink’ town of La Garita, CR G becomes County Rd 38, and bears left (south). Keep left at the intersection where CR 41A goes right and retains the pavement, while CR 38 turns to dirt and shortly becomes CR 38A. After about one half mile on the dirt, a sign will point you west into Penitente Canyon, home of great rock climbing, native American rock art, Mexican religious iconography, and great hiking and mountain bike loops. Cost is about $10/cool alcove-like campsite, but bring your own water jugs; the nearest water is one mile back at CR 38A, and it is tasty spring water.
I will throw out a bonus camp spot for those of you who read this far. If you have a high clearance 4WD vehicle and sense of adventure, the Medano Pass road that travels through the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve has incredible car camping opportunities. As well, of course, there is camping for regular cars at the Pinon Flats campground. Access the park from the south (main entrance) on County Rd 6N off of Hwy 17. For more information go to http://www.nps.gov/grsa/backcountry_camping.htm or call the visitors center 719-378-6399 where permits must be obtained in person between 9am-6pm. From these camps you can drive to the forests on Medano Pass, hike the east flank of the dunes, follow the flow of Medano Creek until it sinks into the sands, or find your own way to experience our newest national park.
Get out! Enjoy! Check in next month for short hike-in camp locations!