We did it! We just wrapped up our 10 day camping adventure in Colorado, Arizona, and Utah. It was a whirlwind of quick stops, tent set ups, camp meals, and long drives. We had a blast exploring the Rocky Mountains and the southwest desert.
Our first stop was the Great Sand Dunes. After camping at a nearby state park, Josh made us all wake up at 5am to catch the sunrise on the dunes. I ain’t mad about it.
Ok… I was a little bit mad about it at the time, but I’m ok with it now. It was worth it.
Our next stop was Pagosa Hot Springs. It was a well deserved afternoon of relaxation after that 5am wake up!
We camped in nearby Jackson Forest and headed to Mesa Verde in the morning, after a quick stop in Pagosa for breakfast and coffee. Pro tip: on the mornings when we were too lazy to heat water for oatmeal or cook another breakfast, we would just ask for a cup of boiling water with our morning coffee and fix the kiddos’ oatmeal packets with that.
Around lunchtime we stopped in Durango to reserve our tours at Mesa Verde. Tickets book up quickly during the summer season, so try to reserve tickets early in the day. You can only reserve them in Durango or at Mesa Verde, not online. And you can only reserve them up to two days in advance. The earliest tour we could get was at 3pm, so we hung out in Durango for a few hours and grabbed lunch at Michael’s Corner Crepes.
When we got to Mesa Verde, we toured Balcony House and Cliff Palace.
The Balcony House tour is also known as the “Indiana Jones” tour at Mesa Verde. You have to climb a 30 ft. ladder and three 10 ft. ladders. You also have to squeeze through a tiny tunnel that is about 3 ft. tall and 1 ft. wide. If you’re scared of heights or claustrophobic, this is NOT the tour for you.
We camped at Mesa Verde and then headed to Canyons of the Ancients and Hovenweep National Monument.
Hovenweep National Monument is in the middle of NOWHERE Utah, but we had a lot of fun there. We got to our campsite around 3pm, which gave us time to relax, play, and read before we cooked up some delicious Ramen for dinner. I kinda forgot how awesome packaged Ramen is…
In the morning, we hiked the two mile loop around the ruins in Hovenweep. It’s an easy and relaxing hike, especially if you do it before the heat ratchets up in the afternoon.
After our hike (and after Winston earned his Junior Ranger badge!), we took off on a long drive to Grand Canyon via Monument Valley!
The Navajo Reservation charges a $20 fee to access the road through the valley. It’s a VERY bumpy road, and I wouldn’t recommend traversing it with anything lower than a small SUV. I personally thought the $20 was worth it, and it was fun to drive around inside the valley and see the monuments up close.
After we toured Monument Valley, we headed towards Grand Canyon. It was a long, dry, and desolate drive, but Josh LOVED it. He kept talking about how he’d been “dreaming” of driving through the desert all throughout his three years of law school.
I’m glad it made him happy, but I definitely won’t be moving the desert with him anytime soon. 😉
We camped in Kaibab National Forest, which sits about 10 minutes outside the National Park. All of the campsites in the National Park were already reserved, but I’m actually happy we ended up at Kaibab National Forest! For one thing, it gave us a chance to stop at RP’s Stage Stop for a delicious mocha and cinnamon roll AND it was way less crowded than the 300+ site campsite at the Grand Canyon.
The Grand Canyon was amazing. It was SO much bigger than I imagined. We spent all of the next day touring different overlooks and completing the rigorous Junior Ranger Program. 😉
We spent another night at Kaibab National Forest and the next morning we were planning to head to Antelope Canyon. Sadly, our tour was cancelled at the last minute so we headed straight to Telluride instead.
Telluride is GORGEOUS. Wow. One day there was not enough. I’m already trying to plan a winter ski trip to Telluride sometime this year.
We spent the night at the Priest Lake Campground about 20 minutes outside of Telluride. The campsite was gorgeous, I definitely recommend it if you’re ever car camping near Telluride!
We ate breakfast at The Butcher and Baker Cafe and the Cinnamon Roll was to die for. I will definitely be back for more. Then we took the free gondola up the mountain and explored for a bit. The gondola ride was the highlight of Winston and Ella’s time in Telluride. They kept referring to it as a “flying car,” and they wanted to ride it over and over.
We had a few more stops we wanted to get to that day, so we headed to Black Canyon of the Gunnison in the afternoon. The Black Canyon was beautiful! We spent a few hours touring different viewpoints and completing another Junior Ranger program with Winston (the junior ranger programs were his highlight at all the National Parks and Monuments!).
After spending a rainy evening camping at Rifle State Park, we headed to Glenwood Hot Springs for one final soak before we returned to Denver. After the hot springs, we stopped in Vail to watch the Colorado Classic Bike Race and eat lunch at Big Bear Bistro.
Overall, the trip was really fun! Nine nights of camping is a lot, but the kids did great (and momma survived!). We brought a six person tent and used a full size air mattress for Josh, myself, and Winston. Ella slept at the foot of our bed in her ever handy Kid Co Pea Pod. I seriously cannot recommend these pea pods more highly! I should be a permanent paid spokesperson for Kid Co.
Our camp meals featured delicacies like noodles and pesto, ramen, packaged Indian food from Tasty Bite, canned soup, tortellini, and brats. Yum yum! For lunch we mostly ate peanut butter and nutella sandwiches. We also ate a few lunches out, and we ate dinner out one night in Pagosa.
Josh let me stop and get coffee at a bunch of cute coffee shops throughout our trip. I think that’s really what kept me sane. 😉
Car camping and road tripping with the kiddos was super fun, and it was a cheap way to explore Colorado, Utah, and Arizona. I highly recommend it if you ever have a few days in the area and if you don’t mind going without showers for a bit. 😉