Several official reports claim over 10,000 people a month are moving into my home state of Colorado. My own un-official research shows about 9,000 of them are going camping next weekend. The other thousand are grabbing up the tee times at my local golf course, but that’s fodder for another column. Even though the camper numbers are up, the number of new campgrounds and dispersed campsites created for this rush hovers somewhere around zero.
Everybody’s Working for the Weekend
Okay, whether you agree with my numbers or not, you have to agree, camping on a weekend is like skiing, hiking, or playing golf on a weekend: everybody is out doing it. Some weekends are guaranteed to be more crowded than others such as holiday weekends, but if you time it right, you may even find a little bit of the peace and quiet you are searching for.
Right Before a Holiday
While everyone else is gearing up to go on Memorial Day, the 4th of July, or on Labor Day weekend, you are already up there and enjoying the solitude. Though the weekend before Memorial Day is usually as cold and/or wet as the Memorial Day Weekend sometimes is, you will be on your own. The season hasn’t started yet—but you have. The weekends before the 4th of July and Labor Day are great in both weather and solitude. You can enjoy a relaxing weekend and still be back in town next weekend for the holiday.
Right After a Holiday
I camped this year on the weekend following the 4th of July and managed to find a great dispersed camping spot, some peace and quiet, and even found some unused firewood in our spot left over from the holiday. Though the mountains seem to be crowded at all times these days, and we did have to search a while before settling into our spot. Only the die-hards will camp two weeks in a row and I believe three quarters of the entire population of Colorado was camping over the 4th. Camping after Labor Day works even better as folks with kids are too busy with the new school year to even consider trying a campout.
Before the Bans
We’ve had a lot of dry years lately and fire bans are becoming more and more prominent. Early season camping is a good idea, especially if you enjoy dispersed camping and having a camp fire. Once the weather turns hot and dry, the first wave of fire bans are soon to follow. I used to get annoyed and think they were too quick to ban campfires until I realized that a large number of those 10,000 new visitors have no idea how to properly use fire. As the bans progress, you can only have a fire in an established camp ground with a concrete base and metal ring. After that, if things get worse, you can’t have open flames at all. If you feel, like a lot of us, that a campfire is an integral part to the experience, then going camping early in the season is a must.
If the fire bans don’t happen, and let’s hope they don’t, then August is one of the better months for weekend camping in the summer. The school years seem to start earlier and earlier and in Colorado the kiddies are back in class by mid-August. This provides for a lot of grumbling from parents but a welcome respite for the childless of us. Way fewer families camping equates to many more open spaces for the rest of us. It also seems the majority of concerts and special events that draw crowds to the hills taper off as summer’s end nears. June and July are packed full of concerts, festivals and rallies while, for some reason, August seems to mellow out a bit. This means not only fewer campers, but less traffic to deal with on your way to and from your weekend spot.
Out of Season
I learned a long time ago I am not nearly hardy enough for winter camping, but going in May or September and October is sometimes worth the chilly nights and mornings. Once the fall hits though, you do have hunting season firing up (pun intended), so you should make sure you are not up there on the wrong week. If you do go these weeks, I’d advise you that a new orange wardrobe would be appropriate and be careful with the noises you make when pooping in the woods. If you really want to avoid all crowds, get some warm clothes and a good sleeping bag and go out when it’s threatening to snow. Not only will you be alone out there, but you’ll get some great views if you pick the right spot.