RV Camping Colorado Springs
Over the years, we had done quite a bit of RV camping through all of the Gulf Coast states, from West Texas to Florida, but this was our first experience RV camping in Colorado Springs and the Rocky Mountains!
We departed Round Rock, Texas at 9:05am Friday morning to begin our 1700 mile 10-day round trip to Colorado Springs, Colorado. The weather was perfect for travel - the sky was clear and the temperature was in the low 60s.
From Round Rock, we headed north on highway 183 to Goldthwaite and turned west on 84, through the towns of Zephyr, Early, and Brownwood, where we ate old style chopped-beef sandwiches for lunch at the well-known Underwood Cafeteria (Est. 1946).
Feeling refreshed, we continued west on 84 through the small towns of Santa Anna, Coleman, Goldsboro and Lawn, then left on 83, by way of a confusing intersection (that I was happy to have gone through in broad daylight) to Tuscola. From there, our GPS took us through some un-paved back roads (County Roads 613/275), to create as close to a bee-line route to Abilene State Park as possible.
One of the turns was so vague that a Smart Car slipped in beside us while we were making a last-minute course correction - now we know what a Smart Car's horn sounds like.
Abilene State Park was only 3 1/2 hours into our trip to Colorado. We would have traveled further, but there weren't many overnight options along our chosen route that appealed to us. We prefer state parks over RV parks because the campsites are more wooded, spacious, and generally less expensive.
Abilene State Park is a beautiful park with several semi-secluded campsites under canopies of large oak and pecan trees. The temperature had warmed considerably since our morning departure, and shade was welcomed on that 95 degree late summer day.
We settled into campsite #57 around 3pm. At 5pm, I fired up our charcoal grill and cooked a light dinner of lean steaks and sliced tomatoes. Afterwards, we sat outside and enjoyed the evening. It felt good not to push things too hard the first day.
We left Abilene State Park about 8am and traveled through more back-roads, 89 to 126. The road was an old two-laner that had no shoulder. The countryside was beautiful, but had become a wind farm since we last visited the area - hundreds of wind generators everywhere vanishing into the horizon. We took 126 to 153 and then north on 70 into Sweetwater, where we stopped for gas and McDonalds breakfast.
After breakfast, we headed west on I-20 for a few miles and exited back onto highway 84 west through Snyder and Post to Lubbock, where we turned north onto I-27. In Plainview, north of Lubbock, we stopped for lunch and gas and picked up a few necessities at the nearby Wal-Mart before getting back on I-27 north. We passed through the towns of Tulia and Happy on the way to Amarillo, where we stayed the night at Amarillo Ranch RV Park.
One of the greatest finds in Amarillo was the Big Texan Steak Ranch. From the RV park, we took a free limo ride to the restaurant. They boast a free 72 oz. steak, if you can eat all of it (plus a baked potato, salad, three shrimp, and a roll) in less than an hour.
If you want to attempt the free 72 oz. steak deal, they seat you center-stage and announce to everyone in the restaurant that you are planning to consume this humongous meal. Once the food arrives, they start a 60-minute countdown timer and off you go!
While we were there, a couple of cowboys undertook the challenge, but did not finish the meal in less than an hour. One guy didn't even come close. I think people take the challenge just to say that they did it - which isn't really a bad idea. They don't care if they have to pay $72 for the meal. After all, you can always get a doggie-bag and eat the steak later. Nothing has to go to waste.
In addition to the restaurant, the Big Texan Steak Ranch had a nice gift shop, a bar, and even an electronic shooting gallery; in the spirit of Halloween, it was stocked with zombies, ghouls, skeletons, and ghosts to shoot at. We also sampled ales from their Big Texan Brewery - the Palo Duro Pale Ale, the Texas Red Amber Ale, and their seasonal Oktoberfest. All three were quite excellent!
We took the limo back to the Amarillo Ranch RV Resort around 11pm and crashed hard after the large meal and delicious ale. The RV park was just a block or two north of I-40 (route 66) - the sound of passing trucks and cars lasted through the night.
After breakfast at Cracker Barrel on I-40, we headed north on 287 out of Amarillo towards Dumas. The scenery reminded me of scenes from the old west - large mesas, deep gullies, and a long coal train in the distance spewing black smoke.
At Dumas, we gassed up and proceeded north on 87 towards Dalhart, through flat grassland plains, fields of cotton and grain, and large cattle ranches, to the town of Texline and out of Texas.
We stopped at Clayton, New Mexico for more gas and continued on highway 87, about an hour and a half, through the northeast corner of New Mexico. At Raton, we had a quick lunch and headed north on I-25 into southern Colorado.
Almost immediately, the elevations on the freeway changed dramatically and challenged our small pickup-truck/travel-trailer rig. There were a couple of inclines that I couldn't drive past 40mph. I feared that I-25 would be like this all the way to Cheyenne Mountain, but just a few miles past Trinidad, the road grade mellowed a little, to more mild changes in elevation, and beautiful mountains began to appear as we traveled further north.
The trip through Colorado was an hour longer than expected (we didn't account for Mountain Time), but we arrived at Cheyenne Mountain State Park around 4pm, very tired from the 7+ hour trip, and ready to get away from I-25 traffic, relax, and settle in to our 4-night campsite.
Our campsite was at the base of Cheyenne Mountain (9,570 ft.). The mountain scene provided a spectacular view from our travel trailer's dining table window. In the mornings, while we prepared for the day's activities, we watched birds outside of our window and saw a Spotted Towhee, White Crowned Sparrows, a Mountain Bluebird, a few deer, and lots of rabbits.
The only time we were in the park, when the headquarters and visitor's center was open, was the day we arrived. The other days, we left early and got back late. We never had a chance to re-visit the impressive new visitor's center.
The park facilities were very new and clean. The pay-shower raised some eyebrows - four quarters for four minutes. We discovered that the best time to take a shower was right after someone else had already gotten the hot water flowing - our four minutes began with hot water.
We woke at pre-dawn, had a light breakfast and drove 25 minutes through Colorado Springs to Manitou Springs to take the Pikes Peak Cog Railway (founded in 1889 by Zalmon Simmons, also founder of the Simmons Beautyrest Mattress Company) to the summit of Pikes Peak.
If we had been in the mood for an advanced hike to the summit, we could have taken the Barr Trail from Manitou Springs. The trail is 12 miles long, rises 7,800 feet in elevation, and takes (on average) about 6 to 10 hours to hike.
On the train, we sat across from Larry and Barbara, a nice couple from Ohio, who happened to be in Colorado Springs attending a wedding. It was fun exchanging life's experiences with them as we rode the slow train to the top of Pikes Peak.
The weather couldn't have been better at the summit. The temperature was in the mid-forties, the wind was light, and the skies were clear and free of haze. The northern mountains of New Mexico were visible, as were the higher elevations of Oklahoma.
We were surprised to learn that though Pikes Peak is only 323 feet less in elevation than the highest point in Colorado (Mt. Elbert - 14,433 ft.), Pike's Peak ranks number 30 on the list of highest Colorado peaks. In Colorado, there are over 50 official peaks with elevations over 14,000 feet (known as the "14ers").
The Cog Railway stopped for about 40 minutes at the top of Pikes Peak. We had that much time to go to the restroom, buy hot chocolate and a famous donut from the cafe, and take pictures of the spectacular views from the summit. As promised, the train conductor rang the bell, signaling an on-time departure, and we were back aboard and down the mountain in about an hour.
The journey to the top of Pikes Peak made us hungry and thirsty. We ate lunch at the Colorado Mountain Brewery and sampled the 7258 Blonde Ale and the OLE 59ER Amber Ale. Both were quite delicious and refreshing. I spotted a fly fishing outfitter across the street and planned to pay them a visit before we left Colorado Springs.
We started the day a little later than we did on Monday and made breakfast of eggs, bacon and pumpkin bread, before we headed to Garden of the Gods, which is only about 20 minutes from Cheyenne Mountain State Park.
We started with the Garden of the Gods Visitor's Center and Gift Shop, where we bought more souvenirs, before making our way to the Garden of the Gods park and hiking trails.
Inside the Visitor's Center, there were groups of wide-eyed grade school kids being taught, by the park's nature experts, about the wildlife and geographical characteristics of the Garden of the Gods park. I listened to the nature expert's lessons, while I examined the many exhibits in the Nature Center.
After taking pictures at the Visitor's Center, we drove a short distance to the main parking lot, and walked along the Central Garden Trails to get close-up views of the many Garden of the Gods rock formations, such as, the Cathedral Spires (below, top-right) and the Three Graces (below, left).
The hazy mountain in the background behind Kindergarten Rock (above, bottom-right) is Cheyenne Mountain. While taking pictures of the fascinating rock formations and magnificent views, we spotted a few of the park's birds: Black-billed Magpie, Western Scrub Jay, and Hairy Woodpecker.
After strolling along the Central Garden Trails, we drove a few miles to the Siamese Twins Trail - this was an easy 1-mile loop that took us to the Siamese Twins rock formation (below). The picture of Pike's Peak in the beginning of this article was taken through an opening in the Siamese Twins - one of the park's employees referred to it as, "Nature's picture frame."
After hiking the Siamese Twins Trail, we drove a little further down the road to see the amazing Balanced Rock. There are many activities at Garden of the Gods; biking, hiking, photography, and rock climbing, to name just a few. We could have easily spent several days at Garden of the Gods, hiking the trails and studying the park's geology and wildlife.
By the end of the day, we hiked about 6 miles - mostly in gift shops - and were ready for lunch and drinks. We ate grilled sandwiches, at the Stagecoach Inn, and washed them down with Dale's Pale Ale by Oskar Blues Brewery.
After lunch, we walked the streets of Manitou Springs and visited some of the local shops. On our way back to Cheyenne Mountain, we paid a visit to Pike's Peak Outfitters (the one across the street from the brewery) to get information on guided fly fishing trips. We couldn't fit one in on this trip, but this is something that will definitely be on our next trip's agenda!
Wednesday (First Day of Fall)
It was 54 degrees when we woke up - cold enough to turn on the heater in our travel trailer for 10 minutes or so.
After breakfast, we headed south, from Cheyenne Mountain state park, on highway 115, about 30 miles to Penrose, and turned west on highway 50 to Canon City to take the Royal Gorge Route train along the Arkansas river through the Royal Gorge.
We arrived at the Royal Gorge Route train station about 2 1/2 hours early and decided that we had enough time to go visit the Royal Gorge Bridge. We drove west on highway 50 to the town of Royal Gorge and turned left on County Road 3a that meanders towards the Royal Gorge Bridge Park.
We paid 20 bucks each to walk on the wooden-planked suspension bridge (956 feet above the Arkansas river) and ride the gondola across the canyon. My palms were sweating, when we boarded the gondolas. The ride is 2200 feet long and 1200 feet above the Arkansas river.
After visiting the Royal Gorge Bridge, we drove back to the train station in plenty of time to pick up our tickets and visit yet another gift shop. The train ride was a 2 1/2 hour, out-and-back route along the Arkansas river. We sat at a table with Joe and Silvia, a couple from Denver, who were celebrating their wedding anniversary.
For lunch, we ordered an Angus Burger with fruit and a Red Bird Chicken sandwich. Both were very good and paired well with a Laughing Lab Scottish Ale by Bristol Brewing Company.
You can buy different priced tickets to ride the various train cars, but we chose the Vista Dome car because it has curved windows that allow you to view the top of the canyon.
After lunch, we left the Vista Dome car to explore some of the other cars on the train. While the train was moving, we passed through several cars; a regular passenger car, a dining car, a bar car, and finally the Open Air car. Traveling between the cars was a little like the Haunted House ride at Disney World. You had to really watch where you stepped and hold on to the hand rails.
From the Open Air car, we were able to get some nice pictures of the Royal Gorge canyon and the beautiful Arkansas river.
After the train ride, we headed north on 67 through beautiful mountain countryside to Cripple Creek, Colorado. Since my last visit to Cripple Creek (30+ years ago), the town evolved into a sort of gambling center. We parked and walked down the main street of town looking for a souvenir shop, but discovered that most of the businesses in town had become casinos.
We weren't in the mood for gambling, but we spotted a candy shop and left Cripple Creek, with only a small bag of taffy.
We continued north on 67 past Mueller State Park, to Woodland Park, right on highway 24, and eventually back to Cheyenne Mountain State Park.
The Colorado portion of our rv camping trip was coming to an end. As always, there's never enough time to see and do everything, but we got to do everything that we planned to do, plus make note of a few of things that we would like to do on our next visit (rafting and fly fishing the Arkansas river come to mind).
Knowing that Thursday was going to be our longest travel day, before dark we prepared our travel trailer for a pre-dawn departure, I even hooked up the trailer to the truck so that all we would have to do was disconnect the external power, lower the TV antenna, and be on our way.
At 6:00am (Mountain Time), it was 51 degrees and the sky was clear. I entered the location of our next destination (Palo Duro State Park, Texas) in the GPS and the ETA displayed 7 1/2 hours. We left Cheyenne Mountain at 7:00am and headed south on I-25 to Pueblo, where we stopped at another Cracker Barrel for a big breakfast before continuing on our journey.
With a full tank of gas and hot coffee to go, we continued south on I-25. The temperature was in the mid-sixties and, with a nice tail wind, we cruised effortlessly to Raton, New Mexico, where we filled up again and headed south on 87 back towards Texas. At Dalhart, we stopped for gas and made sandwiches for the road at the dining table of our RV.
We headed south on 87 to Hartley and continued south on 385. At Channing, we turned left onto 354 (a very bumpy road), as an alternative to going through Dumas, on our way to Amarillo. We arrived at Palo Duro state park at 3:30pm Central Time, secured campsite number 16 in the Hackberry Camping Area for a two-night stay, and relaxed the rest of the evening.
At dawn, the skies were clear and the temperature was a cool 51 degrees. We had a mid-morning breakfast of scrambled eggs and bacon, before departing on a 5 mile hike through Palo Duro Canyon.
The Canyon is about 120 miles long, 20 miles wide, around 800 feet deep, and exposes about 250 million years of geologic history (according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife website).
We started with the south-easterly 1.17 mile Rojo Grande Trail, which connects to the Sunflower Trail (also 1.17 miles), and returned on the Juniper/Cliffside Trail (2.83 miles) that generally heads northwest and back to our starting point.
It was a sunny hike, though the Rojo Grande and Sunflower trails were supposed to be shady. I'd say the sun/shade ratio was about 80/20. The temperature warmed up to the low 90s after about 30 minutes into our hike. We were wishing that we had left a little earlier, but the scenery was beautiful nevertheless.
We made it back to our campsite in the late afternoon and positioned folding chairs under shade trees and enjoyed cold ale while we chatted about the things we saw along the trail. In the evening, we had steak and beans (cowboy food) for dinner and went to sleep early after a long day.
We woke up pre-dawn (again) and left Palo Duro State Park to make it back to Abilene in time for the Abilene Beer Summit (ABS).
After a 4 1/2 hour drive, through a couple of small storms, we arrived at Abilene State Park wearing beer shirts and feeling rested and energetic.
The ranger, at the park's headquarters, noticed our shirts right away and asked us if we were planning to attend the Abilene Beer Summit. We smiled and said, "Yes! We drove all the way from Colorado Springs for the event!" He smiled. We got campsite 56 right next to the one we had the week before. Abilene is a relatively small town and even though Abilene State Park is a few miles from town, it only took about 25 minutes to get to downtown Abilene and the ABS.
We were happy to attend the Beer Summit this year, since we missed the Austin Beer Festival (also held in September) the last two years. There were 45 different brewers at the festival. Some of them had several beers to choose from. Needless to say, there was no way we could try them all in just one afternoon.
After a few ale samples and a BBQ sandwich, we drove (sober) about 20 miles, through more rain, back to Abilene State Park and spent the evening, warm and dry, inside our RV, listening to the sound of water dripping from the rain soaked trees.
We woke up about 30 minutes after sunrise and made breakfast of bacon, eggs and toast, before we began preparing for our final journey home.
Our RV camping trip to Colorado Springs was fantastic and memorable. It will be difficult to top! We are already looking forward to our next journey to the US Rocky Mountains.
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