Sometimes the stars align. Literally. Sitting around the fire while the kids slept soundly, we were able to enjoy some adult time with good friends while catching glimpses of the Perseids meteor shower overhead. It just doesn’t get much better- great conversation and shooting stars.
This particular August camping trip was born in May on Hewlett Gulch Trail while hiking with these same friends we don’t get to see often enough- an unfortunate byproduct of life in our 30’s.
Planning a camping trip in May for August might seem like plenty of time, but finding a weekend available at our top choice campgrounds proved difficult. Mountain Park and Chambers Lake up the Poudre Canyon- booked. Turquoise Lake and Baby Doe in Leadville- booked. Our friend finally found a reservable spot at Steamboat Lake State Park- a place neither of us had been before.
We did not plan our trip around cosmic activity (more so around our busy summer calendars) but by accident we ended up spending the best night for meteor showers in a perfect sky-watching locale.
Steamboat Lake State Park is northwest of Steamboat Springs near the town of Clark nestled in a beautiful valley with views of Hahns Peak. It’s a popular lake attracting all kinds of watercraft, from sailboats to kayaks, motorboats and pontoons to paddle boards.
The huge established campground has multiple loops with 188 sites some with lake views, others tucked amongst aspens, while others were in fields of low vegetation with no trees at all. Past beetle kill resulted in significant lodge pole pine removal. I know how drastically the beetle kill has altered places I’ve known before and after the epidemic, so I wish I’d visited Steamboat Lake before the beetle kill. Or maybe it’s better this way. It’s not a thick wood but it is still beautiful. We had plenty of shade at site 5 in the Arnica loop of Sunrise Vista Campground which also happens to be a popular thoroughfare for local mule deer.
I bet we could visit Steamboat Lake a 100 more times and never snag the day spot we did that Saturday morning. Again, stars aligning and what not. After breakfast we loaded up and drove down to the boat dock closest to our campsite and walked down a path to the lake where we had a picnic table, a shade tree- perfect for climbing- and a stretch of beach to ourselves.
The dogs and kids splashed, C ran in and out of the water over and over again, even getting her first taste of lake water after taking a spill. After a few tears and snuggles, she was back at it. Those who fish threw their lines in and one nice sized rainbow trout was caught. L climbed up and down the tree and back up and down, again and again. Now she is always on the lookout for another perfect tree. It was a little hard to watch, but was a good exercise in letting go of our historically cautious girl.
It takes a good 4.5 hours to get to Steamboat Lake from Fort Collins, but is definitely worth it. We drove up Poudre Canyon, through Walden and over Rabbit Ears Pass. If you have to drive four hours to get to a campsite at least this is one heck of a scenic drive.
Distance: 4.5 hours from Fort Collins (taking Highway 14 through Poudre Canyon, over Rabbit Ears Pass)
Amenities: Vaulted toilets as well as pay shower buildings that also had flush toilets, campsites have fire pits, picnic tables, tent pads. There is a marina, visitor center, and even a couple restaurants around. Firewood is typically for sale at the marina and a little general store, but both were sold out the day we were there but we were directed to a little museum that also had a self pay firewood stand. We did not go inside the Hahn’s Peak Museum, but maybe next time.
Highlights: Lake views, lake/beach access, prime stargazing, best climbing tree EVER at a great day use picnic area on the lake
Lowlights: Some campsites lack shade due to beetle kill, very popular
Tips: Got down right chilly our first night! Just a reminder to overpack the layers and blankets, especially with kiddos. Be careful playing in the water- it has a very muddy bottom that little feet can get stuck in. Bring your own shade.
Cost:$20 for non-electric sites, $26 for electric plus $7 day use fee
Availability: Memorial Day-Mid September: reservable 3 days to 6 months in advance Winter camping available at electric sites and reservable cabins
Hiking: We did not hike this trip but there are plenty of trails in the area to explore
Open Season: Year round
Would we go back? Absolutely! But this was a bit of a haul for a weekend trip. Might save another visit here when we have an extra day or two.
Visit Colorado Parks & Wildlife for more information