Nothing is quite as nice, as the first camping trip of the year. It is always filled with a little extra excitement and anticipation. It is a great chance to ease into camping for the year, test new gear, and fall back in love with the outdoors after a very long winter trapped inside. Safe to say camping at Lathrop State Park was just that, a welcome, warm and sunny escape.
Only 3 hours from Denver, it was a the perfect getaway without being too far from home. It checked all of our boxes for a weekend vacation, nature, heat, desert, kayaking, swimming and even golf. While we didn't get to partake in everything we had planned it was still a spectacular weekend away.
Part of the draw for Lathrop is the swimming lakes. If you have spent anytime in Colorado you know finding places to escape the summer heat can be a challenge. If you aren't willing to take on icy cold high alpine lakes, or snow melt rivers, your options are limited. Pair this with, kayaking, and a sandy beach you can see why Lathrop was an easy pick for us.
While we had pre planned a round at the 9 hole golf course, we left most of the weekend flexible. In true vacation style we had all the options before us, but we napped in the sun through most of them.
If you know me I like to do it all, up and out early, hiking, kayaking, the works; if you know my husband you know he moves at a considerably slower pace. He is more of a sleep in, lounge in the shade kind of guy. When it comes to outdoor adventure we are a bit of opposites attract, but we both find deep peace, and energy being out in nature.
We have to give and take to find balance, he spends are a fair bit of time trying to keep up, and I spend a fair bit of time reassuring him, that I am completely happy to set off alone for a few hours while he relaxes back at camp. It is one of those things that we had mastered when living on the road full time, but comes with practice and can feel like a struggle at the start of every camping season.
The list of things I had planned for the weekend far exceeded the amount of time we actually had, per usual. While in the past that would have left me frustrated and unsatisfied with our trip, I am working on going with the flow a little more often, and not feeling down about activities not completed.
Three-ish Days in the foothills of the Spanish Mountains. We set of somewhat early on Sunday Morning, managing to miss most of the traffic around Castle Rock and Colorado Springs. If you live in the Front Range you know well that construction traffic is always in the way, be prepared and leave at a good time or your 3 hour drive could quickly turn into a 4+ hour one.
Luckily our drive was easy, and we arrived around 2 in the afternoon, just enough time to setup camp before that afternoon thunderstorms rolled in. We had been hoping to escape the rain by heading so far South but unfortunately the storm clouds followed us down into the desert. This inevitably was part of the reason we didn't get to kayak this weekend, with one evening spent dodging rain, our outdoor adventures were cut slightly short.
But that doesn't mean we didn't enjoy our time camping, we relaxed and napped while listening to the rain and thunder, before watching the sunset across the mountains as we prepared for a real treat, getting to build a campfire. Something we have only enjoyed once since moving to Colorado because of the fire bans.
Our second day we were greeted with clear sky's and a gentle warm breeze, we started the day at the golf course. It was fun but frustrating, at over $60 for 9 holes, we spent far to much time dodging the mowers and feeling like we were in the way. We really enjoyed our first 4 holes, but as the mid day heat set in, my game inevitably got worse, the drone of the mowers followed us around the course, we gave up and headed down to the lake to escape the heat.
We found the perfect little cove to escape the sun and heat, no one for what seemed like miles, and only the occasional cars that passed down the gravel road. We had planned to swim and kayak from this location, but upon finding a nest with two very large bull snakes we opted to toss up the hammocks and nap the afternoon away.
This few hours relaxing by the waters edge was absolutely a highlight for the entire trip, it was the first time we felt like we were able to escape the noise and people and really relax, we napped among the lizards and birds, and the mosquitos stayed away in the heat of the day.
After lounging lakeside, we headed in town on the hunt to find dinner, the neighboring town seems to have been hit particularly hard by Covid, most restaurants and stores were closed or had extremely limited hours, leaving the grocery store as our only option. We got a surprisingly good fresh baked pizza, ice and a few drinks before heading back to camp. I spent the early afternoon reading in the sun in wind, while hubby retreated to the tent for a snooze.
My plan for the evening had been to take off for a sunset hike and catch the last light along the ridge line. Hogback Nature Look is an easy hike about 2 miles long with around 200 feet in elevation gain. Unfortunately we left a little late, meaning a rushed hike up to the view point and missing the good light, but we hangout and enjoyed as the sun sunk away before heading back down taking time to look the the cactus and flowers along the way.
We finished the night with a lovely warm shower at the Pinion Campground, only $1.25 for a nearly 15 minuet shower was an absolute delight! We were planning on building another fire for the evening but quickly fell asleep for the night after getting back to camp. I woke up around 3am to find a perfectly clear sky and the milkyway dotted with shooting stars. I thought about pulling out the camera but opted to sit under the starts before climbing back into bed.
The following morning we were up early for breakfast, we decided to pack up and head to the Great Sand Dunes National Park only an hour and a half away. We were due to be out of our camp by noon, and had planned on spending the day kayaking and swimming at the lake, but the idea of playing in the sand was to great to pass up. So we enjoyed breakfast and mulled around for a few before taking down camp and hitting the road. We spent the day playing in the sand and stream, the flow was still running though it was not deep or fast, but it made for the perfect beach getaway for the day, all we were missing was boardwalk fires, though mint ice-cream was the perfect treat before hitting the road.
While we generally prefer the remote solitude of National Forest and BLM land, for this trip we opted for something a little different. We haven't camped at a state park since full-timing in 2017, and even then we only found ourselves at state parks when water, power, or a dump station was in need. So for us to pick a state park was definitely something new and out of character. Honestly, it was nice but I don't think we will be doing it again soon, unless perhaps heading to a heavily forested campsite.
Our site was nice, we opted for the smaller Yucca camp ground, designed to accommodate tent campers and smaller RVs and Campers rather than large RVs and A-Class busses you will find at the Pinion Campground. We had access to potable water and vault toilets which was convenient especially on the first trip for the year. We were camping out of our much smaller Mazda3 this time meaning we were limited on space; having access to clean safe water meant we didn't have to bring our usual 6+ gallons along.
Prior to booking I spent a fair bit of time reviewing the campsites via satellite view and topographic maps, trying to pick a sight that would give us a pleasant mix of trees and views. While we were greeted with stunning views overlooking the lake and off into the mountains and a perfect spot for sunset, we unfortunately had little break from the sun and the wind and no place to hang our hammocks.
We tucked our tent up into the trees to help break the wind coming up the hill and block the noise from our neighbors generator, but we were still left feeling exposed. In addition to the noise of neighbors the Yucca Campground is unfortunately very close to the road, meaning we very rarely caught a moment of quite from the highway rushing past. Even in deep into the night you could hear cars whizzing by and the train horns in the distance.
Its is easy to see that the view is the highlight of our campsite, but the covered picnic table was also a dream, it gave us a comfortable place to make morning coffee and sit back and relax together; of course Lyra enjoyed having a place to lay and relax as well, though she opted for napping in the sun more often than shade.
If we stayed again, we would likely stay longer, there is a lot to do and see in the area, with the Spanish peaks only a short drive away, two lakes to kayak and swim and being a short drive to the Sand Dune you have lots of options! If we camped Yucca campground again we would opt for site 18 rather than 17, with slight better views, a more protected tent pad and space to hang a hammock, and only one close neighbor site 17, it seemed like the perfect spot. I would also make sure to bring ear plugs, the wind on the tent, and the highway noise was annoying at times and woke us up occasionally though the night.