I’ve had this idea in my head for a while about camping on the river. I was envisioning a very zen experience with riverfront camping – waking up and opening up the tent to be right on the water. The fact that I learned it’s actually a horrible idea to pitch a tent that close to water (flooding, etc.) is irrelevant, but in my quest to camp on the water, my boyfriend and I decided to try out a weekend at the Platte River campground in the Pike National Forest.
The Platte River Campground is about an hour and a half southwest of Denver. It’s on the way to Lake George (campground review forthcoming) and is, of course, a beautiful drive. It is a recognized location on Google Maps, so you can type it into your phone and head out.
There is a long portion of the last road you take out the campground that is not paved. It has very steep inclines and declines and is not exceptionally wide. If there is any chance of heavy rain, I would scrap this trip. If you are not comfortable with some off-roading (or own a sportscar or other low-rider), I would not recommend this trip. Going back to Denver is less terrifying than driving in, and the drive will definitely help expand your comfort zone of acceptable roadways in the mountains.
Although that one road is a little scary, there are spots to pull over, so when someone in an FJ Cruiser is riding your bumper and you start hyperventilating over said tailgater, wait it out and you will be able to pull over. Or they’ll just swerve around you while giving you a dirty look. This is all hypothetical, of course. It definitely didn’t happen to me and I definitely didn’t freak out.
This is another campsite with tent pads! Yay! To be honest, I’ve yet to actually be able to tell the difference between a campsite sans tent pad and one with a tent pad, but that could be because my last tent pad experience was also sans mattress/sleeping pad. It was a long night, but that’s for a different blog.
Every campsite has a fire pit with a grate as well as a picnic table. The sites are all pretty private – what they lack in surrounding trees, they make up for in space between tents. Another couple that had camped there a few nights before us said the campground host and his bros got pretty rowdy, but they fortunately (although this makes me question their suitability as campground host) did not return that evening.
If Mike or whatever his name was is still the campground host (you’ll be able to tell if there’s a tent with a TV set up outside – not kidding), I would not want to depend on him for firewood. He had none, and was not even around to take our camping fees (don’t worry, we paid them anyway). The point is bring your own firewood because Mike is not dependable/the worst.
It will run you $15 per night to pitch your tent at the Platte River Campground, and if you only want to spend the day fishing, it’s only $6. The rate drops to $14 in the off-season, which is any time except for summer.
Unfortunately, you can’t book online. That being said, we camped here in mid-August without reservations and had no trouble finding a site even though we arrived in the early evening. The campgrounds extends pretty far up a hill (all the sites are walk-up, did I forget to mention that?), so if you’re willing to schlep all of your gear, you can get a pretty sweet secluded spot.
Vault toilets! Get used to them. Learn to love them. Or at least tolerate them. And by that I mean learn how to breathe out of your mouth. The doors were a little slow to close on the bathrooms, which meant a LOT of insects had made their way in, which was basically my worst nightmare. The women’s bathroom was a swarm of unidentified winged flying things, so I opted for the men’s room which was much less populated.
My riverfront campground fantasy started to fade as I realized this particular riverfront campground pretty much only had a riverfront. Everyone else camping seemed to be in two groups – those who were there to fish, and those who were there to eat s’mores. The guy in the tent one site over from us said the fishing was excellent, so if that’s your bag, I definitely recommend camping at South Platte.
|Morning on the South Platte RIver. Beautiful, but the trail ends here.|
However, if hiking is more your flavor, you’re going to have to drive elsewhere to find any trails. There were also a ton of tubers upriver from us, which is another option if you want to do some water recreation. I can’t imagine the water is anything less than frigid, but everyone tubing looked like they were having fun anyways.
You don’t drive through a whole lot of civilization on your way out here, so that does limit your options in the event you forgot something. We found firewood at a random gas station, but there’s not much else out there besides more campsites and river access points. I would suggest stopping in Sedalia for anything you need if you’re coming from Denver.
The campsite is at higher elevation than Denver, so make sure to pack plenty of warm clothes to sleep in.
If you want to have some time out in nature to enjoy fishing, I would absolutely recommend this campsite. If you’re like me and looking for a good spot to camp and go exploring on some trails, I’d skip this site and look for other options to make your drive worth it.