Saddlehorn helped us kick off our 2016 road trip around Colorado, and while the campground left a little to be desired (not a lot of privacy), the access to some of the most stunning scenery Colorado has to offer more than makes up for it (flushing toilets and running water didn’t hurt either). Fruita, the closest town, is one of my favorite places in all of Colorado, largely because you’re so close to the hidden gem that is Colorado National Monument.
The Monument is super easy to get to from 70. If you drive nonstop from Denver, it’s about four hours to actually get to the campground. We stopped in Glenwood Springs for lunch, Palisade for some touristy things, and then Grand Junction for supplies at Walmart and the day was still very manageable.
There’s not a whole lot of privacy on the B loop, where we camped. We were basically right on top of the other tents, and the scrubby brush doesn’t provide much in the way of cover. If you stay on the far side of either loop, closest to the bathroom, you at least get some really good views in the morning.
If you’re there in the summer it’s very similar to camping on the surface of the sun. We arrived around 7 and by the time we actually got to setting up the campsite (after two trips to Fruita) it was 8 and we were STILL super hot. Our biggest takeaway from this trip was that western Colorado is a great place to go in any season except summer. Spring and fall are your best bets.
There are no tent pads and a not-insignificant amount of thorny things that lodge themselves in your tent, clothing, or bare skin. Ah, the desert.
Most importantly, you cannot use firewood in the Monument. The park ranger at the entrance casually mentioned that to us, and after looking at each other with a distinct “Well, F***” expression, we resigned to setting up our campsite before heading back to civilization (aka Fruita) to get charcoal. On a related note, Fruita is only about 25 minutes from the campsite and is a lifesaver if you forget charcoal. And batteries. And ice. And maybe have to make three separate trips as you realize you forgot each of these things throughout the evening.
The nights are fairly warm, which is actually kind of nice since I’m used to bundling up at night for camping. It was not too hot, not too cold, and all you need is a light jacket.
Campground Fees and Reservations
Since Saddlehorn is located at a national monument, you have to pay to get into the park and to camp. Since we were planning on going to multiple national parks/monuments for this trip, we opted for the $80 annual pass. Otherwise, entrance to the park is $10 per car and the campsite reservation is $20.
We reserved ours here, but we got there late on a Friday night and there were plenty of first-come, first serve sites still available.
Off. The. Chain. That’s still a thing the youths say right? Regardless, this is one of the major redeeming qualities of Saddlehorn. Flushing toilets, running water, AND electricity all greet you at the (very clean) bathrooms.
Saddlehorn’s other saving grace? You’re a stone’s throw from the trails and the visitor’s center. This is especially important in the summer, since as I may have mentioned, it’s hot as hell and you will want to start hiking early. We rolled out of bed around sunrise, were on the trail by 6:30, and were taking Instagram-worthy photos by 6:40. The Monument has super beginner-friendly hiking, jaw-dropping views, and a fantastic visitors center. Read my beginner’s guide to hiking the Monument here.
For some reason, I thought that being in the desert would mean no bugs. Instead, we were under siege by mosquitos immediately upon arriving. By 7:30 a.m., they were out in full force again. Another reason to make this campground just a stopover on your way to other sights and scenery!
If you forget anything, fortunately Fruita is only about 25 minutes from the campground. We made a trip for charcoal…and then a trip for batteries, so I can assure you it’s not a long drive. Plus, it worked out since the later we set up camp, the fewer bugs and the less oppressive the heat was.
If you want to get dinner in Fruita, make a stop at Hot Tomato for pizza. Copper Club Brewery also has great beer, and if you’re there in the morning, get breakfast at the Tacorado or at Best Slope Coffee (regardless, get coffee and hang out at Best Slope).
In case I haven’t made it clear by now, I highly recommend getting to the campground late, leaving early, and in general just using it as a base camp to get an early jump on hiking. If you go in spring or fall, that’s the ideal time to be in the Grand Junction area. The bugs and weather are much more manageable. Make sure this is an early stop in your summer road trip, or simply go earlier in the year!