Campground Guide: Saddlehorn at Colorado National Monument

Saddlehorn helped us kick off our 2016 road trip around Colorado, and I was lucky enough to camp there again in 2023 for a girl’s trip.

The campground fills up quickly in late April since that’s peak time to visit Fruita (the closest town) and the surrounding area. In June, there was availability the day we arrived, but the bugs and heat were definitely worse.

The location can’t be beat (the National Monument is one of Colorado’s must stunning hidden gems), but the campground’s sites can be hit or miss. If you’re in a tent, a lot of the tent pads tend to be VERY close together and don’t offer much privacy. If you’re in a trailer, van, or camper, then some of the driveways are tight and extremely uneven. Keep reading for my tips to pick the best one!

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Is Valmont Bike Park Good for Toddlers?

As with all kid-related questions, the answer is “it depends!”

Valmont Park mostly caters to school-age or older riders, but the toddler options are totally appropriate for toddlers who enjoy riding their bike independently and like to pick up a little bit of speed.

My kid was 2.5 years old when we took them. They’ve always been more of an observer and slower to try new things, so I think we could’ve waited another six months to a year before taking them to Valmont.

Every kid is different, and I couldn’t find any pictures or details about the toddler area of the park to help us decide ahead of time. Thanks to yet another illness-related daycare closure, we made the trip to Boulder on a weekday to see what it was like!

There are two areas for toddlers at the park: The Toddler Pump Track and the Tot Track.

The Tot Track is paved cement and is super small, just a loop around the playground area. There are a few rolling bumps and a very slight bank to the turns, which is supposed to help introduce these concepts to little kids.

My kid was worried about falling on the concrete, so we headed to the pump track first.

A pump track is a bike track engineered to be ridden without pedals, based on your momentum built up by pumping your arms. Pump tracks are balance-bike friendly!

The pump track is much bigger than the Tot Track, but still small. It has gently banked sides and a few small bumps (less than six-inch drop) to roll over.

My toddler wasn’t comfortable going fast downhill yet, so instead of pumping/cruising on the pump track, it was more a slow shuffle around it.

We went on a weekday when 98% of the park was closed because of recent rain, so we had it to ourselves and my kid’s slow speed wasn’t an issue. It would have been if other kids were there.

Parents also aren’t supposed to be on the pump track with their kids. My kid was also not comfortable going around on their own. Since we were the only ones there, my spouse and I did admittedly break this rule and walked around the track with Toddler OB.

Toddler OB liked figuring out the pump track loop and spent 15 minutes or so doing very slow laps. My kid had ridden around our very flat neighborhood a lot on their balance bike, but this is how we realized they weren’t actually comfortable coasting down any sort of hill or bump. Which is totally fine, but maybe not the best fit for the park!

Their speed (or lack thereof) would’ve made a major traffic jam if other kids were there. Combined with us having to walk around with them, we would’ve had to just leave if other people were there.

After a few laps on the pump track, Toddler OB was game to try the cement Tot Track by the playground. It is incredibly tiny, so even though this was a better fit for them ability-wise, it only took about five minutes before they wanted to do something else.

My spouse and I were hoping to combine bike time with playground time, but the playground is pretty sparse and also only has equipment appropriate for school-aged kids. My toddler tried to use a couple pieces of equipment before we called it a day.

My kid has gained a lot more confidence on their bike over the fall, so I think next year when they’re closer to 4 years old, the park would be a better fit.

To have a good time, your kid should be independent on their bike and want to ride it without you right next to them. They should also be comfortable coasting downhill and enjoy building up speed.

We ended up spending more time at Southern Sun Brewing than Valmont, but it was still a fun outing! Let me know if you try it out and what your kid thinks of it. Our friends with school-aged kids can spend hours there!

Please make sure to always have your kid in a helmet when you bike!

Beginner Campground Guide: Gateway RV Park in Carbondale, CO

Gateway RV Park is just outside of Carbondale in the Roaring Fork Valley of Colorado. Sandwiched between Aspen and Glenwood Springs, your options are endless for outdoor activities. Those two locations aren’t known for their affordability, so staying at Gateway made a normally splurge-y destination much more budget-friendly.

Gateway has all the RV amenities you need (hook-ups, bathrooms, dump site, etc) plus extremely friendly and knowledgeable campground hosts. The campground has great views of Mount Sopris and the Roaring Fork River, plus it’s easy to grab dinner in town in Carbondale if you don’t feel like cooking.

Driving Conditions

From Denver, the drive is very straightforward along major highways. The most confusing part of the drive is the access road to the campground. From Highway 82, the directions tell you to turn right onto Satank Road. You see a sign for the RV Park boat ramp, but it’s vague enough that it didn’t seem like that was the same as the RV Park itself. Plus, Satank Road is really tiny and barely noticeable on the side of the road. So I confidently told my spouse, who was driving, “nope that’s not the turn, keep going!”

I was wrong.

There is nowhere to turn around, especially with a trailer in tow. We had to drive 10 more minutes into Carbondale, found a gas station large enough to turn around in, and then get back of out of Carbondale to the campground turn. At the end of a long drive with a toddler, it felt like a big hurdle.

So when you see the little bitty road and think “surely that’s not it!” Yes, that’s it. The signage is really confusing, but that’s where to turn for the RV Park.

The park itself is all gravel, and the last section of road to get into it is also unpaved. It’s a bit narrow for two-way traffic, particularly if you’re towing, so go slow and you’ll be fine. Overall, people were very courteous in yielding to the person towing something and everyone followed the speed limits.

Choosing a Campsite

There are full hook-up (electricity, sewer, and water) campsites as well as electric and water only. The campground is small enough that the bathrooms were always close by, so we decided to save some money and just get electric and water.

Sites 15-19 are electric and water only. They’re on the river side of the campground instead of right by the highway. You also get great views of Mount Sopris!

views of roaring fork river and mt sopris with two people cheersing beers in the foreground
View from Site 15

We stayed in site 15, which we thought ended up being the best site in the campground. At first, we were concerned about being right by the entrance. But since the RV park is so small, there aren’t a lot of people coming and going and it was perfectly peaceful. This also meant we only had another campsite on one side of us, which gave us a little more privacy. We had a perfect view of Mount Sopris, plus we weren’t far from the bathrooms or the garbage dumpsters (but far enough not to smell them!).

The only drawback to site 15 was the very steep drop-off at the back of the campsite. The rock border in the above picture is where the hill starts.

Fortunately, Toddler OB was savvy enough to realize it was a huge hill they didn’t want to go down. If you don’t have a back-up camera on your trailer (we didn’t), make sure to have one person out of the car to make sure you don’t go too far back! If you don’t have kids, it won’t be an issue once you’re parked.

Most of the full hook-up sites in the middle (9-13) were taken up by big rockstar buses. The other side had other smaller trailers, but you’re up against the highway, so it’s not as nice of a view.

Lots of Google reviews complained about the highway noise, but we never noticed it even though we slept with the windows open both nights we were there. The river does a good job of cancelling out a lot of noise, but it also just wasn’t that noticeable. Maybe the town has decreased speed limits over the years? Either way, it wasn’t an issue.

Campsite Amenities

The campground is all gravel, which was only a problem because our main plan for occupying Toddler OB while we set up the trailer is usually pulling around a toy on wheels. That didn’t work on the gravel, so we parked them in front of a large bucket of snacks instead.

We were initially worried that the gravel would make it hard to level the trailer, but our site ended up being almost completely level already. The RV Park is really nicely done!

There isn’t a ton of shade, but there are trees around some of the sites (marked on the map online). Every campsite has a picnic table and a fire ring with enough room to sit around.

The river (and accompanying bike path) is right by the entrance to the campground. The Rio Grande Trail is a paved bike path that goes all the way to Glenwood Springs or Aspen. If you have bikes, you can bike right into Carbondale in about 10 minutes which can be a nice alternative!

satellite view of Gateway RV Park and boat ramp, with a pink line drawn between the two to demonstrate how to get to the boat ramp from the campground
Route from the campground (top) to the boat ramp (bottom right)

The boat ramp is right below the campground, but you have to go back out to the entrance and then retrace your steps down the hill to actually get to it. It’s an easy walk if you don’t have kids or mobility issues. There’s a parking lot at the boat ramp, which at first seemed silly to drive down to, but if you’re going at toddler speed I would recommend it.

The boat ramp is a great starting off point for fishing, SUPing, rafting, etc. If you have a kid, it’s also a great place for throwing rocks. It wasn’t too busy during the week in late May, and there’s plenty of room to get out of the way for people actually using the ramp for boats.

Toilet Situation

There’s a centrally located bath house with running water and electricity. There are showers and toilets and the entire bathroom was super clean. There’s a code to get into the bathroom, which I saved in my phone after struggling to remember it.

The bathrooms are separated by men/women, and there isn’t a unisex/gender-inclusive bathroom. Since most of the sites have sewer hook-ups, I was always the only one in the women’s bathroom, so you do get a lot of privacy.

Nearby Activities

Beyond the campground, there’s the town of Carbondale, which has lots of great restaurants and a cute downtown to explore. There’s also plenty of hiking options, although we didn’t try any. If you have kids, there’s also a public pool, playground, and bike park in town. If you’re staying for a while, there’s also a nice rec center with a gym.

Glenwood Springs is 20 minutes north, where the main attraction is the Hot Springs Pool in downtown. There is an awesome area for kids (little to elementary school age) that’s totally separate from the main pools. The main pool is huge, so there’s plenty of room to spread out and relax. We had a blast, even with a third of the pools under construction as of Spring 2022. The pool’s restaurant isn’t too heinously overpriced and the food is actually quite good!

The pool was our splurge of the trip, costing over $50 for the three of us in May 2022.

a toddler faces away from the camera toward a set of three water slides while their parent sits next to them
Considering the water slide options in the kid area

Maroon Bells and Aspen are about an hour southeast of Gateway RV Park. This iconic Colorado view does require reservations and a bit of advance planning. The below pictures were taken about 30 yards from the parking lot, so it doesn’t require any hiking! A number of backpacking/long-distance trails leave from here, though, so if you want to get into more you can.

Since we came before the summer high season, we could get parking reservations at Maroon Bells and not have to worry about the shuttle. We got reservations for a weekday evening pretty last minute, which was the perfect spot for a picnic dinner and a little exploring! By the time we were heading back to Carbondale, traffic had died down and it was smooth sailing (people who work in Aspen typically can’t live in Aspen, so they commute to Basalt and Carbondale). This was also one of the most beautiful drives I’ve done!

Campground Fees and Reservations

As of Summer 2022, it was $44/night for an electric and water hook-up site. Reservations are required and can be made online. Dump station use is included. Tent camping is possible here, but it’s not a good place for it.

Overall Impression

The campground had mixed reviews online, but our trip in May 2022 didn’t have any of the issues people brought up like excessive traffic noise. Yes, you’re right next to a highway but we weren’t hanging out at camp much. We spent most of our time exploring the surrounding areas, which normally would be a huge splurge to stay in. Gateway RV Park was an affordable jumping off point for endless mountain fun!

Beginner’s Guide to the Best Running Stroller

A few caveats first. Running strollers are bonkers expensive, so it’s a privilege to be able to consider “which $600 stroller is the best for me?!?!?” I know that, and if you can’t swing spending this much money on a stroller, I get that.

Also, baby gear companies lead you to believe you have to get a stroller for every scenario: a running stroller, a walking stroller, a travel stroller, a convertible bassinet, etc etc etc. My spouse and I were philosophically opposed to accumulating a bunch of cumbersome sh*t for our new babe.

We wanted ONE stroller to do a lot of things well, even if it wasn’t *perfect* for running. That’s where we started our search.

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Beginner Campground Guide: Chatfield Lake State Park

Chatfield Lake State Park is a great off-season escape for trailer or RV camping. It’s a particularly good place if you’re a trailer/RV newbie like my family! We chose Chatfield for our first outing because it was easily accessible from 470, had pull-through campsites, and was also close to civilization in case we needed to bail.

You can tent camp at Chatfield, but I wouldn’t recommend it since you’re in a sea of RVs and trailers. There also isn’t a *ton* of shade, so I think summer camping would be pretty toasty. All that sun was exactly what we wanted in March, but on a 90 degree day, it could be a little overwhelming.

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