Campground Guide: Platte River Campground in Pike National Forest

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.

Directions

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.

Campsites

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.

Campground Fees

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.

Reservations

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.

Toilet Situation

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.

Nearby Activities

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.

Other Intangibles

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.

Overall Impression

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.

More Information
What do I pack to go camping?
How do I reserve a campsite online and make sure it’s the best one?
I’m going on a road trip, what should I pack for that?



 

 

Campground Guide – Big Meadows at Shenandoah National Park

Big Meadows is as close to an ideal first campground as you can get. With real bathrooms and a host of other amenities, it’s a great introduction to camping without sacrificing scenery. Here’s what you need to know before you go.

Directions

At just over two hours from DC, Big Meadows (and Shenandoah in general) is convenient to the entire metro area. You do have to take 66, meaning you will want to gouge out your eyeballs if you leave anywhere close to rush hour. This shouldn’t be an issue if you’re camping on the weekend, or if you can manage to leave by lunch on Friday.

Other than that, the drive is easy with plenty of places to stop along the way to get food or anything you forgot. Your biggest worry? Making sure you don’t speed once you’re in Rappahannock County. The cops will get you, and they have no mercy.

Campsites

Big Meadows is a large campground, with a vast majority of the sites being standard drive-in sites. If you would like to try your hand at walk-in campsites, this would be a good place since the entire campground is very flat (unlike the walk to many campsites in Colorado!).

If you’re wondering, “What is she talking about…I have no clue what the difference is between those options,” then read more here. While the campground is big, the area is still quite secluded and peaceful. All the sites have ample shade and you have a decent amount of space between you and your neighbors.

There are no tent pads, but every campsite has a firepit with a grate and a picnic table. Bear boxes aren’t provided, so you will have to store everything in your car. Rangers are vigilant about enforcing this rule, so don’t get lazy!

Big Meadows is also a good place to go with friends – there are plenty of campsites large enough to accommodate groups, and sharing a campsite can make the group camping experience all the more fun.

Campground Fees and Reservations

There are a few first-come, first-serve campsites that you may be able to snag in spring or fall, but if you head out during the summer you’re going to need a reservation (unless you want to get up at the crack of dawn to take your chances at first-come, first-serve). Reservations can be made easily online at Recreation.gov.

Tent campsites are $20 per night. You’ll also have to have a national parks pass to get into Shenandoah. The annual pass is money well spent, but does cost $80. It’s free for military service members, however!

Toilet Situation

Off the hook. Big Meadows has real toilets, real sinks, electricity and running water. Aww yeah. They even have showers (although they’re very rustic!) near the campground entrance.

Nearby Activities

Equally off the hook. There is a trail leading directly from the campground that hooks up to the Appalachian Trail, and being in Shenandoah you have more trails than you can ever hope to choose from within walking or very short driving distance.

The weekend that we went, we opted for the Stony Man Trail because I was still recovering from a knee injury and needed something that was beginner-friendly. This is an easy 1.6 mile loop – it’s uphill the entire way to the overlook, but at a very reasonable grade. Children and adults of all ages and sizes easily handled the trail right along with me, and you don’t have to give up on having a awe-inspiring view.

In addition to hiking, there is also an equestrian center if some horseback fun is more your flavor. Skyline Drive, which runs through the entire park, is an iconic drive as well with countless overlooks. There’s really no shortage of things to do in Shenandoah. We stayed for only one night since I had to work that weekend and I was DYING to stay longer. Big Meadows is centrally located, so you have easy access to everything.

Other Intangibles

The amenities at Big Meadows are second to none. Not only are there real bathrooms, real showers, and high-quality campsites, there is a legit restaurant at the campground entrance and a thoroughly stocked camp store. If you’re there and decide you hate camping, you can even upgrade to the lodge that’s not too far away. Everything you could want is provided for you…but if you don’t need it, you’re not sacrificing the traditional camp experience.

If you opt out of all the amenities (assuming you still use the bathrooms instead of a tree or bush), you still get an authentic camping experience. The lodge, restaurant, showers, etc., are all spread out across the expansive campground, so if you stick to the tent sites, you’ll never even know all the other stuff is there.

How to pick the perfect first 5k

Honestly, I could sum up this blog in one sentence. Make sure your first race is going to be FUN!

If you’re looking to sign up for your very first 5k, you’re most likely just beginning to run. I started trolling for the Perfect First 5k almost immediately after deciding to try out running. I wanted a concrete deadline of when I needed to be able to run 3.1 miles to keep myself from slacking off. I’m cheap enough that shelling out $35 to run around my own city is plenty of motivation to stay on track.

My only goal (and yours should be too) for my first race was to not walk. I am not in the elite athlete category, so I passed over any races that even mentioned qualifying for anything, course records, age group finishers, etc. And I found the perfect one: The Ugly Sweater Run.

That is a child's skirt. Billy is sporting a women's plus size turtleneck. Gotta love K-Mart.
That is a child’s skirt. Billy is sporting a women’s plus size turtleneck. Gotta love K-Mart.

Its name should give you a hint as to how seriously people take the race (which was not at all, unless you count how important having an awesome costume was). It was exactly what I was looking for: a laid-back, fun introduction to running races.

While the Ugly Sweater Run returns to many cities every winter, all you really need to look for is a race that looks more like a party than a gathering of disciplined athletic individuals. If there’s a theme to the run (and especially if you’re encouraged to show up in costume), you’re on the right track.

Some people might complain that these races are SO popular that running is miserable with all of the people you’re packed in with. But in my opinion, popular is good, especially for your first time.

A well-run race will release everyone in staggered groups, and being surrounded by other runners (many of whom are also beginners!) helps keep you going when you start feeling tired. Because you will. The adrenaline rush you get at the start line (or was that just me because they played Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You”?) will start to fade, but the herd mentality will help ward off your desire to walk.

Photo from Ugly Sweater Run's Pinterest
Photo from Ugly Sweater Run’s Pinterest

Most of the time, picking one of these goofy themed races automatically means they are catering to beginners, so the course will probably be easy. It doesn’t hurt to check it out, though. You can always do a trial run of the course (as long as its not along a major road ordinarily dangerous for runners…like the Ugly Sweater) and at the very least, you can get a sense for where the course goes, how hilly it is, and how easy it is to know where you’re going.

I will say that last year’s course at the Ugly Sweater was a little misleading since I hadn’t memorized all the turns. I thought I was running up my last hill and on to finish line glory, so I laid on the gas all the way up the hill. Once reaching the top, I realized, to my horror, that I had to turn and go another quarter of a mile. So find an easy course. Or make sure you actually remember the course.

If you’re going to a different city for your first race, doing your research on the course (or just the city’s geography in general) is even more important. I inadvertently ran the hardest 3.1 miles of my life when I assumed that a 5k in Omaha would be flat and easy. Don’t my mistakes – Omaha is freaking HILLY, y’all.

My last piece of advice is also a pretty obvious one – make sure you get something awesome from the race! Finishers medals are always fun, but make sure you’re going to at least get a cool t-shirt out of the run. The Ugly Sweater Run gives you an awesome beanie, plus had a Sam Adams-sponsored after party that entitled you to two free post-run beers.

Yep, that's Warren Buffett in a track suit running to victory
Yep, that’s Warren Buffett in a track suit running to victory

So when you’re looking for your first race, make sure you find a fun-loving, awesome prize-giving hell of a good time! Make your first race a party – crossing the finish line is all the more sweet when you’re running through fake snow and a giant inflatable igloo.

Beginner’s guide to picking the best campsite

Camping is supposed to be a simple way to connect with nature, but if you’ve never done it before, choosing a campsite can seem much more complicated. Whether you’re booking on Recreation.gov or navigating another website (or going analog and picking one out in person!) there are a few tips and tricks to getting the best one in the campground.

First, a disclaimer. The user experience on Recreation.gov (and some state websites) leaves a lot to be desired. I don’t blame you if you get frustrated, but this isn’t a tutorial for how to use these websites. This is a guide to the campground jargon and clues to help you pick the best location (hint: not by the bathrooms).

Which loop do I want?

Well, first, what’s a loop? It’s how campgrounds are organized. It’s basically the section of the campground where specific campsites are located (campground = the whole shebang, campsites = individual site that you book/camp at).

Assuming you are camping in a tent, you should consider camping on a tent-only loop or a loop that doesn’t allow generators. This is also sometimes referred to as a non-electric loop. On Recreation.gov, this information is generally listed in the Facilities section on the overview page that first comes up when you’re looking at a campground’s webpage. Camping on a tents-only loop is generally quieter and can make you feel like you’re a little more ~one with nature~. I personally haven’t found it that fun to camp in a sea of RVs when I’m in a tent.

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Our lone tent in the Kentucky Horse Park campground. We were seriously one of four tents in a campground of 100+ sites.

If you do have a trailer, or just a large truck, make sure to look at any vehicle length or night limitations for specific campsites. Because of trees, sharp turns, or tiny roads, certain loops may not allow vehicles of a certain size. Take these seriously because even if the rules aren’t enforced, you might get stuck!

Campground Amenities and Facilities

Vault toilets: not an actual toilet. Basically a glorified port-o-potty since it’s just a hollow toilet in a larger room. This does NOT include a sink or running water of any kind. Bring hand sanitizer, and if you have one, a headlamp since you can’t accidentally drop it into ~the hole~. Sidenote: do not ever look down into the hole. You will see things you will never unsee.

Flush toilets: A real, live, flushing toilet complete with modern amenities such as sinks, lights, mirrors, running water, and hand dryers/paper towels. Soap runs out quickly, though, so I would bring extra sanitizer or soap with you.

Make sure your campground has one of these options! You don’t want to be going THAT rustic on your first trip. If no toilets are mentioned, do not assume there are toilets! Not a good look for your first camping trip (or, to be honest, any camping trip I want to go on).

Drinking Water: Don’t also assume there is drinking water available unless it is specifically mentioned. Some campgrounds have nothing, some have water pumps that only provide water appropriate for washing dishes.

Firewood: A firewood vendor usually indicates that the park itself sells firewood at some facility on the campgrounds. A simple “Firewood” listing means there is a campground host you can purchase firewood from. You will need to be able to pay in cash if you are purchasing from a campground host. If neither of these are listed, plan on purchasing firewood at a supermarket or gas station once you get close to the campground. Remember, do not bring firewood from home! It is very harmful to the ecosystem.

Camp Store or Ranger Station: This means there is basically a mini-mart within a short distance from where you will be camping. Prices will be higher, but if you’re a novice camper, it can be super convenient to just be able to drive over to the ranger station and pick up something you forgot. Ladies – this is a great place for any emergency tampons or other feminine hygiene products you need in a pinch.

Not having a store or ranger station is not a dealbreaker, however. You’re probably close enough to some semblance of civilization (or at least you should be for your first time out) that it’s easy enough to go grab something.

Campfire Ring or Fire Ring: Basically, a fire pit. Every basic campsite usually has a fire ring or designated area to make a fire. Some have grates to cook things on, some don’t. Bank on there not being much of a grate to set food on and buy one of these handy dandy skewers. You’ll need it for s’mores anyways.

Things that only matter for RVs

Dump Station and Utility Hookups (Electric, Water, etc): The first is a place to dump your poo and the second is where you hook-up to get electricity and water. I’ve never camped in an RV so I’m not familiar with how these work, admittedly.

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Your average fire pit

What Does “Walk Up Campsite” mean?

It means you better be ready to haul all your crap up to the campsite from your car. Walk up/walk to/walk in all mean the same thing: you have to walk all of your stuff to your site, as opposed to simply backing or pulling into the parking space provided at standard sites.

The length of the walk varies wildly from 10 feet to a quarter-mile, so if you want to try out a walk up campsite, make sure you research exactly how far you’re walking. When in doubt, you can always call the provided phone number. On Recreation.gov, this is on the “Contact” tab at the top of the campground page.

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Walking up to your campsite isn’t the end of the world, but for your first trip it is REALLY nice to be able to just walk ten feet to the car. Plus, if the campground does not provide bear boxes for you to store food in, you have to keep everything in your car, which can make cleaning up after dinner and s’mores a pain (especially if you’ve had a few beers).

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Your car is RIGHT.THERE.

Picking The Actual Site

If you can book online, there will be a map for you to look at of the campsite. It will look something like this:

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You can zoom in and out on different loops, and when you click on one of the icons, it will most likely bring up a little picture of your potential campsite. This is a great way to check out how sheltered the site is and how close it is to other sites.

Trees are nice to have around your campsite! They keep you from roasting when the sun comes up in the morning, or getting blown away if it’s windy. It’s also nice to have a little privacy between you and your neighbors.

As for actual locations, once you zoom in on the map it should indicate where the bathrooms are with a restroom icon. You don’t want to stay RIGHT next to the bathroom, especially if they are vault (non-flushing) toilets because they are smelly. For bathrooms with flushing toilets, there’s less concern about the smell, but the exterior lights of the bathroom, sounds of people tromping back and forth, and the flushing noises can be a bit disruptive. Don’t be so far away that you won’t make it there if you get up in the middle of the night, but give them some breathing room. Same for dumpsters, although they’re not always marked on the map.

You can also tell which campsites might have a bigger gap between you and your neighbor. If you see one without a campsite on either side, go for it! Worry less about someone across the road from you then someone next to you, particularly if you don’t have many trees or bushes to separate you.

At super-popular national parks like Yellowstone, you don’t get to actually pick your campsite, you’re assigned one by the park. The one we were assigned was not private at all and dinner around the campfire was practically a group activity. My husband and I drove around multiple loops of the Canyon Campground and visited a few first-come, first-serve campgrounds while we were there and none of them had much personal space. We thought we just got unlucky with the site we were assigned, but really we just needed to accept that you don’t go to Yellowstone for privacy.

Campground Activities

Personally, I don’t go camping just to sit around and eat delicious camping food (although that is a big bonus). I go camping to also go hiking, so I want to make sure I have access to trails wherever I’m going.

Most campgrounds will have access to trails, but if that information isn’t already listed on the campground description, then try heading over to Trip Adviser or the campground reviews on Outdoor Beginner. You can also check maps of the park available online.

National parks often provide their own activities and programs, many of which will leave or take place at a campground. Interpretive programs are programs to help you “interpret,” or learn about, the outdoors. Think stargazing, nature hikes, and other ranger-led activities that help you learn more and better understand the beautiful sights around you!

Being in close proximity to some sort of civilization is also a good bet if you’re going out on your first trip. You’ve got plenty of time to head out into the wilderness, so start simple. Google your campground’s name and see what is nearby on Google Maps to judge this.

Happy camping!

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A weekend of no make-up is a liberating experience that I recommend for everyone.

Beginner’s guide to whitewater rafting

When my boyfriend first proposed the idea of going whitewater rafting, I envisioned the experience being something like this:

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Photo by Colorado Adventure Center

Much to my surprise, you can actually go whitewater rafting on completely newbie-friendly rapids. 80% of the ride you barely even see any white water. The rapids you do go through are totally non-threatening and are actually super fun! After witnessing other beginner rafters making their way down Clear Creek while driving on I-70, I began to think this was something I could definitely do.

Despite my newfound bravery, I was still dragging my feet about actually going…until my boyfriend’s mom said that her number one “to do” item was whitewater rafting when she and my boyfriend’s stepdad visited Colorado.

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Taking on beginner-friendly rapids on Clear Creek

How do I find a rafting trip that’s beginner-friendly?

My boyfriend’s mom is ridiculously good at doing extensive internet research, which I admittedly lack the patience for. Thanks to her aptitude for Googling, she (unsurprisingly), found a great company based in Idaho Springs called Colorado Adventure Center.

Quick aside…since we went in August, the water levels were pretty low. Water levels are higher at the beginning of summer, so your experience might be a little different if you go in June or even early July. Whatever company you go with, don’t hesitate to contact them to make sure you’re booking a trip appropriate for beginners. The staff doesn’t want you to get in over your head anymore than you do!

So what the heck do I wear rafting?

Figuring out what to wear was the most complicated part of rafting. I knew the water would be absolutely frigid, but it was also going to be a pretty hot day. Thankfully my boyfriend had no qualms about bringing an entire bag of clothes “just in case.” I brought all quick-drying layers (this means no cotton or denim!) as well as my raincoat and waterproof pants.

Once we were out in the sunny parking lot, I quickly ditched my rain gear and opted for running shorts and a long-sleeved running shirt that has really good ventilation. This ended up being the ideal combo – I had sun protection and a little bit of an extra layer, but nothing that was going to make me too hot. Typically, when you’re out on a river, there’s little to no shade. With the Colorado sun beating down on me, I was begging to get wet, so it ended up being overkill to worry about wearing a raincoat or something waterproof up top!

For your feet, I personally like renting the wetsuit booties. The first time I went rafting, I wore old sneakers, which was fine, but then I had to deal with SOAKING wet sneakers. And by “deal with” I mean that I forgot them in the car overnight and they cooked in all their smelliness and the odor was horrific the next day. The second time I went, I rented the booties and had no smelly shoes to contend with, plus my feet stayed dryer and more comfortable.

The real mistake I made with sneakers was wearing socks. Go barefoot so your feet don’t stay as wet the whole time. You could also consider water shoes or sandals that strap on your feet like Chacos or Tevas. Just remember to back dry socks/shoes/flip flops to change into when you’re done!

It’s not an option to not wear sunglasses. The glare of the sun off the water is blinding. To be safe, make sure you have Croakies or something similar so they don’t end up in the water. You can buy some cheap ones on Amazon.

Make sure to wear sunscreen (find a safe option here), but don’t put it on your forehead or above your eyes! You’ll have a helmet on, so you don’t need to worry about protecting it, but also you don’t want to spend the trip with your eyes on fire when your sunscreen is running into your eyes after being splashed by water. Ask my boyfriend, he experienced this agony for a majority of our day.

What is the rafting experience actually like?

If you have a big enough group, you’ll all just be in the boat together (four to six people, depending on the company). If there’s only a few of you, you might end up with strangers. It’ll be fine!

Your guide will go over all the safety information, how to use your paddle, and the basic commands they shout out at you to guide you through the river. Once everyone has a helmet, shoes, properly fitted life jacket, and paddle, you head down to the river. Everyone piles in and away you go!

The guide sits in the back to act like a rudder and lets you know what to do the entire time. For example, “Forward One!” means paddle forward once. Sometimes you need to paddle backwards, or just paddle continuously. The guide will let you know what to do and when so you can safely navigate rapids, other boats, and debris in the river. It’s important to listen to them the entire time!

Depending on the river, there might be some time to talk with your guide, or they’ll bless you with all of their local knowledge of the surrounding area. It’s fun to get to know them or at least learn from them!

At the end of the trip, your guide will help you get the boat into a spot to pull-out and get out of the water. The rafting company will pick you up (a lot of them use old school buses, which is a fun throwback) and take you back to your starting point (and your car). There are typically semi-private or private places to change back into dry clothes. Don’t forget to get a picture with the raft before you leave!

Whitewater rafting sounds super intimidating, but beginner rapids are often quite calm and good guides make you feel at ease! Most people going rafting with a guide company are total beginners, so don’t be shy about being upfront about your inexperience. The guide company wants to make sure you have a great time, too!

a whitewater rafting guide poses with a small group of people holding their paddles and ready to raft

The perfect beginner running shoes are probably waiting at Payless

My running shoes are starting to fall apart. There is a hole in the mesh over my pinky toe joint that is ever-increasing with each run I go on, stubbornly hanging on to my first pair of running shoes.

They’ve been a great pair, carrying me to some of my most exciting running milestones – first time running a mile without stopping, first time making it around the block in Denver without feeling like my lungs were going to explode from lack of oxygen, my first 5k, the first time I realized I was breezing up a hill that had previously made me gasp for air and question my sanity.

I realize to many runners, these milestones aren’t really milestones. They’ve accomplished great things with their shoes (and legs and lungs). They’ve run marathons, half marathons, personal record mile times, etc. But to me, still less than a year in to being a runner, each of those memories has become important moments that I can look back and marvel at.

Celebrating my first 5k, the Ugly Sweater Run. I took training seriously, but definitely not attire. Those penguin socks gave me the worst blisters of my life.

I knew my shoes were cheap when I got them. I found them on sale at Dick’s for about 60 bucks, and I had barely actually used them to run in up until a year ago or so. They’d done a lot of dog walking, sight-seeing, and even played in a kickball league, but little to no running.

Fast forward two years, and I’m at the Cherry Creek location of Boulder Running Company. I’m desperate to find a new pair of shoes that will be as good to me as my Saucony Ignition 3s have been. I’m being informed that they don’t carry those shoes (they’ve never even heard of them) because they’re more of a shoe that would be carried at Payless. If I want something in that price range, I can check the clearance rack. Ouch.

Let me preface this by saying that despite this initial bobble in customer service, I was thrilled with how helpful and wonderful the staff at BRC was. The girl helped my boyfriend and me simultaneously, pulling out dozens of different pairs for our very contrasting needs.

Anyways, I was taken aback by the Payless comment. First of all, I got these shoes at Dick’s Sporting Goods, thankyouverymuch. I like to think that although I still occasionally shop at Forever 21 (are you still supposed to shop there if you’re over 21?), I’m enough of an “adult” to shop outside of Payless for shoes.

Actually, scratch that. Payless has awesome deals and sometimes cute shoes.

And so what if my shoes had come from Payless? That didn’t make them any lesser of a shoe, or me any lesser of a runner, at least in my eyes. The shoes were a legit running brand (Saucony), they’ve always been incredibly comfortable, and I’ve yet to suffer any injuries or even minor issues from running in them. Didn’t this girl in her fancy expensive shoe store realize that these shoes were My First Running Shoes? That they had made me excited to run, been there through all the tough runs and the fun runs – the ones where I actually enjoyed a runner’s high instead of runner’s oh my god I’m going to die please call an ambulance why did I do this. These were awesome shoes!

The second 5k, this past May. My beloved shoes are barely visible, but they helped me up all the unexpected hills of Omaha!
The second 5k, May 2014. My beloved shoes are barely visible, but they helped me up all the unexpected hills of Omaha!

The point in all of this is who cares where you first pair of running shoes come from? Sports Authority, Dick’s, Payless, wherever. As long as they’re comfortable to you and are of reasonable quality, don’t let any external or internal voices tell you that they aren’t real running shoes. You were a real runner the second you decided to start running, ergo your shoes are real running shoes. Plus, if you actually hate running, wouldn’t you rather only spend $60 to find that out rather than double that amount (or more)?

My $60 shoes have been kick ass. I love them, and I will always look at them fondly in all of their holy, worn-down glory. So go find your first pair of running shoes, wherever they may be – just make sure they make you feel good when you run in them. That’s all that really matters.

Campground Guide: Green Ridge Campground at Shadow Mountain Reservoir

Campground descriptions usually read like a foreign language to the beginner camper, so without further ado here’s what you need to know before you go to Green Ridge Campground near Grand Lake, Colorado.

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There is a 100% chance that red spot is the tunnel before Idaho Springs.

Directions

Green Ridge Campground sits on Shadow Mountain Reservoir, about 2.5 hours northwest of Denver, making it an easy drive for an overnight trip or for the entire weekend. The drive takes you through Winter Park, which is a perfect stopping point for food, gas, etc. You will go over Berthoud Pass, meaning a big hill to go up and over.

Berthoud Pass can be a little intimidating if you haven’t driven in the mountains a lot, but it’s totally doable for anyone. Coming home was a little bit much for me, but I just pulled over and let everyone else go so I could go as slow as I wanted to down the mountain. If you want to get yourself acclimated to driving around the mountains, this is a great route to start.

Green Ridge Campground is a recognized location on Google, so just type that into your phone and you’re good to go. Stop at Elevation Pizza just outside of Winter Park if you get hungry on your way there – it’s one of my favorite pizza places in Colorado!

Campsites

All of the campsites have nice big tent pads (they measure 11′ x 12’8″). A tent pad is a slightly elevated surface that makes for a more comfortable sleeping experience since you’re not directly on the ground. Don’t let the word “pad” fool you…it’s not actually cushion-ey in any way, it’s just a flat place to put your tent that won’t harm the plant life. Each campsite only has one pad, so if you are camping with friends you’ll have to get two sites.

The lake and surrounding areas are beautiful, but the campsite loop where we stayed is a bit exposed. From what we could see of the other sites, they all seemed a little lacking on shade. Although there is a very steep embankment up to the reservoir, it was still quite windy which made for some interesting tent set-up! Plus, it is VERY warm in the tent once the sun comes up.

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We stayed approximately where the red circle is. Campsites to the left (I think that’s south in real life) were a bit more shaded, larger, and more private (next picture).
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Blue tent is sadly not ours – we were in that giant sunny patch you see in the background.

Every campsite has a picnic table and a fire pit, complete with a grate that fully covers the entire pit. It flips open pretty easily (even for someone with as little upper body strength as me!) and is handy if you’re cooking for a group. The campground host has a large supply of firewood that’s reasonably priced, just make sure you have cash to pay for it!

Each site also has a nice big bear locker, which is awesome because you don’t have to run back and forth to your car constantly (not that it’s very far away…but still). This place is busy enough that I highly doubt you will ever see any bears, but the lockers are a precaution that also make cooking and storing food much more convenient! Usually you have to keep EVERYTHING in your car.

Campground Fees

In addition to your reservation fee of $19 per night, you also have to pay a use fee for the Arapaho National Recreation Area (ANRA). This fee is $5 per day.

Longer term passes can also be purchased if you think you’ll be coming back a lot, or if you’re staying for several days in a row. The machine that you can purchase the ANRA pass from is not in the same place as the campground – it is on the same road, though. Turn left at the boat launching entrance prior to reaching the campground entrance and you will find the machine in the upper left hand corner of the parking lot. You can pay with cash or a credit card.

If you would prefer to set up camp and then get the pass, or if you forget to stop, you can also get there quickly through the campground loop to get to the boat launching area.

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Red circle is the ANRA permit machine. As an aside, I’m really thrilled with my freehand circle-drawing skills in Paint this evening.

Reservations

We camped at Green Ridge at the end of June, and made reservations in advance since we were going with friends and wanted to be reasonably close to each other. That being said, we arrived around noon on a Saturday and there were still several campsites available that were actually closer together than the ones we reserved.

There’s no cost difference in first-come, first-serve campsites vs ones you reserve, so if you prefer to live on the edge and take your chances, don’t bother with making a reservation. You CAN pay with a credit card if you reserve in advance, which is nice.

To reserve a campsite, go here.

Toilet Situation

The nice thing about this campground is that it has REAL bathrooms!! I have a higher tolerance for more rustic accommodations since I have been around horses all my life, and the bathroom situation at barns and horse shows is usually pretty tragic.

Gross barn memories aside, Green Ridge Campground has REAL bathrooms AND sinks. They did run out of hand soap mid-way through our first day there, though, so I would suggest you bring your own hand sanitizer.

While we’re talking about bathrooms, please note that they do not have showers. If you’re looking for a campground with showers, you’re probably not going to find one that’s not in a national park. Half the fun of camping is that you can be totally gross and no one cares! Unless you don’t wash your hands. That’s just unacceptable.

Nearby Activities

The Green Ridge Campground is right on Shadow Mountain Reservoir, and like every mountain lake, it provides some stunning scenery.

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There is a ton of hiking immediately surrounding the campground, including a hike that takes you into Rocky Mountain National Park. You can also simply walk around the reservoir. It seemed to be mostly flat and also on a nice wide gravel path.

You can also travel north past the dam and follow the river to cross into RMNP. If you’re not feeling that adventurous, you should still go this way to spot some awesome wildlife. There is an observation spot (complete with telescopes!) that points straight at an osprey nest, and on the sunny afternoon we were out and about, the ospreys were really active.

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Not where the ospreys are…I just really liked this picture from our hike. Full disclosure, I took this picture from a nice bridge, not any sort of bad-ass watercraft.

I highly recommend driving into Rocky Mountain National Park, which is just down the road outside of the town of Grand Lake. Turn right out of the campground, then go left at the fork by the welcome sign to Grand Lake and you’ll drive right in.

Other Intangibles

This is a dog-friendly campground, which is great if you’re also dog-friendly. If you’re not dog-friendly, you may want to reconsider. Normally I would tell you to rearrange your life priorities if you don’t like dogs, but I understand that people go camping for solitude and that usually does not go hand-in-hand with other people’s canine friends. However, our friends had a dog with them, and there were also a ton of other people with dogs, and we didn’t hear a peep from them in the early morning or late evening hours.

The dogs really enjoyed playing in the lake, so if you have a water-inclined pooch this could be a good spot, especially because it is one of the few dog-friendly campgrounds within reasonable driving distance to Denver.

Keep in mind that you can NOT go hiking with your dog in RMNP, so unfortunately your doggie pal does limit your hiking options greatly.

Overall Impression

While the campsites are a bit exposed (no shade = cooking alive in your tent once the sun comes up over the ridge), being so close to RMNP, the great scenery, and the easy drive from Denver makes it worth it. The bathroom amenities also make it a great place to try out camping for the first time, even if the wind (which could have been a fluke) makes setting up your tent a little challenging.

More Information
What do I pack to go camping?
How do I reserve a campsite online and make sure it’s the best one?
I’m going on a road trip, what should I pack for that?

The definitive guide to a concert at Red Rocks

While an outdoors concert venue may not traditionally fall under “experiencing the great outdoors,” the lack of information about going to a concert at Red Rocks led me to write this after my first concert last night. Hope this helps, future concert-goers!

Step 1
– Get There Early

Head down to the town of Morrison to wine and dine yourself (or in my case, margarita and queso myself) before the show. The concert started at 6:00 p.m., and we left the Capitol Hill area of Denver at 2:00. We drove into Morrison and hit our favorite Mexican restaurant, Morrison Inn (so Mexican sounding!), to enjoy some margaritas and things covered with queso.

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Photo courtesy of Yelp

I was SHOCKED that the restaurant was not even busy, and we could still find street parking without an issue. If you’re in the mood for something else besides Mexican, there’s an Italian place across the street that is always packed, so I’m assuming it’s good. Sidenote: I just looked up Morrison Inn on Yelp and the fact that it only has three stars should be considered a crime against humanity. One of the complaints was that the chips were covered in salt, so obviously they’re not of a sound mental state if they think there is a thing as too much salt on chips.

Morrison Inn not only has white queso but also has delicious food (we usually have a quesadilla and chicken nachos) and awesome margaritas in a ton of flavors. The watermelon marg is really good…it has just the right amount of flavoring without giving you the feeling that you might develop diabetes after drinking it.

Enjoy dinner, then make the drive back up to Red Rocks. We left Morrison around 3:30 and again, I thought traffic would already be really bad, but we just drove right in.

Step 2 – Do Not Trust The AXS Mobile Ticketing App

Before we left the house, we checked to see if we needed to print out our tickets or just see if we could bring them up on our phone. Download the app, AXS said. Display your tickets on your phone, AXS said. OOPS JUST KIDDING, now that you’re at the venue and have no way of printing, you can’t use mobile tickets, AXS SAID.

Yes, as we drove in, the app began claiming that “mobile tickets are not accepted at this venue,” despite saying just the opposite an hour before. We re-routed to the box office, where they can print your tickets for you if you have your order number or the credit card that you bought the tickets with. The girls at the box office mentioned this was not the first time this situation had happened.

Once you’re down at the box office, you get stuck being routed into the south parking lots (where you do not want to park), so we drove all the way out of the south entrance, back through Morrison, and back up to Entrance 1. Avoid all of this hassle by just printing your tickets at home.

Step 3 – Use Entrance 1 And Park On The Road

The main reason to get to Red Rocks early is so you can find a spot on the road close to Entrance 1, which is right off the main road. Entrance 3 requires driving all the way through tiny little Morrison, and when you have thousands of people trying to do the same thing, you will be stuck forever. We already got stuck in traffic during our lap around Morrison from the box office, and that was before 80% of people had gotten there.

Entrance 2 is still closed for construction, but the car in front of us finagled their way in to try to cut us off – they ended up in the same exact position, right in front of us, just farther up the hill. So just use Entrance 1.

You don’t want to park in a lot because they pack everyone in so tightly that there is no way you can leave unless all 200 of your neighbors are leaving as well. And then you’re all jammed in there together and have to crawl your way out. Parking on the road (pointed in the direction of the exit!) means you just get in your car and pull out. Everyone was courteous with their parking – I didn’t see anyone that got blocked in by someone desperate to park on the road. It’s not a bad idea to try to park close to the lot, though – that’s where the port-o-potties are!

Also, if you get routed into the first lot, drive to the other end and tell the parking attendant you need to go to the box office. They’ll let you back out….and then you can park on the road! This is the one instance that I am okay with lying.

Step 4 – Have The Time Of Your Life

With my first Red Rocks experience in the books, I can say without a doubt a concert there should be on everyone’s bucket list. Especially if you can be there for the 4th of July. Blues Traveler is there every year, and this year he had the ultimate 90s line-up with him: Uncle Kracker (meh), Smash Mouth (yes they played All-Star, and yes it was life-affirming), and Sugar Ray (Mark McGrath may not have his frosted tips anymore, but he sure as hell still puts on a good show).

They don’t have fireworks at Red Rocks, but from the amphitheater, you can see fireworks across the entire horizon, which is a sight I will never forget. Nearly 360-degree fireworks, the best music of my tween life, and beautiful Colorado scenery. Red Rocks has it all!

One last note – if you haven’t bought your tickets yet, I would get actual seats versus general admission. We were Row 33 and had a good view and a place to sit down between sets. Don’t forget to bring something to sit on, those wood benches get hard after a while!

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Beginner’s guide to what to eat when you go hiking

Snacking is one of my favorite pastimes, so I was super excited to write this post (and equally surprised it took me this long to get to it). Outdoors activities open up a glorious new world of snacking. What other reason could possibly justify the purchase of Sports Beans? Yes, those are a thing. And yes, they’re just as awesome as they sound.

As a self-proclaimed snack connoisseur, getting outside has not only provided me the opportunity to see and do amazing things but also to eat amazing things. Here are my favorite snacks to get me through a few hours of hiking (let’s be real, a hike of any length justifies bringing along any of these items). Some are outdoors specific, some are “real world” food, all are delicious.

Sports Beans

Yep, sporty jelly beans. I have to admire Jelly Belly’s efforts to expand their product line with sports beans. If you don’t like jelly beans, I don’t like you. You’re missing out and should try these anyways. Honestly, the main reason I like them is because of how hilarious the concept of a sport bean is. And the packaging was hot pink. And it’s an excuse to basically eat candy.

Apparently I've been buying the EXTREME version. Sports Beans gettin' crazy!
Apparently I’ve been buying the EXTREME version. Sports Beans gettin’ crazy!

Sports Beans are more of a pre-activity fuel since they’re basically all sugar and caffeine. There are people that are out for long enough that they need them during long hikes/bike rides/runs to keep going, but I honestly turn for home when I’m that exhausted.

The beans do genuinely give you an energy boost, which has been nice on mornings when I’m dragging a little bit (like the time we slept on the ground after our air mattress pump broke…). The pomegranate flavor is the only one I’ve tried because I didn’t feel the need to attempt to improve on perfection. However, do not eat them immediately after brushing your teeth. They are much less delicious then.

Beef Jerky
Somehow, I managed to live my entire life without ever eating beef jerky, 100% sure of the fact that it was completely disgusting. I have been a picky eater my entire life, but as I’ve gotten older I have had more trouble refusing to try new things in social situations. So if someone I don’t know very well shoves a food item in my face, I will politely choke it down. Usually, this actually has a positive result – me finding out I love something that my boyfriend has been trying to get me to try for years, much to his annoyance (falafel, tofu, and in this case beef jerky).

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After discovering how delicious beef jerky actually is, I’ve become completely enamored with it as a hiking snack. It doesn’t take up much room in your backpack, it’s very filling thanks to high protein levels, and I’m fairly certain it is impossible for jerky to ever go bad. Edit: I recently found a bag of what was formerly beef jerky in the bottom of my horseback riding trainer’s trunk at the barn. It CAN go bad, and when it does, it’s VERY bad.

My favorite kind is Jack Links peppered jerky, but my boyfriend also enjoys honey BBQ (this tasted too mustard-ey for me) and teriyaki. Amazon even offers a SUBSCRIPTION for beef jerky. That’s a real thing. A beef jerky subscription. Thank you, Jeff Bezos.

Trail Mix
Last summer, I fell in love with the sweet and salty Rite-Aid brand trail mix. You can buy it in massive bags, usually for fairly cheap and very often on a buy one get one free sale. Denver’s only flaw is that there are no Rite-Aids near my house, so my hunt began in the fall for my replacement mix. Sidenote: my mother legitimately offered to buy bags of Rite-Aid trail mix and ship it to me from Maryland. That’s commitment. Or the love only possessed by the mother of an only child.

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Anyways, once Trader Joe’s opened in Denver, I was introduced to their massive trail mix selection. It is impossible to not find a blend that you like. I personally enjoy creating my own by combining the “Simply Almonds, Cashews, and Chocolate” mix (guess what’s in it?) with a more traditional raisin-ey mix like the “Go Raw” mix, which has almonds, walnuts, cashews, and raisins. The chocolate mix on its own is chocolate overload (yes, it does exist. I was surprised too!), so doing a little mix and match produced the perfect blend for me.

ProBars
I’m fully convinced that ProBars descended straight from heaven. One bar will fill you up like an entire meal normally would, and all of their flavors are amazing. They’re made with only high-quality ingredients, and while the $3-ish price tag per bar may give you sticker shock, keep in mind that the bars legitimately serve as an entire meal. If you buy them in person at REI, you get 10% off when you buy 10 at once, but I’m not totally sure how long the bars are good for.

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My favorite flavors are Superfruit Slam and Chocolate Mint, but all of them are good. Plus, I only break out the ProBars for weekend adventures, so that also helps make them even more endearing. Delicious, keeps you full, symbolize outdoorsy time – what’s not to love?

Clementines
As a friend of mine recently said, clementines are oranges without all the bullshit. Easy to peel and eat, clementines are another of my favorite hiking snacks. Clementines are another great source of fuel that are easy to pack, relatively mess-free, and are obviously good for you too.

If you’re still not feeling any of the snacks I recommended, just pack something that is filling but not too heavy (both literally and figuratively). Food with high protein counts are good for long-term energy, but bring something that can give your blood sugar a boost as well so you don’t fade on the trail. Finding what works for you is what is most important!

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