Sunday, January 3, 2016

Strawberry Soak and Difficult Aspen

(By Karen)
My only excuse for being so far behind in posting is starting a new job with the County resulting in a big learning curve and still trying to get away as many weekends/weeks as possible. I guess it is also a little due to my obsessive reading of soooooo many other blogs!

Toward the end of September, after leaving Dillon Reservoir in Frisco, Colorado we headed north to a town we had never been to yet - Steamboat Springs. For many years, we heard about Strawberry Park Hot Springs. We hoped that since we were arriving on a Monday, we wouldn't have a problem getting a spot. Their website warns that the road in the last two miles is unpaved, steep and winding, not recommended for RVs and trailers. In the winter, there is a 4x4 shuttle and they warn that if you cause an accident or get stuck without four wheel drive, there is a very steep fine from the County and Highway Patrol.

We were a little nervous as we approached the last few miles. But, really, it was not the worst road we've driven with our camper. As we reached the parking lot, we were rather shocked that in the middle of the day, on a Monday, it was packed. Our original plan was that if we couldn't stay in our camper, we would rent one of the small cabins. Again quoting the website - NO RV CAMPING!

We asked at the check-in desk if there were any spots where we could park and sleep in our van. We specifically didn't say RV or camper. He told us that they were completely full including the small cabins and walk-in campsites. Bummer! But, we could soak until 10 p.m. and if we called at 8:30 the next morning, he might have a spot where we could park and sleep in the van. The website describes it as a tent camp site.

This rather long explanation has to be followed with the statement that this is one of the nicest hot springs we have ever soaked in. That is saying a lot because we have soaked in California, Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico.

Since we had some time, we drove back toward town looking for a boondocking site. We drove up County Road 38 toward Dry Lake Campground. This small forest service campground was also completely full. There were two spots near the campground that looked promising for overnight parking.

We honestly didn't see, until the next morning, that both spots had "No Camping" signs that were posted high up in trees. Oops!

After scoping out our (illegal) overnight spot, we headed into Steamboat Springs for some lunch. We found the Steamboat Smokehouse downtown. We both had the fantastic large salad. I had the side of chicken and Greg had the 3 rib side. Everything was delicious! We highly recommend Steamboat Smokehouse with it's BBQ to die for.

[Note: We read later that there is legal boondocking further up the road past the Dry Lake Campground as noted in the On Borrowed Land blog.]

Funky check-in "office" at Strawberry Hot Springs
Highly recommend lunch at the Steamboat Smokehouse
Delicious salad at Steamboat Smokehouse
The hikers "No Overnight" parking lot where we spent the night, obviously not alone.
These folks even pitched a tent in the middle of the night. 
As you can see it was a nice big open parking lot surrounded by beautiful trees.

We woke up early after a great nights sleep and drove back to Strawberry Hot Springs by the appointed time to see if we could score the one tent site that could accommodate our van. We were very happy to score this last spot for the night. It was fantastic. In addition to day and night soaks, we walked around the property and marveled at the architecture of the beautiful shower rooms, bathrooms and small cabins. They do not allow any overnighting in the parking lot at all. But, if you are staying in one of the campsites or cabins - you can soak until midnight.

Our campsite is in the red box upper left corner.
Map is from Strawberry Hot Springs website.

The incredible rock wall and bathrooms at Strawberry Hot Springs

The fantastic pools
Overview of the pools
Cute Hobbit House - massages and private soaking area available

The pools are all really warm/hot at about 101 to 104 degrees except for the one on
the farthest end which is a nice mix of the warm water and river water.
I think it was around 80 or 85 degrees 
Two smaller upper pools. The lower is perfect temperature for late night stargazing

Happy campers and soakers

Here is our awesome, private campsite at Strawberry

One of the cute little wagon cabins for rent at Strawberry

Agate rock wall separating the men's and women's bathrooms near our campsite.
Best camping bathroom anywhere!
[Greg's note: The Strawberry Park Hot Springs entry guys have a well deserved reputation for being rather brusk with guests. For us, the two guys we met at the entry station were fine and even helpful, but you could tell they do not suffer fools lightly. I think it's just a long held tradition for the entry guys to be rather stoic. They deal with a fair number of college jokers and the occasional person who gets a bit out of control. 

While we were there, there was a loud obnoxious burly guy, clearly under the influence, ready to start a fight with the entry desk guy when it came time for day users to leave around 10pm. You develop a thick skin dealing with that kind of stuff periodically. He didn't bother us but it must have been unpleasant for the guy working closing that night.

Don't expect exceptional customer service here, but if you realize this going in, you will be just fine - even great, but it's not Disneyland style management!  On the contrary. It's closer to the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld, but in this case, the Hot Spring Nazi. 

"No Soak For You," has been heard more than once by people who refused to go with the program. 

Just stay calm and carry on: Know the rules, step up, pay your fee (with cash) and you will be given delicious soup ... or in this case an unbeatable hot spring experience!  They don't take credit cards.]

We drove about 5 miles east of Steamboat Springs to Fish Creek Falls Recreation Area in the Routt National Forest. [North on 3rd Street, right on Fish Creek Falls Road for four miles to the trailhead] There is a nice hike to the beautiful Fish Creek waterfalls. We really enjoyed this hike. There are a couple of different routes to reach the falls. There are both paved and dirt trails. 

Beautiful drive to Fish Creek Falls Recreation Area
Our first view of the falls

Short, but nice hike to the waterfall

What a beautiful end to a very relaxing day
Did I mention our two delicious breakfasts at Freshies?
An absolute must do when in Steamboat Springs
Steamboat Springs has not seen the last of Sock Monkey Trekkers.

We had breakfast two different mornings at Freshies Restaurant. They have gluten free pancakes and delicious fruit toppings. A little pricey, but so, so yummy! Steamboat Springs has great places to eat, amazing boondocking, gorgeous scenery, healthy forests, wonderful hikes and maybe the BEST hot springs ever - oh yes - we will be back. 

Cool gas station in Steamboat Springs, Colorado
Our next destination on our nine day September Colorado adventure was Aspen. I really wanted to see the Maroon Bells, I had read Ingrid, read Suzanne and Box Canyon separate posts of their Maroon Bells hiking and camping adventures. I knew it was hard to get in, but we thought since it was the middle of the week in late September we would be okay. Silly campers. We drove up to the gate in hopes we could get into one of the campsites or at least hike a ways. No such luck. They were full up and we were turned away. Below is the closest I got on this trip. But, I will be back. 

My only view of the Maroon Bells

I was very discouraged and we set about looking for a place to camp. Every parking lot and most of the streets were full of "Don't Even Think About Camping or Overnighting Here" signs. Very welcoming!

Greg studied our trusty Benchmark Map and found a number of campgrounds outside Aspen on Highway 82. About five miles southeast of Aspen we checked out Difficult Campground in the White River National Forest. This forest service campground is on the Reserve America reservation system. Literally EVERY site was reserved for the weekend, but luckily - we were there on a weekday. Forest service campgrounds that are all reservable can still be grabbed for one night only if not reserved that night.

We lucked out and got to stay in the same spot two nights in a row, but had to sign up for one day at a time - just in case someone was able to reserve it out from under us the second night.

The campground was closing for the season on October 4th. 

It wasn't difficult at all!

Our beautiful camp site at Difficult Campground

The camp host warned us that there were bears seen wandering through camp
and one camper had a window smashed in by a bear.  Do you think this is the culprit?
Luckily the campground had bear boxes. 
A most excellent campsite. 

This is the life!

After we set up camp, relaxed for awhile and had dinner - we went for a walk. The East of Aspen trail was located just outside the campground and one can walk the almost five miles back down to Aspen, which we did the next day.

But, our first night of exploring the campground and trail at dusk held some excitement.

We walked for less than a mile along the trail away from the campground. We had flashlights in case we stayed out longer than planned (which we usually do). We walked through a few woods, and next to the highway and past some super, super, high end homes (I mean mansions). It started getting dark and we wanted to have a fire, so we turned around to head back.

The road into Difficult is lined with trees and bushes. We were talking about our next day's plan when we heard a large animal foraging in the bushes to our left. I nearly screamed. It was not Bambi, a sweet bird or a delightful squirrel. We clearly heard it thrashing, not frightened by our presence.

Greg and I both froze for a moment listening carefully. More thrashing and it was distinctly getting closer to us. We silently agreed to get the hell out of there and FAST. Of course, we didn't run. Just made very loud noises, sang and hightailed it back to camp.

The road felt like it went on forever! It is also hard to walk quickly while you are constantly looking over your shoulder for a large bear, bull elk or moose that we knew was probably just behind us.

Our plan for the next day was to walk to Aspen for some sightseeing. I noted what time it got dark because I was not going to be on this same road this late again.

Beautiful walking bridge near Difficult Campground
The aspen were in various stages of fall color beauty

A friendly raven keeping watch for bears.
He flew the coop without warning us of the bear in the woods. 
Greg being manly with his big fire to scare away any wandering bears
Nothing like a warm campfire on a cool fall night.
A wonderful walk into town along the East of Aspen trail

East of Aspen trail

Roaring Fork River runs parallel to the East of Aspen trail
for about three of the five miles between town and Difficult campground. 
Beautiful views
The hiking trail from the campground to Aspen is gorgeous. Such beautiful, awe inspiring views and most of the trail is parallel to the Roaring Fork River or lined with beautiful aspens. The homes near the trail will make you drool. (Greg says: "So much money tied up in multi-million dollar mansions that are used occasionally as vacation homes. Some people have way too much money!")

Greg has a love, hate relationship with John Denver music. His mother absolutely and completely loved JD. Greg heard JD continually at home and after we were married - whenever we visited his Mom. I even was able to twist his arm hard enough to get him to let me walk down the aisle to Annie's song when we got married. So, I was pretty sure I could also convince him to visit the John Denver Sanctuary memorial garden in Aspen. I've always loved his Aspenglow song.

Greg was a great sport. We always like to walk through botanical gardens and this was a beautiful one.

Such a beautiful memorial to John Denver

If you aren't a John Denver fan, but like botanical
gardens, this is a great place to visit. 

The park is full of large granite rocks inscribed with
John Denver song lyrics.
Perhaps Love is one of my favorites

Our five-ish mile hike back to the campground was pleasantly uneventful.
Single lane on Highway 82 past Difficult Campground
leading to Independence Pass
Very intriguing sign along Highway 82
Lots of boondocking - if your RV can handle it. 

Highway 82 views

We made it to Independence Pass
It was very chilly at over 12,000 foot elevation
Independence Pass has a number of great hikes and awesome views

Parking lot and pit toilets at Independence Pass

The road over Independence Pass between Aspen and Twin Lakes is not for the faint of heart.
It is listed as not recommended for RV's or trailers.
Although we did see a couple of tanker trucks on the road. 

So many great trails at Independence Pass

We stopped in Twin Lakes to marvel at the vivid fall colors

Really great boondocking spot off Hwy 82 in Twin Lakes
39.066988, -106.399905 at 9,245 feet elevation

Another view of the boondocking spot

Twin Lake

Despite all the NO, NO, NO signs we saw everywhere,
it was still a wonderfully fun nine day whirlwind through Colorado 
Another awesome Sock Monkey Trekkers adventure!


  1. Looks like a great! Fall in Colorado is so beautiful!

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  3. Wow you two have been busy. Love your pictures. Mom and I were at Independance Pass this year a little bit before the fall colors. And I don't think it was as cold as when you were there. Keep on trekkin'.

    1. Happy new year Evie. How is Joy? I hope you aren't getting too much rain in the desert.

  4. You two always manage to find the most beautiful places. Fall at the Maroon Bells is always the busiest. Next time you're in the area and need a place to overnight, email me and I'll share our spot in Basalt. Cheers to lots more exciting adventures and stunning scenery in 2016.

    1. I will email for sure! Thank you. We try to do as much exploring as my time off will allow. Can't wait till we don't have a schedule. How are the birds this winter.

  5. That Strawberry Park Hot Springs looks like my kinda place! I had hoped to make it there last summer, but ran out of time before the end of the season. Definitely "next time!"

    Did you happen to notice some of JD's lyrics had been "sanitized?" They left out a few verses that referenced passing the pipe and getting high. LOL!

    1. I didn't notice that editing. I was to busy singing and soaking up the beautiful views. I am going to have to find my picture of Rocky Mountain High. It would be funny if not so ridiculously uptight.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Now that marijuana is legal in Colorado, maybe it's time to go back to the original lyrics!

  6. Duh! Poems, Prayers & Promises. Bad John Denver fan, Karen. I haven't figured out how to edit my own comments yet.

  7. Suzanne - I just found my picture of Poems. WTF - I can not believe they did that? Watch the sun go down??? Thanks for pointing it out. Can't believe I missed that.

  8. Yeah, both were edited -- P,P &P lost "pass the pipe around" and Rocky Mountain High lost "friends around the campfire, and everybody's high" if I am not mistaken. uptight, indeed!


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