Leaf Peeping Camping: Leadville

Quick disclaimer: Fall is not my favorite time of year. This feels like blasphemy to say in Colorado, where everyone seems to be infatuated with fall and flocks to the mountains in search of pockets of fall color. It’s impossible to dislike the golden, ombré colors of autumn in Colorado, but I am much more fond of springtime, when the days are long and the entire landscape is coated in an irresistible luscious green color and wildflowers of every shade and shape compete to be the most complimenting flower to the green landscape. Case in point, look at this springtime eye candy:

I can’t even pretend that autumn is my second favorite season because I would sooner choose winter over autumn. Fluffy snow or golden leaves? Fluffy snow, duh.

That being said, I’ll eagerly hop on the leaf peeping bandwagon when it arrives! And by late September in Colorado, it had indeed arrived!!

Autumn camping in Colorado can almost be considered a competitive sport because it’s not only about finding the perfect, hidden campsite with a golden-colored backdrop, but also being the first person to get there because camping spots, even in the remote backcountry, fill up before it’s the weekend!

We decided last minute on Friday afternoon to leave for our weekend camping trip right after the work day was over, in order to try to snag a camping spot before the busy leaf peeping crowds arrived. Since we had decided to leave on a whim with no planning, we had to think quickly about where to go. By autumn, with over 10 camping and driving/exploration trips under our belt, it felt like hubby and I had visited every nook and corner of Colorado and we should have been experts on knowing exactly where to go to find the most aspens with the least amount of people around… but we were drawing a blank!

We ended up deciding to revisit a place we had been to during the fall several years ago, Leadville. It had been a few years since we had camped near Leadville for leaf peeping season and the last time we had camped here, we had found the perfect, serene camping spot on a hill overlooking a landscape blotted with golden aspens.

Camping near Leadville, September 2016

We arrived late in the day on Friday to find that this once-serene area with a beautiful overlook had experienced a huge surge in popularity for fall camping. There were campers galore everywhere and people were so desperate to camp here that they didn’t care how close they set up their camp next to other campers. Even if we had found a spot, it would have been neither peaceful or private.

We improvised quickly and kept driving further down the forest service road and into the forest in search of more dispersed camping. It wasn’t ideal because we didn’t really want to go into the forest where the gorgeous overlook views had disappeared. Even less ideal was that the sun had long since set by the time we reached Leadville, so we were running out of light very quickly the further we went into the dark forest!

To complicate matters, the further we drove on this backcountry road, the worse our luck seemed to be getting in finding a camping spot. There were many, unexpected signs specifying that camping was not allowed down side roads that seemed to have the perfect, secluded camping spots.

Eventually, we had to give up and just camp beside the road on a small pull out. It was hard to tell in the darkness, but the spot seemed like it had a ton of aspens, which was going to be a wonderful sight to wake up to, but it just didn’t have much space to set up camp and was too close to the road.

The next morning, we woke up to find out we were indeed surrounded by an aspen grove that was ripe with bright fall colors! It was bliss, which is why it broke our hearts that we couldn’t stay there for our second night. With the pups and the amount of traffic that was likely to come down this busy trail all day long, we were going to be worried about the safety of our pups all day long.

After packing up camp early in the morning, we set out to drive further down the road and fully expected to have to settle on a much less scenic spot. Shockingly, we ended up finding a phenomenal spot overlooking a lake nearby. The trees in the distance were already past their peak color, but it was still a colorful and magical sight. We had thought we had lucked out with the best campsite ever!

…until we woke up at 11pm… then 11:30pm… then midnight… then 2am, and so on and so on, to loud campers nearby that apparently did not have sleep on their weekend agenda. We had never experienced a more frustrating camping experience. I was so enraged and sleep-deprived that when they finally seemed to fall asleep by 4am, I had already thought of a handful of ways I could seek revenge on them for ruining what should have been a peaceful night of sleep in the woods. On the other hand, having the physical energy to follow-through with any of my ideas was another story, so we simply woke up as early as we could (6am), slammed our vehicle door closed as many times as we could, and talked as loudly as we could while we packed up… knowing full well that none of these tactics probably bothered our obnoxious, night owl neighbors who were probably dead asleep after their eventful night.

And now I have one more reason to dislike the fall season with the busy, leaf peeping crowds it draws. At my age and with my horrible memory though, it’ll be easy enough to forget these few bad experiences and only remember what we captured in photos.

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