5 Alternatives To Car Camping This Summer

car camping
Jason Jones, Flickr

If you’re the outdoorsy type, it’s hard not to enjoy car camping, as long as you find a destination and campground that are compatible with your interests and needs. Not that I’m speaking from experience, but … let’s just say the romantic, roughing-it weekend my ex and I had planned in southwestern Colorado a few years ago turned into pitching a tent in a trailer park populated by elderly snowbirds.

If you’re carless, or want something more adventurous/rigorous/off-beat, or safe for your bad back, I’ve got a few alternatives for your consideration. The good news is, the price points for these adventures ensure there’s at least one that will fit your budget. Depending upon where your travel plans are taking you, some regions even specialize in these types of camping trips. So get online, do some research and don’t forget the sunscreen. Happy Trails.

Hut trip
There are hut systems located all over North America (as well as in other alpine terrain worldwide); perhaps the most famous are Colorado’s 10th Mountain Division Huts. Whether you’re a novice hiker or a backpacking machine, there’s a hut hike suited for you. Tip: book well in advance. You can sometimes find last-minute beds, but this type of trip really requires advance planning.

pack trip
Alan English CPA, Flickr

Pack trip
If mountains are your thing, get on a horse or mule and take a pack trip. The Sierras, Rocky Mountains, and Cascades in particular are known for their alpine scenery and well-regarded pack trains. Tip: there’s no reason you can’t do a pack trip if you’re a novice rider, but you need to choose the right outfitter and destination; many trips are for experienced riders (you can even bring your own horse sometimes).

Sea kayak
I love sea kayaking, but I’m too novice to attempt a big paddle on my own. When I was living in Seattle a couple of years ago, I found an outfitter who, for a reasonable price, took me on a private paddle out to one of the many deserted islets off of Puget Sound’s Whidbey Island. We camped, watched bald eagles, gorged on a Marionberry pie picked up en route, and what do you know? He taught me how to read a tide chart well enough to give me the confidence to try this type of mini-excursion by myself.

sea kayaking
UK Ministry of Defence, Flickr

Water taxi
Some coastal, riverfront, or lakeside destinations offer water taxis to get you to and from your campsite. Although Kauai no longer offers this service for return hikers coming off the famous Kalalau Trail, there are plenty of other exotic options. I once took a water taxi from Picton on the South Island of New Zealand, in order to embark on a two-day hike of the gorgeous Queen Charlotte Track. Bonus: a pod of dolphins kept pace with us the entire ride out.

Shuttle it
Sometimes, it’s just not practical or possible to do a backpacking or camping trip with a car. In a couple of weeks, for example, I’m going to do Colorado’s West Maroon Pass, which is a roughly 11-mile hike over the Elk Mountains, from Crested Butte to Aspen. Since I’m going it alone, I’m arranging for Dolly’s Mountain Shuttle to bring me back. This Gunnison Valley-based airport shuttle addition also offers summertime returns for hikers coming off the Pass. At $60 a seat (as long as they have more than one passenger), it’s worth the price to not have to sort out the logistics of a car swap or transport. Best of all, you can take a nap after all that walking.

Allegiant Air Offers Two-For-One Deal To Telluride Ski Resort

penniesBay Area- and Arizona-based snow lovers, rejoice! Allegiant Air, in collaboration with the Telluride Montrose Regional Air Organization, Telluride Ski Resort and Crested Butte Mountain Resort, is offering non-stop, two-for-one airline tickets. Travelers can fly to Montrose Regional Airport (70 miles from Telluride; Colorado Mountain Express is the local shuttle), via either Oakland International or Phoenix-Mesa airports.

Deals of this type are unheard of when it comes to premier ski destinations; as a former Telluride resident, I can attest to that. Even better, Allegiant is offering one-way fare from Phoenix starting as low as $46.99 one way ($93.98 round trip; flight times vary). Flights from Oakland start at $49.99 one way ($99.98 round trip, ditto), all winter long.

The Montrose flights began December 15, and conclude April 3, and are based upon availability. Tickets must be purchased by February 28, 2013, for the two-for-one offer, for use by April 3, 2013. For a complete flight schedule, click here.

But wait: there’s more! Telluride Ski Resort and Crested Butte Mountain Resort have launched an Ultimate 6 Pass, a 6-day pass good for three days of skiing and riding at each resort. That means you can use the centrally located Montrose airport for travel arrangements, and hit two of the Rockies’ most epic mountains in one vacation.

[Photo credit: Flickr user r-z]

Telluride’s Hotel Madeline gives the gift of all-inclusive holiday ski packages

ski packages coloradoI don’t know about you, but all I want for Christmas is a ski holiday in Telluride, Colorado. Call me biased, but as an on-and-off resident for five years, I consider it the most beautiful, authentically Western ski town in the Rockies, and the top resort in the U.S..

When it comes to actual skiing, there’s 2,000-plus acres, never a lift line, and if you love steeps, off-piste, moguls, and serious pow, this is the place. Did I mention the annual average of 300 inches of snow and 300 days of sun? Located at the end of a box canyon in the heart of the San Juan Mountains in southwestern Colorado, Telluride is remote, but worth the effort to get there.

The actual “ski resort” area in Telluride is Mountain Village, a 15-minute ride up the free gondola, or a seven-mile drive up Hwy 145. Mountain Village is actually an incorporated town, an “affluent” community with a handful of luxury hotels and condos, rental homes, and McMansions, and shopping, dining and apres-ski venues. If you’re debating which town to stay in, it depends upon what you’re looking for. If you want a true local’s experience, and the convenience of being stumbling distance from apres-ski to dinner to bars to bed, choose Telluride. It’s also worth noting you can catch the gondola or two chairslifts if you stay in Telluride.

If you’re looking for a full-on luxury ski holiday and a ski-in/out property (or one with a spa), get up to Mountain Village and book yourself into Hotel Madeline. The luxury property was rebranded in February, 2011, and it’s a gem. Done up in a quasi-Euro-mod style, it’s located in the heart of the Village, and offers spectacular mountain views from every angle.

With 100 condominium hotel rooms and 60, one-, two-, three-, and four-bedroom condo residences, the Madeline also features spacious, quiet rooms in soothing natural tones, spectacular customer service, the Spa Linnea, indoor heated pool and jacuzzi, a ski valet, the swanky Bar M (popular for apres-ski), fine-dining at M’s Restaurant, climate-controlled parking (these things matter, trust me), and free candy by the fistful in the hotel lounge. What’s not to love?

More to love are this ski season’s specials, which include an “All-Inclusive Holiday Package” of six nights in a King room; round-trip transportation to Montrose Airport (70 miles p/w); two, five-day lift passes; daily breakfast or dinner for two; Performance Package equipment rentals from on-site Neve Sports, and a resort credit of $100.00 for use in the hotel Spa, bar, or restaurant, or at 9545 Restaurant at venerable sister hotel Inn at Lost Creek, a few minutes walk away. Package price for two is $3,737.00/$1,868.50 p/p, valid December 19 through January 2, 2012, taxes included.

Other winter specials include the “Just One More Night” package: stay seven nights and receive eighth night free, as well as similar attributes to the Holiday Package; pricing for two from $6,500/$3,250.00 p/p. Valid December 19 through January 2, 2012, and February 17-25, 2012, taxes and gratuities included.

Check Hotel Madeline’s website for more specials applicable through the end of the season (April 8th), or go to the Inn at Lost Creek website for their ski season specials. There, all guests have access to complimentary daily ski waxing, edge de-burning, and on-slope valet service with immediate lift access and trail access, and individually-designed suites with stone fireplaces, jetted tubs and steam showers, and kitchenettes.

For more information on Telluride Ski Resort, click here.

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10 days, 10 states: Durango, Colorado

“I’m going back to Colorado, rolling down the highway, just my life to carry, it’s written in the wind again” -Ozark Mountain Daredevils

From the corner barstool of Carver Brewing Co., my earthy colored oatmeal stout is a welcome compliment to the outdoor mountain air. Set in the heart of Durango, Colorado’s gridlined downtown, the eclectic crowd of trendy college students and weather-hardened ranchers is mirthfully keeping the craft-brewed taps flowing.

Aside from being the dark, perfectly roasted flavor of my Iron Horse stout, the flavor of oatmeal is an apt metaphor for what is southwestern Colorado’s largest town; home to a population of 16,000 residents, Durango is large enough to be eventful, but small enough to seem homey. Like the porridge, it’s just about right.

I’ve come to Durango whilst researching, “10 days, 10 states, 10 great American sights”, and during a leisurely amble down the banks of the Animas River, its brisk waters aglow with fallen yellow leaves, it’s a safe bet to say that this town is really growing on me. Fast.

First populated by the Anasazi tribes, Native Americans whose cavernous stone cliff dwellings have made nearby Mesa Verde National Park a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Durango became a Western boomtown when gold was discovered in the nearby San Juan mountains.Though the gold was fleeting, the iron rails were not, and by 1881 trains were officially linking Durango to the rest of the wild west.

Over my morning cup of coffee, an extra large to-go style cup from one of the historic downtown’s many artsy cafes, I find myself standing with a railroad operator who’s manning the tracks of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. A 45-mile system of track that weaves its way between the two historic mining towns, the train has been described by various outlets as being the best train ride in all of North America. Using original locomotives from the 1920’s still propelled by steam and coal, the line has swapped cars full of mineral ores and precious metals for camera-toting tourists who’ve come to salivate over the view of the snow-covered high mountain passes.

%Gallery-139132%Relishing the last few drops of my coffee, I watch in romantic awe as wide, white puffs of smoke explode from the front of the train and linger in the frozen morning air. As carloads of families thunder by me, all of them embarking on a legendary foray through the San Juans, I realize that I, too, want to be toting a camera aboard the train. I want to salivate over that view.

In fact, as I retrace my steps towards Rotary Park, the type of calming, riverside open space you’d expect to find in a college town (Fort Lewis College keeps Durango vibrant and young), I am loathe to leave this Rocky Mountain hamlet. Sure, I have the rest of the country to go and explore, but for the time being, I like it here. And I really want to stay.

Much of the chatter around the brewpub in town, I noticed, was centered around two central topics: how good the mountain biking had been that past summer, and how good the winter was shaping up to be at nearby Durango Mountain Resort, the local ski slope and recreation paradise just twenty minutes outside of town.

These, I noted, are both things I really enjoy doing. I like biking, I like boarding, and I really love a good brewery. I like small towns where you can wander down main street to peruse the galleries of award winning photographers, yet that are only twenty miles removed from open countryside where you might stumble upon something as classically western as a fast-paced livestock auction.

With winter bearing down on my new favorite mountain town, however, it’s time to once again slink behind the wheel and head south for warmer climes; there’s a freedom in these mountains, and it makes me want to drive.

Follow Kyle on the rest of his journey as he explores “10 days, 10 states, 10 great American sights”

A brief history of Telluride and its surrounding ghost towns

telluride ghost townsTelluride. The name alone conjures a variety of associations, from the debaucherous (Glenn Frey’s “Smuggler’s Blues”) to the elite (Tom Cruise is the other inevitable mention). But this isolated little town in Southwestern Colorado’s craggy San Juan range has a truly wild past and a lot to offer. It’s not the only mining-town-turned-ski-resort in the Rockies, but I think it’s the most well-preserved, photogenic, and in touch with its history. Apparently I’m not alone, because the town core (all three blocks of it) was designated a National Historic Landmark District in 1964.

Located in a remote box canyon (waterfall included) at 8,750 feet, Telluride and its “down valley” population totals just over 2,000 people. I’ve lived in Telluride off-and-on since 2005, and there’s something to be said about a place where dogs outnumber residents, and you can’t leave home without running into people you know. Longtime residents burn out on the small town thing, but I still get a kick out of it after years of city living.

Today the former brothels of “Popcorn Alley” are ski shanties, but they’re still painted eye-catching, Crayola-bright colors, and the old ice house is a much-loved French country restaurant. Early fall is a great time to visit because the weather is usually mild, the aspens are turning, and there’s the acclaimed Telluride Film Fest, brutal Imogene Pass Run (Sept. 10) and Blues & Brews Festival (Sept. 16-18) to look forward to. The summer hordes are gone, but the deathly quiet of the October/early-November off-season hasn’t begun.

According to the Telluride Historical Museum, the town was established in 1878. It was originally called Columbia, and had a reputation as a rough-and-tumble mining town following the opening of the Sheridan Mine in the mid-1870’s. The mine proved to be rich in gold, silver, zinc, lead, copper, and iron, and with the 1890 arrival of the Rio Grande Southern railroad, Telluride grew into a full-fledged boomtown of 5,000. Immigrants–primarily from Scandinavia, Italy, France, Germany, Cornwall, and China–arrived in droves to seek their fortunes. Many succumbed to disease or occupational mishaps; the tombstones in the beautiful Lone Tree Cemetery on the east end of town bear homage to lots of Svens, Lars’, and Giovannis.

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[Photo credit: Flickr user hubs]

telluride ghost townsThe mining resulted in 350 miles of tunnels that run beneath the mountains at the east end of the valley; you can see remnants of mine shafts and flumes throughout the region. If paddling is your thing, you’ll see gold dredges runnning on the San Miguel, San Juan, and Dolores Rivers.

Telluride’s wealth attracted the attention of Butch Cassidy and his Wild Bunch, who famously robbed the town’s San Miguel National Bank in 1889 (trivia: I used to live in an upstairs apartment in that very building). But in 1893, the silver crash burst the money bubble, and almost overnight Telluride’s population plummeted. By the end of World War II, only 600 people remained.

Telluride is a part of the 223-mile San Juan Scenic Highway, which connects to the historic towns of Durango, Ouray, and Silverton. There’s only one paved road in and out of Telluride, and that’s Hwy. 145. The only other options are two high, extremely rugged mountain passes (which require 4WD and experienced drivers). There are also a handful of ghost towns in the area. Some, like Alta (11,800 feet) make for a great, not too-strenuous hike; you’ll see the trailhead four miles south on Hwy 145. There are a number of buildings still standing, and two miles up the road lie the turquoise Alta Lakes.
telluride ghost towns
If you want to check out the ghost town of Tomboy, it’s five miles up Imogene Pass (13,114 feet). Don’t underestimate just how tough it is if you’re hiking; you’ll gain 2,650 feet in altitude; otherwise it’s an hour’s drive. The trail begins on the north end of Oak Street; hang a right onto Tomboy Road. Unless you’re physically fit and acclimated to the altitude, the best way to see these ghost towns is by 4WD tour with an outfitter like Telluride Outside. Another bit of trivia: every July, the “Lunar Cup” ski race is held on a slope up on Imogene Pass, clothing optional.

How to get there
Telluride is a six-and-a-half-hour drive from Denver, but it also boasts the world’s second highest commercial airport (9,078 feet) with daily non-stop connections from Denver and Phoenix. It’s closed in sketchy weather (if you’re flight phobic, just say “hell, no”), and it’s often easier and usually cheaper to fly into Montrose Regional Airport, 70 miles away. From there, take Telluride Express airport shuttle; you don’t need a car in town. Go to VisitTelluride.com for all trip-planning details. For more information on the region’s numerous ghost towns, click here.

When to go
Telluride is beautiful any time of year, but avoid mid-April through mid-May and October through before Thanksgiving, as those are off-season and most businesses are closed. Spring is also mud season, and that’s no fun. Late spring, summer, and early fall mean gorgeous foliage, and more temperate weather, but be aware it can snow as late as early July. August is monsoon season, so expect brief, daily thunderstorms. July and winter are the most reliably sunny times; that said, Telluride averages 300 days of sunshine a year. If you want to explore either pass, you’ll need to visit in summer.
telluride ghost towns
Telluride tips
The air is thin up there. Drink lots of water, and then drink some more. Go easy on the alcohol, too. Take aspirin if you’re suffering altitude-related symptoms like headache or insomnia, and go easy for a couple of days until you acclimate. Wear broad-spectrum, high SPF sunblock, and reapply often on any exposed skin or under t-shirts. Wear a hat and sunglasses, as well.

[Photo credits: Tomboy, Flickr user Rob Lee; Mahr building, Laurel Miller; winter, Flickr user rtadlock]