Clear Creek Canyon in Golden is about 40 minutes from Boulder. As a sibling to Boulder Canyon, the rock climbing here is less established but offers a bit more variety in terms of rock — gneiss, schist and sandy granite are all present, most of it relatively solid. Because the canyon is about 12 miles long, there are over 700 established routes and many of the areas feature specific types of climbing. Sport and trad are both to be found, but bolted routes far outnumber trad lines.
What Makes It Great
Difficulties run the full gamut, from 5.0 to 5.14, with the majority of routes favoring more difficult climbs over 5.10. Pitch length can vary, from single pitch sport routes to multi-pitch lines over 600 feet. In other words, there’s something for everyone. The climbs at the top of the canyon are tougher to reach and in some cases, require the use of tyrolean traverses.
Knocking off a good project in Clear Canyon likely means topping out on 5.10 and tougher climbs. Overall, Clear Canyon caters more to advanced intermediate and expert climbers.
Who is Going to Love It
Climbers of all abilities, but dedicated intermediates and advanced climbers will love the variety of tough pitches. Sections can vary quite drastically between regions, employing a full set of climbing skills. Slabs, overhangs, off-widths, roofs are all present in Clear Creek Canyon. It is a little less crowded than Boulder Canyon most days, though the lower canyon can get very busy on weekends.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
From Boulder, the best way to reach Clear Creek Canyon is to take CO Highway 93 (Broadway) straight south for about 25 minutes into Golden. Then take a right, heading west on US 6 into Clear Creek Canyon. Pullouts can be found along the highway, and most approaches are about 5-10 minutes.
There are no fees to climb in Clear Creek. For more info on specific climbs and crags, consult the Mountain Project website.
Written by James Dziezynski for RootsRated and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected]
A loud bugling throws my eyes open. I’m curled up in the back of my car, zipped tight into my sleeping bag. The windows have frosted over a little bit in the cold. The night before, I’d sped south from Yellowstone in search of some place to sleep before heading to Grand Teton National Park in the morning. It was dark when I pulled in, crawled in the back and fell asleep, but now, opening the back hatch, I can see where I am. I had backed up to the edge of a small knoll over the Snake River, and the bugling that woke me was coming from a small group of elk wading into the steaming water only a few hundred yards away.
Not a bad spot, I think.
For anyone van-lifing, road tripping out of their car, or living the climbing bum lifestyle, one perpetual stress is knowing, after a long day on the road or trail, where you’ll be spending the night. If you’re away from home for any extended period, paying much more than a few dollars a night—whether that’s for a cheap motel room, Airbnb, or in an established campground—is generally out of the question. Night after night, those expenses add up quickly, which makes finding a free place to pull over and get comfortable a daily priority.
Thankfully, especially in the Mountain West, finding a quiet, picturesque and free campsite is a lot easier to do than you might think.
Not Your Average Walmart Parking Lot
All overnight parking is not created equal. RV travelers and truckers have become accustomed to hopping between 24-hour Walmart parking lots and large, rumbling travel centers, which, for dirtbags, will certainly do in a pinch (just check with management at that location to make sure they follow the Walmart norm and allow overnight guests), but they’re definitely not ideal.
While plenty of random locations like local parks, some private land, and other municipalities and retail locations allow overnight parking, they’re far from reliable and the consequence for getting caught staying somewhere you shouldn’t could, in the end, make you wish you’d spent the money on a comfortable—and legal—hotel room. Even day-use areas, trailheads, and other seemingly vanlife-friendly locales typically don’t allow overnighters.
Luckily, the Mountain West is ripe with public land, chiefly National Forests, and as taxpayers, we’ve often already paid our campground fees. Dispersed camping is the general term for camping anywhere outside a developed campground, and it’s the bread and butter of the cheap road trip.
A dispersed campsite would be the National Forest equivalent of a backcountry campsite in a Wilderness Area, but because National Forests have roads running through them, a dispersed campsite doesn’t necessarily require a long trek into the backcountry, and they’re easy to find right off the road.
As you might expect, free dispersed camping doesn’t come with the amenities of established campsites. Even outhouses aren’t guaranteed at all but the heaviest-use sites. But what you trade away in luxury, you gain in solitude and a feeling of remoteness that’s hard to get mere feet from your vehicle.
Finding Your Campsite
Often tucked away down rocky Forest Service roads, a dispersed site could be anything from a small pull-off, to a spot tucked farther away, but they almost never have signs or can be found with a quick Google Maps search. Researching your spot beforehand is a must.
However, what you can find on Google Maps are the lands that might contain these campsites. Bureau of Land Management properties, National Forests, or Wildlife Management Areas are typically good places to start to look. Not all public land is open to dispersed camping, so be sure to check the rules and regulations for those specific properties. From there, scouring satellite imagery can be a good way to identify open areas, pull-offs and specific campsites. Check out Forest Service roads (typically identified only with numbers) first or use websites like freecampsites.net or campendium.com to crowdsource the work and look for locations that others have found.
Also pay attention to any other special restrictions or permits that might be required for specific areas.
The final step is to go check them out! Drive roads in search of pull-offs and offshoots. In many cases, sites will have obviously been used by others passing through. If you’re lucky, there will be a makeshift fire ring ready to go! Always keep an eye out for “No Camping” signs or other posted rules, which can be instated to help protect some places that have been used heavily.
A Few of Our Favorites
– Shadow Mountain Road (Bridger-Teton National Forest, Wyoming)
Is Shadow Mountain the best camping near the Tetons? It'd be tough to find a better alternative. Hidden around the backside of the National Elk Refuge, this rugged dirt road climbs Shadow Mountain to a collection of open grassy areas with unbeatable views of the rocky peaks across the valley floor.
– Kaibab National Forest, Arizona
Get away from the summer crowds swarming the campgrounds within Grand Canyon National Park without sacrificing an inch of scenery. A number of prime camping spots dot this forest just 15 minutes south of the park, offering some of the best dispersed camping in the Southwest. You’ll stay shaded among the some of the densest ponderosa pines in the country, and you'll likely have your pick of the litter when it comes to campsites.
– Blankenship Bridge (Flathead National Forest, Montana)
Another gem just outside a popular national park, this pull-off is just minutes from the collossal mountains of Glacier NP. Pull right out onto the spectacular rocky banks of the Middle Fork Flathead River and fall asleep listening to the water just footsteps from your car.
Things to Keep in Mind
Bring your own water, or water treatment equipment. Dispersed campsites don’t come with running, potable water.
Dispersed campsites are always first-come-first-serve and can not accept any reservations. If you find what you think could be a busy area, get there early or have a backup plan.
You can’t live here, but you can hang out for a while. Dispersed campers are allowed to stay a maximum of 14 days in any 30-day period.
Always practice Leave No Trace. You won’t find any trash cans at dispersed campsites, and most receive minimal maintenance, so be sure to pack out everything you drive in with, and leave the site cleaner than when you arrived.
Forest roads can be rough in the Mountain West, so a high-clearance vehicle that can handle rocks and mud will always make you more comfortable in the woods.
Written by Ryan Wichelns for RootsRated and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected]
Just minutes up the hill from Boulder, and a mere hour-plus drive from downtown Denver, lies the lesser-known ski “resort” of Eldora.
Famed for its less expensive lift tickets and “Just Say No to I-70” slogan—which encourages people to avoid the crowds and traffic at bigger, more popular resorts along the I-70 corridor—locals have long loved this little family ski area, affectionately known as “Eldo.” Just 47 miles from Denver, the ski area sits at 9,200 feet, boasts 680 acres of skiable terrain, and is accessed by three main lifts, with an additional seven across the mountain.
And while the powder days at Eldora Mountain Resort can be somewhat scarcer than those at a larger resort, it’s still well worth a visit by local snowsport enthusiasts, with surprisingly powerful snowmaking efforts ("100 percent coverage of groomed terrain", it claims), a welcoming, no-attitude vibe, and more wallet-friendly passes than some of its pricier cousins (day tickets max out at $89 this year compared to $165 at Vail; see the resort's website for all of its pass deals, including the Rocky Mountain Super Pass this year.)
Eldora traces its history back to the 1950s, when it was a summer playground for cabin owners in the Indian Peaks area. In 1962, it opened for skiers, having been through multiple ownerships over the years like most ski areas in the fight for profitability.
In order to maximize the ROI on your season pass or day ticket, you need some insider tips on attacking the hill. RootsRated tapped into some well-known locals to get the beta on how to ski Eldora.
Which Runs to Choose?
On a powder day, while the interstate is full of carloads of eager skiers, Eldo's proximity to Denver means you can be heading up the mountain while other are still battling traffic. Here's additional intel on how to plan your day.
“On a powder day at Eldo, take first chair up and hit Around the Horn to Upper Ambush," says Nederland local James Brooks, a former Eldora ski patroller. "Stay skier's left and merge back onto Around the Horn to get back into the Corona Bowl area. Take one lap each on Corona Bowl and Brian’s Glades to Muleshoe on skier’s left before they drop the rope.”
For skilled skiers, Brooks then recommends heading skier’s left from the top of the Corona lift out the gates to the double-black diamond terrain called Salto and West Ridge; both of these runs/bowls are steep and expert-only. Moose Glades holds snow until later in the afternoon, especially the second and third “fingers” of the glade, says Brooks.
Placer Glades, off of the Indian Peaks (central) lift, also tends to hold powder until the afternoon, especially mid-week. “After Indian Peaks lift closes, ski Jolly Jug Glades before taking your last run down on La Belle as a cruiser, or take Psychopath, if your legs can bump it out,” Brooks says.
That has you working your way from west to east across the mountain, hitting the steep and deep first and skiing bell to bell.
Where to Fuel Up
Brian Biggs, a local and former snowboard instructor at Eldora, also recommends Muleshoe, especially the left side where the wind doesn’t blow the snow away. “Jolly Jug trees on the front side are a nice way to wind down the day with good afternoon sun,” Biggs says. “And I like to get gnarly in the Trick Ditch.”
At some point mid-morning. you’ll most likely want to warm up at the top of Corona lift/Corona Bowl at The Lookout. You’ll find soups and sandwiches, a grill (sometimes), snacks and beers, all served up protected from the wind at 10,800 feet above sea level with pano views of the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, where the Continental Divide begins its cascade down to the Front Range.
Down at the base, head up to the Corona Bowl Bar on the second floor of the lodge, where you can get a Dale’s Pale Ale and an elk bratwurst.
Cross Country Options and More
A bonus about Eldora? The flexibility offered by its world-class Nordic center and trails. Because there are so many windy days up there, it’s especially nice to have the option to go cross-country skiing in the trees and out of the wind, especially if there are lift closures. Last year, Eldora changed its policy that previously allowed regular season pass holders to also ski the Nordic Center trail system. Now, you are required to buy a separate Nordic season pass for $309 (adults).
However, if you are into cross country/Nordic skiing, whether light backcountry, classic, or skate, and even snowshoeing, locals highly recommend getting the Nordic pass in addition to the Alpine pass. This opens up your terrain and sport options at a local ski resort that really does have it all. You just have to know where to find it.
Written by Aaron Bible for RootsRated and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected]
Featured image provided by Eldora Mountain Resort/CSCUSA
It’s no secret that Boulder boasts a wealth of top-notch hiking. The foothills and mountains above town represent the eastern terminus of the Rocky Mountains, rising up to elevations more than 8,000 feet—meaning a great workout is almost guaranteed if you’re starting from Boulder, which is roughly 5,400 feet above sea level. Meanwhile, the mesas and plains in east Boulder offer mellow terrain rich in history and ancient geology.
It’s easy to see why Mount Sanitas is Boulder’s most popular mountain. Despite a modest elevation of 6,843 feet, this beloved hike is a real-deal workout with more than 1,300 feet of elevation gain. Spacious views of Boulder, sprawling plains, and Denver to the east are complemented by the dramatic panorama of the Indian Peaks to the west. The 14,255-foot Longs Peak dominates the mountainous skyline from the summit of Mount Sanitas.
The classic Sanitas loop features steep sections mixed with flat, shady, segments. Take the 1.1-mile Mount Sanitas Trail to the top, descend the 0.7-mile East Ridge Trail, and return via the Sanitas Valley Trail for 1 mile. For a more gradual ascent, the Lion’s Lair Trail is a smooth, shady 2.9-mile trail (one-way) to the top, ideal for runners (though be aware dogs aren’t allowed on this trail; they’re allowed on the other Mount Sanitas trails).
2. Green Mountain
Time to Hike: 3-4 hours
There are several ways to the top of 8,150-foot Green Mountain. The standard hike begins at Gregory Canyon and ascends roughly 3.2 miles to the top (there is a slight detour for dog traffic at the halfway point that can tack on an extra 0.2 miles). Take the Gregory Canyon Trail to the Ranger Trail for a tour that features remnants of the powerful floods that hit Boulder in 2013. From the top, hikers can link over to neighboring peaks via the Green-Bear trail. There is a fun, easy rock scramble to the summit of Green Mountain. If you’re looking for a unique way up Green, try going up Chapman Drive (a dirt road converted to a non-vehicle hiking/biking path) and connecting to Green by crossing Flagstaff Road at Realization Point. However you reach the summit, be sure to check out a metal disc on the summit shows the names of distant mountains that’s a Boulder icon in its own right.
3. Bear Peak
Time to Hike: 3.5-4.5 hours
At 8,459 feet, Bear Peak is the second-highest of the trio of the "Guardians of the Flatirons" peaks above Boulder’s famous rock structures, but it has the most exposed summit, complete with unobstructed 360-degree views. The three standard routes up Bear are Fern Canyon, Shadow Canyon, and the West Ridge. All are rugged trails with switchbacks, stone-stairs, steep segments, and passage through recent burn zones. To reach the summit, a brief and easy scramble with excellent hand and footholds awaits along iron-rich, red rock. On a clear day, hikers can see from Pikes Peak to Long Peak and the full range of the Indian Peaks in between. Linking up to nearby South Boulder Peak is a good option, as the hike between the two only takes about 20-30 minutes one-way.
4. Marshall Mesa
Time to Hike: Whatever You Like
Marshall Mesa in south Boulder has a network of trails that interconnect from the suburbs to the east all the way to the 8,000-foot peaks to the west, so your hiking day can be as long or short as you like. This modest mesa has incredible views of the Flatiron Rock formations, especially from the highpoint on the Greenbelt Plateau Trail. Besides the natural beauty, hikers can check out the towering windmills south of the trails or take in the twinkling lights of Boulder at twilight. There are informational plaques along the way that share the area’s geological and mining history.
Marshall Mesa offers a great family trek, trail run, photography playground, and casual hike, though it can get a bit hot in the summer due to a lack of shade. To connect to the western trails, a tunnel under Highway 93 on the Community Ditch Trail offers safe passage to the open grazing lands leading to the foothills.
5. South Boulder Peak
Time to Hike: 3.5-4.5 hours
A 8,549 feet, South Boulder Peak is the tallest of the summits above the Flatirons, and yet it’s the least-visited of the three. The standard route takes the Shadow Canyon Trail to the saddle between Bear Peak and South Boulder Peak, where ghostly stands of trees and charred ground remain from recent wildfires. Follow a winding trail through a high forest to the boulder-strewn summit, but note that views to the east will be blocked by pine trees. Many hikers link Bear Peak and South Boulder Peak for a two-fer—or add in Green Mountain for a three-fer, using the Mesa Trail below the Flatirons to loop back to the South Mesa Trailhead, where all the fun began.
6. Sugarloaf Mountain
Time to Hike: 1.5 hours
Even though it stands at 8,917 feet, it’s easy to miss Sugarloaf Mountain. Its bare summit blends into the undulating land between Boulder and the Indian Peaks, and it’s just far enough from downtown Boulder (roughly a 20-minute drive) to remain less popular than easier peaks. The large parking area is located at the convergence of the Sugarloaf Mountain Road and the dirt-road Switzerland Trail. The mostly unmarked but obvious trails start to the west of the parking lot and ascend a mile on a rocky but never-too-steep trail that gets better the closer you get to the top, where views are perhaps the best in Boulder County. Sugarloaf’s mountain community resembles a Swiss village, while expansive city views to the east and mountain views to the west highlight Sugarloaf’s station between worlds. This is an excellent winter hike on a bright, blue January day, as the snow adds a lot of character to the landscape. Sunset hikes are encouraged in the summer.
7. Joder Ranch
Time to Hike: 1-2 hours
Joder Ranch is one of Boulder’s newer trail systems, and its eponymous hike is a simple, 4-mile out-and-back that ascends a ridge and descends into a formerly "secret" portion of Boulder Open Space that connects with Olde Stage Road. It’s this second half of the trail that is worth the visit, though the initial views from Joder Ranch will likely provide a vantage of Boulder most have not seen before. The west side of the ridge is a peaceful, shady, pine forest with a few open meadows and plenty of solitude. Wildlife sightings are common, including black bear and deer. Mountain bikes are allowed on the trail, though traffic is fairly light by both two-wheel and foot traffic. To get there, access the interim trailhead off Highway 36 that has parking for about a dozen vehicles.
8. Flatirons Vista
Time to Hike: At Your Leisure
Another family-friendly destination with excellent views, Flatirons Vista is the sister-mesa to Marshall Mesa. Both can be connected either by crossing the tunnel under Highway 93 at Marshall Mesa or the road crossing that connects the Greenbelt Plateau Trailhead and Flatirons Vista. There are lots of loop options, though it’s worth taking the 1.5-mile Flatirons Vista-North Trail to the wooded Dowdy Draw Trail. This trail switchbacks down a hillside with impressive views of Boulder to the north. Hike back up, loop through the still forest of the Flatirons Vista-South Trail for an excellent one- or two-hour walk in the woods and over the plains.
9. Walker Ranch
Time to Hike: 3-4 hours
Walker Ranch’s full loop is 7.6 miles and starts just near the highest point of the ranch. Hikers descend roughly 600 feet to South Boulder Creek, where the rushing water can be particularly powerful in the spring. Passing through meadows and forests, the loop eventually reaches a rocky outcrop where a steep, sustained staircase accesses the second half of the loop (watching mountain bikers haul their bikes up these steps is quite interesting). There’s no better direction to go most of the time, though on hotter summer days it makes sense to descend to the right (counterclockwise) so you aren’t hiking on the sunny, exposed hillside as much. Be careful with afternoon lightning storms in the summer and autumn, as the start and finish of the loop is fairly exposed.
10. Betasso Preserve
Time to Hike: 1-2 hours
Betasso Preserve is a popular mountain biking destination, but on Saturdays and Wednesdays it’s closed to bikes—so if prefer your hikes without getting buzzed by hard-charging riders, aim to go on one of those days. The Canyon Loop Trail explores a portion of the old Betasso Ranch, with open meadows, shady pine forests, and small creeks running through the property. Hikers who want a longer day can tack on the 3-mile Benjamin Loop (and the 0.75-mile connector, one-way, between the two) to explore more deep forests, dotted with the occasional open view. Many species of wildlife call this area home, including fox, black bear, coyote, and skunk. Dogs are welcome but must be on leash at all times.
Written by James Dziezynski for RootsRated and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected]cha.com.