Colorado has so many amazing options for camping that selecting the right spot can be a challenge. To help us whittle it down we started listing the non-negotiable we wanted in a Colorado vacation:
- mountain views
- mountain lakes
Moose? Yes, moose. We knew the first four items on our list would be easy low hanging fruit to grab but moose; in Colorado? Everyone we talked to told us about elk in Colorado. Even some big horned sheep. But, not so much chatter about moose.
As we started our research. I found an article online that talked about the increase in moose population in Colorado specifically in an area near Grand County. The Kawuneeche Valley is suppose to be home to a significant moose population. So that lead me to brainstorming with my dear friend, Leslie, who lives in Colorado. I asked her if she felt I could see moose in Colorado and she clued me into Winding River Resort in Grand Lake Colorado. Leslie told me that she had a friend who visits Winding River regularly and she always has photos of moose encounters.
We learned that Winding River Resort is a few short feet away from Rocky Mountain National Park (you can literally walk into the park from the resort) and equally close to the Arapaho National Forrest. On the grounds of the resort is a ATV rental shop. Within a few short miles away are three mountain lakes: Grand Lake, Shadow Mountain Lake and Lake Granby. There are other smaller alpine lakes in the national park as well. The icing on the cake for us, was Winding River Resort offered us full hook-ups.
Booking at Winding River Resort was easy as a phone call to the resort. I explained to the reservation taker that my goal of seeing a moose. She explained that the moose enter the resort in the back by the staff area so she was going to put me as close to them as she could. A quick look at the campground map also showed that we were right next to a lily pond. Perfect!
We planned to spend an entire week at Winding River Resort; June 10th to June 16, 2019. We were in spot 93. Our rate was $60/night but we did have to pay an extra $10 child fee.
To arrive at Winding River Resort from Denver, we had two options. Option 1: Travel north in I25 and take our 35 foot camper through Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park. Option 2: Take I-70 west 40 Highway north through Berthoud Pass and Winter Park. Trail Ridge Road is a 48 miles stretch of road from the east side to the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park. It reaches elevations near 11,500 with a grade between 5% and 7%. Trail Ridge Road is narrow, with minimal shoulder and pullouts. Weather conditions on Trail Ridge Road change quickly.
Berthoud Pass is also a mountain pass that reaches elevations near 11,300 and steep grades (6%). We also found wide lanes, with well established shoulders. The biggest difference between the two passes is the traffic. Trail Ridge Road is in the park and is a huge tourist draw. So, we opted to take Option 2 and travel Berthoud Pass while pulling our camper.
Finding Winding River Resort was actually very easy. Just north of Grand Lake, Colorado a quaint mountain town with a population under 500 residents. Almost directly across from the Kawuneeche Visitor Center of Rocky Mountain National Park right off highway 34 was county road 491. A mile down the road, across a little bridge, was Winding River Resort, right on the banks of the Colorado River.
Upon arrival, we found a cute sprawling resort. We were welcomed to the ranch by the horses that call the stables their home, just to the left of the entrance. We checked in a the general store/office just to the right of the entrance. We were surrounded by evergreen trees and mountains. Our first impression of the resort; we had found a piece of Colorado heaven. We easily found our site, which was a dirt site that backed up to the Wapiti Lilly Pond (which we were so excited to find actually had water and lilly pads during our visit). We were a little disappointed to find out that our neighbors had parked their RV a little caddywhompus which caused us to be a little askew. Thankfully the resort staff, problem solved and helped us get into our site.
Our first Moose sighting happened after we had been on the property less than 10 minutes. We checked in, drove to our site, quickly assessed that our site was odd (thanks to said neighbors mentioned above), drove back up front to request help, and as we drove back to our site to wait for assistance, we passed by the lilly pond a second time in a matter of minutes. There, in the Lilly Pond was a yearling female moose munching away. We quickly named her Lilly and we would learn that she visited the Lilly Pond every single day during our visit. Gosh, and I was worried about seeing a moose. Goal met in less than an hour!
After setting up our camp, we headed to the Kawuneeche Visitor Center. We have found that asking Park Rangers for hiking and fishing recommendations usually pays off. The Rangers recommended a hike called the North Inlet Trail which actually started in Grand Lake. The Rangers told us that moose sightings had been reported around dusk on this trail.
We managed to find two moose on our first hike, both were a field and a river away but we were able to respectfully visit them. As we were hiking back to our vehicle, I was leaving our first day very happy. Three moose sightings in one afternoon! This vacation, this location, was better than I ever could have imagined. As we walked back, a tad after dusk I suddenly became weary of predators watching us. Moose were not the only animals in the area and my husband, who was hiking behind me, kept stopping which kept putting me up front alone. Just as I turned to “school” him on proper mountain lion safety, I looked up and found a large bull moose staring down at me. Seriously, I about peed myself! But there was no time for such things because as soon as I caught my breath at stumbling onto a bull moose, I realized he was not alone. There was not one but three bulls directly above us!
The rest of our time at Winding River Resort, was just as idealistic as our first day. Every day we experienced moose. And elk. My favorite experience was waking up early to find our campground full of moose. My cousin had gotten up early to walk his dog and found a huge surprise, moose everywhere. Thankfully he came and immediately woke me up so I too could experience it. We learned during our vacation that moose strongly dislike dogs. It is in their DNA from years of fighting off the cousin of the dog; the wolf. That morning as the moose were running free around camp, I just kept thinking our being there all started with my cousin out walking his dog and coming up on a random moose out grabbing a morning bite to eat. Our week at Winding River Resort was nothing short of perfect. It was the best balance of activity and relaxation. We enjoyed quiet time and we also had moments where we were joined by friends. Besides my cousin, who moved to Riverton Wyoming joining us, we were also visited by our dearest friends Jackie and Harry. Harry loves Grand Lake and loved driving up from Denver to spend the day having lunch at the Snack Shack on the lake and hiking to Adams Falls.
We rented a Razor from On The Trail Rentals, which we were very satisfied with. We got lucky as On The Trail opened for summer rental on June 15, which happened to fall on our last full day at the Resort. We took the Razor and spent an afternoon exploring Arapaho National Forrest which is adjacent to the resort. During our rental time, we learned a lot from my cousin about dry camping on public land and we were able to see numerous camping sites full of boondockers.
We spent a great deal of time wondering around the town of Grand Lake. Whether you are visiting in the summer or winter, this town is a mecca of outdoor activities. We enjoyed ice cream at one of the ice cream shops. We found the locals to be friendly, engaging, and so willing to share their beautiful home with us. We enjoyed shopping in all of the downtown shops. We were even able to find a pizza restaurant/bar (The White Buffalo) to watch The St. Louis Blues win the Stanley Cup.
The Short Chic and her daddy even braved the frigid cold water of Grand Lake to SUP. We warned The Short Chic over and over again about how cold the water was but she was convinced she was not going to fall in. Wayne, on the other hand, was positive he was going to fall in. I am happy to say he never fell in and unfortunately, after 50 some minutes of perfect SUPing, The Short Chic did fall into that water. I have never seen someone fall in and jump out of the water faster than she did!
After consulting with Park Rangers and the owners of Kirks Flyshop, Wayne spent several days wetting fly line in streams and lakes in the area. Unfortunately, we were on vacation and visiting during the summer run-off so the rivers were running high and fast and the alpine lakes were still pretty frozen. Thankfully, he learned how to manage the water and was still successful at catching fish. This is a huge accomplishment for him as we come from an area that mostly has stocked rivers and catching a wild trout is something to send a post card home to Dad about!
Winding River Resort had several amenities that deserve to be highlighted even if we did not partake in them. First of all, this is a campground that allows campers and non-campers to spend time together. They have cabins for rent as well as pioneer covered wagon! They have equestrian sites; full hook up sites that come with a small corral for your horse. Many of the other campers we saw, bring their fun with them to Winding River Resort, that “fun” maybe ATVs or they may be horses, or fishing rods in our case.
Horses are a big deal at Winding River. You can bring yours or rent one of theirs. They have organized trail rides, pony rides, hay rides, and even sleigh rides in the winter. They have chuck wagon dinners and chuck wagon pancake breakfast, ice cream socials, square dancing, and even Cowboy Church. We spent time walking around the Animal Farm playing with all the baby farm animals. If organized activities are not your thing, there is pickleball, basketball, frisbee golf, volleyball, horseshoes are all available on the property for your enjoyment. Oh yeah, let’s not forget that the Colorado River is right behind the Animal Farm.
Every minute we were in Colorado at Winding River Resort and every minute we spent driving home from our Colorado we just kept saying to ourselves, “wow, that was amazing.” We selected this place in hopes of seeing a moose. I had no idea or expectation that we would see as many moose as we did.
I hope if you are looking for a Colorado adventure that is a little bit quieter and a little (a lot) less crowded than say…Estes Park…we hope you will consider booking a stay at Winding River Resort.