Camping season’s arrival means precautions to remember |

Camping season’s arrival means precautions to remember

A bear rummages through a cooler last summer at Chapman Dam Campground.
White River National Forest/Courtesy photo

This weekend, many campgrounds across the White River National Forest opened for the season that runs to Oct 1.

“We manage over 70 developed sites that include campgrounds, day use areas, and group sites that include tables, fire rings and usually food lockers,” said Paula Peterson, Recreation Program Manager on the White River National Forest.

“Our staff arrived a few weeks ago and have been diligently working at clearing snow, emergency repairs and getting the campgrounds ready to open,” she said.

Difficult Campground east of Aspen.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times

Peterson recommended that all campers, novice to expert in the area, stop at the campground kiosk or the bulletin board at the foreground of the campground to read and understand the campground-specific rules including food storage, garbage disposal, proper campfire management and more. 

Campground status

Aspen Sopris Ranger District

Open: All the Frying Pan campgrounds along Ruedi Reservoir; Difficult Campground; Redstone Campground; Bogan Flats.

Sites farther up Independence Pass will open once access is available due to snow. 

Dillon and Eagle-Holy Cross Districts 

Most campgrounds on the east side of the forest around Dillon or near Vail are scheduled to open Friday. These include the sites near Dillon Reservoir, Green Mountain Reservoir and along the Blue River. They also include Gore Creek and Hornsilver Campgrounds near Vail. Other campgrounds will open when the roads accessing them are open later in May and June. 

Blanco Ranger District 

Near Meeker, North Fork and South Fork campgrounds open; Marvine, East Marvine, and Himes Peak Campgrounds open May 25; scheduled to open June 2 are Shepherd Rim, Trapline, Cutthroat, Bucks, Horsethief, Meadow Lake, and Meadow Ridge campgrounds.

Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness

You need to reserve an overnight wilderness permit in advance if you plan to backpack and camp in popular areas of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, including Conundrum Hot Springs, Four Pass Loop, Snowmass Lake and Capitol Lake.  

“The best way to plan for your trip is to visit and review the zones in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness that require an overnight permit. If you (and your group) plan to camp in a permitted zone, you will need to reserve a spot in each zone for each night that you camp. If you do not plan to camp in any of the permitted zones, fill out a registration at the trailhead,” said Aspen-Sopris District Ranger Kevin Warner.

Permits are not required for day hiking in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. Parking is limited at trailheads. Dogs are required to be on a leash.

“Make a bathroom plan before you head out on the trail,” Warner suggested. “Carry human waste bags, and pack them out or bring a trowel and dig a cat hole 6 inches deep and 70 big steps from water, camp, and trail. Pack out toilet paper.”

Campsite cousine

While cooking at any designated White River National Forest campsite, an adult must be within 100 feet of attendance of the food. That means hamburgers on the grill, fruit snacks and lemonade on the picnic table, or a salad made from forage; the adult serves as deterrent for a bear coming into the campsite. 

“We really try and use education to help people to understand the why of bear behavior. Bears are consistently cruising through campgrounds, dispersed areas and backcountry places. They are intentional and drawn in. And once a bear gets a reward, the results are negative for the creature of habit,” said Peterson.

The Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness area within the White River National Forest has one of the highest black bear densities in Colorado. 

Fido, friends and frenemies 

“Wildlife will be exhibiting normal protective behavior of their young,” says CPW Area Wildlife Manager Jason Duetsch. “Give wildlife extra space this time of year. Be sure to keep dogs on leashes. Dogs can trigger aggressive behavior and both moose and elk will chase a dog right back to their owner, presenting a dangerous situation.”
Colorado Parks and Wildlife/Coutesy photo

Every campground in the White River National Forest requires dogs always to be on leashes in the campground. This is for safety of dog, human and wildlife.

“People always thing of the big animals such as elk, moose and bear, but critters like porcupines and skunks are also at home in the woods. Not all dogs have great recall and when they see wildlife in the woods, they might dart towards these mammals with painful consequences,” said Peterson.

A moose peers out from alongside the East of Aspen Trail.
Courtesy / Pitkin County Open Space

Moose mayhem

One of the most thrilling wildlife encounters for campers and hikers is a moose. This is also one of the most dangerous human-animal conflicts in the White River National Forest. 

“Moose react to dogs the same way they would react to a predator in the wild, which typically means standing their ground and acting defensive,” said Rachael Gonzales, a public information officer for the northwest region of Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

She said dog should be kept on leash.

“Dogs allowed to run off-leash are at substantial risk of being injured or killed by animals trying to defend themselves from what they perceive as a predator,” she said. “If your dog happens to encounter a moose, the thousand-pound animal will aggressively try to stomp on your dog. If the dog runs back to you, or you go after your dog in an attempt to catch them, you are at risk of being severely injured as well.”

She said to give a moose a wide birth in any encounter.

“Do not attempt to haze the moose out of the way. Not only is it dangerous, but this is also considered harassment and is illegal,” she said. “If a moose has laid-back ears, pawing the ground, licks its snout, or changes its direction to face you, you’re too close and need to back away.”

Mule deer and other wildlife have specific habitats that are disappearing where they give birth and raise their young.
Rick Spitzer/For the Vail Daily

Leave the young alone

“Leave baby wildlife alone,” Gonzales said. “It’s not worth the Instagram to have them interrupted or hurt. Be aware of your surroundings and who might be habituating the area.”

“We will get numerous calls in the spring from concerned residents,” said Ginna Gordon, community response officer supervisor at the Aspen Police Department. 

“They find a baby fawn and they don’t see the mother around and they think it’s abandoned,” she said. “They are calling out of the good nature of their heart, but the actual nature needs to be left alone. Most times, the mother is nearby and just can’t be seen.”

Fire safety 

Peterson said, “Attend your food when it’s out and attend your campfire. An adult of at least 18 years of age must be present by the campfire. Don’t go on a hike or to the restroom, and certainly don’t put burning coals in the dumpster.”

Only burn wood or paper in your fire please, officials implored.

“The volume of plastic that we pull out of fire pits translates to thousands of pounds of unburnable items each season,” said Peterson. “Always be aware of fire restrictions follow those rules.”

Bear aware

Peterson is heavily involved in human-animal education and conflict prevention. 

The White River National Forest has a requirement in all developed campgrounds that visitors must store their attractants (food, beverages that are canned or bottled), garbage and pet food  in a bear-resistant manner. 

“The majority of the campground sites have food lockers which are a steel, bear-resistant food lockers,” Peterson said. “These lockers are a great place to ensure that bears don’t get a reward while you are camping.” 

The Maroon Bells Snowmass Wilderness Area requires backpackers to use a bear resistant food container while backpacking.