Stake your claim, but be prepared:Memorial Day WeekenD Marks the official start of camping season

Jeanne McGovern
The Aspen Times
Cathedral Lake, nestled high above the Castle Creek Valley, south of Aspen, is a popular destination. The lake shimmers from the trail toward Electric Pass.
Aspen Times file photo |


Camping in the Aspen area is camping in bear country.

“We do want to get the message out that there is bear activity right now,” said forest service spokeswoman Lynn Lockwood. “We want campers and picnickers to be bear aware.”

Here are a few tips*:

Stash Your Trash. Use bear-proof containers when available. If they’re full, double bag trash and lock it in your trunk or RV. Never leave trash outside.

Store Attractants Safely. Store food, beverages and toiletries in air tight containers and lock in your trunk. Many bears have discovered that coolers, bags and boxes are full of food; never leave them in your tent or anywhere a bear could see, smell or reach.

Keep a Clean Camp. Bears are attracted to odors of all kinds and will investigate anything interesting in hopes of finding food.

Keep a Clean Tent. Don’t bring anything with an odor into your tent — that includes all foods, bever­ages, scented toiletries, gum, toothpaste, sunscreen, candles, and insect repellant. Don’t sleep in the clothes you cooked in; store them with your food.

Lock RVs and Vehicles. Close windows and lock your vehicle and RV when you leave your camp site and at night before you go to sleep.

*Source: Colorado Division of Wildlife

For many, Memorial Day weekend marks the start of summer. In Aspen and the surrounding national forests, it also marks the official start of camping season.

“Yes, it is time to go camping,” said Lynn Lockwood, acting public affairs specialist for the U.S. Forest Service’s White River National Forest. “This weekend begins the start of our busy season.”

According to Lockwood, most developed campgrounds — including Difficult Campground up Independence Pass, areas near the Maroon Bells and Ruedi Reservoir as well as downvalley — are open and expected to be full over the holiday weekend. With this in mind, she suggested campers make reservations as the summer season gets in full swing.

“We like to remind people that you can make reservations up to six months in advance,” she said. “You can even plan ahead for the fall.”

And while most campgrounds are open for business, it is springtime in the Rockies — which means variable weather and conditions.

“Our suggestion is to call the ranger district that administers whichever area your campground is in,” Lockwood said. “Rangers are really the best point of contact because they are out in the field, they know the conditions and they might be aware of things that aren’t even posted yet.”

Joel Nunez-Smith, floor manager at Aspen’s Ute Mountaineer retail shop, said being prepared for these variable conditions is key to a successful camping trip.

“I like to go with the food, water, shelter approach — the basics,” he said.

Food, he said, doesn’t change much with the seasons.

Water needs can change based on where you’re camping — high-country camping might require a stove system to melt snow; lower altitude camping might call for some type of filtration or purification system; developed campgrounds also might have potable water.

And shelter means quality camping gear. Among the must-have items in Nunez-Smith’s opinion: a protective barrier footprint for under your tent, as opposed to a tarp that will just collect water beneath you. Also important is a three-season tent (four-season or expedition tents are not necessary) and a sleeping bag in the 15-degree temperature range.

Also important for anyone planning to spend time outdoors are the proper clothes and shoes.

“Layers are key here. Think versatility: You don’t want to be wearing something that is great in the rain but that you’ll be burning up in if the sun comes out,” Nunez-Smith said, explaining that layers should include a base layer, an insulating layer and outerwear.

Lockwood agreed: “People should expect wintry conditions; they need to wear warm clothing and appropriate boots or footwear. You can always layer down, so it’s best to be prepared.”