We went to Ridgway State Park after our stay in Mirror Lake (though Mirror Lake added such a long detour to the trip that it would have been just as fast to drive directly to Ridgway). The heavy mosquito level put a damper on the trip–we’re usually spoiled when it comes to bugs here in Colorado!
Pros: Access to the reservoir, boating and swimming areas, and relative proximity to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. If you like to fish, there are plenty of opportunities. The tent only area in the trees gets you away from the RVs (but sadly closer to the bugs) and the carts placed at the parking area make the longer-than-at-Mueller walk to the campsites completely manageable with all of your car camping gear. The Uncompahgre River flowing through the park is beautiful.
Cons: The ponds that have been created by diverting part of the river have made for heavy mosquito coverage–it actually made for a very miserable camping experience because we were constantly itching and swatting, even with the emergency store run for bug spray and a citronella candle. The campsites are shady and private, but lack interesting views. As a Seattle native, I always find reservoirs and man-made beaches a little depressing. Like a face lift on a 70 year old. We know you’re a wrinkly old desert–stop trying to convince us otherwise!
Facilities: All the usual niceties of a state park–vault toilets outside the tent only area, but full shower house a reasonable walk away. Also had a fish cleaning area for the fishermen.
Campsite Recommendations: We stayed at the Pa-Co-Chu-Puk campground’s tent only area. There is a site with great views of the river, but it’s a handicap site, so 282 is your best bet at a partial view depending on how dense the foliage is. We stayed at 283–no view, but private. The biggest downside to 283 was the odd placement of the bear locker–in full sun and at an awkward angle to the campsite. (Critical beverage tip: Nic took our beer down to the river and put it in for 10 minutes, and we went from tea warm beer to delightfully cool beer. Win.)
- Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Monument
- Swimming/playing in the sand at the ‘beach’ on the reservoir. There’s play equipment there with a cute slide that runs down to the beach, too. Bring sand toys!!
- This is definitely fishing country. Nic’s not big on the idea of fishing, but I grew up fishing and wished we’d brought poles. (Some day I will fly fish. Mostly because I think it is one of the most picturesque activities in the world. And because waders look amazing.)
The swimming beach at the reservoir, 6pm on the Fourth of July.
The raised tent pad was a little bit of a concern with Ellie, but I think she only fell off it once. 😛
We enjoyed lunch and beer at the Gunnison Brewery both on the way into and out of the park. A fun stop, even though the artwork wasn’t exactly kid friendly.
The Curecanti Recreation Area is beautiful–we saw it on the drive in.
The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Monument is only about 30-45 minutes from the campground and well worth a stop.
I don’t know if I really recommend the National Park Junior Ranger program for kids Will’s age. They get pretty intense with the requirements after the preschool grouping, and though you do end up learning a lot, it tends to take all the fun out of the trip. His badges are like little mementos from the times when we took him to National Parks and fussed at him all day. The rangers at the end that quiz the kids on their work can be like old school terrifying nun teachers who don’t like children and are just waiting to whack your knuckles with a ruler. Making sure he and his booklet are prepared for that is not a vacation.
Because we were driving from Mirror Lake (and because on the way out I wasn’t paying attention and sent us back the same way–UGH!), we drove through Taylor Canyon, which I found to be just stunning. Like I spent the entire stretch of road constantly saying how beautiful it was in a way obnoxious to everyone else in the family, stunning. I would absolutely love to camp there were it not for (a) the long drive and (b) the fact that the campgrounds are all practically on the highway. It’s beautiful, though, and perhaps we’ll make our way to the Rosy Lane campground some day for fishing, rafting, or kayaking!