Dispersed Camping – East Fork Arapahoe Creek Near Walden, CO

This place had been on my list for at least a couple of years.  I’d been staring at Google Earth dreaming about what this wilderness flanking Steamboat valley and Rocky Mountain National Park would hold.  We knew it would be a long drive so we decided to put in a much longer weekend so we could maximize the adventure.  A long drive it certainly was at three hours.  We drove down several forest access roads into the late afternoon fearing our $300 trailer would fall to pieces as we bumped along through unknown mosquito infested territory.  At one point my cot fell out and dragged behind the trailer for god knows how long.  Good thing we got out to pee or it may have been a total loss.  After a couple hours of searching for a good spot, we were worried. 

But little did we know we would end up at the highest-ranking campsite we’d ever had since the ranking system began!  Feeling very discouraged and hours into the drive we decided to head back to a site we had dismissed earlier thinking we might find a better one.  At this point we were losing hope that even this site would still be vacant as all the other dispersed sites were filling up fast.  To our unbelievable luck, we pulled back up to the end of Forest Road 705 and found the site empty minus the chipmunks.

The end of this road was definitely not the prettiest setting we’d ever seen as there was a pile of tree limbs the size of a bus just piled there in a bland looking state.  Off to the right though was a grove of pines where a fire pit rested and a good flat spot for the tent lay waiting for us to make this place home.  As architects our nature is to see the potential in everything and careful analysis of the site told us where the best place for the tent would go.  Facing the fire pit with the beaver pond (full of rising brook trout) in the background.  By the time the tent was set up Mary Helen was busy cooking dinner and I was cutting enough wood to last a month (between glances at the beckoning water).  Just thinking about this site as I write makes me realize how much I love camping with my family.  It was that good a site. 

The first night we toasted a wonderful campfire and life in general until we were worn completely out.  At about 5:30 in the morning I woke to drain the Coors Lights out of my system.  Blurry eyed I walked out into the chilly morning air to the trees.  I woke up quickly as standing there in the clearing by the water were two massive bull moose grazing on thick wet grass looking uninspired by my performance.  I woke MH up quickly and she came out to look, but couldn’t have cared less at that hour.  They had disappeared into the forest when we roused a couple hours later to make breakfast burritos. 

As soon as breakfast was eaten we headed to Walden to grab a few things we had forgotten and couldn’t live without.  I don’t know how we forgot coffee, but our childrens’ lives depended on it.  The road was long and towards the end, a front tire was losing air.   Luckily there was one auto shop in town and they were happy to fix the tire for $15.  In Denver, it would have cost me $50 I imagine.  Thanks to Jack’s Auto Body and Service, we were back in business after a short stroll around town.  Jack’s shop hadn’t changed since the late 70’s.  Tires covered the mid-century furniture in the dust covered lobby and the pinup calendars were from the 80’s yet still intact, Miss January 1986 posing in a local somewhere very far from Walden, Colorado. 

Since we were already there, we decided to eat a cinnamon roll at the Moose Creek Cafe, with black coffee, and checked out the North Park Angler’s fly shop.  One of the coolest shops ever by the way.  I bought some beautiful flies and a cap and we headed back into the wilderness.

On the way back we witnessed yet another bull moose wading through a pond about a half mile from our camp.  Not bringing our Canon was turning out to be a big mistake for sure.  Come to find out, this very forest was where the first Moose were reintroduced back in the 70s. 

The next day we packed up after plenty of coffee and breakfast and cruised the 2 hours into Steamboat Springs for a day at the water park and sightseeing and ice cream.  The hot springs in town were excellent with tons of activities including an obstacle course that Phyllis and Pearl competed at over and over.  I recall it was a draw in the end yet I’m sure their recollections differ.  We ate lunch we brought from camp and enjoyed being among civilization for a few hours.

The next day I wanted to do a hike to a hidden lake I had heard about from a local.  We hiked for maybe a mile through very thick forest on a path that was used by animals and very few people and luckily found the lake that was more like a large deep pond.  Wielding my 6 wt. I had little hope that this puddle held fish.  Yet there appeared a great yellow fish under a branch paddling idly.  A brilliant cast with a huge gaudy bumblebee imitation put the ancient monster into motion.  He advanced, sipped, and turned.  The fight was on and the whole family was there to cheer me on.  Mary Helen actually netted the brute with the ability of someone who’d netted fish before.  I was amazed and humbled.  The fish was very old and high fives were given as it revived and swam back to the depths to rethink its choice of diet.

Directions: Getting here is easy and very scenic. Head toward Steamboat Springs, then towards Walden. Look for road 11A on the right and take it toward Seymour Lake. Pass the lake heading north and you’ll come to a Y in the road. Take it to the right and back south. See image below:

Stay on 11 while looking for dispersed spots. There are others along this road. You’ll eventually get to another small lake, Smith-Weiss Reservoir. Pass it and stay on the main road on the left. Follow the road for miles. You’ll see another little reservoir, Flat Lake. Pass that and just keep on going until you find a spot. Ours was the last on this road.

Some of the roads get pretty rough so choose what you want to experience and just get out there!

Published by willbarch78

I grew up in the middle of nowhere Texas. The nearest Walmart was a full two hours away. My family still runs a ranch back home that I grew up on, but at some point in my treasured youth I hung up the idea of becoming a cowboy, and pursued my passion for architecture. Today I still find myself trying to fit in to a life that has treated me with the average ups and downs one can expect after a certain number of years. My wife and I moved to Denver after attending Texas Tech School of Architecture in Lubbock as we needed a grade change from the Llano Estacado. We camp with our three growing girls all summer and into the fall while I write and create and fly fish to maintain sanity. Life is moving fast as our careers and children progress in all areas, so being outdoors with each other keeps us mostly grounded.

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