Summer fun in Colorado high country already here
Every lap around the sun is different.
By now, just about everyone recognizes the night-and-day contrast between spring 2011 and spring 2012. From last year’s summer that nearly never happened to this spring’s incomprehensibly early thaw, Memorial Day weekend is about to rediscover its reputation as the unofficial kickoff to the Colorado summer. Especially in the high country.
Booking a Memorial Day weekend getaway in the mountains has always been a bit of a gamble. More often than not, the so-called summer kickoff celebration morphs into a mud-season homecoming complete with rain, snow and generally grizzly conditions. The rivers are running cold and fast, most mountain trails are closed to hiking and biking, and the campfire sizzle is due to seasonal drizzle.
But not this time around.
At the risk of jinxing it, the sucker bet of yesteryear is all but a sure thing in the Colorado Rockies this Memorial Day. In fact, Colorado’s high country is looking and feeling a lot more like June 20, the official start of summer, than the long weekend stand-in that steals the credit almost a month before.
The reality is that everything is arriving early in the Colorado outdoors this year, especially sunshine. As a result, the snow line has retreated to elevations upward of 11,000 feet in most areas and the water temperature is warm enough to make low-flowing rivers downright inviting. Even some wildflowers are beginning to bloom in mountain meadows, alongside early insect hatches that are making fishermen happy. If ever there was a spring to make the most of Memorial Day in the mountains, you’re looking at it (preferably through a pair of polarized lenses). An endless summer has to start somewhere, after all. If you don’t have a starting point this weekend, here are a few suggestions:
Sylvan Lake State Park, Eagle. A sunny day is all the reason needed to visit this shiny little jewel just west of Vail. And even at 8,500 feet, the picturesque park and campground is already wide open for business. That includes fishing for cutthroat, rainbow and brook trout in the 42-acre lake (no motors allowed), mellow mountain biking and hiking trails inside park boundaries or more ambitious missions in the mountains of the surrounding White River National Forest. The park has 44 campsites, several of them lakeside. Rental cabins and yurts also are available by reservation (check out nearby Yeoman Park Campground when full). See all Colorado State Parks and activities at www.parks.state.co.us.
Arkansas River Paddle Fest, Buena Vista. Colorado Kayak Supply’s annual Paddle Fest on the Ark is an ideal way for beginners to dip a toe into the boating world, whether it’s whitewater paddling, kayak fishing or multiday touring. Saturday and Sunday are the big days for clinics, including an all-day, on-water kayak course and pool sessions taught by Rocky Mountain Outdoor Center and shorter Kayak Fishing 101 clinics that include suggestions for picking out a fishing kayak and how to outfit it. Kayak Camping 101 teaches how to best pack your kayak for a day trip or a self-support expedition down the Grand Canyon. Live entertainment, pro kayak rodeo, SUP-surf demos and food venders add to the festival feel. Go to www.ckspaddlefest.com.
Gunnison Growler Weekend, Gunnison. Featuring three days of biking events, trail running races, a kids’ fishing-outdoor sports derby and an outdoor sports expo, the Gunnison Growler is designed for outdoors-loving families. Those who aren’t feeling race ready should head over to Pac Man Pond in Jorgensen Park, where kids up to middle school age can take part in the fishing derby on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. (Bring your own tackle.) The free event includes an archery range, .22-caliber shooting trailer, educational booths and lunch. Expo clinics include Elk Calling 101 with Jodi and Weston Clark of Mossback Game Calls at 10:30 a.m., Kokanee Fishing by Jared Jones of Rocky Mountain Tackle at noon and Fly Fishing the Gunnison Valley with Oscar Marks of Gunnison River Fly Shop at 1:30 p.m. Call 970-641-1501 or go to www.gunnisonchamber.com.
Black Powder Shoot & Rendezvous, Royal Gorge region. Held at the Florence Mountain Park southwest of Florence, the 37th annual “black powder celebration” sponsored by the Colorado Springs Muzzle Loaders includes shooting competition, trading posts and a period encampment suited to the mountain setting. Primitive camping (no pets) available throughout the weekend. Call 719-598-5717 or go to www.csmlinc.org.
Yampa River Festival, Steamboat Springs. The 33rd annual festival and corresponding Paddling Life Pro Invitational are true homegrown events celebrating river recreation in downtown Steamboat. Friends of the Yampa organizes the festival (Saturday through Monday), including kayak races and rodeos, raft racing, inner tube rodeo, riverboard demos and the popular Crazy River Dog contest. Be sure to bring along a fishing rod as well. Go to www.friendsoftheyampa.com.
What are your plans for Memorial Day weekend?