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Doomsday: Our Journey to Bald Mountain

4 July 2024

Yesterday we headed out mid-day to trail run and dispersed camp along Bald Mountain Trail in Roosevelt National Forest, Colorado. Our best laid plans went awry about three hours into our trip, as the landscape was like a doomsday scene from an apocalyptic horror movie.

Bald Mountain Trail - desolate burned landscape courtesy of past forest fires

Getting there:

From Fort Collins, head north on US-287 to County Rd 74E, then in about 24 miles take a left turn onto Manhattan Rd (County Rd 69). Continue 2.4 miles to Forest Service Road 517 on the right. (In GPS, just search for Forest Road 517). There’s a large staging area at the start of the trail, where we disconnected sway bars and aired down tires for a more comfortable ride.

Bald Mountain Trail started out with very easy terrain – basically just a dirt road, easy enough for camper trailers to navigate. We saw three nice dispersed camp areas, in groves of green trees and aspens, within the first .3 miles or so, and all of them were already occupied. Okay, moving on...

Then, suddenly the landscape changed to a crazy apocalyptic scene, with burned and fallen trees as far as our eyes could see. Further camp areas were blocked off or obviously unsafe amid a plethora of widowmakers.

Dead forest - not the place to set up camp

The start of Bald Mountain Trail - an easy dirt road amid wide open spaces of dead and fallen trees

About two miles along the trail, it turned a little more rocky and I’d rate it as moderate. We still didn’t need four-wheel-drive with our rigs, so we continued on to a desolate yet amazing view!

Burned national forest view from Bald Mountain Trail

Frequent piles of cleared dead wood along the trail - no wonder there's a fire ban

At about four miles into the trail we finally engaged the 4WD and had a bit of rock crawling. It had been quite awhile since my rig was out on the trail and she was HAPPY, I could tell!

A mild but fun rock garden amid dead forest

At four and a half miles we opted to turn around in an area big enough to do so. Hub’s Jeep is top heavy with the rooftop tent, and we could see a steep very rocky bit ahead of us. Plus it was getting late in the day, and with not much daylight left to set up camp, we needed to decide what the heck we were going to do.

Heading back out to the Bald Mountain trailhead

New green vegetation is striving to rebuild the forest

We headed back out and pulled over at a potential camping spot to discuss next steps. The wind was absolutely awful in this terrain which no longer had the vegetation necessary to block the mountain breezes. In fact, the wind was so bad on the drive to the trailhead earlier that day, that it had ripped off my passenger side front fender flare. (I had backtracked to look for it but the wind had blown it who knows where so now I’ve got a front-fender-less Jeep and need to save up my pennies for new aftermarket flares. Ugh.)

In addition, we considered that there’s now a fire ban in both Roosevelt and Arapaho National Forests, with clear signage at the Bald Mountain trailhead and various points along the way. When I had researched this trip just a week and a half ago, campfires were in the clear – woot! If I’d checked again the day we left for the trip, I would have discovered the fire restriction order, effective July 2 through August 30, 2024. Dagnabbit!

Soooo... what to do? If we stayed, we’d have temps in the upper 30s F (forecasted nightly lows) with no campfire. Yeaaaaa... We’ve camped before without a campfire and it’s doable but far less than ideal.

Where to? Trail research the good ol' fashioned way.

As we were deliberating the good time certainly to be had at 40 degrees in 30 mph winds (that’s some barely concealed sarcasm for you), we considered heading further south on CR69 and investigating some of the many forest roads in the direction of Sevenmile Creek. Per the Roosevelt National Forest Motor Vehicle Use Map, there’s many a dispersed campsite in that area. However, much of it would be burned and we still wouldn’t be able to have a fire.

As luck would have it, just then my husband’s sugar alarm went off (he’s diabetic), and he discovered he had forgotten to pack insulin needles. So. Decision made. We called it a day trip and headed back home. (And I now have NEEDLES added to my camp packing list).

I’m disappointed we aren’t out camping this 4th of July, but I firmly believe things happen for a reason and this has worked out for the best. We get to enjoy a couple days of pre-packed camping food along with indoor plumbing, so what’s not to love?!

Happy Trails wherever you are, and Happy Independence Day to all you US of A Jeepers!

by Dawn Gallegos

Dawn Gallegos is the founding editor of the Chicks On The Rocks blog. When she's not working to fund her Jeep habit she's thinking up new ways to inspire others to explore the great outdoors!


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