Do you know what you are going to get when you visit one of Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s 42 state parks?
For the most part, you will find clean campgrounds patrolled by dedicated park rangers. You might find yurts, or cabins or expansive reservoirs, although I’ve worked at a great park that had no water to speak of. Most of our parks have a variety of trails to satisfy casual walkers to high-octane hikers. And most have educational programs for children and adults, unique Visitor Centers, and great wildlife-watching opportunities.
But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m asking if you know, and will be prepared, for what you may find?
For example, at Eleven Mile State Park, we often have to wear 6 layers and 2 sets of footwear that you alternate several times throughout the day.
As I’m writing this, I have been in my office most of the day and the weather has gone from 15 degrees and foggy, to snowing, to blue skies and 35 degrees. And it’s only mid-afternoon. Who knows what the next few hours might bring.
This is not a complaint. I love it. But guests may not love the dramatic weather changes if they are unprepared when they get here.
Winter and spring are not the time for impulse travel or recreating. Spring weather is volatile and can bring the heaviest snows of the year.
Since Colorado’s 42 state parks are spread across the state, the differences can be dramatic.
You may have seen news reports of the boating season opening in the Northeast Region of the state. And Lake Pueblo has open water for boating year-round. But here in South Park, we have 27+ inches of ice on Eleven Mile and boating will not happen until mid-to-late April sometime. Some years, water doesn’t open until May.
I had a man from out-of-state call me asking for the number to the marina so he could reserve a rental boat. He had made a reservation for camping in mid-March at Eleven Mile and assumed he could get on the water.
When I explained the ice and that we are always below freezing over night, he cancelled his reservation. I directed him to Lake Pueblo State Park because the outdoor experience he wanted was available there in mid-March. If he had not called, he and his family would have been very ill-prepared for the conditions and probably very disappointed.
Make sure you have all the gear you need for all the possible conditions you will be going to and through. It is always best to check out the park website and social media accounts before you start the trip. That’s where you’ll find up-to-date information and phone numbers you can call. In large weather events, press releases are sent with closure and conditions for the parks. All of our parks have condition links on the first page of their website.
Did you know that at high mountain parks like mine, we have an extra season squeezed between winter and spring? It’s mud season. It’s commonly associated with ski areas. But it’s real and it affects our parks and other high-altitude parks.
Again, it seems you never know which Colorado you are going to find when you arrive. So I have some tips so you enjoy your time in our parks.
First, you need to have the right clothes and equipment, depending on the activities you have planned.
Summers are no different. Eleven Mile has cool summer temperatures. It can get downright cold at night. Pack your jackets and pants. But if you are heading to John Martin Reservoir State Park near Lamar, plan on hot sun and heat in the summer.
During the winter, you need to know more than just the conditions of where you will be staying. You need to know the weather and road information for the drive.
I live 45 minutes from the park. During the weekend, there was a snow storm. The park got 10-12 inches of snow, while I had 28-30 inches at my house. The roads were not passable if you were driving westbound on U.S. Highway 24, but fine if you went through Guffey.
No matter where you want to go in Colorado or what season it is, you need to know everything you can find about the conditions. If you plan to join me here at Eleven Mile, bring lots of layers and do not count on your electronics working.
Written by Darcy Mount. Darcy is the Eleven Mile State Park Manager. If you have general questions about Colorado Parks and Wildlife, email Darcy at AskARanger@state.co.us. Darcy may answer it in a future column.