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When Camping Doesn't Go As Planned, But You Make the Most of It

Sometimes adventures don't go as planned and instead of roughing it and toughing it out, you adjust and admit you don't have to be so adventurous all the time. So while we did camp in 28-40 degree weather for a little over one day in rain/snow with a river of melted snow running through our swampy campsite, we didn't exactly rough it the whole time.

By: Brynn Schmidt + Save to a List

We had reservations at Moraine Park Campground in Rocky Mountain National Park for Memorial Weekend this year. However, one week before our plans, the park received a record amount of May snowfall and had to close all park roads due to over three feet of snow, avalanche danger and blizzard conditions. On top of that, weather wasn't looking so good for this weekend. The temps ranged from 22-45 degrees with rain and snow in the forecast. We decided to still go with a realistic approach that this park is only 40 minutes from our house and we could go home at any time if it totally sucked. 

Our campsite view - pretty sweet the first hour.....

We got to our campsite on Friday night and it was gorgeous. Views of Long's Peak from our tent and the surrounding mountain ranges were visible. We even had the sound of a river running right near our tent. However, that river was the melted three feet of snow from the weekend before and was not supposed to be there. Our campsite was a swamp except for the tent pad which was not too bad. The fire pit was full of a foot or more of water, but we realized we could lift and rotate it and get rid of the water. We decided we were good to go and set up camp. It was really cold but gorgeous, but you could not walk across our site without being in deep mud or the newly formed swampy marsh. So, we made some adjustments. Instead of making dinner in the muck and cold, we hopped in the car and drove into Estes Park for a nice warm meal inside. It was awesome. We saw tons of elk on the way there and when we sat down to dinner, the storm clouds moved in and the temperature dropped lower. 

We came back from dinner in layers of clothes and warm from the heat of the car. We made a fire and sat around it for awhile before the rain came. It was actually a really nice evening. We headed to bed and it was freezing. I actually slept in long underwear, a fleece, my down vest and a beanie - until I woke up with a raging headache from the hat on my head and took it off.  We have camped plenty of times when it is in the 30s, but the combination of low 30s, rain and a water-filled campsite changed things a little. It started pouring shortly after we went in the tent and did so on and off all night. I would have preferred the predicted snow, but it didn't get quite cold enough. We woke up early with torrential rain, so we decided to just go back to sleep. When we got up awhile later, the rain had stopped and it was just really cloudy and cold. We were going to get the hot chocolate going over our camp stove, but then decided to screw it. We jumped back in the car and headed back to Estes Park for breakfast. 

After a warm breakfast, coffee and hot chocolate, we debated our options. We were planning on rock climbing or hiking and both sounded kind of miserable in the snow/rain/sun/clouds mix. The weather had no idea what it was doing on Saturday. Again, we completely changed plans and got out the cameras and went in search of wildlife instead. We actually had an amazing day or wildlife watching. This was not what our goals were, but you have to be flexible and make the most out of your situation. We spent a lot of time in the car, but we got out to watch and photograph elk, big horn sheep, black bear sow and two cubs, wild turkeys and deer. It felt like a completely different park to me than it usually does. The aspen were so green, the rivers were overflowing and it had much more of a northwest feel than Colorado. 

We had an awesome time and got back to our campsite later that day. It was so cold. The tent had dried out some and we chilled at our campsite for a little while surrounded by water. Having had a fusion in two levels of my lower back four months ago, my pain had increased a lot by this time as well. So, we made another decision that wasn't totally part of our plan. We packed up the tent and headed back to the car and dropped off our site permit that was good through Monday on Saturday evening. We grabbed sandwiches at our absolute favorite place in Estes Park called Sckratch, and we headed home to Boulder. We made it in time to unload all the gear and binge watch one of our new favorite Netflix shows. Was the weekend what we had hoped for and planned? Absolutely not. However, we still went and had a great time with no feelings of guilt about our so-called camping experience. No one has ever determined there are actual rules for camping. We still slept in the tent even if we didn't do much else there and we have fun memories from the shortest, least-camping type trip we have ever taken. If you are flexible and willing to make changes, any weekend can be a great adventure.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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