Starting this weekend, a few local campgrounds within the White River National Forest will be open and ready for action.
The U.S. Forest Service announced that lower-elevation campgrounds monitored by the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District officially open today. This includes the 47 sites at Difficult Campground off Highway 82 just east of Aspen and nearly 100 sites at six campgrounds along the shores of Ruedi Reservoir,.
The gates to Difficult, as well as the Mollie B and Little Maud campgrounds closest to the Ruedi boat launch on the west end of the reservoir, were not locked on Thursday afternoon. Some recreationalists have gotten in on the fun a little early: RV and tent campers could be seen at the western Ruedi campsites from Frying Pan Road last weekend.
Other open camping locations include Redstone Campground and its 39 sites, and Bogan Flats, which consists of 37 sites near Marble.
Shelly Grail, a Forest Service recreation manager, said Thursday that she doesn’t expect a lot of activity this weekend at local campgrounds. Though reservations are recommended during the summer, people looking to camp at Difficult or anywhere around Ruedi can probably just show up and find a spot over the next couple of weeks.
Starting in June — if previous years are any indication — the Front Range folks and out-of-state visitors will start taking up local campsites en masse, especially on weekends.
“The sites at Ruedi are in good shape and we’re ready for the summer camping season to begin,” Grail said. “There’s still some snow around the sites at Difficult — definitely late-spring conditions — but the campground hosts are there and they’re ready to get the season started.”
Reservations can be made via the website recreation.gov. Grail pointed out that reservations can be taken up to six months in advance, but not within four days of the visit. Camping at Difficult costs $26 per night while the Ruedi sites range from $15 to $26. Redstone Campground costs $34 per night while Bogan Flats is $25.
A full listing of White River National Forest campgrounds with information on opening dates, reservation requirements, prices and amenities is available here: https://www.fs.usda.gov/detailfull/whiteriver/recreation/?cid=stelprdb5361718&width=full. The site had listed the opening date for many local campgrounds as Saturday, May 18, but Grail confirmed that Difficult Campground and the Ruedi locations will be open today.
“I would think it would be pretty quiet this weekend,” she said.
Campgrounds at higher elevations that are situated past the Independence Pass winter gate — including Weller, Lincoln Gulch, Portal and Lost Man — remain closed given that the pass is not yet open. The delays for some of those sites could extend beyond the gate opening, which is expected in the first week of June. That’s because of the high snowpack and avalanche debris in some areas, including among the dispersed campsites on Lincoln Creek Road as well as the Lincoln Gulch and Portal campgrounds.
“It’s doubtful that the Lincoln Creek campsites will be open when the pass opens,” Grail said. “There’s quite a bit of work to do over there.”
The Chapman Campground, past the small east Ruedi campground of Dearhamer, opens sometime next week. It’s not going to be open this weekend because of a water-line project, Grail said.
Grail warned that bear activity is picking up throughout the forest. The Forest Service has issued a mandatory food storage order to decrease the likelihood of bear-human conflicts.
“Bears are out and about and we want to set them up for success this summer,” she said. Bears that become “habituated” to receiving food in a campground or some other recreation area can become a threat to humans, making them subject to euthanasia, a Forest Service press release says.
Here are some tips from the Forest Service, designed to keep bears from ruining your campsite activity:
• Keep food, cooking items and other attractants (such as scented toiletries like toothpaste or sunscreen) inside food lockers, in an approved bear-resistant container or sealed inside a hard-sided vehicle when not using them.
• Do not store food or toiletries with odors inside tents.
• Do not leave trash around camp. Deposit it in dumpsters, or double bag it and put it inside a hard-sided vehicle.
• Keep your fire ring clean; burn only paper and wood. Do not put food scraps, liquids, glass or metal in the ring.
Forest Service officials advise campers to check with a local ranger station prior to heading out on a trip. Rangers can offer advice on the status of campgrounds, roads and trails.
“Across the forest, we had an impressive spring as far as precipitation goes,” Forest Service public affairs officer Kate Jerman said in the news release. “The snow and rain over the past few months have created variable conditions on the ground. Unfortunately, some of our high-elevation recreation sites have been impacted by avalanche debris and debris movement.”
Jerman urged campers to exercise caution. “If you notice damage at a site, please report it to the local ranger station or campground host,” she said.
For more information about camping and recreation within the White River National Forest, call (970) 945-2521 or visit the website fs.usda.gov/whiteriver.