The Winding River Resort is a large campground complex set in the trees sandwiched between Rocky Mountain National Park and the town of Grand Lake. The property is an amazing spot bordered by the Colorado River, the national forest, and the national park. The convergence of these three things brings a variety of guests to the area.
We traveled here from Pearl Lake State Park, driving from pine forests through high dessert, and back again into yet more pine. This is a short drive and we decided to stop to eat lunch at one of several state turn-outs that follow the river and provide opportunities to park and fish. Mosquitos, which are generally missing from Colorado’s landscape, were thick and thirsty at one of several pull-offs along the highway. We quickly jumped in the camper and made sure not to allow any uninvited quests inside. These shaded areas make nice stops along the river on this gentle drive and are usually used by people fishing on the river. This particular pull-out had a small lake for kids to fish (but was also popular with mosquitos on this particular day).
We arrived at Winding River Resort and checked into our full hook-up spot. There are a variety of sites available, from completely primitive to full-hookups. The full-hookup spots are mainly located in the back field, lined up close to each other and near an area where campers and others can rent quads and vehicles to ride through the national forest. A smaller, full hook-up area is located near the front of the campground.
These sites are surrounded by tall pines and, though they are close together, they feel much more like the pine tree camping experience I prefer. Luckily, I got one of these spots. The campers in the “culdesac” next to us (Columbine Ct.) were there for at least one week, camping as a retired group, and had large campers or fifth wheels set up with full outdoor kitchens, yard furniture, and every possible item to make it feel like home. They were also friendly.
We enjoyed staying here for various reasons such as its amazing proximity to Rocky Mountain National Park. The park boundary is the Colorado River in this area, so if you cross the river, you can walk directly into the park on a trail. You are still required to have a pass (and during COVID when we were there, a reservation to enter the park before 6 p.m., which we did have). Kids were playing in the low-running river.
Winding River also has its own stables, offering horseback rides directly into Rocky Mountain National Park. On our second day here, we took a ride with our guides and a small group of people. The ride begins on the trail across the road from the resort and meanders through the forest, into meadows, and follows the river. The guides provide history, are helpful in explaining the typography, and make the experience pleasant. At the end of our ride, we rode through the Colorado River as we re-entered the property, a pleasure that we didn’t expect but one that we will not soon forget.
Reserving a time to enter Rocky Mountain National Park, we were not met with the usual lines that accompany this park in the summer. We had been to the park several times before, usually coming from the Estes Park side. The back side is less traveled in normal years, and COVID made the number of visitors even fewer now. We drove into the park and found a trailhead and parked; usually a difficult feat at 9:30 a.m. in the middle of summer. The Colorado River Trailhead hike was an easy, fun hike to a dilapidated cabin and settlement in a meadow near the Colorado River.
The trails kept going, but another storm was moving in, so we headed back to the car. We were excited to spot a moose much closer to the trail than what is recommended. We took our time, quietly passing and photographing it as it enjoyed its lunch.
We decided to take the winding back road up the mountain before the storm blew in and we enjoyed the scenery along with the twists and turns and clinging overlooks. The vistas at Rocky Mountain are breathtaking, and not necessarily for those afraid of heights.
After descending again into the valley, we enjoyed lunch in the car during the storm at another picnic area and then headed to a large valley where once a lodge and cabins stood. Taking the historical walk through this area afforded a good historical perspective of the area and the preservation accomplished by the Park Service.
That afternoon, we headed into the town of Grand Lake, a small town situated near the largest natural mountain lake in Colorado. It’s not the largest lake in Colorado, but it is lovely with cabins and homes lining one side, trees on much of the other, and the small town filled with shops and restaurants nearby. We browsed in the shops, then had to eat ice cream at one of many ice cream shops. Local restaurants and breweries were also open and busy.
A waterfall hike on Rocky Mountain National Park property begins near the town, and we decided to take the easy hike to the falls. This was the busiest trail we were on the entire vacation, but there were still plenty of parking spaces later in the afternoon.
Winding River Resort has several fields to play games, areas for groups to meet, a camper store, and has an area to rent ATV’s directly in the back of the property. Several accommodation options, including spots to camp with horses, are also available. Their location is perfect for a trip to see this area.