Mount Princeton Campground

When I made my reservation at Mount Princeton Campground (in a tight valley on the mountain for which it is named), I had already been to Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort, a hot springs with a few different pools, store, and accommodations of all sorts. The campground sat a few miles further up the road in the national forest. While there were no hookups here and, as usual in a national forest, the cell service was very limited (if any), many sites were large and each had a tent pad, fire ring, and picnic table. Water was available on site, as were pit toilets. Some sites were next to Chalk Creek which was quite loud. Dense forest provided needed shade and privacy.

Site 12 has several stairs leading to the fire pit and table, but it is a large site.

Our site, number 12, was on the outside of the small campground loop. It sat near the bathrooms (but not too close) and was very large. Boulders littered the back of the site and a short walk brought visitors to Chalk Creek. Water is available from a handpump and firewood was for sale from at the camp host’s site.

Back of site 12.

I wanted to camp here, go to the hot springs, and relax. When we arrived, as with many things this summer, the hot springs had ever changing rules and it was a weekend in August, the busiest time of year. The hot springs was not taking reservations but, instead, had a large line of people waiting on the metal stairs that go to the small main office and old bathhouse. They were allowing a particular number of people into the pools. Once the maximum was reached, people would be admitted as others decided to leave. The line had at least 50 people waiting for those who would leave (they were already on a waitlist). We were told people started lining up at 6 a.m.

We decided not to wait an unknown amount of time in the line and skipped the hot springs altogether. If in this area or camping nearby, I strongly recommend going to the hot springs. The hot springs is open year-round and has been entertaining and relaxing on previous visits.

Instead, we drove to St. Elmo, a relative ghost town several miles further into the mountains past the campground. As fate would have it, last year I read a book titled, “Memories of St. Elmo” by Charlotte Merrifield with Suzy Kelly. This small, deserted mining town had the usual set of characters, and this book brought them to life. I was excited to make the adjustment to our itinerary and go to St. Elmo.

The drive was filled with people bringing or driving quads and other recreational vehicles into the national forest and to the sites beyond St. Elmo. Upon arrival to this small, historic town, there were some newer cabins where summer-only residents were sitting on their decks, watching the trucks and other vehicles drive by. Though the town is “deserted” (meaning few residents), it had its share of summer tourists wandering the streets. We parked and did the same, going by the buildings I knew from the book. History Colorado is working to preserve and educate people about this town. Despite COVID, there were opportunities to look inside some of buildings. Others were boarded up or half collapsed. A general store filled with candy, antiques, books, and other trinkets was bustling. Stranger was their sale of “food” for an exuberant band of chipmunks who lived across the street from the store. Twenty or more people were buying food and feeding these creatures by hand at any given time. They little chipmunks seemed to love it.

The abandoned Stark Brothers Store and Post Office.

An outdoor antique yard also sits behind the general store where metal antique and not-so-antique items are for sale. People were meandering through this area as well, looking for a deal that was nowhere to be found. But the main attraction in the outdoor antique yard was definitely the hummingbirds that ate from the numerous feeders hanging on every eve of the general store. Hummingbirds swooped in and out of the area with rapid force with 50-60 birds swarming the building.

We had a picnic off the road and in the forest overlooking the town before we headed back to the campground. On our way back, I noticed Chalk Lake only one mile from Mount Princeton Campground. Another campground, aptly named Chalk Lake Campground, sits near Chalk Lake. The next morning, before we left, we tried fishing in Chalk Lake. The lake is small but beautiful, surrounded by mountains from the Collegiate Range. There were a few people fishing, but not many catching. We were lucky and immediately started catching small trout. Within one hour, I caught six trout and my son caught two, releasing all.

Chalk Lake on a quiet morning.
Catching trout in Chalk Lake

On our way back home, we stopped at the fish hatchery located only a few miles from Mount Princeton Hot Springs. Signs on the road direct travelers to visit this state hatchery. We didn’t know if there would be room for our camper, but there was a large enough space. The hatchery was open and the employees were incredibly helpful. We watched a short video describing the millions (4-5 million per year) of trout they raise at this hatchery each year and how they stock many of the waterways throughout the state with these fish (including Chalk Lake where we had just caught our fish only a couple hours before). Loading 5 gallon pails with fish food, the parks and wildlife rangers allowed us to meander throughout the site and feed the fish as much as we liked. The fish are segregated by size, but no matter where we threw the food, hundreds would swarm to catch a nibble. The hatchery was a fun experience for all of us.

Feeding trout at the fish hatchery.