The Rocky Mountains of Colorado definitely do offer a great escape from the extreme heat of summer. The high elevations offer cool temperatures and there are plenty of lakes and rivers to splash around in. Most of the great outdoor destinations in this state are located in National Forest properties, so finding a cozy campsite is easy to do. The Rockies offer plenty of activities and unique places to explore and this is the motivation to make the venture happen. No matter whether the vacation plan involves rock climbing, white water rafting, mountain biking or just plain old relaxing under a shade tree, camping definitely is the best way to go when visiting the Colorado Rockies during the summer season and this is especially true at the Arkansas River Recreation Area!
The Arkansas River Recreation Area is a Colorado summer destination that many tourists overlook, simply because it is located along a major highway. It is all too easy to assume that this recreation area will be like an overcrowded human zoo, because it is located along a paved major thoroughfare. There is one reason why this is not the case and it has to do with U.S. Highway 50 being “America’s Loneliest Road.” Since the modern Interstate Highway 70 is close by, old Highway 50 gets very little traffic, other than tourists going to specific destinations in this part of the state. In fact, most of the tourists just go to Royal Gorge and they do not head any further upstream into the mountains. What this all means is the Arkansas River Recreation Area usually offers plenty of elbow room and there are only big crowds on holiday weekends.
The Arkansas River Recreation Area covers several long narrow strips of land on either side of the river from Salida all the way downhill to Royal Gorge. The boundaries are not easily defined because private properties are in the mix and a few federal agencies regulate this area. There are several designated BLM and National Forest Recreation Areas along the river that have full facilities, boat ramps and picnic sites. Camping is an option at some of the recreation areas, but most of the campsites along the river are private business enterprises that have competitive pricing. Even though the Arkansas River Recreation Area only covers a narrow strip of land on either side of the river, it is surrounded by a vast wilderness area, so there is plenty to see and do just about anywhere the car is parked.
When driving on Highway 50 along the Arkansas River, the scenery is so picturesque that one simply has to stop at the scenic overlooks to take the breathtaking views in. Because there is river water next to the road, this is a great place for wildlife viewing, so be sure to pack a good camera! While stopping at an Arkansas River overlook near Royal Gorge during my spring season trip, I was lucky enough to spot a Colorado Cinnamon Bear ambling along the other side of the river. Seeing a big bear in a place where Cholla Cactus and sagebrush grow is not something that most folks expect. This big cinnamon color Black Bear obviously was looking for an easy meal along the river banks. Getting close to big predators to take a good photo is never a good idea, so I used a 70x300 telephoto lens to shorten the distance. Cinnamon color Black Bears are kind of a rare sight, so if you are lucky enough to spot one, the photo may be well worth framing!
There are several official Arkansas River Recreation Area access points along the road and most are day use fee areas with parking lots. The fee areas offer facilities, small craft launches, picnic tables, chargrills and some even have campsites. White water rafting is the prime sport on the river, but this is also a fly fisherman’s paradise. This river is loaded with a variety of trout and some of the deep pockets yield panfish. It simply does not get much more relaxing than spending some quality time fly fishing on the Arkansas River in this majestic Rocky Mountain setting!
A visitor will not find commercialized shopping centers, fast food joints or modern cookie cutter hotels along this part of the Arkansas river, except for at the end points in Salida or Pueblo. What will be found are cozy little vacation lodges, RV parks and old fashioned general stores. With amenities like this, it is easy to see that the focus is on enjoying the great outdoors in an unfettered traditional way.
With no hurries and no worries, a day can seem like it lasts as long as a week when leaving the modern world behind. This is the timeless nature of planning an escape to a wilderness destination like the Arkansas River Recreation Area. The cool fresh Rocky Mountain river water is mighty attractive during the hot summer season and the majestic views are like the icing on a cake. When considering that this destination lies along a major travel route, making the great escape happen does not get much more convenient than this. Chalking the Arkansas River Recreation Area high on the summer travel destination list is easy to do, because this is a great place for some fun healthy outdoor adventures!
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