Dillon Lake

Another week, another lake. Well, technically it’s a reservoir… but I like the word lake so much better.

Dillon Lake
Dillon Lake

Dillon Lake has three national forest campgrounds scattered around its shores. We stayed at Peak One Campground on the east side of the lake.

Dillon Lake
Our Site at Peak One Campground

It was a fairly nice campground that once upon a time was a probably a very nice campground. The reason for its decline is due to the nasty insect that has wreaked havoc on so many of the forests in the western U.S. and Canada. For more than a decade the malicious mountain pine beetle has decimated some 4 million acres of forest in the western United States alone. The beetle burrows into the tree bark, reproduces inside the bark and begins feeding off the tree’s nutrients. Eventually the tree dies and the beetles move onto the next victim. One of the methods for lessoning the impact of the beetle is to cut down the infested trees with hopes of saving the non-infested ones. Obviously this practice cannot be carried out through the entire western U.S., so the cutting is selective and concentrated mostly in high use areas around homes, towns and campgrounds. All this means that the sites at the Peak One campground that were once encompassed in a dense lodgepole pine forest, are now are situated in a meadow-like setting.

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The campground from above- more meadow than forest

As you can see, there are still a number of trees scattered around the campground, and the forest service has planted some new baby trees in an effort to re-populate. But judging from the amount of cut down tree stumps around our site alone, it will be many, many years before the campground is back to its previous forested state.

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baby trees

Despite the lack of trees we ended up really liking this campground. For most of the week it was fairly empty, and even though we had a clear view of the site next to us, it was far enough away that we didn’t mind. Because of a small berm between us and the lake we couldn’t see the water from our site, but it was so close that we didn’t mind too much. The campground did have a handful of sites offering water views, but they were extremely close together and probably too small for us to fit in anyway.

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Our site + the lake view from the top of the berm

Dillon Lake lies in the middle of a very popular destination for both summer and winter visitors. Immediately surrounding the lake are the small towns of Frisco, Dillon and Silverthrone. If you widen the circle to a 10-15 miles radius you will find the ski resorts of Breckenridge, Keystone, Arapahoe Basin, and Cooper Mtn. This influx of resorts combined with the close proximity of interstate 70 makes this an area that seriously caters to the tourists. It also means that there is tons to explore around here. So much that we really only began to scratch the surface of potential activities. These days we’re kind of limited on how much we can do during the week due to Tim’s work schedule. Generally we get out of the house sometime between 3:30 and 4:00 for our afternoon adventure. This only gives us a few hours for exploration, and consequently we’ve been working on a few ways to make the best of this time. First of all, I try to either partially or completely make dinner earlier in the day so we can stay out for a few hours, get home later and not have to wait until 8 or 9 to eat dinner. Second, we try to have a plan out where we are going and how to get there. Third, we make an attempt to have an alternate plan in case of rain. Finally, by far the most effective way we’ve found to maximize our few hours in the afternoon is to restrict our activities to those close to our camp site. Luckily for us, Dillon Lake offered many nearby adventures- some that began right in our own campground. Like the lake, which provided our water loving pooch with his daily (sometimes twice daily) swim.

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Daily doggy swim

There was also a great trail system that traveled through and around the campground. Peak One Campground lies on the edge of a peninsula that juts out into the lake. As far as we could tell beside the campground, there was nothing else on the peninsula except for the extensive network of hiking/biking trails. We picked up one of the trails near the shore and followed it as it wound up to the top of the hill offering a view of the lake below.

Dillon Lake

Another great trail only a fifteen minute drive away was the hike up Tenderfoot Mountain. Located on the opposite end of the lake from our campground, Tenderfoot Mountain was an easy four-mile hike with incredible views of the lake below. The gently ascending trail climbed up a wide open hillside filled with sage bush meadows and small stands of aspen trees. A stellar view of the lake below was visible nearly the entire way up and down. Awesome trail.

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Lake Dillon as seen from the bottom of the Tenderfoot Mtn. trail
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On the trail up Tenderfoot Mtn.
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Dillon Lake as seen from the end of the trail

We wanted to go on a longer hike so I found one only half an hour away in the White Water National Forest. The hike to Lower Boulder Lake was about 6 miles through a forest of mostly dead or dying lodgepole pines. You would think walking through a forest of diseased trees would be sad, but on the contrary it’s rather fascinating to watch the forest as it transitions into a new, more diverse ecosystem. The light that filters down to  the forest floor through the now mostly bare canopy above has allowed a whole host of new groundcovers, small bushes and trees to sprout. Maybe this diversity it just what the forest needs to survive the next outbreak of insects.

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A forest in transition

We also found some outstanding wildflowers along the trail. Well, I found them and stopped to ohh and ahh while Tim marched on trying to keep the swarms of mosquitos from eating him alive. After about five minutes of flower admiration Tim yells down the trail, “hurry up, I am getting eaten alive.” To which I reply, “but I found wild Delphiniums!” Which is what I thought this gorgeous dark blue flower was. But now, I realize it’s actually Monkshood, which is possibly even more exciting because that was one of my favorite flowers from our yard back in Vermont. I’ve never seen them in the wild before, and even though I probably got a thousand bug bites while I was admiring and photographing them, it was totally worth it.

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Wildflowers on the trail

We brought dinner with us on the trail thinking we could eat beside the lake. What we didn’t count on was those mean, mean mosquitos that wouldn’t leave us alone. So after a quick stop to view the lake we booked it back to the safety of the truck.

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Lower Boulder Lake

In addition to hiking we also did some in town exploration. The three towns around Lake Dillon are all pretty small in both population and size. But not small in a small town kind of way- small in a next to the interstate and near lots of ski resorts kind of way. Meaning tons of condos, outlet stores, and restaurants. Basically the area caters to those with second homes, and those on vacation who like to shop and eat. Neither of us are huge shoppers, so we skipped the outlet stores, but I couldn’t help making a trip to the first Target we’d come across since Montrose. It was a fancy looking Target.

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A ski lodge style Target

We also sampled one of the local restaurants in Dillon while meeting up with fellow travelers Michele and Mark. This adventurous couple are wedding photographers who live nearby. They have a super sweet 4WD truck camper and in the wedding off-season travel quite a bit around the southwest. Michele and Mark are aspiring full-time RVers and they recently put their house on the market with the hope of traveling full-time in the near future. We had a blast meeting them, answering their questions about our life style and hearing about their very cool wedding photography business which focuses on weddings at the many nearby ski resorts. It seems that they already have a great set-up for living, working and traveling full-time in an RV, so we hope their house sells fast and we see them on the road soon! Per my usual routine, I forgot to take a single photo during our meet up. But I would suggest that you hop over to their travel blog, Two Happy Campers, or check out their photography website, In Photography, where they share incredible wedding photos along with some stories about their travels.

{Pretend there is a photo of a smiling Michele & Mark here}

Besides meeting two new like-minded folks, the best thing I discovered in town was the Dillon Farmer’s Market. I expected a small market with a few stalls filled with veggies and crafts. Well I wrong- so vey wrong. The market runs on Fridays from 10 -2 and from the looks of it every person visiting the area, along with several school groups were in attendance. The market was huge with three or four long isles filled with stalls selling fresh veggies and fruits, prepared foods, food stuffs like jams and sauces, and every kind of craft you could imagine. If I was going to be really critical I would say this was more of a craft and food market than a farmer’s market since I only found a handful of stalls selling fresh veggies and fruit. It didn’t matter though because I ended up at the Eat a Peach Organics stand where I got a huge bag of oragnic produce. I also scored a $2 cantaloupe, some local honey and a huge Gyro that I brought home to share with Tim for lunch. All in all it was a very successful farmer’s market visit.

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The Dillon Farmer’s Market

Finally, on our last night at Lake Dillon we drove over to check out the town of Breckenridge. In many ways it was a typical ski town with a main street filled with lots of outdoor clothing stores, souvenir shops, and restaurants. What wasn’t so typical were the old buildings in original condition that are mixed in with the stores along main street, the Victorian houses with enchanting landscaping, and the evidence of the mining history sprinkled throughout town. We enjoyed ourselves for a few hours wandering the streets and even indulged in some pizza & beer at a small pub filled with local folks.

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Downtown Breckenridge
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Downtown Breckenridge

With that we mark one more week in Colorado gone by and only two more to go. We can’t believe how fast the time has gone by, how much we’ve seen, and how much more we still want to see. Just in the area around Lake Dillon alone I can think of at least ten things we didn’t have time to see or do. As usual, we’ll be back.

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4 Responses to “Dillon Lake”

Comments

  1. Leigh

    I love it there!

    Reply
  2. Doug Trout

    My family owns a townhouse above the marina in Dillon. I have spent many summer and winter days in this area since I was a child. The lodgepole pine problem is pretty devestating. Despite that, this is a wonderful area. We are planning on taking our Airstream out next year and jumping off from Dillon. I am glad to see a post from Lake Dillon. If you are still in the area and need any advice, let me know.

    Reply

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