Sometimes even the most beautiful locations can be clouded by bad memories. You know the kind of bad memories that involve a mama mouse setting up shop inside your RV and having a litter of (at least) a dozen tiny little mice that then proceed to run around in your furnace vents, come up through your stove and scurry over the back of the couch all the while leaving tiny mouse droppings in their trail? Yeah, those are exactly the kind of memories that make me never want to re-visit a place. Even if that place is the most gorgeous, private boondocking spot with views for miles. Even if three years have passed and that spot has since been visited by several others with no reported mouse encounters…those bad memories live on.
So this time when we discussed our return visit to Rabbit Ears Pass that spot with the awesome views was not even a consideration. Well…maybe we thought about for a brief second, but the thought of mice — combined with the definite possibility that there would still be snow up there — led us to seek out a new spot.
We ended up on FR 296, otherwise known as Rabbit Ears Pass West on Campendium. This dead-end dirt road has a number of pull-off and existing sites suitable for RVs. I should say suitable for some RVs. The sites themselves are plenty big, and some are even level, but the road is in rough shape in spots. Lots of big ruts and bumps make it a challenge to safely navigate and the road deteriorates so badly just past our spot that we wouldn’t have wanted to go any farther.
Of course, that didn’t stop a number of RVs from blindly barreling down the road. It always amazes me how many people pull into an unknown boondocking spot without checking it out on foot first. That’s our number one boondocking rule — walk it first! Even that’s not always enough. While we had no trouble getting into our spot, leaving at the end of the week was not so successful.
There is a very deep dip on the short steep uphill section that leads back to the main road. So deep and so steep that we almost ripped our bumper off (again) and even worse, one of the weight distribution bars on our Hensley hitch hit the ground and snapped in half! Yes, apparently those metal bars can break. Fortunately, we can tow without them but it means our hitch is very low to ground and the trailer jerks around when we hit the breaks. It makes me wonder how or why some people tow trailers without weight distribution bars? The good news is that the bars are easy to replace and we have one arriving at a UPS store near us this week.
Enough about all that though. Before the hitch incident, we spent a fantastic week in this mountain pass high above Steamboat Springs. There was hammocking…
And lots of walks around the neighborhood.
One day we walked across the street to check out the Meadows NF Campground. It was still closed for the year. I bet you can guess why.
Much of the campground is covered by a canopy of dense trees which meant deep piles of snow could be found in many of the sites and on sections of the road. It was a really nice campground though. Probably more suited for smaller RVs, but a few of the sites were large and open enough to get some solar power. The Meadows is a completely primitive campground with no running water, no power, and no dump station. I’m writing this about a week and a half after our visit, so chances are it’s now open for the season.
We did leave the mountain pass a few times to venture down into town. One day we did boring stuff like laundry and a visit to the grocery store, and another day we went to see the famous Fish Creek Falls.
It’s only a short walk to the falls, and while the tallest waterfall in Colorado is definitely an impressive sight, if you’re looking for a longer hike I would highly recommend continuing on to the Upper Falls. It’s another few miles to the get there, and the hike is steep (and at a high altitude), but it’s totally worth it in my opinion.
Just downstream from the Upper Falls was another waterfall. Are you keeping track? That’s three waterfalls in one hike.
After lunch next to the falls, we decided we weren’t yet ready to go back down. The trail continues on to an alpine lake and beyond. It’s about 5-6 miles to the lake (I came across conflicting reports) and while we didn’t think we would go all the way, the trail was simply too enjoyable to not at least go a little farther.
Eventually, we ran into some snow on the trail. It wasn’t all that deep, but walking on snow is a lot slower than walking on dry ground, so it seemed like a good spot to turn around.
All together we hiked about 8 miles which means we weren’t that far from the lake when we turned around. It was a fantastic hike anyway and I’m so happy we didn’t simply view the lower falls and not go any farther. We’ve learned that even though it might take some extra effort it’s always worth it to hike the extra mile (or 5).
Our final adventure in the area was a hike up to the top of Rabbit Ears Peak for an up close and personal encounter with the rock formations that both the peak and the pass are named after.
If you think those look more like randomly shaped rocks than rabbit ears, don’t worry, you’re not the only one. Legend has it that the rocks used to resemble actual rabbit ears, but over time erosion has worn down the remnants of this ancient volcanic plug. Adding to the erosion, a few years ago a large chunk fell off the western formation leaving it looking even less like a pointy ear and more like a hunk of rock. Despite the lack of rabbit ear likeness, the hike itself is pretty awesome.
At only 5.4 miles round trip with a ~1,000-foot elevation gain, this is not an especially long or difficult hike. But the last 1/2 mile is very, very steep and since the trail starts at 9,575 feet and climbs to 10,500 it might not be the best choice for those who don’t do well with high altitude hiking.
About a mile from the top we came to a snowy section. This time we trudged right through without stopping.
Not far after the snowy section, the trail started to get steeper. Soon we came to the last 1/4 mile which was nearly straight up. We pushed on.
The reward at the top was some pretty incredible views.
It was hard to get a good photo, but to the east were the mountains that make up Rocky Mountain NP. If you look just to the right of the “ear” and through those dead trees, you can just make out the snowy peaks.
And with that, we end a successful week of boondocking in Rabbit Ears Pass and mark our last bit of time in Colorado. I’m very pleased to report that we had not a single mouse – much less an entire family – move in with us. I suspect the lack of critters has more to do with the three cans of spray foam Tim used to seal up some giant gaping areas underneath the Airstream this winter (seriously, who builds these things?) than where we did or didn’t park. But regardless of what kept them away, it’s always good to be mouse free.
I don’t know if it was the lack of mice, the improved weather, or the fact that we got out and did more, but Steamboat Springs and the surrounding area really won me over this time around. Awesome hiking (with waterfalls!), just-the-right-size town, and free camping is a winning combination in my book. We never made it up to Steamboat Lake or the Strawberry Hot Springs, and there are still a bunch more amazing sounding hikes in the area, which puts the town high on our list of places we want to explore more. Until next time Steamboat Springs….