Camping to reopen Tuesday in Routt County; lodging ban amended |

Camping to reopen Tuesday in Routt County; lodging ban amended

Colorado Parks and Wildlife plans to reopen campgrounds starting Tuesday, following approval from the Board of Routt County Commissioners to amend a public health order that prohibited camping at developed sites as a way to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Derek Maiolo

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Camping at state parks in Routt County is set to reopen Tuesday following an amendment to the county’s lodging ban. 

During a meeting with Colorado Parks and Wildlife on Friday, the Board of Routt County Commissioners unanimously voted to loosen the ban, which restricted all short-term lodging in an attempt to deter visitors and limit the spread of COVID-19.

The amendment only allows camping on CPW-operated campgrounds, according to the commissioners. The state agency has been working with the Colorado Department of Health and Environment to develop health protocols and a mitigation plan to expand recreation opportunities while working to prevent the spread of the virus. 

This permits camping at Routt County’s four state parks: Steamboat Lake, Pearl Lake, Stagecoach and the Yampa River State Park near Hayden. The county’s lodging ban, set to expire on May 31, still applies to all hotels, motels, short-term rentals and non-CPW campgrounds. 

The amendment comes after Gov. Jared Polis announced plans last week to ease restrictions imposed to slow the spread of COVID-19. Part of those plans, under the safer-at-home phase, includes the ability for CPW to resume more operations at state parks across Colorado. Polis gave each county final authority to decide how and when to reopen campgrounds or to keep them closed.

In a discussion of the amendment, Commissioner Beth Melton acknowledged that loosening the ban potentially could lead to new cases of the virus, particularly if people travel from outside the county to camp, but she ultimately saw the risk as relatively low compared to other activities. 

“There a risk that people come from outside the area, but I think the reality is that being outdoors is safer than being indoors,” Melton said.

Many people had booked camping trips to Routt County prior to the commissioners’ vote to allow it.  As of Wednesday, May 13, the sites at Steamboat Lake were completely booked for Memorial Day Weekend, according to Park Manager Julie Arington.

Commissioner Corrigan voiced frustration over what he saw as inconsistent messaging from the state government that is simultaneously encouraging camping yet maintains an order for Coloradans to avoid traveling further than 10 miles from their homes. The state parks in Routt County are more than 10 miles from Steamboat Springs.

Camping tips from CPW

Plan as if you are going to the moon:

  • You must have a reservation. No exceptions.
  • Plan ahead. Actively practice the 7 Principles of Leave No Trace, which includes planning ahead and preparing. The goal is to eliminate the need for stops to and from your camping adventure.
  • Top off your tank. Fill up your gas tank in your neighborhood before you leave to avoid stopping both to and from your camping destination.
  • Plan your meals ahead of time. Use a cooler and shop at your local grocery store near where you live  before you go. Make sure you have all the equipment necessary to cook, consume, and dispose of waste from your meals.
  • Safety first. Bring a first aid kit and put it under the seat of your car (or refresh the first aid kit that you already have).
  • If you plan to camp in a dispersed area, bring your own portable toilet or other equipment to dispose of human waste properly (public facilities may be closed). Failure to properly dispose of waste, especially in areas with high visitation, damages the environment and impacts other visitors.
  • Pack out your trash. With limited staff and services likely in many parks and protected areas, trash and recycling receptacles may not be emptied as often as normal. This can result in trash overflowing from receptacles which becomes litter and can harm wildlife. Instead, pack your trash and recyclables out with you all the way home and utilize your own receptacles.

Source: Colorado Parks and Wildlife

In news releases and on its social media, CPW is encouraging people to camp close to home and to plan ahead with supplies in their hometowns. Campers should buy food, water and other items ahead of time and fill up their gas tanks before leaving, so they don’t have to stop along the way.

“Plan as if you are going to the moon,” CPW officials said in a tweet.

These steps will help to limit contact with areas that may have been exposed to the virus and prevent people from spread it to others. 

Campers also should continue to practice recommended health guidelines, such as maintaining social distance and washing their hands.

Some facilities and services may be limited, advised Kris Middledorf, a local wildlife manager with CPW. Restrooms, trash cans and other facilities might be closed or restricted. People should bring supplies like toilet paper, hand sanitizer and trash bags.

Cabins, yurts, teepees, group facilities and visitors’ centers remain closed until further notice, according to a news release from CPW.

People must make reservations prior to camping. To make a reservation at a CPW campground, call 1-800-244-5613 or online at

Campgrounds and developed recreation sites on National Forest land remain closed under a region-wide order until May 31, according to Aaron Voos, a local public affairs specialist with the U.S. Forest Service. Officials could announce an earlier reopening, but no decisions have been made yet, Voos added. Fire bans also are in effect within the National Forest.

As of Friday, a monthlong, seasonal closure for elk calving is in effect on 355 acres in the National Forest on Buffalo Pass. The closure, which expires June 15, includes three trails on Buffalo Pass: BTR, Flash of Gold and Great White Buffalo.

“If respected, this closure area provides pockets of habitat where elk find security and food during spring calving without being disturbed by human activities,” Voos said in a news release about the closure. 

Dispersed camping remains permitted. As always, campers should people should practice the seven principles of Leave No Trace ethics, such as properly disposing of waste and respecting wildlife and other people.

To reach Derek Maiolo, call 970-871-4247, email or follow him on Twitter @derek_maiolo.

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