Prepare the s’mores: Routt County campgrounds to reopen next week |

Prepare the s’mores: Routt County campgrounds to reopen next week

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 — While campgrounds across Colorado are beginning to reopen this week, the Routt County Board of Commissioners is not ready to give the green light to allow camping at local parks.

On Monday, Gov. Jared Polis announced plans 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 Colorado Parks and Wildlife to resume more operations at state parks. Polis gave each county final authority to decide how and when to reopen campgrounds or to keep them closed.

“We ask that campers be very mindful that camping today may look very different from what you might be used to, but we are excited for people to be able to begin planning their next camping trip in Colorado,” Polis said in an update on the reopening.

Camping at state parks

As of Tuesday, many state parks, including Elkhead Reservoir State Park in Moffat County, have allowed camping at developed campgrounds, which had been closed to limit the spread of COVID-19. Under the looser restrictions, campgrounds must limit capacity to 50% until Friday, and people must make reservations ahead of time, according to a news release from the state agency. After Friday, campgrounds may accept reservations at full capacity, but all campers must make reservations beforehand.

During a meeting Wednesday, local park managers with CPW met with the Routt County commissioners to work together on a similar reopening plan.  

State parks in Routt County, including the Steamboat Lake, Pearl Lake, Stagecoach and Yampa River state parks are closed to camping under the local lodging ban, according to the county commissioners. While they considered allowing CPW to reopen campsites this week, the commissioners ultimately decided an amendment to the order would be necessary to avoid confusion over what type of lodging is and is not allowed.

Commissioner Beth Melton also wanted to take time to assess the situation and ensure the reopening of campgrounds would not lead to a resurgence of cases. 

“I am not as concerned about the spread of the virus within the campgrounds,” Commissioner Beth Melton said during the meeting. “The bigger concern is bringing out-of-town visitors into Routt County and the potential for introducing new cases in that scenario.”

The commissioners plan to vote Friday on an amendment to the health order, which would allow CPW to open its campgrounds with mitigation protocols in place, as approved by the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment. 

If they decide to allow camping in these areas, reservations could be made starting Tuesday, according to Kris Middledorf, area wildlife manager for CPW.

The amendment likely would not allow any other type of lodging to reopen, including private campgrounds. This is because the managers of those sites would not necessarily adopt state health guidelines to protect the public, as CPW is required to do, the commissioners said.

“We have been doing everything we can to work collaboratively with counties to reopen camping these areas,” Middledorf said, adding that the goal is to ease restrictions in a responsible way and address any concerns from county officials. 

Many people already have planned trips to stay at Routt County’s state parks ahead of the commissioners’ vote. The camping sites at Steamboat Lake are completely booked for Memorial Day Weekend, according to Park Manager Julie Arington.

Camping elsewhere

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.

Dispersed camping still is allowed under the restrictions, but people should practice the seven principles of Leave No Trace ethics, such as properly disposing of waste and respecting wildlife and other people.

Colorado continues to mandate that people do not travel more than 10 miles from their home to recreate. Officials reiterated this order in the wake of campgrounds reopening to discourage long-distance travel.  

“Recreate close to home — that goes for camping, too,” said Randy Hampton, the local public information officer for CPW. “This is not the time to run halfway across the state, nor to a neighboring state.”

For those preparing to camp, CPW recommends planning ahead and packing enough water, food and other supplies in one’s hometown before traveling elsewhere. Campers also should 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 passing it on to others.  

Areas where people are camping also may have reduced services, officials advised. Restrooms, trash cans and other facilities might be closed or have limited service. For those reasons, people should bring supplies like toilet paper, hand sanitizer and trash bags.

To make a camping reservation at a CPW campground, call 1-800-244-5613 or online at

Plans to open other activities and operations will be announced later in the month. Gov. Polis expects to have a decision on whether ski resorts, restaurants and summer camps can reopen by May 25. Further easing of restrictions under the “safer at home” phase will be considered after June 1. 

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

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