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Illustration of RV in park
Illustration: Getty Images.

Camping With the Comforts of Home

RV-ing has hijacked the family vacation—and that’s a good thing! Here’s why people love it, along with tips for getting in on the fun.

There are a lot of ways to explore the wonders that Colorado has to offer, but few afford the sense of freedom paired with familiar comforts that a recreational vehicle does. Though RVs range in size from quaint and cozy to downright behemoth proportions, they all have one thing in common: No matter where you go, you’re home. “As a vacationer, the RV allowed us to travel and see the country, experience the cultures, the cuisines, the architecture, and nature,” says Mary Arlington, executive director of the Colorado Campground and Lodging Owners Association. “But we did it from the comfort of our own bed, our own wardrobe, our own books and TV, our own home.”

Avid RVer and Littleton resident Janet Clark, who has driven her family’s rig all over the U.S. including much of Colorado, agrees. She recalls early forays into backpacking (“I hated it!”) and “upgrading” to car camping when her first child was born. But when she and her husband got a screaming deal on a pop-up camper, around the same time her second child was born, Clark transitioned to traveling in a home on four wheels and was hooked. “We had some really fun memories of tent camping with an infant and how neurotic you can be about making sure the baby is warm and heating up milk bottles on a campfire,” she laughs, “but the pop-up was great because it was sleeping off the ground and there were some creature comforts like a furnace.”

That pop-up turned out to be Clark’s “gateway drug” to RV-ing. She and her family have since owned a fifth wheel, a Class C camper, and now a travel trailer, with each change in RV reflecting their square footage needs and preferred camping destinations at the time. No matter the rig, however, RVing was always an integral component to her family’s ability to get into nature and reconnect with one another.

And that’s the beauty of the RV-ing. “We’re searching for those real connections and adventures,” says Courtney Bias, director, strategic marketing and communications for the national RVing resource, Go RVing. “We’re searching for real life and not that virtual life. And RVs are that perfect vehicle for that.”

Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forest. Photo: Bob Wick

Colorado Campsites

Best for a Beach:
Lathrop State Park
Walsenburg, CO

Situated just more than five miles from Interstate 25 in southern Colorado, Lathrop State Park is the perfect destination if water is integral for your ideal RV trip. The park’s two lakes (one of which has water warm enough to swim in) offer recreation aplenty, whether you’re a slower-paced paddler or high-throttle boater. Fishing fans: Head to Horseshoe Lake to snag a tiger muskie.

Best Mountain Vista:
Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forest
Delta, CO

Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forest boasts five of Colorado’s 58 fourteeners (peaks more than 14,000 feet high). Summit one if you like, or take an easier route and drive your rig along one of the many scenic byways. It’s hard to beat the San Juan Skyway with its majestic views across the rugged peaks of its namesake, the San Juan Mountains.

Best for Kids Activities:
River Run RV Resort
Granby, CO

Complete with a playground, pool, bocce ball court, and off-leash dog park (not to mention the arcade, hot tubs, and bowling alley), River Run RV Resort is what local RVer Steve Moore calls an “RV paradise.” Don’t feel like cooking one night? Hit the resort’s Summit Bar & Grill for a dinner the whole family will love.

Best for Wildlife Viewing:
Rocky Mountain National Park
Estes Park, CO

Each September and October around dusk, the elk of Rocky Mountain National Park put on a symphonic mating display. The resonant bugling of bull elk looking for a partner rings across the park in a distinctive call that’s as elegant as it is eerie. Book a site in Moraine Park Campground to be in the middle of it all.

Photo: Laura Rhea

One Year, Five People, 300 Square Feet

Laura Rhea and her family of five were living the American Dream: comfortable house in Lafayette; great community; and kids—ages 8, 11, and 13—all happily involved in activities. Their pop-up camper was great for weekend getaways, but overall, she felt exhausted. Musings of a simpler life on the road and more time together as a family, a picture painted by the many RV-traveling families she follows on Instagram, seemed alluring, if unattainable.

When two close friends her age passed away from cancer, Rhea and her husband looked at each other and asked what they were waiting for. “So many people talk about what they’re going to do after retirement. And we were like, ‘Why wait?’ Let’s create and live the life we want right now,” she remembers. “We wanted to be living life with intentionality, rather than just letting it happen to us.”

About eight months later, Rhea and her family bought a used Ford Super Duty F-350 dually, a 300-square-foot fifth wheel, and rented out their sticks ‘n’ bricks home—all necessary preparations for a 14-month, cross-country road trip that will take them from Maine, down through the East Coast to Florida, across the Southeast and Southwest, and up through California on their way north to British Columbia. They plan to stay close to a week in each full hook-up campsite (electricity and Wi-Fi are must-haves for remote work and school) and have built a bucket list of experiences like swimming with manatees, seeing a Broadway show, and spelunking. Along the way, they’ll homeschool the kids, incorporating experiential education whenever possible.

Is Rhea worried about cramped quarters and the stresses of life on the road? Of course. But she and her family continually return to the mantras of “love big, live small” and “less junk, more journey.” She’s eager to fill her life with experiences, not things. “We talk a lot about how home isn’t a place or a building. Home is the people we’re with,” she says. “And we can take that anywhere.”

Trip Highlights

Renovating How-tos

RVs are known for many things. Style is rarely one of them. “Apparently all RVs were designed by a grandmother in Indiana in the 70s: Brown, brown, brown, brown, darker brown, lighter brown. Everywhere,” laughs Rhea, who’s planning a full remodel of their fifth wheel, just like they did to their pop-up camper a few years ago. She’s quick to say the process doesn’t have to be complicated: “A camper remodel is something that anyone can do with a few YouTube videos and some scissors.” Here’s her advice.

Don’t overcomplicate it.
Simple changes can make the biggest difference. Try replacing the stock linoleum with peel-and-stick vinyl flooring. Use a heat-activated adhesive like Stitch Witchery to “sew” new curtains or reupholster the cushions (no needle and thread required!). And if you do nothing else: Paint! “It’s the cheapest, easiest way to completely transform a whole space,” Rhea says.

Use durable materials.
RVs are made for extensive travel and dirt-ridden campsites. Add in kids, pets, and limited square footage, and it’s important that any updates you make can withstand wear and tear. But while you’ll want to choose durable materials, keep an eye on weight. Remember, you have to tow whatever upgrades you make.

Spark ideas through social media.
“I have gotten so many great ideas from the different families I follow,” Rhea says. Check Instagram for design inspiration and YouTube for an endless stream of renovating instruction videos. Rhea’s favorites include @laceyautumnbrooke and @r.maria.fuller on Instagram and RVgeeks on YouTube. She also highly recommends the RV Renovations Facebook group.

Top 10 Tips

Seasoned RVers give us their travel hacks for a great time on the road.

Packing and Cleaning
Book early. You’re not the only one angling for the best campsite, so plan ahead. Reservations for many of Colorado’s campsites open 6 months ahead to the hour—and you’d better believe there are people staying up until midnight to snag their favorite spots.

Keep Colorado’s climate in mind.
Remember, it gets cold at night in Colorado. Even if you’re planning for sunscreen and swimsuits during the day, expect temps to dip in the evening. Be sure to bring along jackets and long sleeves for s’more time.

Bring one bin per family member. Long-time RVers swear by this organizational tip, which gives everyone in the family a go-to spot for everything they bring. “The key to sharing small spaces is good organization, and having a spot for every single thing. The baskets allow us to do that,” Rhea says.

Plan meals according to where you’ll be cooking. Fragrant dishes might tantalize taste buds, but you won’t want to smell dinner when it’s time to hit the hay. Aim to cook smelly meals outside the RV.

Driving and Insurance
Be a courteous driver, especially on mountain roads. You already know to stay in the right lane unless you’re passing. Also keep an eye on the rear-view mirror if you’re traveling on a one-lane road. If you notice a line of cars starting to form behind you, pull over once it’s safe to do so and allow the conga line to pass.

Practice backing up ahead of time. This one is a marriage-saver. Head to an empty parking lot before your trip and go through the motions of parking your rig. Nail down which terms and hand signals you’ll use (and won’t use).

Shop around for RV insurance. It might be convenient to use your current auto insurance company for your RV too, but there’s a possibility it will be way more expensive. Clark remembers finding a carrier that was half the cost after taking the time to shop rates.

Kids and Pets
Involve your kids in the planning process. Ask them for help planning meals or let them choose which hiking trail to explore. They’re more likely to feel excited about a trip if they feel some ownership in it.

Courtney Holden is a Boulder-based writer resigned to the fact that train tracks and toy cars have become a part of her living room decor. The spur-of-the-moment hugs and “I love you Mommy” moments are worth it.

Family Food

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