Touring the Colorado Rockies by RV

A family of six takes a five-day motorhome trip in the mountains

Relaxing in an RV

Our four kids, ages 2 to 10, loved the idea of a motorhome trip, but my husband, TJ, and I were prepared to hate it. For wilderness lovers like us, the idea of camping in a gas-guzzling recreational vehicle ― complete with microwave and VCR ― held little appeal.

What we found, on a five-day trip through the Colorado Rockies, was that traveling by RV is a great way for our family to explore the scenic towns and backroads of our home state. Motoring through the spectacular high country of Rocky Mountain National Park, Steamboat Springs, Leadville, and Breckenridge, we always had our home base with us. In between hikes and bike rides, the kids could make a pit stop, grab a snack, or take a nap. It was like car camping with indoor plumbing and a coffeemaker.

What the kids loved: Inviting their friends over to tour the Winnebago Minnie the night before we left. Unrolling the RV's shade awning. Climbing the ladder to the roof. Pushing the button to operate the slideout, expanding walls that zoom out to double the living space. And zooming it in again...and out again...

What TJ and I loved: Waking up on a comfy full-size mattress and down pillows, on our first morning in Rocky Mountain National Park, to a jaw-dropping view of the Continental Divide framed in the bedroom window. Firing up the generator to brew a pot of Peet's coffee to sip by the campfire. Being able to serve dinner within minutes when we arrived late at a campground by Turquoise Lake near Leadville ― the lasagna had been warming in the oven as we drove.

Memorable moments: Fishing in Rocky Mountain National Park, where 2-year-old Charlie was sure he hooked several trout. Stopping for ice cream in Grand Lake and letting Bonnie, our Bernese mountain dog, cool off with a swim. Tubing down the Yampa River in Steamboat Springs, past bubbling hot sulfur springs. Hopping on bikes to ride into Breckenridge for dinner ― and then hightailing it back to the motorhome when a summer thunderstorm struck.

Creature comforts: After an icy plunge in Turquoise Lake with TJ, 10-year-old Lucy and 8-year-old Henry were happy to jump into a hot shower in the camper, parked just steps from the lake.

Wide load: TJ was usually the designated driver, and he found it much easier than he thought. "I went from dreading back-in campsites to feeling like a pro in no time," he bragged. But we quickly learned that venturing up scenic dirt roads wasn't worth the upheaval in the cabinets. Our only mishap was pulling into a gas station and cutting the turn too tight, resulting in a 2-foot scrape on the RV.

Biggest relief: Dumping the sewage turned out to be a snap ― no odor, no mess.

Setting up camp: Wilderness campgrounds in national parks and forests offered much more privacy and seclusion than commercial RV parks, many of which were really just glorified parking lots. Commercial parks did have the advantage of electrical and water hookups, not to mention gawking privileges at RV setups much more luxurious than ours. However, we could have "dry camped" (camped without hookups) using just the water tank and the generator; rental companies may charge an additional fee for increased generator use.

Plenty of storage: RV rental companies will outfit the camper with linens and cookware for a fee, but we found it just as easy to bring our own gear, including a coffeemaker, a can opener, and charcoal for barbecues. We stowed fishing rods and camp chairs below the chassis and carried bikes on a rack. Although not really ecologically correct, paper plates and plastic cups make for less rattling around in the cabinets and quicker cleanup (and less water use) after meals.

Best memory: The boys pulling out their mitts for an impromptu game of catch with players from the Little League World Series playoffs, who happened to be staying at our RV campground in Steamboat Springs. Watching the Little League games the next day and collecting players' autographs. With an ear-to-ear grin across his freckled face, 6-year-old Jack begged, "Can we do this again next year?"

Travel planner

OUTFIT: The 31-foot Type C Winnebago Minnie we used was roomy enough for our family of six and our dog, with a bedroom in the back and a dining table and couch that folded out into additional beds. Rental sizes range from 22 to 40 feet and sleep four to eight.

COST: RV rental prices vary by size but start at around $200 a night in summer ($150 or less per night the rest of the year), including limited mileage. Plan on getting just 8 to 10 miles per gallon on a 40- to 60-gallon tank. Campground fees range from free in some undeveloped forest areas to $50 for commercial RV resorts.

GETTING STARTED: For help planning a vacation in Colorado, contact the Colorado Tourism Office (800/265-6723). The Go RVing Coalition is a good source for information on types of RVs, how to rent them, and where to go. Major RV rental agencies allow one-way rentals. National companies include Cruise America (800/327-7799) and El Monte RV (888/337-2214). Some local RV dealers also rent vehicles.

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