When we told friends that we were spending our wedding anniversary camping at Dinosaur National Monument in Northwest Colorado, most of them looked at us in confusion. After all, a monument is just a rock in the ground erected in memory of a person or historical event, right? Yes, but a National Monument is so much more.
A National Monument is a federally protected area that is similar to a National Park. Colorado has eight National Monuments and so far we’ve visited five.
Located in both Utah and Colorado and best known for its dinosaur bones and petroglyphs, we did not visit Dinosaur National Monument to see dinos, although we did hope to catch site of a pterodactyl flying over our campsite. Kidding, of course, although Echo Park did have a sort of Jurassic Park type of feel.
This camping trip was inspired by two books that Ryan and I listened to on Audible earlier this year: Beyond the 100th Meridian by Wallace Stegner (1954) and The Emerald Mile by Kevin Fedarko (2014). While different, these two books both highlight the exploration of the Colorado River by John Wesley Powell, an expedition that brought him through the area that is now Dinosaur National Monument.
We hadn’t camped in years, but decided that because of the remoteness of this park, we’d dust off the camping gear and reacquaint our old dog (Xena) with tent living. Dogs are allowed in National Monument campgrounds, but not on all trails – please follow the rules.
We arrived at the Canyon Visitors Center, on the Colorado side of the park, around 4 PM. After chatting with the friendly ranger, we headed over to the Loaf & Jug in Dinosaur (about 3 minutes from the Visitors Center) for firewood. Echo Park Campground doesn’t always have campfire wood available so it’s best to bring your own.
The drive into Echo Park Campground from Canyon Visitors Center is about an hour, although GoogleMaps had put it at two; it’s 30 minutes to the turn off and 30 minutes down a rutted road that winds through some spectacular scenery constantly switching between scenic overlooks and lush grottos. A 4-wheel drive vehicle is recommended by the park service and please note that a severe rain storm will cause this road to become impassable.
Echo Park is a riverside meadow filled with cottonwoods and surrounded by soaring rock walls. To say that it is awe-inspiring would be an understatement – anyone who has visited will tell you that it’s enchanted.
This site is at the confluence of the Yampa River and Green River and it’s where John Wesley Powell’s Expedition stopped for a few days during June in 1869.
The campground has 17 tent sites and when we arrived early Thursday evening, all the treed sites where taken so we settled for a site with little wind protection, but an incredible view.
There are vault toilet facilities at the campground and water, although I’d still advise packing your own water. The sites are $10 per night and all but the four walk-in sites have fire pits. Group sites are also available, but must be reserved in advance.
We enjoyed a peaceful, albeit windy camping trip at Echo Park. The wind came up around noon on our second day and we escape it by heading out on a short canyon walk where we were protected from the tempest that nearly broke our tent poles.
We were happy to learn that we had retained our camping skills and whipped up some delicious meals including a sausage tin foil dinner and hot roast beef and provolone sandwiches. Tin foil is a camp chef’s best friend.
The dog was in her element. She has always wished that we permanently lived in a tent.
I’ll share more about this trip in upcoming posts, including a post about hiking in Dinosaur National Monument and exploring the Utah side of the park – that’s where they keep the dinosaurs.
Visit Dinosaur National Monument online: www.nps.gov/dino/index.htm