Area near Carbondale a fun weekend getaway

The Thomas Lakes Trail is approximately seven miles long, round-trip, and ends at the beautiful Thomas Lakes near the base of Mount Sopris.

A rider conquers the Monte Carlo feature on the Monte Carlo trail off of Prince Creek road outside Carbondale.

Redstone Campground is a national forest campground located near Redstone. Reservations can be made on reserveamerica.com. Note, there is no cell service at the campground. 

We’ve been out exploring campgrounds and new bike areas this summer. One great new spot we discovered is Redstone Campground.

A few weeks ago Joel Evans wrote about fly fishing on the Crystal River, so consider this a follow-up on places to camp and other things to do if you’re planning a weekend near Carbondale.

Redstone Campground is located about a mile north of the tiny town of Redstone. One loop at the campground has recently been renovated and includes water and electrical hookups at every site. This makes RVing in the area much easier.

The sites are spaced out nicely and there are plenty of trees and shrubbery to provide privacy. In this narrow canyon, your views are of towering redstone rock formations and you’ll hear the rushing of the Crystal River each day as you drink your morning coffee or afternoon cocktail. There is a communal horse shoe pit and free hot showers are available. This was a huge bonus for two very dusty and dirty mountain bikers each day.

As much as we love biking, we took this opportunity to explore some other outdoor recreation opportunities. Our first day there, we hiked the Thomas Lakes trail. To reach it, follow Prince Creek Road in Carbondale for several miles. The paved road will turn to dirt and you’ll climb for a while past several small, primitive parking areas before reaching a very obvious and often busy parking area with a bathroom. There is a sign on the right for the Thomas Lakes trail head.

This is quite a popular hike, though you can also attempt to bike it if you wish. The trail is approximately 3½ miles one way and ends at Thomas Lakes.

Along the way you’ll hike through woods and then reach a lovely meadow with some spectacular views. There are a few steep hills on the hike, but there are also plenty of places to stop in the shade and rest. You’ll probably even see a few backpackers as there are campsites at the lake (you must have a permit) and many use this trail as a way to reach the summit of Mount Sopris.

Tired and happy, we finished our hike and headed back into town for tacos at Los Cabos Mexican Grill in Carbondale. Though small, Carbondale has plenty of restaurants to choose from either on Highway 133 or in downtown Carbondale.

The next day, we set out on a drive over McClure pass to Paonia. Our goal was just to see some parts of Colorado that we’d not explored before and perhaps get in a hike or bike ride along the way.

There are plenty of sight-seeing opportunities around, including Redstone Castle, the coke ovens right along Highway 133, and Hayes Creek Falls. This waterfall is right on the side of the road; be careful, because to get close to it you have to park on the other side of the road and cross the highway.

Even then, to see the falls you basically have to stand in the middle of the creek. There are slick rocks and fast-flowing water here, so it’s a tricky waterfall to see. It is beautiful, though, and a popular photo spot.

Once we’d taken in lots of scenic views we drove back down into the town of Marble for lunch at Slow Groovin’ BBQ. Be warned: this place is very busy all day long!

There are huge portions of everything from loaded fries to mac and cheese, and of course a wide offering of brisket sandwiches, pulled pork, smoked chicken, and iced tea. It’s worth a stop if you’re out that way; you can even sit out on the wide front porch and eat while people-watching.

Finally, on day 3, it was time for some mountain biking. Our neighbors had clued us in to the Prince Creek trails (aka the Crown Trails), which are located on Prince Creek Road.

Mtbproject.com has decent information about the trails, and they’re all listed on the Trail Forks app as well.

What we discovered was that there are two good options: an out-and-back ride or a shuttle ride. We had originally planned a loop, but some misreading on my part led us on a long hike-a-bike that we wish we’d avoided.

A suggested route would be to drive up Prince Creek Road until it turns to dirt. Keep driving and look for a sharp left turn. This isn’t signed, but if you’re looking, you’ll see it as you drive up the road. There is a parking area here and the Monte Carlo trail will be on your left as you drive up to park.

Ride down Monte Carlo (watch the trees; it’s very narrow!) and make the decision whether to ride over the actual Monte Carlo feature on the trail. We chose to do it, but the roof is getting quite sketchy. It’s best to walk up and test it out before riding over.

From Monte Carlo, pick up Christmas Tree and enjoy looking for the ornaments hung in trees along the trail. Christmas Tree will take you to North Porcupine, which opens up a little more and allows for some views of the surrounding areas.

You can ride North Porcupine up to an intersection with Outie and Buckhorn. We suggest turning around here.

If you continue down Buckhorn, you’ll be biking toward Highway 82. If you bike down Outie you’ll soon find yourself hiking up a narrow trail through a canyon. Unless you really enjoy that sort of sufferfest, turn around and retrace your steps.

This provides a great intermediate ride of approximately 8½ to 9 miles round trip.

After your ride, you should drive into downtown Carbondale and grab a burger and a milkshake from Fat Belly burgers. This is a small, order-at-the-window joint with excellent burgers and fries. They have beef, lamb and vegetarian burgers, so there’s something for everyone.

The Carbondale/Redstone area is a great one to explore; it’s only a few hours away but the little hamlets of Redstone and Marble make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. One that note: be warned that there is no cell service at the campground. Once you pass Carbondale, you won’t find much service at all until you’ve made it over McClure Pass and down into Paonia. This truly is a trip to help you get out and get away from it all.

Documentary at CMU

Get out Aug. 31 and see the “Sisterhood of Shred” documentary at Colorado Mesa ballroom. Doors open at 7. Tickets are available at REI and the CMU outdoor program; $10 adults; $5 under 12. All proceeds fund women’s scholarships in for cycling and outdoors program.


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