Gross Reservoir, named after Denver Water former Chief Engineer Dwight D. Gross, was completed in 1954 and doubles as a water source for Colorado front range communities and a great nearby recreation area. With over 10 miles of shoreline and awesome car-camping sites, the reservoir makes for a perfect weekend camp and boat trip. I organized a trip last weekend with my daughter and three other families and we had a blast!
Gross Reservoir is managed by Denver Water and the Forest Service. Before going up, we contacted them to get current information on fire bans. If you have any questions on the campsite or access they are really a great resource – both online and by telephone:
The weekend forecast for the Boulder area was for heavy rains – I was even getting texts that there was flash flood danger. We were prepared with foul-weather gear but only experienced a few flashes of spitting rain over the whole weekend. Saturday night there was a brilliant sunset – the clouds lit up in orange billows, juxtaposed against the blue sky and crisp moon.
During the day, mostly clear skies let the sun beat down on us. Most of us had hats. Few of us put on enough suntan lotion. By the second day, many of us were a bit sunburn (well, at least I was and a couple of the other foolish ones!). I wish I had lightweight long-sleeve shirts and pants for boating. Instead, I draped a towel over myself and looked rather silly.
We scored what felt like the penthouse campsite. The view from our tents and kitchen overlooked shimmery waters and the wandering expanse of the reservoir. This was ideal for early morning and late evenings but during the day the lack of trees made camp uncomfortably hot. Next time, we need something for shade.
We set hammocks up on the would-be balcony of the campsite and enjoyed the awesome view. We had two hammocks – the children used these for hours throughout the weekend. I set this up before setting up the tent – it is the first thing that should be done when you get to camp 🙂
Our campsite was one of a couple dozen designated car-camping spots on the Western slope of Gross Reservoir. Many of the campsites are accessed from where the road terminates at a parking lot, which is a short stroll to the sites (although after carrying all our gear back to the cars for the return trip home many of us wished we had wheels on our gear). One of the families pitched their tent under the shade of trees and not in the penthouse. They enjoyed cooler weather but less of a view.
From our campsite, as well as the parking lot, trails descend several hundred feet to the shoreline.
Getting to the campsite from Boulder takes around an hour, depending on how many stops you make. Pavement gives way to well-graded dirt roads that give way to a 4WD road. On the topographical maps of the area that I have, the road is not marked as a 4WD road but the road is jutted with rocks and deep ruts and laced with slippery sand and pools of mud.
It was nice to drive this 4wd road to Gross Reservoir a couple weekends before so I knew the conditions and directions well. With a high clearance vehicle it is an easy drive up.
- Google Driving Directions and Satellite Map (online)
- Gross Reservoir Designated Campsites – Forest Service Map (downloadable PDF)
- Boulder Nederland Trail Map (topo)
After settling on dates that worked for all the families, we discussed meals. There was consensus that each family would take care of their own for all the meals over the weekend with the exception of one night, where we would do a Mexican themed pot-luck. Naturally, we all shared bites and the kids seemed to eat non-stop bouncing from one family to the next.
The Mexican theme night this worked out great. Each family claimed different parts of the meal (e.g. Family 1: veggies, Family 2: guacamole and chips, Family 3: meat and veggie meat, Family 4: tortillas, beans, and rice). It was an ideal theme for the woods – everyone assembled their own dishes, and it paired nicely with beer. Next time we need tequilla.
Without mamma lion, I wasn’t too keen on spending a lot of time cooking on this trip. For the meals with just my daughter and I we kept the dishes simple to reduce prep time and clean up. For breakfast, we had instant oatmeal and instant coffee on day one, on day two, we had yogurt, granola, and blueberries. For lunches we stuck with dried fruit, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, salame, apples, and trail mix. The only thing I wish I had more of was a greater diversity of dried fruit and other high-protein snacks.
The fire ban was lifted the day we headed up to Gross Reservoir so luckily we were able to make the quintessential camping treat – s’mores! I didn’t pack any of the supplies but fortunately our friends shared 🙂
Boating was the highlight of our trip and what our days revolved around. Each family brought boats (two inflatable kayaks were purchased, a canoe was rented from Whitewater Tubing, and one family borrowed a hardshell lake kayak). We spent hours exploring all over Gross Reservoir.
After kayaking at the pool the previous weekend, I made a few adjustments to my boat and my gear plan. I added a bow line which came in handy tying the boat to the shore and an island we discovered. I also secured some lines across the bow and stern giving me an easy place to use carabiners to clip drybags and water bottles. In the future, I’d like to glue on some D rings rather than the lines.
The package I bought included used paddles, pump, bag, seats, and inflatable kayak from Sea Eagle. The bag made a huge difference because it held all of the boating gear plus my dry bags and life jackets and with the shoulder strap I was able to carry the deflated boat and gear up the several hundred from the reservoir up to camp. Carrying the canoe and hardshell kayak up to camp was much tougher to manage.
Note: there is no bodily contact with the water permitted and when we visited there was a boat patrolling the reservoir to uphold these regulations.
I brought a pole for my daughter to fish, along with some lures and plastic worms but we were too busy boating and playing to get around to trying out the fishing. One of the boys on the trip did get a chance to fish but wasn’t able to catch anything beyond a rock submerged beneath the surface of the water.
A fishing license is required for adults but not for children younger than 16 (although second-rod charge still applies). More details:
- 2013 Colorado Fishing Brochure
- Fishing License – Colorado Parks and Wildlife Total Licensing System (online license sales site)
Enjoying group activities with multiple families is a lot to orchestrate. Since we all had boats, our activities centered around exploring the reservoir and meals. On the first day, we set out after breakfast and spend several hours on the water. We returned to camp for lunch and relaxing (hammocks, reading stories) and by late afternoon we were all ready to head down to the water again. Everyone enjoyed boating so much that on the second day, we all returned for another boating session before packing up and heading home.
At the reservoir, we managed to find a sort of basecamp for our group that was a rock outcropping just off the shoreline. With a channel of water between the outcropping and the shore, this pile of rocks became an island where we congregated to talk, snack, sunbathe, fish, and take turns getting into and out of the boats. Our own little island! Different groups of children and adults went out for 30 minutes or an hour on a boat and then return to the island. Over and over again. It really was a bit of a magical set up.
The boats were left by the shore when we returned to camp and overnight. This seems to be a common behavior as we saw many other boats at the shoreline. With the rhythm of boating and meals we all spent a lot of time together, which was great. In the evening, we congregated around the campfire and tell stories, eat s’mores, and toast to the days fun.
I use my car camping gear checklist spreadsheet as an easy way to make sure I bring everything I need on the trip, with the exception of food. That checklist is a bit aspirational, I still don’t have all of those things yet but I was amazed that I ended up taking over 150 items on the trip! While that seems like a lot, having three kinds of shoes (hiking shoes, water shoes, flip flops) all got used. We also brought a lot of super warm clothes that are part of our winter wardrobe. It still took us by surprise how chilly the summer nights became, and having warm hats and jackets was great. For the future, I think I’ll pack my long underwear even for summer trips!
Some of the things I wish I had with me while on the trip were on my list but never purchased. For example, my daughter got stung by a bee – twice! She thought it was a fly and grabbed it. I didn’t bring anything specific for bee stings… fortunately another camper did.
Four things I wish I had:
This is my buddies stove. It cooks like a champ, is extremely durable, and delivers far more heat (putting out nearly three times more BTUs than my Coleman stove). I discovered three problems with my newly purchased Coleman Triton Series 2-Burner Stove: it takes forever to boil water, it only has one temperature (even it has knobs that supposedly control the burner output), and it is so loud I can barely hear folks standing right next to me. I think I want one like my buddies, and found one Camp Chef Explorer Stove on sale right now at Cabela’s. There’s also an attachment you can get on the propane tank that allows a propane lamp to be outfitted on the rig as a kitchen light. Awesome.
One of the families brought this bathroom tent, which allowed us to put the bathroom near the campsite instead of hiding it in trees over the next hill. This made it easy for young kids to find the toilet when they needed it. Only complaint: being exposed gave it a chance to warm up, a lot, during the day. My daughter preferred going to the bathroom in the woods and so it was handy to have a shovel and T.P. as part of my day pack.
I borrowed this folding table and chair set. The kids loved it! Although they did tip over once 🙂
I need to add a heavy blanket to my camp list. When nap time came around it was too hot to sleep in the tents and this made a perfect relaxing spot.
We didn’t mountain bike on this trip, though would like to explore the area on bikes in the future. Since my daughter hasn’t adopted her pedal bike yet her range is a bit limited, which may make biking up there a bit less of a group activity.