Can you Handle the Vail Camping Scene?

My favorite type of plan has always been no plan – Book a flight, get on the plane, and wander around until its time to eat and/or fall asleep. Taylor has learned to grow so patient with my spontaneity, but as of lately, my no-plan plan had offered us more problems than adventures.

There were only twelve hours between us and our next flight, and per usual, nothing was booked. Taylor was ready to make a real when he asked for the third time where we should find camp, my shrug probably wasn’t what he hoped for.

“I haven’t really thought about it yet.” I told him.

He reminded me of our last trip when we ended up sleeping in a cramped rental car after discovering every campground in a thirty mile radius was full.

It was a valid point but I set to assure him, “Babe, don’t worry. This trip is going to be different.”

Why? We were on our way to Vail, Colorado for the GoPro Mountain Games. Vail, the mecca of seasonal work and surrounded by national forest – Our entire itinerary was already set for us. This trip would be easy. No planning required.

It wasn’t until we boarded our plane on Friday afternoon when I started googling. I shoved my phone in his face shortly after. “Boom! We’re camping here. Piney Lake Road!”

Piney Lake Road, my go-to resource informed me, “is a 12 mile dirt road that parallels the highway. Any car can make it up there and the road branches out a number of times. There are free campsites all along the way. The closer ones to town are usually taken my seasonal workers in Vail.

Taylor groaned. He didn’t love or trust as much as I did.

“See, overflow camping,” I continued. “National Forest rules – we can pull off anywhere we want.”

Since there was now a semblance of a plan, Taylor agreed. “Alright, cool. If you think you know, then that sounds good!”

We landed at the regional Eagle county airport with a few hours of daylight to spare, so we stopped worrying about camping for a while and headed over to Vail Resort to catch an evening concert. Only when we had our fill of mountain music, duck empanadas and craft brew did we set our GPS for Piney Lake Road.

As soon as we pulled onto dirt, adventure vehicles and tents lined the road.

“How cool is this! It’s like a little community!” I said. Tepui tents, VW vans and sportsmobiles were everywhere.

We drove slowly for a few miles until we found a good looking spot and pulled in. We threw up the tent nestled right near a roaring river, and both slept seamlessly through the night. How easy is that!

Honestly, it was one of the easiest and most problem-free camping experiences either of us had in a while. My no-plan plan was finally working! The next day, we were well rested as we loaded up the car and headed out for the day.

There would be one more night for us on Piney Lake Road.

By the time the sun set, my eyelids were heavier than my backpack. We had played hard all day and had the sunburns to prove it. With one night under my belt as a Piney Lake Road camper, I was ready to head for my newfound home.

We pulled on to that familiar dirt road and I was feeling like a local, waving to all the regulars as we passed through. We reached our campground from the night before, but there was a problem. An unfamiliar pickup truck was in our spot. How dare they. As someone part of this Piney Lake Road community now, I felt betrayed. Why didn’t our community members inform the strange pickup that this spot was reserved?

I was willing to move past this oversight for the sake of the community. Not to be defeated, we kept going and going…and going. We passed plenty more adventure vehicles, tents, campfires and hammocks, but no empty pullouts. I was exhausted and began to accept that we were probably sleeping in a rental car again, when we came to a gigantic field.

Vehicles of all shapes and sizes lined the entire side of the road and an impromptu parking lot had developed on one of the muddier sections of the field. Music blared from at least three different points of origin and I could make out at least two uncomfortably large campfires among the many smaller variety. It was almost midnight. Yes, this area would do.

We found a relatively empty and flat-ish section of grass and started to put up our tent. A nearby neighbor came to greet us and invited us to his own, well-managed campfire. We certainly would have taken him up on the offer, had we not been so tired. It was time to call it a day and crawl in our little nylon home.

Okay, so our tent wasn’t set up on the most flat land. Right after closing my eyes, my body and sleeping bag submitted to the effects of gravity. It was the beginning of a long battle of shimmying and scooting into a comfortable position. Judging by the zipping noise of static-charging between fabrics next to me, Taylor was having the same problem.

We managed to settle in but now, every sounds outside suddenly felt amplified. Music from multiple outlets was still blaring way past midnight…But I’m no curmudgeon, so good for them, I thought, it’s Saturday. Have fun. 

Then the squeaking started.

We quickly learned the reason no one was camping in this specific section of the field. “Pssst….Taylor,” I whispered. “I think we’re parked in a mice field.” I hoped it was mice. 

The little gremlins were having their own Mountain Games right outside our tent, probably climbing up our tent poles and chewing on our shoes. Taylor shook the frame of the tent in an attempt to scare them and for a brief moment, we were left with only the sweet cacophony of multiple music genres playing at once. But even that didn’t last long.

Shortly after, judging by the new noise, a distressed and probably intoxicated woman began to scream bloody murder for her own own friend named Taylor, whom she had clearly lost. Either that or her Taylor had just fallen off of a cliff and died, and the lady was mourning. Drunken lady’s beckoning calls pierced the air and echoed off of every surface.

“What is happening?” my own Taylor whispered dryly.

The entire night continued in the same fashion. A baby woke me up around 2:30am and the sound of a chainsaw (not kidding) woke both Taylor and I up around 3:30am. We laid there awake trying to predict if we would be the first victims of the Colorado Chainsaw Massacre, but eventually fell asleep again after judging it to be a drunken undertaking to make. big. fire. now.

IMG_2222The sun rose around 5am, and so did we. Taylor and I had a flight to catch. The party was over and our nocturnal community of mice and men was now asleep. We caught our first glimpse of the campground in daylight and discovered our epic view of the mountains. Sleepy, groggy and quite disheveled, Taylor and I exchanged a few satisfied and sunburnt grins. We had just slept in the middle of an alpine rager.

“I’d camp there again,” I told Taylor. He agreed.








  1. Well, that’s definitely not my travel style. I like to plan, make a backup plan, and then a backup for the backup. But it seems like it worked for you, so good job!

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