Summer in Colorado: By the Numbers

Kite Lake Campsite, Fairplay, CO

Kite Lake Campsite, Fairplay, CO

One of the most common excuses I hear from people about why they can’t/ won’t/ don’t travel is money. Believe me, freelance writing is no way to get rich. If I can afford to travel, so can you! Travel doesn’t have to be expensive!  Here’s the breakdown for my summer in Colorado:

Time: 62 days and nights

Distance: 3,100 miles by car, 272 miles on foot

Places: Taos, Alamosa, Southern San Juans, Gunnison, Telluride, Durango, Creede, Salida, Colorado Springs, Guanella Pass, Georgetown, Leadville, Fairplay, Alma.

States: Colorado & New Mexico

Gas & Engine Oil: $620

Free camp sites: 59 free sites! 55 nights on National Forest or BLM land, 4 nights on private land (with permission).

Paid camp sites: Black Canyon of the Gunnison: $12, Almont River, north of Gunnison: $10, Kite Lake: $12

Food: $345 worth of grocery store meals I cooked in the Teardrop. $92 worth of restaurant “Victory” meals, always after big hikes.

Drink: $45. (Water for myself and the dogs, often free, sometimes $0.41/ gallon at Safeway)

Souvenirs: $15 on stickers, $3 brass owl and $30 relief map of USA

Miscellaneous:  Alamosa rodeo: $10, Taos Powwow: $10, Avett Brothers at Red Rocks Amphitheater: $45, Alligator rodeo: $14.

Cost to offset the carbon footprint of my trip: $28.00

Total: $1291.00*

Seeing more of the World: Priceless!

* Not included: a $2,900 1996 Land Rover Discovery and $480 worth of repairs.

For more tips on cheap road tripping and free camping check out my previous posts: How To Plan A Killer Road Trip: $$$ and Boondocking 101: How To Camp For Free In Beautiful Places. Also compare this trip to last summer’s road trip to Alaska. 

Scarp Ridge, Crested Butte, CO

Scarp Ridge, Crested Butte, CO

Update: I forgot two crucial expenses: maps and showers! I bought five hiking maps at $12 a pop and eleven showers at $5 each (at KOA’s), adding $115 to the total. 🙂

About theblondecoyote

Mary Caperton Morton is a freelance science and travel writer with degrees in biology and geology and a master’s in science writing. A regular contributor to EARTH magazine, where her favorite beat is the Travels in Geology column, she has also written for the anthologies Best Women's Travel Writing 2010 and Best Travel Writing 2011. Mary is currently based in western Colorado. When she’s not at the computer she can usually be found outside -- hiking, skiing, climbing mountains and taking photographs. Visit her website at
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15 Responses to Summer in Colorado: By the Numbers

  1. Snook says:

    wow this is awesome! thank you so much for the post. i’m saving up right now for next summer full of adventure. It’s impressive you management to spend pretty low for 2 full months. i need to get better at finding free campsites. thanks!

    • Yes, free campsites are a big secret of my success on the road. You really have to learn by doing. I paid for more campsites last summer than this year. My camp-dar (camp radar) is pretty finely honed at this point!

      • Snook says:

        that’s awesome. i’m always unsure where i can camp for free, where is a national forest, where is a bml, etc. i tend to go to a lot of national parks right now and unless i backpack, camping tend to cost money.

        but thanks for the tip. i need to learn more to be mindful of budget since it’s already small anyways. haha

  2. WestEastern says:

    Hear, hear! What an awesome post to prove that nearly everyone CAN get out there and travel. I hope you enjoyed your time in Creede – I lived there a few years ago and that town will always have a special place in my heart!

  3. treneebolton says:

    Your traveling lifestyle is much cheaper than a sedentary one… with the cost of rent or a mortgage, utilities, and other “so-called” necessities, etc. The question of steady employment is the only issue 😦 For most of us, anyway. Thanks for the eye-opener!

    • Jen says:

      I think her point is more that it’s easy and cheap to take vacations and go travel if you’re smart about where you go. Of course, that’s dependent on your willingness to rough it.

      • treneebolton says:

        Yes, I realize that. Spending the summer traveling isn’t how most of us “vacation”. But I was really just making a seperate point that had occurred to me, not refuting hers. Thanks for setting me straight, though 🙂

      • Yes, this isn’t an exhaustive list of my finances. I do have some monthly bills, like medical, car and theft insurance (for my laptop and camera) and my cell phone/ internet, but overall, my overhead is extremely low. This post is just meant to show how low you can go on the road, if you’re willing to rough it. Divide this in half or by four or eight, and you’ll have a rough idea of a one month/ two-week or one-week road trip budget.

      • treneebolton says:

        Very helpful! Great post 🙂

  4. You’re amazing. Love the post.

  5. Jen says:

    TBC, weren’t you going to do a new review on tents and sleeping bags? Bonus points if it’s budget friendly for the strapped. 😉

    I need sleeping bag recommendations because I’d like to hit a park or two this fall. It’s very cool and wet up here in PNW, even in summers, so my preference generally is to car-camp and take day-hikes. It’s cramped, especially with my supersized dog, but at least we stay dry. 🙂

  6. Andrew McAllister says:

    Any words of wisdom on being bear aware? You mentioned cooking in the teardrop and camping remotely in National Forests. The dogs must do a good job of keeping critters away.

    • Ah, good question! I’ve never had problems with bears at my campsite. I did have a red fox come by every night just after dark when I was camped up Kebler Pass above Crested Butte this summer. I made sure the dogs were inside the car well before dark and that we didn’t leave any crumbs around to encourage the fox. It was cool to see it, like clockwork, every evening. My car was also attacked by raccoons once in Missouri. One of my windows was cracked just slightly and a family of five raccoons spent the night gnawing all the weather stripping off the window, trying to get into the car, presumably to get at the dog food, which I keep in a sealed tote. Bandits! Last summer in Canada I had a beautiful big black wolf come by to see what I was cooking, but he disappeared once he realized he was being watched too. I’ve also been harassed by deer and cows, which are easier to chase off than raccoons or the worst campsite visitor: a skunk!

      The best policy to avoid inviting critters to your campsite is to keep all food in sealed containers, out of sight and out of reach. You can’t do this while you’re cooking and eating, obviously, but be as neat as possible. I also don’t cook meat when I’m camping. I’m not a vegetarian, but I don’t each much meat anyway and I don’t have the refrigeration to keep it safely.

      The most dangerous situation is a bear that has already been habitualized to associate people with food, so you’re more likely to run into a problem bear in well-trafficked campgrounds. Check sign boards and talk to rangers about bear activity in the area. A lot of places with past problems will install “bear lockers” for campers to store their food, as well as bear-proof garbage containers. Be bear aware! A fed bear is a dead bear.

      I’ve met about 20 black bears while hiking and every one of them has either completely ignored me or run the other direction. Read about my grizz encounter in Montana here:

      Thanks for the great question, Andrew! M

  7. aadubadu says:

    Can I say how much I love that you travel with your dog. LOVE IT! Also love all the tips on traveling inexpensively. Excited to have found your blog!

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