2 Week Rocky Mountain Ski and Hot Springs Road Trip
By Kate Shearer | May 17, 2022
I took a road trip with a VanCraft campervan and my Mountain Collective pass. During my two weeks of traveling, I skied at four ski resorts and swam in four hot springs. I started in Denver and then drove to Taos, Aspen, Copper Mountain, and A-basin.
Day 1: Denver, CO → Taos, NM
I picked up my short wheelbase Sprinter campervan at the VanCraft depot in Denver and it was love at first sight. Beautifully designed with a streamlined layout, absolutely everything had been thought of, including linens, a fully-equipped kitchen, ample storage space, a gas-heated shower and even a discreet porta-potty! She was full-stocked and ready for adventure, so I jumped in the driver’s seat and hit the road.
My first stop was at Christy Sports to pick up my rental ski gear, which was a seamless process. They had me pre-fill a form with all my info, including my ski level, shoe size and height, so my gear was ready and waiting for me when I arrived. Everything was near new and they made sure it was all comfortable and fitted just right. I’m a beginner skier and didn’t really know what I was doing, but the Christy Sports team made it so easy and really took care of me ♡
Next I grabbed some essential groceries before heading out of town to my first stop, Taos, New Mexico. It was a beautiful drive, with stunning snowy mountain vistas along the way, which helped build my stoke! That night, I camped at the rest area by the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. I arrived after dark, but there were a few other vehicles camping for the night and a security guard which made me feel super comfortable as a solo female traveler.
Day 2: Taos
I woke up to stunning views of the Rio Grande with mountains looming in the distance, as well as lovely clean, heated bathrooms – thank you New Mexico! A market was setting up in the parking lot, with locals selling all kinds of handmade items, from knives, to food, art and jewelry. I browsed and chatted with the sellers, then took a hike along the edge of the Rio Grande. Some Bighorn Sheep were also out for a morning walk, and were incredible to watch as they strolled along the cliff and casually jumped over the edge down into the gorge! A serious mountain goat maneuver 😉
After hiking, I headed for the mountains to arrive at Taos Ski Valley, my first ski resort of the trip. Car camping is encouraged here in the allocated RV parking lot, for a fee of $25/night. So I chose a camp spot then went to explore the village and pick up my ski pass for the following day. Later, back at the van, I took an online life-drawing class with @bodyconfidence in NYC, before making dinner and getting an early night.
Day 3: Skiing Taos Ski Valley
My first day of skiing for the trip was a powder day! I loved waking up in the van surrounded by snow falling all around. I relaxed and enjoyed a slow morning, making breakfast and watching the snow pile up.
I was excited to try out my Christy Sports gear, as well as some Virtika outerwear which I received just before the trip. I opted for a signature jacket, women’s slim-fit pants, Mars customizable goggles and a beanie. The gear was perfect for me, it fit great, with enough room to move freely as well as add warm layers underneath for particularly cold days, like this one! There were also smart hidden pockets for things like my lift pass (one pocket even has a special cloth to clean your goggles!), with easy-open zips, and a number of vents for warmer days. Finally, with all the gear and basically no idea, I headed out to get some runs.
I quickly learned from talking to locals on the slopes that Taos is a relatively hard mountain! So I spent lots of time on the beginner hill before completing a green run that was wayyy beyond my abilities! But I kept at it. When the mountain closed at 4, I grabbed a drink at one of the outdoor
bars, then headed back to camp where people were hanging out at their campsites. I made some friends and we chatted around the fire until I was ready to pass out. Lucky my comfy VanCraft bed was only a few steps away!
Day 4: Skiing Taos (Day 2) and exploring town
With the Mountain Collective Pass, you get two full days at each of the included resorts, so I had a second day skiing at Taos. I was pretty tired from the day before, so I took it easy, enjoying the relaxed bluebird day, compared to the previous day’s snowstorm.
In the afternoon, I headed back down the mountain to Taos to check out the town and take a shower at the rec center, before finding my campsite. I lucked out and found a free camping spot with no one around at the edge of the Rio Grande. Boondocking at its finest! As awesome as my spot was, after spending a few hours here, I decided to head back to town to experience more of what Taos had to offer. I had a burger and beer at a local spot and was invited to a rave in an art gallery, which was so fun! I asked permission from a local business to camp in their lot overnight, so I spent the evening in town after I’d had enough of dancing 🙂
Day 5: Black Rock hot Springs, Taos → San Luis Valley
I woke up early, excited to hit my first hot spring of the trip! Black Rock Hot Springs are primitive rock-bottomed hot springs, nestled into the base of the cliff along the Rio Grande river, 25 minutes drive from Taos. I parked my Sprinter at the trailhead and did the short hike in. There was a group in the pool when I arrived and not much room, so I hiked a little further, and when I came back they had left, so I hopped right in! The pool was an amazing deep blue color, compared to the aqua green (freezing!) river running by, making it a surreal soaking experience. It was a Saturday and relatively busy, so I only had a quick soak, then jumped out to make room for other visitors. I then hiked back to make lunch in the van.
After lunch I headed to my next stop, a hot springs camping retreat called Joyful Journey in the San Luis Valley, sheltered beneath the towering Sangre de Cristo Mountains. This was a great stopover on the way to Aspen, and the late-night mineral soaking pools, saunas, luxury bathrooms and included healthy meals were such a treat!
Day 6: San Luis Valley → Aspen
I spent the morning at Joyful Journey, soaking in the various pools while taking in the stunning views of the surrounding mountains. In the afternoon I drove to Aspen, arriving in town at aperitivo hour. I checked out some of the local spots to eat and drink, before exploring some camping spots I had saved ahead of time. Aspen, like a lot of Colorado, is notoriously tricky for car camping, but I found a great, seemingly legal spot in town and wasn’t bothered overnight. My tips are; arrive after dark, park legally (check you are obeying the street signs), put up the heatshield window coverings included in your VanCraft Sprinter, and stay inside the van as much as possible so you don’t draw attention, and you *should* be fine!
Day 7: Skiing Aspen Snowmass (Buttermilk mountain) + a local hike
Waking up in Aspen to fresh snow falling was a lovely surprise! I headed straight for Buttermilk resort to make the most of it. There was plenty of free parking right at the entrance to the resort, so I parked, geared up and headed in. Buttermilk was a dream for me as a beginner. There were heaps of fun green runs, providing plenty of challenge and opportunity to build confidence without getting bored. Mountain Collective gives you access to all the Snowmass resorts, so if you’re more advanced there are even more options for you to try out. I skied all day with a break for lunch at the Cliffhouse on the mountain. The crowds cleared out in the afternoon, so I had the slopes pretty much to myself by the end of the day which was awesome!
After skiing I went for a drive and stumbled on a local hiking spot, so naturally I had to try it out. While I was hiking, the snow started rolling in again, so I headed back to the van and drove to my camping spot for the night, a great secluded spot by the river about 10 mins outside of Aspen. It was such a cute spot, I couldn’t believe no-one was camping there already! I settled in, made dinner in the van and got a very peaceful night’s sleep to the sound of the river rolling by.
Day 8: Skiing Aspen (Day 2)
Waking up in the snow by the river was just lovely. I went for a walk to explore the area, cooked a quick breakfast to get fuel for the day, then headed back to Buttermilk for another day of skiing. I finally felt like I was getting the hang of it! I did some more adventurous runs this day, and felt myself gradually getting more confident.
After another awesome day of skiing, I stopped in Aspen for a dirty gin martini at the iconic Hotel Jerome before heading out of town to find a campsite. This night I camped at a commuter parking lot 30 minutes from Buttermilk, which had conflicting reviews online, but seemed legal based on the signage, and worked out well for me for the night. It was nothing fancy, just a trailhead parking lot by the side of the highway, but it had an epic view of the mountains! I made instant ramen for dinner and passed out hard.
Side note: If you want to take a shower while in the Aspen area there is a rec center as well as multiple hot yoga studios where you can take a drop in class and shower. But I didn’t end up trying these, because I knew I was heading to a hot spring early the next morning 🙂
Day 9: Penny Hot Springs, South Canyon Hot Springs & Dillon
I woke up early and hit the road for the 15 minute drive to Penny Hot Springs. Nestled along the bank of the Crystal River, multiple pools are formed by rocks that locals move around to adjust the heat of the pools. The springs were practically empty when I arrived and the steam rising off the pools with the snowy mountain backdrop was just stunning. I had my pick of pools (I chose the hottest one since I’d been missing hot showers) and soaked for a long time, taking in the dreamy surroundings.
As the springs started to fill up with visitors, I took off for another local favorite, South Canyon Hot Springs. These springs are a short hike in from the parking area, making them feel more remote, and have breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape. I soaked in the main pool
first, but it was quite busy, so I hopped over to the smaller muddier pool. The mud might not be for everyone but I quite liked the sensation. After that I was ready for a shower. I used the heated shower in the back of the Sprinter to rinse off the sulfur water (and mud!) before getting back on the road.
My next stop was Dillon, where I was heading to celebrate a good friends’ birthday. We had dinner and drinks in Breckenridge and chilled in the hot tub at their AirBnb, where my Sprinter fit perfectly in the driveway for the evening 🙂
Day 10: Skiing Copper Mountain
My friends were headed to Copper Mountain today, so I decided to buy a day pass and go with them. Copper isn’t included on the Mountain Collective Pass, but is great for beginners. It was so fun skiing with my friends and having lunch together on the mountain. I was able to try some harder runs and they gave me great tips and support to improve.
After our day of skiing I explored the area and made dinner overlooking the gorgeous frozen Dillon Lake. Like in Aspen, Dillon can be tricky to find car camping spots. If you’re stuck, I recommend driving slightly out of town to camp for the night. There are a number of good spots on the camping apps iOverlander, Campendium, Free Campsites, and the Dyrt.
Day 11: Skiing Arapahoe Basin
Time to ski A-Basin! I was so excited about this smaller independent resort. I turned up early and got a great free parking spot in the main parking lot. You can walk to the lifts from here, but there are also frequent shuttles running to take you directly from your car to the resort entrance. My friends took a lesson in the morning, and I skied solo on the green runs, which were so fun and a perfect challenge for me. We met up for a tasty lunch at the cozy Black Mountain Lodge then skied together in the afternoon.
After closing time, I was back at my van relaxing and packing up when another VanCraft camper came by! Shoutout to Brandon @rnfullsend. We had a great chat and swapped stories and camping tips for the area.
I then went to explore Loveland Pass which sits along the Continental Divide, just 10 minutes drive from A-Basin. I took a short hike up into the mountains from the Grizzly Peak trailhead, but the wind, cold conditions and high altitude meant I didn’t stay long. There are a number of pull outs to camp along the pass, which I recommend for the epic views, if you can brave the wind!
Day 12: Loveland Pass & Radium Hot Springs
I spent the morning on Loveland Pass, taking in the views, making breakfast, doing some work on my laptop and tidying up the van. In the afternoon I was ready for a bath, so I took off for Radium Hot Springs. There are multiple entrances to these hot springs, but both require a moderate hike, so I recommend wearing good hiking shoes. The hike was really pretty and remote with heaps of deer grazing along the way. It ended at a cliff where you can gaze out along the Colorado River and glimpse the hot springs tucked into the cliffside below. The descent to the springs is steep and requires some rock scrambling, so be prepared to get physical!
There was a big group of friends hanging out in the pool when I went, but they were really welcoming and I ended up chatting and having a beer with them while we all soaked. When the sun began to set, I hiked out and took a shower at the van to warm up, before turning in for the evening.
Day 13: Skiing A-Basin (Day 2) and camping in Dillon
On my final full day with the Sprinter, I wanted to ski A-basin again, so I headed there early and got a park right at the entrance. It was a lot quieter than our previous day there thanks to it being a weekday. I had fun skiing solo but the conditions weren’t as good as they had been previously, so I called it early and headed back to Dillon. I returned my ski gear at Christy Sports in Dillon (an awesome one-way service they offer) which was a bittersweet moment. I was so sad to let my gear go after the journey we’d been on together!
I then headed for a camp spot I’d heard about and wanted to try. It wasn’t a totally legal spot, but seemed out of the way enough and had epic views, so I gave it a go. I took a hot shower, then hopped inside to make a delicious dinner of blackened fish, before winding down for my final sleep in the Sprinter. Luckily no one bothered me overnight 🙂
Day 14: Dillon → Denver
I woke up to a stunning sunrise over the mountains, which I enjoyed while I drank my coffee and made breakfast. I then packed up and hit the road, heading for the VanCraft depot in Denver to return my van.
Returning the van was a seamless process, Aydin at the depot made everything so easy. I unloaded my belongings and handed back the keys, which was hard to do. My awesome Rocky Mountain VanCraft adventure had come to an end. But I knew it wouldn’t be my last. I had way too much fun camping and learning to ski on this trip, I’m already making plans to get out and chase the pow next winter, most likely in a VanCraft Campervan.