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Its been quite a while since I have traveled west and its getting about time to make a trip. My family and I live in east Nebraska and are slightly torn about where to go.

Its kind of a brawl between Rocky Mountain National Park and the Black Hills. We have been to both places, to the Black Hills several times as a quick stop on the way to Montana and to RMNP as a vactaion destination.

I think the Black Hills would make a great destination as there is plenty of interesting things to do and look at. DW does not and is convinced that its not the mountains and not a great destination. We have been through the BH several times and have been to most of the 'big' things like Rushmore and Needles Hwy. I Think there is a ton more to do.

The thing is, we have not been there since having children and they are finally ready to travel (sort of, more like we are ready to try an travel with them biggrin.gif ) Given that we have kids, I would really like to find a campground that would have some great stuff to do for 'down time' (time not spent touring the countryside).

One of the places at BH is the Rafter-J-Bar. Its a interesting looking place. The web site looks great. What I am curious about is the mixed reviews. There are some good reviews but some upleasant ones as well. Sounds like the bathrooms are kind of a mess and that bothers me. It also sounds like they overbook at times and you end up not getting the campsite area you signed up for. Dont care so much about unfriendly staff, especially if its teens. Never met a teen working in the summer and happy about it. Most act like they just as soon go take a nap as help out. (At least thats how I felt when working as a teen).

Are there any other campgrounds that might be a little more enjoyable? What we like as campers is shady sites and some room between sites. I despise close sites where you can take 5 big steps and be touching your neighbor. Dont like going from being packed like lemmings in the burbs to backed like lemmings in the countryside. Not really getting away from it all.

On to RMNP. I love the park and all that is there. And yes, to my DWs point, these are definetly 'real mountains'. What I dont like is the crowds. Calling Estes Park a zoo is an understatement. Just driving through that town gives me a headache. Another problem is I have not been able to find many campgrounds that dont fall into the packed like lemmings category. Last summer, we made a reservation at the RMNP Jelleystone campground. I went to Loveland for a job interview and decided to go check on it to see what it was like. OH my, I didnt like what I saw. The facilities looked to be in good repair but the campground was not someplace I wanted to stay. Built up a steep hillside. We canceled the reservation and ended up going to Iowa and visiting the Clay County Fair instead (a lot of fun by the way). While in the area (RMNP, not Iowa), I looked around at some the campgrounds. Not sure I liked what I saw.

So, after rambling forever, my questions.

Is the Rafter J Bar going to be a good base camp for the Black Hills? Enough there to keep the kids happy when not touring the BHs? Bathrooms ok? I dont want to stand in line forever to use the restroom. I have been to a lot of state parks so have seen some not overly clean bathrooms. That doenst bother me to much. I want to make sure these are not a disaster.

For RMNP, what are some campgrounds that have a little more space for each campsite? Will need some activities for the kids (4 & 2). What about the 'National Parks Campground' right next to the back gate to the RMNP. Is there a good place to get away from the insanity at Estes Park?

Thanks for any input.

P.S. - We are in a 29ft travel trailer with not a whole lot of ground clearance. Its a Jaco Jayfeather 29Y
Cheryl Fuller
We live in Colorado and love going to Estes Park, but as you say, it can be a chore driving thru town. It is not nearly as bad during the week as it is on weekends though. I have read the reviews that Elk Meadows rv park has on this website, but I think they must have redone the park as most of those are several years old and we stayed there last summer and thought it was a great park with nice large spaces, a small playground and a very nice swimming pool. As for the Black Hills, we went to Mt. Rushmore in June and I really love it there. Don't know the ages of your children, but I think everyone should see Mt. Rushmore at some time in their life. We did not know about Sturgis the first time we took our children and ended up there along with a million (well, it seemed like that many) bikers. I think that there is probably more for your kids to see and do in the Black Hills than in Colorado.
We just moved to Arizona from Colorado and our family (including 2 young boys) stayed in/near Estes Park a couple times. Yes, it is crowded and to be quite frank, we were not impressed with any of the RV parks there. The two times we stayed, were at Yogi Bear's Jellystone RV park for a "shakedown" of our Hi-Lo. It was just "ok".

Now on to the Black Hills! We made the trip twice. The first time we stayed at the Blackhills/Mt. Rushmore KOA. As far as convenient location, this park is very close to all main BH attractions.

But.......the campground is EXTREMELY crowded, noisy, and the spaces are VERY CLOSE together! On our 3rd day there, we checked out Rafter J and loved what we saw. Problem was, this campground is so popular it fills up almost every season well in advance.

The next year we made reservations at Rafter J's approx. 4 months in advance (just to be safe smile.gif ). We told the employee on the phone that we wanted full hookups and a larger spot (our Hi-Lo was 31 ft). He promised us a beautiful spot and we were NOT disappointed!

They put us in the ISLAND section and it was great! All these spots are HUGE. Our two boys were able to play football inbetween our spot & the next without even coming close to our neighbor! The traffic was so minimal that we were thankful we had brought the kids bikes. Even our youngest was able to ride his tricycle without our having to worry. The facilities were spotless and the employees didn't miss a beat! Its been 3 1/2 years since we've been back, and are planning a return trip for next year.

We wouldn't stay anywhere else!

BTW: It's location is just as convenient! The only section in the campground that seemed rather crowded (though not your typical type crowded) was the "popup section".

If you have any other questions about this campground please feel free to email me smile.gif Here is a link to the campground layout:

Two years ago I tent camped with my 3 girls at the NPS campground, right outside the entrance to RMNP. Literally, you could walk into the park. However, the showers were dark and dirty, no pool, no where for the kids to walk or play, etc. This simply is a place to sleep and eat, and go into town or the park. It's built on a hill, so it's diffilcult for RVs to get in and around the ledges. The scenery was beautiful and the convenience to the park well appreciated. However, too costly for the few amenities we were granted.
We live in Colorado. We don't like the Estes Park side of RMNP. Too busy. We always go to Grand Lake. Two nice campgrounds on that side + some National Forest service areas. Grand Lake is just busy enough to have fun but laid back. We have stayed at Winding River Campground - not outstanding, but close to everything. There is also Elk Meadows or something like that. It looks nice but haven't stayed there. Stillwater is forest service and pretty good. Some are around the lakes there.

We liked the Rafter campground in the Black Hills several years ago and really liked it. There are several sections and we stayed in a section that was quiet with lots of fields around for kids to play in. Seemed like a good place for kids.

Lots to do in both Co. and SD.
We did Rafter Bar-J summer of '02 and really liked it. Didn't use their bathroom facilities, so I can't comment on that. We did the pull-through area, which is in the open w/no shade, but looked at the back-ins, and they look great. Lots of privacy and shade. We called for reservations 2 days before getting there (mid June) and didn't have any problem getting in. The location is ideal for doing the Black Hills.
this is the trip we took last July. We came from Ohio. We stayed at Rafter J-Bar in Hill City and loved it. There was a pool and game room and horse back riding at the camp grounds. We stayed in the Ranch camp area and loved our site Lots of trees/ and good view. the kids had a great time. The bike trails through the area were right there. Tons to do, we went to Devils tower, Sylvan lake, the kids loved swimming there and had cliffs to jump off. We went to Custer etc etc.
When we went to Estes Park we stayed at Spruce Lake campground. There is not really a lake but a pond with lots of fish, The campground is crowdsda like a parking lot and no fires allowed, but they had nice Bathrooms, nice pool, the kids liked the pay lake to fish and Elk walked right thorugh the camp. The view was also great. If I had to do it over (now that we have a generator) I would dry camp in the Park, athe sites looked really pretty and we like less crowded spots. but overall it was good.
Rocky is our favorite national park and we almost always stay in Moraine Park Campground inside the park. It is absolutely beautiful with lots of elk and deer and other wildlife, our kids loved staying there. Any of the campgrounds in the park are a good choice, Aspenglen is the smallest with less than 50 sites, don't remember the exact #. If you have to have hookups then I would recommend Elk Meadow.

Have you ever considered a Ft. Collins location as a base to visit RMNP? We tried it last year and stayed at Heron Lakes RV Park in Ft. Collins. Far, Far superior to any RV park anywhere else in these parts and only a short drive toi RMNP. This park is new has a beautiful lake, huge sites, wide streets, all the amenities, and we would rate it as at least a 9 or 10. You might want to consider it. Taking Highway 14 westward from Ft. Collins and coming in through the backside of RMNP is an experience that will never be forgotten!
Cheryl Fuller
I second Beastdriver's sentiment on Heron Lake RV park in Ft. Collins. When we firsst bought our motorhome a year and a half ao, Heron Lake was our maiden voyage. It was only an hr. from home and we wanted to be close in case we ran into snags. It is a beautiful park - we reserved one of the "premium" sites that was right on the water and was a very large site. It was such a nice pace, that we have since returned for another weekend getaway. You are fairly close to Loveland, Ft. Collins and Estes Park and would be a wonderful "base" camp.
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