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  • Writer's pictureAnkit Jain

Trip Report: Twin Lakes (Colorado), Canyonlands (Utah), and Ruby Mountains (Nevada)

A Colorado to California Camping and Hiking Road Trip Adventure!


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Cloudy blue skies over striated red rocks forming into amazing patterns in CAnyonlands National PArk, UTah

Canyonlands National Park, UT - Photo Credit: Abby Voce


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Trip Info:

Trip Type: Dispersed and Developed Camping/Road Trip (Solo)

Season: July 2021 (Summer)

Trip Highlights:

Duration: 4 days / 3 nights

Driving Distance: 1,450 miles (total: Denver, Colorado to San Francisco, California)

The Ruby Mountains loom craggedly over swaths of wildflowers in Nevada

Abundant Wildflowers in the Ruby Mountains, NV - Photo Credit: Ankit Jain


After an almost three-month stay in Colorado, I began my journey back home to California on a Friday afternoon in July. I left Littleton to go meet up with some friends at Twin Lakes. The drive only took a few hours, and once I met up with them we drove around for an hour until we found a dispersed campsite. It was already dark by the time we set up, so the next morning we were surprised to see the spectacular views surrounding us.

On the second day, I parted ways with my friends and drove through Aspen into Utah, eventually making it to the southern end of Canyonlands National Park. I opted for dispersed camping on a Bureau of Land Management Area, and found myself a relatively flat rock cropping with distant views of deep canyons.

I departed right after sunrise on the third morning of my trip to make my way into Nevada to one of my favorite destinations in the state, the Ruby Mountains. I made it to Angel Lake by the afternoon, and found a first-come, first-serve campsite at the developed campground there. I strolled around and hung out at the lake, built a campfire, and enjoyed a peaceful night of rest.

On the final day, I woke up before sunrise and hit the trail to Smith Lake. Once back, I embarked on the final stretch of my trip to the San Francisco Bay Area, stopping in Truckee near Lake Tahoe for some food and views. I made it back to the Bay Area by the afternoon - what a way to end my 3 month Colorado adventure!

Weather-worn smooth red rocks striated in different colors in Canyonlands National Park outside Moab, Utah

Rock formation: Canyonlands, UT - Photo Credit: Ankit Jain

Trip Planning:


For National Parks, I had previously purchased the ”America the Beautiful” National Parks pass which permitted me entry into Canyonlands. The pass, which is valid for a year, is well worth the $80 if you plan to travel to at least 3 parks over that span. Entry fees for National Parks can be as high as $35 each, so the pass ends up paying for itself after only a few visits. Definitely a Pathloom-recommended investment!


For the first two nights of camping, I opted for dispersed sites; and for the third night, a developed campground. Both the dispersed and developed campsites were available on a first-come, first-serve basis, hence not requiring any reservations - only the developed campsite required payment of a fee.

The water looks lovely at Twin Lakes in Colorado, as witnessed by the tall mountains surrounding the water body

Twin Lakes, CO - Photo Credit: Ankit Jain


Day 1: Littleton, CO to Twin Lakes, CO

On a Friday afternoon, after my nearly 3-month stay in Colorado, I drove out from Littleton and began my journey back home to California. I filled up on gas and hit the open roads to make my way to Twin Lakes to meet up with some friends who live in Aspen. As my trip was delayed due to traffic, my friend was already at our predetermined meeting point when I got there after a few hours of driving. We only had half an hour until sunset, so we immediately started driving around on dirt roads looking for a suitable campsite.

We were in Pike-San Isabel National Forests, and although there were a few developed campgrounds in the area, we were looking for a more secluded camping experience. Everywhere we went, it was packed - no matter if it was a developed campground or miles onto a bumpy dirt road - we were quite jostled to see so many people. I had encountered this issue quite often when camping at some of the more popular destinations throughout Colorado - not at all like my experiences dispersed camping in California and in other states, where you typically see crowds dwindle the farther you get from civilization. I guess it speaks to how much Coloradans like to get outside as compared to other states.

Mount Elbert looms in the distance. The tallest mountain in COlorado is easily visible from Twin Lakes

View of Mount Elbert from Twin Lakes, CO - Photo Credit: Ankit Jain

After an hour spent trying to find an open campsite that wasn’t in the middle of multiple others, we stumbled upon a campsite in the dark next to a fence line. As it was secluded and offered privacy, we were satisfied. We set up our camp by the light of our headlamps, made a campfire, and relaxed into the evening sharing stories and catching up on life.


Fascinating red rock mesas and other rock structures climb out of the desert at Canyonlands National Park in Moab, UTah

Canyonlands National Park, UT - Photo Credit: Abby Voce

Day 2: Twin Lakes, CO to Canyonlands, UT

The next morning, we woke up to views of the 14,433-foot face of Mount Elbert, Colorado’s tallest peak, right in front of us.

We cooked up some breakfast, packed up camp, and eventually parted our separate ways. My friends were going to hang out at Twin Lakes for the afternoon, whilst I made my way toward Aspen for some delicious lunch en route to Utah.

More red rock formations in Moab, Utah

Striated Rock Formations: Canyonlands National Park, UT - Photo Credit: Ankit Jain

I made it to Moab, UT in the late afternoon - it was very hot, to say the least. When I was fueling up, I saw signs for burn bans both in and around Moab, meaning no campfires that night. I headed towards the southern end of Canyonlands to find a campsite for the night. It was about an hour’s drive from Moab to the area in which I planned to dispersed camp, somewhere along West Short Cut Road. On the drive over, you could see the deep gorges and canyons on the right. Once I turned off of the main highway, I stopped by a few vista points to check out the rock formations, eventually making it to a campsite an hour before sunset.


My campsite was an opening on a relatively flat rock cropping in a Bureau of Land Management Area. It offered an epic view for the sunset, and ample wind protection from the surroundings.

Purple mountains majesty outside Canyonlands National Park in Utah

Sunset from campsite: Canyonlands, UT - Photo Credit: Ankit Jain

From my past experiences camping in open deserts and canyons, I know it can get very windy very fast, hence I was glad to find myself in the right location to ensure a quiet evening. I set up camp, sat back, and soaked in the views, calling it an early night so I could set out early in the morning on the road to Nevada.


The Ruby Mountains descend directly into Angel Lake in Northern Nevada

Angel Lake, Nestled within Ruby Mountains, NV - Photo Credit: Ankit Jain

Day 3: Canyonlands, UT to Ruby Mountains, NV

On the third day of my trip home, I woke up just after sunrise and packed up camp. I contemplated heading into the National Park itself since it was so close, but that would have been a 2-3 hour excursion at the very least. Instead I opted to just explore a few more vista points along my route as I had quite a long drive across Utah ahead of me.


I grabbed some food along the way, and drove nearly 7 hours to my destination, the Ruby Mountains outside Elko, Nevada - a place I’ve cherished for years on cross-country road trips. I hadn’t been here for about three years, and yearned to get back there to spend some time at one of my favorite campgrounds in Nevada, Angel Lake.

Angel Lake provides a mirror image reflection of the Ruby Mountains in Northern Nevada

Views of Angel Lake: Ruby Mountains, NV - Photo Credit: Ankit Jain

I made it to Angel Lake, nestled at 8,400 feet in one of the most spectacular high-alpine settings I’ve ever had the pleasure to experience. The lake is surrounded by picturesque jagged peaks and lush meadows with wildflowers scattered throughout.

My campsite of choice for the night was a developed campground in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, operated by the US Forest Service. I was fortunate enough to snag a first-come, first-serve campsite on a Sunday afternoon; the campground is popular and fills up quickly on weekends. Reservations are definitely recommended if planning to visit!

Beautiful yellow blue and lpurple wildflowers creep up among the grassy swaths lining the valleys of the Ruby Mountains in Nevada

Wildflowers around the lake: Ruby Mountains, NV - Photo Credit: Ankit Jain

I set up camp, and then went for a stroll by the lakeside. There were many folks there for day use and it was lively. I returned to my campsite just after sunset, started a campfire with the firewood I’d brought from Elko, and set in for the evening. I called it an early evening once again to get a head start the next morning for the final leg of my journey, home to California.


Angel Lake stretches out indefinitely, nestled among the peaks and cliffs of the Ruby Mountains in Nevada

Angel Lake: Ruby Mountains, NV - Photo Credit: Ankit Jain

Day 4: Ruby Mountains, NV to Bay Area, CA

At last, on the final morning, I woke up to go hiking to nearby Smith Lake, almost a mandatory hike for me when I'm in the Ruby Mountains. I packed up camp, dropped my gear off in the car, and hit the trail right at dawn. It was a 1.3 mile hike each way, with a reasonable 800 feet of elevation gain.

After making it to the lake, I relaxed, had a snack, and headed back down to my car. I then began the drive to the Bay Area via Truckee, where I stopped for some views and Thai food. I eventually made it back to the Bay Area late in the afternoon - I was glad to be finally back home after almost being away for four long but exciting and eventful months! It was so great to crash in my own bed again - you tend to take the little things for granted until you miss their presence and again get to appreciate how wonderful life really is.

Sunset over the scrublands of Canyonlands National Park in Utah, also signifying the sunset of this article, my dear reader. I'm tired and I would like a nap.

Canyonlands National Park, UT - Photo Credit: Ankit Jain

Gear List

When car camping, I typically bring a lot of gear that I don’t end up using, but it gives me a peace of mind to have redundancies for safety while I’m in the backcountry. Hence, the list below covers all the primary gear that I use in my car camping trips.



Sleep System:

Camp Kitchen:

Food & Hydration:


Tools, Electronics and Miscellaneous:


Safety/First Aid:


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