Four friends relax Saturday at South Beach after canoeing the Yampa River from Hayden. The group traveled from the Front Range to paddle and camp in Northwest Colorado. Camping and boating in Moffat County has finally hit its stride after a long winter and spring. Shown, clockwise from left, are Boulder residents Lindsey Gano and Neil Gano, and Brighton residents Charlie Worley and Jessica Worley.

Photo by Ben McCanna

Four friends relax Saturday at South Beach after canoeing the Yampa River from Hayden. The group traveled from the Front Range to paddle and camp in Northwest Colorado. Camping and boating in Moffat County has finally hit its stride after a long winter and spring. Shown, clockwise from left, are Boulder residents Lindsey Gano and Neil Gano, and Brighton residents Charlie Worley and Jessica Worley.

Weather makes for unusual summer in Yampa Valley

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Area campground information ...

• Craig Campground

— 2800 E. U.S. Highway 40

824-5105

Sites: 107

• Freeman Reservoir Campground

— Moffat County Road 11

870-2299

Sites: 18

• Yampa River State Park

— 6185 U.S. Highway 40 West, Hayden

276-2061

Sites: 50

• Elkhead Reservoir

— Moffat County Road 29

276-2061

Sites: 16.

Summer solstice occurred two weeks ago, but Colorado hasn’t responded accordingly.

Ron DellaCroce, Yampa River State Park manager, said it’s been an unusual season.

“We’re really about a month behind this year,” he said.

Snow continues to linger in the high country — up to 10-feet deep in some areas — and many regional campgrounds remain closed, according to a news release from the U.S. Forest Service.

The unseasonable conditions in the high country translate to a Fourth of July boom in the valley, DellaCroce said. His campgrounds in Hayden and Elkhead Reservoir were packed over the weekend.

“A lot of that stuff is still snowed in, so that’s actually pushing more people down into the valley to camp,” he said.

Pat McCaffrey, owner of Craig Campground, said she’s seen the same uptick in valley camping.

“They can get to Freeman Reservoir,” she said of campers. “But, they can’t get to the top of Black Mountain. We’ve had people try.”

It’s shaping up to be a good season for tourism in Moffat County, McCaffrey added.

“We were busy for Whittle the Wood, and we’re already taking reservations for the barbecue championship and the hot air balloons,” she said.

Although Freeman Reservoir Campground was open for the holiday weekend, it almost wasn’t, according to the Forest Service.

“The record snowpack from last winter caused about a one-month delay in opening campgrounds,” the release states. “Many roads and trails beyond campgrounds are still impassable due to snow and mud.”

Freeman was opened June 28. Nearby Sawmill Creek Campground remains closed.

DellaCroce said the melting snow has had an effect on two types of recreation in the valley: fishing and boating.

“Fishing at Elkhead (Reservoir) is just starting to come on,” he said. “The water is finally starting to clear.”

On the Yampa River, fishing remains delayed.

“The water is still just so high right now and it’s pushing a lot of silt down the river,” he said. “It’s coming, but it’s still a little bit out from being good fishing.”

Boating on the river almost didn’t happen for the Fourth of July weekend. Yampa River State Park kept its boating access points closed until June 29.

Although boating is now open, DellaCroce said boaters still need to respect the power of the Yampa River.

“It’s big,” he said. “It’s really big. These flows are just crazy. It’s three times what we normally see for this time of year.

“This is the time people really need to start being careful. Even though they’ve been doing stuff for years over the Fourth of July, this is a different beast this year.”

On Saturday afternoon, four friends from the Front Range canoed the Yampa River from Hayden and set up camp at South Beach.

Brighton resident Charlie Worley said he has been canoeing the same stretch of river for five consecutive Fourth of July weekends.

“It’s as big as I’ve ever seen it,” he said of the river.

The camping group said they didn’t see any other boaters during their paddle. Conditions were dicey in some spots, they said, but were otherwise fine.

“It was fun,” Jessica Worley said. “It was fast. We barely needed to paddle.”

The group said they plan to stay in Craig for the fireworks show tonight at Moffat County High School, 900 Finley Lane.

“The fireworks are part of the tradition,” Charlie said of his annual trips.

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