If you’re looking to get out in nature but only have a weekend, this is one of my favorite road trips from Northern New Mexico. What makes this particular trip to Moab so remarkable is the diverse landscape you drive through in such a short period of time and of course the oasis you end up at, which is a rarity in the desert.
My intention with this blog is to inspire and provide resources to other respectful travelers out there. By reading this post, I assume you have the same level of respect for the land as I do. Never litter, even leaving your orange peels and other “biodegradable” food waste near a trail is considered littering because it can take years to disappear. Leave places better than you found them and remember other people are exploring these places for the first time. Nothing taints that experience more than seeing litter, graffiti or other signs of humanity. Be respectful of other hikers and wear headphones if you want to listen to music.
Driving to the campsite
We left Taos around noon and drove about 4 hours to Dolores CO (past Durango) where we ended up camping. We didn’t really have a plan as to where we were going to stay. I originally wanted to stay near the trailhead in Moab but I had heard it was a busy weekend and really hard to find a campsite so I decided to find one further away to avoid getting there late and not being able to find a spot.
This turned out to be a really good decision because I had wanted to drive down through Colorado on the way back and hit up some of my favorite spots so staying where we stayed ended up being the perfect place for all of that to happen. forto see every campground was completely full that weekend so I decided to look for lesser known places to camp
Camping in Dolores, Colorado
Our campground was my favorite place I’ve ever camped before. It was right next to a small lake that we had all to ourselves. It was also close to the highway, but not too close. I felt close to civilization in case I needed last minute supplies or had an emergency, but far enough away that I could still enjoy the uninterrupted sounds of nature and still got the feeling that I was in the middle of nowhere.
For exact specs, the camp spot was about 3 minutes down a well maintained dirt road off of a highway (note: you do not need a high clearance vehicle for this campsite or to get to Mills Creek Waterfall in Moab) and it was about 10 minutes from the small town of Dolores. I had found this spot last minute on the app Campendium which is a free app that shows you all the camping spots in whatever area you set it to. You can also filter it by things like cost and location to find exactly what you’re looking for.
This campground was free, here are the coordinates you can put into google if you’d like to find the exact place I camped. Please don’t litter, and leave the place better than you found it. Note this camp spot is 2 hours from Moab.
Hiking Mills Creek Waterfall in Moab
Mills Creek Waterfall is an easy trail that crosses multiple streams and ends up at a waterfall in a canyon. The trailhead itself is very close to civilization which makes it a convenient hike for locals and visitors alike. Be warned, this also means the trail can get very crowded. There is a small parking lot at the trailhead which isn’t big enough to accommodate everyone during busy days so a lot of people park along the short dirt road leading up to the parking lot, which is apparently illegal and frowned upon from what I’ve read. I was really lucky on this weekend trip. I went on a Sunday at the end of October around 9:30 am and there was hardly anyone. I passed a few people on the trail but there was no one at the waterfall when I got there. I think because it was a little cloudy and cooler than usual that morning there were only a couple of cars in the parking lot.
It started warming up as I was hiking out around noon and that’s when I started seeing crowds of people hiking in. So if you want to experience this waterfall without crowds you’re going to have to go early in the morning, preferably on a week day, and during off-season. Keep in mind, if you hike this trail and there’s a lot of people, once you get to the waterfall you can backtrack a little, climb up the canyon walls and go past the waterfall to get some seclusion by the water.
This trail was about 2 miles round trip and great for kids and dogs. You do have to cross the river multiple times so I highly recommend wearing hiking sandals and shorts. The first crossing was thigh deep in some parts so be prepared to get wet.
People do cliff jumps at the waterfalls however it isn’t advised because there are multiple hidden boulders in the water and there have been multiple people who have broken legs and ankles attempting the jump. Note that there are cottonwood trees at the top of the waterfall (if you climb past the waterfall) so you would be able to set up a hammock if you want.
Coming back through Colorado
If you’ve ever driven to Moab through the four corners area you know how epic that drive is. From Taos, you start out driving through the mesa, then through mountain passes and jagged cliffs, then through rolling hills with trees, abandoned homesteads, and pristine streams running through grassy meadows, then finally flatlands and red rock formations when you get closer to Moab.
To really get the most diverse scenery possible on this trip, I wanted to come back down through Colorado to drive through tiny mountain towns and alpine forests that make you feel like you’re in Switzerland in some areas. I drove down through Telluride and even stumbled upon these little hot springs where I watched the first snowfall of the season. It was actually really warm and comfortable even though it was snowing because the springs were really hot and since it hadn’t snowed yet, the air and ground was still warm from the summer months. This was one of my favorite moments of the whole trip and a memory I will think back on for many years to come.
That pretty much concludes my weekend trip. I think this area of the US has some of the most geographically diverse land in the world which makes road tripping this area a unique experience like no other.
I’m also really lucky to have been born and raised in Northern New Mexico which makes all these great adventures a short drive from my house.