Rain while cooking? Chilly mountain nights? The campervan saves the day.

The Berman girls hanging out in Moraine Park Campground, in Rocky Mountain National Park, with our rented Eurovan from Rocky Mountain Campervans

Westy life: Easiest camping with the kids ever

By Joshua Berman
Special to The Denver Post

PINEWOOD RESERVOIR — My daughters and I are sardined across the fold-down seat of a rented ’02 Eurovan Weekender. We’re already a camping family, but this is our first time waking up in anything other than a tent, so the experience is completely new. We decided not to pop the top last night, sleeping two and two, but instead to all “huggle together,” as my 3-year-old said, to stay warmer on this cold, early-spring night.

There is a layer of frozen sleet coating the windows, but we did, in fact, stay pretty snug. Then I slide open the door and find we are in the middle of a cloud.

“You can’t tell where the water ends and the sky begins,” observes my 8-year-old. She’s right. Pinewood Reservoir is a Larimer County-run campground west of Loveland, on a 100-acre body of water with wakeless boating and a public swimming beach. But on this damp, sleety-snowy morning in April, we are the only ones here. It is serene.

There is no sign of the opposite shore, where last night during our Dutch oven dinner, we watched part of the Rocky Mountain National Park elk herd graze and flow across the grass. There’s also no sign of the bald eagle we saw get chased by two crows, nor its nest atop a pole.

Only white, wet grayness. I place the camping stove on the picnic table, fry sausages, boil water and assemble my rainjacketed troops in the cool, lifting mist. “Hoods on! Eat your oats! Drink your cocoa before it gets cold!”

As the rain grows stronger, I remember what my van-owning friend had told me about the campervan experience: The magic, he’d said, is when it rains and you actually need the van for shelter. I duck inside, pull the bed back into a seat, shuffle crates and car-seats, then shout, “Everyone in the bus!” I set them up with their bowls and cups around the little pop-up table, and they keep shoveling it in.

If we were tent-camping, I’d be scrambling to raise both a kitchen tarp and morale. Instead, I’m sipping coffee, and my three girls are as happy as clams, watching through rain-spotted windows as the fog clears then asking if they can draw with their colored pencils for a little bit.

A guy could get used to this, I think. Luckily, I’ve got two more nights to sample the VW lifestyle. I rented our van through Rocky Mountain Campervans, a mom-and-pop operation based out of Lakewood with 20 “near-vintage and vintage” Volkswagen Eurovans, Vanagons and buses for rent. I’d always been camper-curious of my Westy-owning friends. Now I could actually try one on for size.

That day, we’ll drive up Big Thompson Canyon and into Rocky Mountain National Park, where Moraine Park Campground keeps one loop open year-round. We’ll see more wildlife, have a campfire, then pop the top and huggle in for another cozy night.

Joshua Berman is the author of “Moon: Colorado Camping, 5th ed,” out this month. JoshuaBerman.net

If you go

Rocky Mountain Campervans rentals come equipped with kitchenware and bedding, and are all uniquely outfitted for camping and exploring. Most vehicles sleep four and include a sink, refrigerator and stovetop. Rates are $145-200 per day, depending on season and length of trip. 720-593-0433 or www.rockymountaincampervans.com

Pinewood Reservoir Campground has 27 sites for tents and RVs up to 32 feet, including 11 walk-in tent sites. Make reservations at www.larimercamping.com or 800-397-7795. The fee is $15 per night for nonelectric, $25 for electric, plus park pass.

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This article originally appeared in The Denver Post May 8, 2016.

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