This was the first place my husband and I (and our dog!) went camping in our adult lives. We decided to try a site that we could reserve first before diving into dispersed camping, and since we'd been hiking here the week prior, we thought we'd give it a shot. Reserving our spot online was super easy, and I REALLY liked the little map that allowed you to see which campsites were already taken - we were able to choose one that was relatively secluded. You do need to reserve ahead of time, but there was a number you could call on our campsite post in the event that you drove up to one at the last minute in order to make your reservation. We did see a park ranger drive by at one point just to check on things.
Getting there was incredibly easy (note that if you don't have an annual CO state parks pass, you'll need to pay a fee for that at the gate in addition to reserving your spot). Lake Pueblo State Park in general is not well-shaded, and the campsites were no exception, but we knew that going in. Each site at Juniper Breaks has a fire ring, tent spot, and a picnic table-with shade over the table. The sites aren't super close together, you can see each other but I felt like we had privacy and everyone was polite and doing their own thing. It was a quick walk to the bathrooms, which were clean and stocked with toilet paper. There was also a water pump outside. The campsite is sort of close to a road so we could hear the cars going by at night occasionally (but as this was our first time camping, we didn't mind!!)
Juniper Breaks isn't right next to any trails, so you'll have to drive to access them if you hike or bike. Definitely worth it, there are some FANTASTIC and really cool trails here! There was a little parking lot in the campground that people with kayaks kept pulling up to, so I think there's a spot to launch your boat (but don't know any details about this).
All in all, we had a really nice, quiet time. A great first camping experience in a great park!
Overall: Phantom Canyon Road is a beautiful, peaceful location, but a bear came directly into our campsite!
Directions: Very easy to find and clearly marked. There are several signs warning you not to continue on if your vehicle is longer than 25 feet. The dirt road is twisty with several washboard sections, but it's not severely rutted up. I kept it around 20 mph the whole time and was pretty shocked at how fast some people were driving. There are a lot of blind corners and narrow roads, so be careful!
Camping: We found a pull-off on the left hand side pretty soon after the second tunnel. It was a pretty deep pull-off, enough that you could see the front of our truck but not our campsite from the road. Very private and quiet! Nice and level too, with two fire pits. Super sunny and not well shaded- it was lovely in April, but I bet it gets incredibly hot in the summer. Unfortunately, there was a lot of trash when we arrived, which I did clean up. We found some bullet shells and pieces of bright orange clay, which makes me think people were shooting back there. We arrived Friday night around 6:30pm and had to drive pretty far back to find a spot, there were a lot of people camping already. I think the road went on much further too, so don't get discouraged about finding a place! As someone mentioned, there is a pit toilet, but we didn't park anywhere near enough to use it. We got NO wifi or cell service back there either (Verizon).
THE BEAR: Our campsite was backed up right next to a dried out wash. Saturday morning, we decided to explore it a little (mistake #1 - we've explored washes before but not that far into the backcountry). We didn't go back super far, just followed the rocky path. At one point we noticed A LOT, and I mean A LOT of bear scat and turned around. Our dog started barking like crazy and when we looked up, there was a giant black bear high above us on a ridge. It was turning around and clearly uninterested in us, but we hurried back to our campsite - the bear was probably less than a quarter mile away from it. A few hours later when we were hanging out at the campsite just reading (we should've left immediately), our dog started growling. We looked up and there was the bear, standing at the edge of the wash. O_O We didn't have any food or trash out (we ALWAYS keep all of that locked away in our truck unless we are actively cooking/eating). The bear wasn't acting aggressively, but it wasn't leaving either. I kept talking to it, making myself appear larger, moving slowly as we packed up and got the heck out of there (we had to take our giant awning apart while the bear watched us curiously the whole time, omg).
Just be aware if you camp here that there are bears around! Not only is it their home, but all of the trash we picked up from that campsite upon arrival makes me think that they're starting to become habituated to the area since people are so trashy (a few other reviews mention finding trash at their sites as well). I will DEFINITELY be picking up some bear spray and bringing it with me from now on. Be safe and PACK YOUR TRASH OUT!!!
Overall: We LOVED this place! Beautiful, CLEAN, quiet and free.
Directions: Follow the signs instead of google maps. There comes a point shortly after turning onto 3A that you'll see a sign that points straight ahead to the campground. Soon after that, google maps wants you to turn slightly left onto a dirt road. Keep going straight!! Either way will get you there, but if you follow the signs you'll get to stay on the paved road much longer. Near the top of the winding hill, you'll see another sign pointing left to a dirt road - this is the one you want (by this point, google maps will have caught on and will recalculate you). Follow the signs in - the road's not bad at all, we were in our Ford F-150 and kept it on 2WD the whole time - and when you get to a fork, bear RIGHT. You'll see the campground sign ahead and will have your choice of turning onto the north (left) or south (right) loops.
Site: We stayed on the south loop at site 4 and it was wonderful! The sites are a little close together, but everyone was quiet and kept to themselves - not a big deal at all. We arrived at 4:30pm on a Friday and there were two spots left. Not sure about the north loop - signs and other reviews indicate that the north loop is tent camping only, but there were a bunch of rigs over there. Secure trash cans throughout and pit toilets (no locks!), though no water. Each site on the south loop has a picnic table, tent pad, and fire ring. Our site was very clean! We were also surprised to get great cell phone AND internet service here.
Hiking: What we really loved about this place was its access to some great hiking trails! Once in the south loop, you'll see a wooden sign that says "trails" near campsite 7. We took the Canyon Rim trail to the Overlook trail and got some gorgeous views of the gorge (out and back hike, a little over 4 miles). Also recommend taking the Canon Vista trail and then turning right on Far out to make it a 2 mile loop (be sure to take the Le View spur for the best views of the gorge)! The Smores trail is a fun little 1 mile loop around the campsite, good for stretching your legs once you arrive. It was late April when we went and the trails weren't crowded at all. This is a popular mountain biking area too.
Pets: We brought our dog, and lots of other campers did too. Everyone was very respectful and kept their dogs leashed. This is not the place to let your dog run off leash, please don't be that person. Aside from the fact that these are the camp rules, there are a lot of cows that wander pretty close to the campsite - there was a cowpie right by our fire ring, although they didn't get THAT close while we were there. They were close enough for our dog to see though - be aware if your dog is the type that will run up to other animals! We had no issues and she had a blast hiking the trails with us.