Tiny Houses Make a Great Adventure Base Camp

Tiny houses are a great option when you need a base camp for your adventures.

By Courtney Johnson
Camp Ambassador

Tiny houses began gaining popularity in 2012 and surged in growth with the 2014 airing of the popular show Tiny House Nation on FYI Network. In fact, according to a USA Today article from September 2021, Google searches for tiny houses went up 113% over the past five years.

As cabin and condo prices continue to skyrocket, and campsites get booked up instantly six months out, cities across the U.S. are allowing for tiny house villages to help bring additional tourists to popular areas. From a tiny house village in Leavenworth, Wash., to the village in Cottonwood, Ariz., near Sedona, these spots are becoming more attractive for outdoor enthusiasts looking for more than a campground but less than a full-on hotel experience.

Looking for a pre-holiday getaway, my husband was searching for condos, cabins and hotels close to the main ski resort corridor along I-70. With work commitments, sports, volunteering and the holiday hustle and bustle, a few days away was something we needed even if we weren’t able to communicate it.

He looked for a central location not too far (about an hour or less) from multiple ski resorts with additional recreational activities for me since I am not much of a skier. A search for the town of Leadville led him to an area called Tiny House Leadville — 10,152 feet above sea level.

With 12 or so tiny houses to choose from, he sought the input of me and our 8-year-old daughter to choose the house we liked most from what was available during that time frame. Each tiny house was pet friendly, so it was mostly about having enough sleeping areas and other amenities we wanted. What attracts many to tiny houses is that you get big-house amenities from full kitchens and bathrooms with showers, but you don’t have to pay the big-ticket cost of renting a large space.

After viewing the photos, we selected the Molly which had two loft beds, a full kitchen and fireplace. (Photo: Courtney Johnson)

After viewing the photos, we selected the Molly. The Molly has two loft beds (a full and queen bed), a full kitchen and a bathroom with shower. The downtown location gave us easy access to restaurants and shopping, local trails and highways to area ski resorts. There was a fireplace, heat, internet and TV.

Two weeks and many holiday events later, we were off on our tiny house adventure.

We left the house around 7:30 a.m. to head to Vail, Colo. The plan for the day was for AJ and Emma to ski until around 2:15 p.m., while Roxy and I took a snowshoe hike up Vail Pass. This worked perfectly since we couldn’t check in to the tiny house until 3 p.m. With its great location, we could easily be at the tiny house in a quick 45 minutes from the resort.

After dropping Emma and AJ off near ski school around 9:45 a.m., Roxy and I made a quick coffee-shop run that included me ordering a puppuccino for Roxy. What could I say — I was feeling festive!

Caffeinated and cheerful, we made the 20-minute drive from the resort up to the top of Vail Pass. This recreation area, at 10,666 feet, has over 120 miles of trails open to skiers and snowshoers, with some trails open to snowmobiles. I paid the $10 recreation fee before we parked in one of the upper lots.

Roxy and I took a snowshoe hike up Vail Pass. (Photo: Courtney Johnson)

Our pup loves the snow. With the unseasonably warm weather we had during fall into winter, she hadn’t seen snow since April. I couldn’t get her out of the car fast enough, as she ran right to the first snow pile and started rolling and digging. Initial excitement for the snow waning, we took the Shrine Pass Ski Trail and Shrine Pass Road Trail for a 4-mile round-trip snowshoe romp. It was tough to keep such a snow-loving dog off the ski tracks. I honestly haven’t taken her snowshoeing much, so the idea was novel to her. All she could see was drifts of snow that begged to be trampled through.

The day was gorgeous. Basically a bluebird day, the temperature was around 30 degrees as we headed on the trail. I knew AJ and Emma were having a great day on the slopes. If it can’t be a powder day, a windless and sunny bluebird day can’t be beat, no matter if you are skiing, snowshoeing or out for a winter hike. A bit shy of the 2-mile mark, we went off to the side of the trail to let a Nordic skier skate ski up the hill. Her pup and my pup did some romping in the snow together as she caught her breath at the top. We exchanged holiday pleasantries, and we were both back off, heading in opposite directions.

Roxy was getting the hang of keeping out of the tracks better on the way back to the car. I marveled at the different view, going from being able to see some of the ski runs at Copper Mountain to seeing other parts of the Gore Range of the Rockies. Back near the parking lot, there were giggles galore as families had a good time sledding down a hill adjacent to the parking lot. I let Roxy do a bit more snow digging before we went back to the truck. I had a quick 15 minutes to get the snowballs off Roxy’s fur and eat a premade PB&J sandwich before heading back to pick up the rest of the family.

Family in the truck, we drove the 40 minutes to our base camp for the next few days. The Molly was situated between two additional tiny houses, with a picnic table, small grill and one parking spot situated around it. We appreciated the boot scraper located on the stairs up to the entrance of the tiny house. It would be impossible to get my dog to use it (that’s why we always carry a towel), but it would help us keep our house floor cleaner and drier over the next few days.

The first thing we did, after unloading the truck, was turn on the fireplace that served as our main source of heat for the next few days. Although we are fairly neat and organized at home, our family has a habit of destroying hotel rooms within 30 minutes of settling into one.

My husband made the usual “Let’s try not to make this place a disaster” plea he makes every time we stay somewhere as we began to get situated. We quickly discovered a lack of hooks for hanging coats, ski pants, etc. The little cubbies in the stairs up to one loft were perfect for storing bags of food, Roxy’s gear and the bag of games we brought. We had enough room in one loft area to store our gear/clothing bags. All I can say is we made a conscious effort to keep it organized, but in the end it was a mess, as usual.

I had premade turkey chili the day before, so all we had to do was reheat it in the full-size kitchen for dinner. Some rounds of holiday-themed Spot It! later, we were enjoying some warm chili and some uninterrupted talk about life, the holidays and our adventures that day. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the to-do lists of life; being in a tiny house with great and easy-to-work amenities took away a lot of the minute tasks that must happen when camping. We spent the rest of the night reading, coloring and playing more games of Spot It! and holiday charades. Content and warm, we went to bed ready to rest for another day of adventure.

Not in a rush the next day, we savored our hot pancakes, coffee and hot cocoa. My husband and I both had a bit of work to get done, so we sat at the small kitchen bar-height table and worked while our daughter read and played on her iPad. Today was a day we were going to spend as a family, enjoying the change of scenery and pace of everyday life.

Around 10:30, we set off for a winter hike. Turquoise Lake is situated close to the tiny house and was on our list of places we wanted to camp in the summer, especially for some time on the SUPs. It’s always great to get a lay of the land, even if it does look quite different in the winter. I made some notes in my head about the surrounding campsites as we were heading along the winter trail that serves as a road to the various campgrounds in the summer months.

I don’t feel completely comfortable having Roxy off leash when it is just me or when we are in places I’m not familiar with. But with AJ with us, we let Roxy off to romp through the snow. Trail access is abundant around Leadville year-round, whether you prefer skis, fat bikes, mountain bikes or your own legs. This is another reason we were attracted to staying in the area.

Big events include the famous Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike and trail running race, the Leadville Ski Joring and Crystal Festival and Boom Days throughout the year. When weather permits, there is also the Dutch Henry tubing area that is open December to March and a 30,000-square-foot outdoor ice rink is also open in the winter. Close to downtown Leadville is the ski area Ski Cooper. Ski Cooper has Nordic trails, downhill skiing and huts and yurts you can ski and snowshoe to. A few years back, we skied into one of the yurts for a night’s stay, and AJ and I had once done a biathlon there, too.

Roxy ran ahead of us and then ran back four or five times as we followed the winter trail until we came to a three-way stop. We took the trail to the left and the boat ramp area, hoping to hit the Turquoise Lake Trail. Another 15 minutes or so later, we found the boat ramp and Turquoise Lake Trail. We decided to go toward the lake for a little exploring and skating in our boots.

We could see Galena Mountain across from the lake. To the left of us was a group of ice fishers trying to catch trout. Rainbow, brown, cutthroat and brook can all be found in the man-made lake. Roxy enjoyed chasing ice pucks across the lake while we explored around the lake edge. Hunger, and the wind picking up, soon had us heading back to the trailhead. Having made a large batch of chili, we were soon back at the tiny house, warming up and enjoying lunch on the couch close to the fireplace.

After a bit more downtime, we decided to walk to the downtown area to do some shopping. The start of the downtown area was a convenient three- to five-minute walk from our tiny house, allowing us access to restaurants and shopping. We enjoyed that most of the stores offered a local flair with homemade goods by local artists. We picked a few goodies to bring home — a nice reminder of our time in the highest populated city in North America.

We arrived back as the sun began to set on the surrounding mountains. I can imagine sitting outside in the summer, eating dinner while enjoying the view from one of the tiny houses (or maybe even from our campsite at Turquoise Lake). We had time for a few more rounds of Spot It! before we showered and got ready for dinner in town.

The town of Leadville is no exception to the pandemic and slowing tourism. Our hosts left a list, and a few paper menus, of the restaurants that have managed to make it through the past few rough years. Always up for a good margarita, we settled on Mexican food at Casa Sanchez on the main drag. The staff was superfriendly and provided efficient service and yummy food. Plus, we had leftovers for the next day. That is always a bonus.

Back at the Molly, we connected our Blu-ray player we brought from home to the TV to watch a holiday movie — Rudolph, as my daughter suggested. Snuggly in PJs and warm, we pulled out the couch to make a bed for all of us to lie on while we watched the movie.

The next morning we got an early start, with incoming weather and a need to get back for a holiday gathering at a friend’s house that evening. We had some quick oatmeal, packed up and were on the road for Copper Mountain around 8:15. Copper is a short 25- to 30-minute drive from the heart of Leadville, offering an additional recreational opportunity in both winter and summer.

I dropped AJ and Emma off at the skier dropoff, and Roxy and I headed 15 minutes east to the town of Silverthorne for some hiking and play at the dog park. At 1:30, I was back to grab a tired but happy husband and daughter.

We thoroughly enjoyed our three-day tiny house adventure. The house itself was warm, provided a great base camp for all kinds of outdoor recreation and gave us the amenities we needed for a comfortable stay. If you are looking for a base camp for your next mountain adventure, consider a tiny house. With the large range of amenities available, you won’t be disappointed.

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