Crater Lakes, CO

Finding time for a mountain getaway seemed to be nearly out of reach in 2018 but Molly and I figured even a short getaway was better than no getaway. We planned out a quick four-nighter over Molly’s birthday book-ended by immovable work commitments (adulting sucks). Due to the time constraints, we would be limited to the Front Range and Crater Lakes in Arapaho National Forest seemed to fit the bill with its proximity to Denver and short hike-in.

We had originally planned on driving through the night on Tuesday and hitting the trail Wednesday morning, but a 7 month old’s 3:30am wake up call that morning threw those plans in the garbage. We gave it a valiant effort but ended up sacking out in the truck at a rest stop somewhere in eastern Nebraska, shortly after dropping off the kids with grandparents.

Feeling pretty beat and with the weather looking increasingly rough, we made plans to head to Estes Park and find a nice cabin for a little early birthday celebration. We lucked out and got a reservation at Castle Mountain Lodge. The price was a bit steep at $280/night but fuck it, we were on vacation dammit! The cabins were well laid-out to maximize privacy and the interiors were dated but impeccably clean. Our cabin, “Castle View“, had a large patio with a grill and an indoor hot tub. After crushing some Smokin’ Dave’s BBQ, we tubbed, chilled on the patio, and slept like we had no kids… for 12 hours.

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After a morning soak and coffee on the hillside above the lodge, we picked up one more round of Smokin’ Dave’s to go (seriously, the BEST) and headed south toward Crater Lakes. We took our time poking around on some back roads and shopping in Nederland before finally arriving at the trial head in the afternoon. The hike was pretty easy for the first 2/3, but got pretty steep towards the end. We aborted mission about halfway up the trail from the lower to upper lakes due to impending darkness and being out of shape but found a nice spot near the lower lake.

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We had the place to ourselves that evening and few hikers passed by on Friday as we enjoyed hammocking, fishing, and forgetting about the real world for a couple days.

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We had planned for three nights out but some very inconsiderate neighbors arrived late Friday night and decided it was a good plan to play music until 3am. The thought of another night of that coupled with a howling wind made us reconsider pushing for a third night. We decided to make the journey to the upper lakes and take it from there. There was an alternative trail to the mountain goat path initially visible when walking between the lower lakes to the right which proved much easier than our first attempt straight up the middle. The upper lakes were spectacular and well worth the extra hike to see. Unfortunately, it was simply too windy that high to camp comfortably so we took in the views and headed down to break camp.

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After an easy hike out, we chilled on the tailgate enjoying our post-hike beers and planned our next move. It was just early enough to catch a sunset if we hustled so we pushed back north hoping to either get over the Continental Divide at Rocky Mountain National Park or get close enough to it for a good show. After poking around and asking a few locals, we decided to try Brainard Lake Recreation Area. The $9 entry was well worth it and we enjoyed a spectacular birthday sunset from the roof of the truck and scouted the park as a possible future family vacation spot.

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We closed out the trip by spending the night in Fort Collins and enjoying a pizza and some good drinks at Otto Pint. As always, the mountains were a welcomed break from our daily grind and we were excited to introduce our newest family member to the magic soon.

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