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Visiting the Not Crowded Spots of Colorado

 To escape the seclusion of the pandemic, we decided to travel to a place where walking outdoors doesn’t feel like you are suffocating in a sauna (you guessed it, we live in Houston).  Of course, the 2nd reason was to travel to a place that is not crowded with tourism.  The Rocky Mountains National Park was not an option, so our best choice was to go to the north east of Colorado, near the border of Wyoming. 

We visited the Read Feather Lakes area for a week in the middle of July 2021, and stayed in a cabin we rented via an online service.  The cabin was in the Crystal Lakes community, secluded in a private hill.  The cabin was very welcoming, charming, and comfortable, like a home away from home with great views of the pine trees and the mountains. 

During our stay at the cabin, we were able to see moose, deer, and humming birds.  The area is very quiet with peaceful and friendly neighbors.  The area around Crystal Lakes has some hiking trails, which we did not get to explore because it was like a maze to find any.  Instead, we went to the Panhandle Reservoir, where the kids were able to swim for a bit.  The unpaved gravel roads around this area can be a bit slippery at times, so it is best to have a 4-wheel drive vehicle if you ever decide to visit.  The cabin stay was relaxing, peaceful, and it was a good opportunity to disconnect from civilization, and to connect with nature.  The downside of staying around this area is everything seems to be far away from attractions, grocery shopping (at least 1-2 hours) and gas stations, but after all, it’s a trade-off that is worth taking if you are looking for peace, quiet, and nature.    

On the first day, we visited Fort Collins (it is about 1.5 hours away Crystal Lakes) to do some grocery shopping at Trader Joes, and we found some good camping gear at lower prices at the Sierra Trading Post in the same shopping center.  Prior to doing some grocery shopping, we tasted some good Mexican breakfast tacos at Las Delicias (1311 N College Ave Fort Collins, CO, 80524) and since it is a mini grocery store, we purchased some conchas (pan dulce), tortillas, salsa, and Mexican candy (the kids love duvalin, Carlos V, and paletas payaso).  We also decided to take a stroll around the main street, and the Colorado State University campus.  The tortillas and the salsa came in handy to prepare some good Mexican tacos at the cabin during the week.  Hey, you can’t stop us Texans with Mexican heritage from bringing a part of home to our trips.  We do limit the kids on the sugar intake before you start judging!

In the middle of the week, we ran out of some pantry essentials, however, we opted to shop at the local grocery stores (about 20 minutes away from our cabin) to avoid the 1hr drive.   The grocery stores are located in the Red Feather Lakes Village, they do have groceries but healthy options are limited, unless you get to make it to the Farmers Market, which is only available once a week. We visited the Hilltop General Store, a merchandise type store that takes you back in time.  The store has antiques, used stuff, groceries (not a huge selection, but it has the essentials), pizza, and good ice-cream. 

We walked around some of the lakes in the area, and also stopped at the Feather Trading Post to purchase a hat for one of our kids to reduce sunburns while hiking.  The main street of the area has a rugged charm, the scenery looks like a movie from the wild west.  The street has a Mediterranean restaurant, two hardware stores, a post office, a boutique, a gift shop, and a library. 

The locals recommended to visit Dowdy Lake, which is part of the Roosevelt National Park.  This turned out to be a hidden gem.  The lake is used for fishing, kayaking (no swimming is allowed) and hiking.  Overnight camping is allowed, and there are some daytime picnic areas available where we got to enjoy our food while visiting during the day.  The lake views are great surrounded by pine trees, small boulders and mountains in background.  The trail around the lake is great for families, it is about a 2-mile hike around the lake.  The kids enjoyed the easy hike to the Frog Pond and around the lake as we spotted some boulders, a bold eagle, a snake, squirrels, and different types of birds.  The Park is just the right size for families to enjoy. 

Since we are into hiking with the kids (not strenuous), and the hiking trails around us did not catch our eye, we decided to travel to Wyoming, to the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest.  We took Highway 287 North to Laramie, Wyoming and then took the scenic route (Highway 130) that turns into the Snow Range Road at the National Forest.  The scenery is extraordinary as it starts with the plains of the farming land of Wyoming with the great mountains in the backdrop.  Along the way, one can spot cattle, horses, and cozy rustic cabins within the vastness of the land.  Once you reach the town of Centennial, the scenery starts to change to forestry mountains.  The town of Centennial looks like a small village in the hills of Switzerland, but with the wild-west cowboy charm.  We stopped there for ice cream at the Country Junction on our way back, and the ice cream was really good.  

Since we only had one day to explore the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest, we decided to stop at the Centennial visitor center near the entrance of the forest to grab a map of the trails.  We originally planned to hike the Laramie River trail, but it was closed, so we opted to go straight to Mirror Lake to eat our food at one of the picnic areas.  There are 3 trails at the top of the picnic area with views of the mountain glaciers.  We decided to take the shortest trail since we are traveling with kids.  We spent all day in awe admiring the scenery as we were hiking the Lakes trail that takes you to stunning scenery of the Lookout Lake against the mountains and glaciers of Medicine Bow Peak.  The trail is a bit rocky, but it is not bad to hike with the kids and you will find plenty of stops to admire the nature of the area such as wild flowers, boulders, butterflies, birds, squirrels, etc.   On our way back, we stopped at the Libby Flats observation point.  The views of the park are awesome from this point.  There is small trail that takes you to a small glacier from this point. 

Visiting this National Park was the highlight of our trip, we really wanted to go to the Rocky Mountains, but we were not able to find openings via the reservation system and we also heard it was crowded.  We are so glad we opted for this National Forest, with no crowds, awesome trails, and wonderful views.  On our way back, we stopped at the border of Wyoming and Colorado to take a picture next to the “Welcome to Colorado” sign. 

One day we were planning to just rest and enjoy the cabin, but ended up visiting the Abbey of St. Walburga on Highway 287, near the Wyoming border.  This is a hidden gem open to all visitors for spiritual retreats, prayer, and meditation.  We took the Way of the Cross trail, it is pretty small, but it has awesome views of the terrain from the top of the hill.  We reflected as a family on the stations of the cross as we were walking uphill.  

We also checked in at the visitor center, and were greeted by Mary, a really friendly nun who showed us around the Abbey, and welcomed us to stay for the Vespers service at 5:00 PM.  We stayed for prayer at the chapel, and heard the angelical chanting of the nuns as they were singing the psalms.  We also enjoyed gazing at the humming birds in the patio area of the Abbey.  On our way out, we bought grass fed beef sold at the gift shop.  The beef comes from cows raised by the nuns as a way to sustain the monastery.  We cooked the beef at our cabin, and made beef tacos, remember the tortillas and the salsa we had bought early in the week? Those tacos were heavenly!

Last but not least, on our last 2 days of the trip, we visited the Red Feather Lakes Village to rent and return some DVD movies we had checked out from the local library.  We also took the opportunity to use the free Wi-Fi, a commodity or luxury, one must say, we did not have at the cabin.  The local library has a good selection of books, DVDs, VHF movies (yes, those still exist), and science projects in the kids section one can check out.  

Across the library, there is a cabin museum from the early 1900s (the keys are available at the library).  Prior to leaving the area, we took a 15 min walk on Elf Road, a hidden path near the exit of the small lakes of the village with gnomes nicely postured in the woods.  The road has some kind of mysterious feeling (it must be really scary to tour that road at night).  The kids enjoyed walking in this part of the forest to see all the types of gnome figurines, but it was kind of creepy. We also walked around the lakes in the area, and spotted a geese pack.    

Overall, we had a great time tucked away in our temporary home in the cabin and around the area.  We enjoyed cooking and tasting homemade tacos, spaghetti, grilled chicken with salad, and baked brownies.  During the mornings, drinking coffee in the balcony was our favorite part, enjoying the great view.  This was our spot to eat together, praying the rosary, bird and animal gazing, and practicing tai-chi. The kids had a lesson in history of technology as they learned to use the DVD player in the cabin, and they learned how to play new board games.  This was a beautiful trip, away from the crowds, and a great opportunity to reconnect as a family, with nature, and with our spiritual life. 

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