Being outside and exploring all Colorado has to offer are big draws in our household. We both spend our weeks working in offices or at the house, so it’s nice to escape to the outdoors for the weekend. About a year ago, we bought a Jeep (soon to be our only car) that was outfitted by a total outdoor junkie from Canada. The Jeep has a top that converts into a tent and also an on-board kitchen with stove, refrigerator and also a working shower. The Jeep is named Reco and he can be pretty amazing when he doesn’t blow belts or kill his own battery. He can be a real troublemaker, but this weekend Reco was well behaved.
Side Note: A fancy Jeep like Reco is not needed to enjoy this same adventure. It could be done by backpacking or by car camping.
My husband and I decided to spend this past weekend in Eagle County, Colorado about 2 hours north of Denver. Of course, the pups came along for the ride as well. Our goal was to drive to Crescent Lake, a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) public land, at the end of an off-road trail. The nearest city to Crescent Lake is Burns, Colorado, which sits about 25 miles away from the trailhead. Burns might not sound familiar. That’s because it literally consists of only a post office and a church. However, it is plunked down on a curve in the Colorado River, surrounded by towering mountains, so it’s quite pretty. The most expensive part of our trip was the gas to get to and from our destination.
Cost for Two Full Tanks of Gas: $75 Gas
We left Denver around 4:30pm on Friday, which means awful traffic. We stopped for subs on our way up to Eagle County because we knew we’d be arriving after dark and cooking in the dark sounded like no fun. Prior to leaving, we downloaded our directions to the Crescent Lake trailhead from TrailDamanage.com, which is usually pretty dependable. The website directions told us ,“From Denver, take I-70 west to exit 157 at highway 131. Take highway 131 north and turn left onto Willow Creek Road. Take this road and it will turn into County Road 41”. With traffic, it took us about 3 hours to reach Exit 157. We traveled down Highway 131 until we found the turn-off for Willow Creek Road. However, it turns out Willow Creek does not turn into County Road 41. It turns into a dead-end. We turned around and kept driving down Highway 131 until we came to a campground along the Colorado River, where a man working the general store re-directed us. This added an hour onto our drive time, but the views made the extra driving worth it.
Cost for Downloading Directions: $0
Cost for Dinner at Sub Shop: $18
Even with the new directions, we ran into some hurdles, such as a blocked one-lane bridge and the lack of well-labeled roads. After an extra two hours of driving in the pitch black, we pulled up in the meadow just outside the Crescent Lake trailhead. After 5 hours of driving, we were exhausted but also excited for the next day. In Colorado, any Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land allows campers to use the open space free of charge. Campers can set up anywhere on BLM land in the mountains and call it home for the weekend. So we set up camp for the night in the meadow, with our Reco!
Cost for Overnight Camping: $0
It rained on and off most of the night. The sounds of pounding rain and the moos of grazing cows woke us up around 8am. A pack of cows had surrounded the Jeep and were staring at our tent. The golden retriever stared back at them and growled until they moved along. We had bought groceries in Denver prior to our trip and cooked bacon and hash browns on the Jeep’s stove. Granted, we overspent on groceries for the weekend, but the extra groceries will feed us for the remaining days of the week.
Cost for Groceries for the weekend: $44
An off-road vehicle or 4 wheel drive vehicle is necessary to make the full journey down the Crescent Lake trail. The trail to Crescent Lake is 12 miles long and very bumpy for the entire length of it. The beginning starts off as the smoothest part, with just some uneven ground and smaller rocks. This quickly changed to larger ruts and much bigger rocks. We had been warned the trail could be muddy and with the rain from the night before, we weren’t surprised to find it incredibly swampy!
Cost for Trail Entrance: $0
The first 9 miles, we didn’t have too much difficulty. Splashing through puddles, climbing over boulders, and avoiding cows running across the trail were easy tasks for Reco. But come the hill at Mile 9, our luck ran out. We attempted to power up a sloppy, muddy hill. After struggling mightily to reach the top, it became apparent the mud was too thick. Reco’s tires just kept spinning but had nothing to grip. We slide back down the hill and kept sliding until we ended up lodged in a deep rut. The mud won the contest of who was more powerful and sucked up Reco with no problem. His tires weren’t even touching the ground on one side!
Mud= 1, Reco = 0
Luckily, a few fellow Jeeps were not too far behind us on the trail! Jeeps always help other Jeeps. It’s an unspoken rule of the trails. We winched onto one of the Jeeps and were able to pull ourselves out on the second try. The bonus is that I learned a new life skill of how to work a winch. Second bonus: Driving the Jeep out of the rut while it was being pulled. The other Jeep men were impressed how much I participated in the rescue. I sure had the mud on my clothes to prove I participated!
Cost for Mudding Adventure: $0
We decided to give up on climbing the muddy hill and turned around to find a campsite. We drove about a mile before we spotted an abandoned homestead. The old homestead was visible from off the main trail with a small, old dirt driveway leading to it. I thought it looked like it was from the 1960s and my husband thought it was from the 1800s, so I’ll say it was built somewhere in that time-frame. We set up camp next to the abandoned log cabin and it’s barn. Rain sputtered on and off again so we hunkered down in the barn when it was pouring and were able to hang out without getting wet. We decided this would be our BLM camping spot for the night.
Cost for Overnight Camping: $0
No camping trip in our family would be complete without beer. We brought a dark, barrel-aged brown to drink for the night. It warmed us right up in the cold weather.
Cost for Beer: $12
When it wasn’t raining, we hiked the trails that split off from the homestead. Of course, it too was very muddy! One followed a long creek that ran through meadows, with open views to the mountains. It was amazingly peaceful. We were the only people around and the only sounds were the flowing of the stream, the calls of the free-range cows, and the fluttering of flying crows. We walked the trail at sunset and the sunsets from the trail were breathtaking.
Cost for Hiking and Sunset Viewing: $0
The next day, it was bright and sunny. We left our homestead and took the Crescent Lake trail back out, over the much less muddy road, through winding trails, and over sprawling meadows. The 8 mile journey back to the trailhead took about an hour. Once we reached the trailhead, we decided to take a different way back to Denver and see a bit more of Colorado. Instead of turning left and going back through Burns to Highway 131, we turned right and headed through Dotsero. Bright, red sheer cliffs lined the new way back to Denver. The new way also traced the Colorado River’s banks. That day, it was evident how the Colorado River got it’s name. The water was tinged red for most of the drive. Red is my favorite color so I thought it was beyond gorgeous. There were tons of tubers as well, which could make for another fun, cheap weekend in the future.
Cost for Sunday morning drive: $0
The way through Dotsero eventually led to Interstate 70, which is one of the main arteries through Colorado. We hopped on Interstate 70 and headed back towards Denver. Traffic jams are common on the way to and from Denver on Interstate 70. After two hours, we got tired of the traffic and could hear our stomachs grumbling so we pulled off to have KFC, a guilty pleasure of mine. The Famous KFC bowl, consisting of mashed potatoes, corn, cheese, and chicken hit the spot.
KFC Lunch Cost: $13
Total Costs for the Weekend
Less than $175 for the weekend and we saw a part of Colorado that most people don’t take the time to see. Plus, it didn’t even cost 20% of our monthly budget. The most beautiful places in the world are sometimes in your own backyard and don’t take much money to visit. It’s just taking the time to go see them. We probably could have even shaved costs off the below if we hadn’t stopped for food.
Gas: $75 (Our most expensive item)
Sub Sandwiches: $18 (We will pack our own next time to save money!)
Trail Directions: $0
Camping Spots: $0
Trail Entrance: $0
Groceries: $44 (With plenty left over for the week)
Total Cost for the Weekend: $162