Snow and gravel crunched underneath our truck as we slowly bumped along Forest Road 442 on our way to Bear Lake. After two and a half hours of driving, we found ourselves deep in San Isabel National Forest, tucked between the Spanish Peaks and the snow-capped Sangre de Cristo mountains.

Andy took his time navigating the snow-packed service road. We took turns gasping at the views in the brief gaps between the trees while Luke asked to get out of the truck over and over and Jack whined and wiggled against his seatbelt. They were ready.

One last bend in the road and it appeared: Bear Lake Campground. Open until winter rendered the access roads impassable, we drove around the loop until we found the perfect site in the sunshine. Andy backed the truck into our spot and shut off the engine. “Get me out! Get me out!” Luke shrieked with joy.

I wrestled the rest of Luke’s gear on him while Andy got right to work building a fire. Luke wasted no time; as soon as he was dressed, he took off to explore our site. I freed Jack from his car seat and dressed him as well, primarily in extra layers of his older brother’s.

Bear Lake in San Isabel National Forest, Colorado
Bear Lake in San Isabel National Forest, Colorado

In no time at all, our small fire was crackling and our lunch of donuts and Thanksgiving leftovers were spread all over the picnic table. A pot of Glühwein steamed on the camp stove. Andy and I filled our little mugs and slowly followed Luke and our dog in circles around the fire, stopping every few minutes to warm our hands and faces. Jack shrieked happily from his carrier on my back as he watched his brother and the pup bound across the snow.

Bear Lake in San Isabel National Forest, Colorado
Bear Lake in San Isabel National Forest, Colorado
Bear Lake in San Isabel National Forest, Colorado

The hours ticked by as the sun arched toward the mountains. We could feel the temperature dropping and decided to wrap up our little winter picnic and head home. After a couple of family pictures, Andy extinguished our fire and I stripped the boys of their puffy layers and settled them in their car seats in the truck. It was dusk when we pulled out of the campground and the warm truck felt amazing after an afternoon spent in the snow.

Bear Lake in San Isabel National Forest, Colorado

The boys fell asleep before we made it back to the main road. Andy and I listened to our favorite Christmas music as we drove back through the little mountain towns nestled in the shadows of the Sangre de Cristos, tired smiles plastered across our faces.

It was a “Black Friday” we knew we’d cherish forever.