Tim Van Schmidt
It’s not very far away at all.
I’m talking about the Viestenz-Smith Mountain Park in the Thompson Canyon near Loveland, and we had signed on to meet family for a picnic by the river.
My daughter and family have made this park their favorite destination recently when they need a break from the general hubbub of the Front Range.
Though it’s just a few miles up the Thompson Canyon — far enough to get a taste of the canyon’s beauty — I griped a little about the distance from Fort Collins, wondered if the place would be crowded and I worried about canyon traffic.
Of course, one tip is to simply go early, which we did, making for smooth parking, our choice of picnic spots right by the rushing water, and pretty easy traffic going both ways.
This park has some history to it and you can explore the old original building there, but there are also some kid-friendly sculptures, bridges, and, most importantly, restrooms.
Wide, paved walkways make exploring this park easy. It’s a comfortable spot for an outing. My favorite moments were just being by the river, framed by steep canyon walls.
Another easy get-away destination in the Loveland area is the Devil’s Backbone, a Larimer County Open Space. Escaping the “hubbub” isn’t so easy there, though — it’s a popular spot.
Here’s what the Larimer County site says about it: “This open space is popular. If you arrive to a full parking lot, that means trails are at maximum capacity. Please consider a different open space for the day and come back another time.”
But if your timing is right, the craggy, rock-crested vistas, close-cropped prairie hills, and clear-cut trails — more than 17 miles of them — make a visit worthwhile.
Of course, you can’t talk about great Loveland outdoor destinations without mentioning Benson Sculpture Garden. It is a beautiful green urban park and a playground for creativity with a wide diversity of sculptures.
Benson has an actual playground for kids on the south end — with a big snail and an octopus as part of the attraction. There’s a little train too, which runs seasonally, and a wide pond that often teems with ducks and geese.
Let’s also add Chapungu Sculpture Park to the list of excellent Loveland get-aways as well. It’s located to the east of the Centerra shopping area and is a cultural experience of a different sort.
The sculptures all come from a special place — Zimbabwe, Africa — and each work includes placards telling the stories and beliefs of the people, as reflected by the stonework.
But more than the sculpture, the park has lots of walking paths, bridges, a waterway, frog ponds, hawks in the trees, and dragonflies buzzing by.
Are you stuck? You don’t have to go to Tahiti to do something cool. Loveland has the parks — and it’s not too far away.
Tim Van Schmidt is a writer and photographer based in Fort Collins. See his videos of Benson and Chapungu Sculpture Gardens on his YouTube channel at “Time Capsules by Tim Van Schmidt.”