Colorado’s Top 13 Family Vacation Ideas for Summer 2013
Summer is just around the corner and you don’t need to look far to have a world-class vacation with your family. From theater hikes to Outhouse Races to free events galore, we have the inside scoop on All Things Colorado.
It may be summertime but Snowmass has returned to the Ice Age with the Snowmass Ice Age Discovery Center that features the most significant Ice Age ecosystem find in Colorado history (and it’s free). Touch a mastodon tooth, marvel at a half-sized 6-foot Wooden Mammoth Skeleton, do a dig of your own or a daily Ice Age Discovery Hike by Environment Studies. Visit the Snowmass Rodeo on Wednesday nights (June 12- August 28) and sign up your kids for the Calf Scramble and Mutton Busting. Ride the Elk Camp Gondola up Snowmass Mountain where the Elk Camp Restaurant will open for activities including downhill biking, dinner, campfires, live music, movies, Stryder Park and Kid’s Playground on Friday evenings. Try your hand at some slopeside bowling at the new bowling alley below Venga Venga Cantina featuring eight full-sized lanes, a lounge area with full bar, wood-fired oven pizzas, upscale bar food and more. Then, get inspired at the Anderson Ranch Arts Center, a stellar place for kids of all ages to take workshops that include sculpture, photography, painting, beading, and mask-making.
If your family loves to hike, Beaver Creek is the place for you. Whether you’re interested in exploring on your own, taking a leisurely lift-served stroll across the mountain, or you prefer a rigorous climb up one of Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks, the Beaver Creek Hiking Center has a knowledgeable staff of well- trained guides. Beaver Creek Stables offer one- and two-hour horseback rides as well as three-hour picnic rides. Horseback rides are available for riders ages 7 and older and younger buckaroos may enjoy complimentary tame pony rides in the stable arena. If movies under the stars sounds like fun, bring the whole family out for a great selection of family movies at the base of Beaver Creek on the Back Lawn. New this year: Wednesday Night Music Experience concerts will feature various artists throughout July and August from 6-7 p.m. and are free and fun for the whole family.
I am convinced Chautauqua is Colorado’s best-kept secret and I’m amazed how few locals know about its charms. Located at the base of the Flatirons in Boulder, this National Historic Landmark has rental cottages that are surrounded on three sides with open space that includes 48 miles of hiking trails and thousands of acres of natural lands begging to be explored. On weekends in June, Theatre-Hikes Colorado will take audience members on a moderate hike amidst the scenic backdrop of Boulder Open Space while scenes from “Snow White” are performed along the way. On June 29, don’t miss the Colorado Music Festival’s Young People’s Concert, which is a is a narrated work about a cartoon score being performed at a symphony concert (tickets are $8). The historic Chautauqua Dining Hall (a tradition since 1898) has recently undergone a huge overhaul and the wraparound porch offers some of the best patio dining in Colorado. If you visit on a Saturday, be sure to also visit the Boulder’s Farmer’s Market (the largest in Colorado). Not to be forgotten are Pearl Street Mall’s restaurants, shops, people-watching and Pop Jet Fountain–they never fail to entertain.
Kingdom Days Outhouse Races
If you’re planning to visit Breckenridge this summer, plan plenty of time to fit it all in. Local fan favorites include fishing or biking the paved trail along the Blue River, a scenic drive over Boreas Pass road accessing 1,000 miles of mountain biking across Summit County, hiking countless miles of trails or climbing a nearby “14er.” The entire family will love the Breckenridge Peak 8 Fun Park’s Gold Runner Coaster, 4X4 off-road tours, climbing wall, Alpine Superslide, hiking tours, Superputt Mini Golf and free scenic gondola rides with spectacular views of Cucumber Gulch. The 2013 Kingdom Days/Outhouse Races June 14-16, 2013 are a must. It’s not every day Outhouse Races, old-fashioned games like potato sack races, magicians, blacksmithing demos, gold panning and historic hikes are the star attractions. http://www.gobreck.com/events/kingdom-days. If you want a date night, drop the kids (ages 5-12) off at the Recreation Center Parents’ Night Out. As your kids, climb, swim and play, they won’t even notice you’re gone.
We love Colorado Springs staples like the Garden of the Gods Park, The Pike’s Peak Cog Railway, U.S. Olympic Training Center and Manitou Cliff Dwellings but the big news this summer is Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s new $13.5 million exhibit Encounter Africa. Highlights include an amphitheater that will allow guests to see elephant training, enrichment and husbandry, a new exhibit for the African lion pride and a “Skybridge” that will take guests from the exhibit to the barn, enabling them to see the elephants from above. www.cmzoo.org. For a thrill, check out the Cave of the Winds’ Wind Walker Challenge Ropes Course that is located on the rim of a 600-foot drop into Williams Canyon. Colorado Wolf Adventures have teamed up to host “Up Close with the Wolves” this summer. The new 4,400 square-foot Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument’s Visitor Center offers more fossils on display and interactive exhibits. If a train ride is on your bucket list, the South side of the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park takes on a new look with the addition of Pinon Ridge Play-Land, a 2,000-square foot playground built specifically to blend into the natural surroundings.
Hands down, Crested Butte is my favorite summer destination in Colorado. In addition to world-famous mountain biking and hiking (the views from Snodgrass Mountain are second-to-none), don’t miss the four-week long Crested Butte Music Festival (with the free Divine Family Young People’s Concert July 13, 20 and Aug. 3) and the Wildflower Festival (July 8-14, 2013) where you’ll swear you climbed onto a Monet canvas of mad, extravagant colors. Last winter, CBMR purchased the Coke Zero Gravity BagJump; a 50 inch by 50 inch bag of air for guests to tube and ski and ride into. Come summer, the resort will be setting up two levels of scaffolding at 10 feet and 20 feet for kids and adults alike to jump into the cloud-like bag of air. The resort will also be building a dirt jump for biking enthusiasts to practice their jumping skills with their bicycles for an added adrenaline rush, as if the 25 miles of trails in the Evolution Bike Park isn’t enough. For younger kids, check-out the Trailhead Children’s Museum and big kids (must weigh at least 70 pounds) can try the Crested Butte Zipline Tour, which includes five zip lines ranging in length from 120 – 400 feet connected by features or “events” such as suspended wood bridges and towering platforms. P.S. A few years ago, my kids did Kids Nature Camp at world-renown Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in nearby Gothic, Colo. and still rave about it.
Most Coloradoans know about hiking and camping in glorious Rocky Mountain National Park, biking around Lake Estes, checking out the darling shops on Elkhorn Avenue and tearing around the go-cart tracks. But most don’t know about the Rocky Mountain Nature Association, which offers a variety of half-day courses for kids and grown-ups alike such as geo-caching, animal tracking, stargazing and art sketching as a travel souvenir. Festivals abound in Estes Park during the summer–the Fishing Derby (June 1, 2013) and Wool Market (June 8-9) is free and fun for kids. Featuring many animals, performances and sheep-sheering, this event is especially ideal for tactile learners and kids with special needs. Estes Park’s Rooftop Rodeo in July 9-14 not only has all the staples of a great Western time but the parade features horses, trick riders, cowboys and more. YMCA of the Rockies’ Estes Park has affordable lodges and cabins, along with horseback riding, hiking, a killer craft center, sports activities and campfire programs. Their five new yurts offer one queen bed and two sets of bunk beds (accommodating up to six people), microwave, mini fridge, prep table, picnic table, outdoor grill, electricity, Wi-Fi, a fire ring and start at $89 per night.
If you make the quick jaunt to Denver’s neighbor-to-the-north, start with the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery. Debuting in November 2012, the museum features over interactive 100 exhibits and activities such as the Music & Sound Lab, where physics, technology, history and hands-on playing and composing lead to inspiration. The Environmental Learning Center is a 212-acre site comprised of four distinct ecosystems – wetlands, riparian, cottonwood forest and prairie – and offers plenty of programs for kids. The Rocky Mountain Raptor Program takes in injured birds of prey, and welcomes visitors interested in their rehabilitation and release. Want a free ride? The Fort Collins Bike Library loans bicycles to visitors and residents, from one hour to seven days, at no charge.
Take the world’s largest outdoor mineral hot springs pool (Glenwood Hot Springs), add an adventure park built on top of a mountain (Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park), sprinkle in the Roaring Fork Valley’s crimson rocks and emerald forests and you have a memorable family vacation just a few hours from Denver. The new Historic Fairy Caves Tour at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park has sections never opened to the public before, takes 50 minutes and has only 12 stairs (perfect for families with small children than the tour of King’s Row, which has 127 steps each way). Also, don’t miss the adventure park’s thrill rides including the Cliff Hanger Roller Coaster, bungee jumping station, zipling, giant canyon swing, alpine coaster, laser tag and much more. Glenwood Hot Springs is celebrating its 125th birthday this year, so guests get in free on their birthdays. Glenwood Canyon Resort has white water rafting on the Colorado River and for an extra thrill, soar on the zipline across the river or test your mettle on a ropes course. Grab your bikes and take the paved Rio Grande Trail, which winds along the Roaring Fork River from Glenwood to Aspen. If you visit mid-week, pack a picnic and enjoy free concerts at Two Rivers Park on Wednesday. For a night out on the town, your family will love the Glenwood Vaudeville Revue dinner variety show.
The Western Slope has plenty of charms, including being a dinosaur mecca with plenty of hands-on science, and is the heart of Colorado’s agricultural region. At the Museum of Western Colorado’s Dinosaur Journey
, visitors can get up close and personal with dinosaur skeletons, a working paleontology lab and realistic robotic dinosaurs.
Dedicated to “putting science in the hands of kids,” the Western Colorado Math and Science Center
features interactive exhibits in biology, physics, earth and space science, and electronics. From June through October, orchards are laden with some of the sweetest harvests around: cherries, grapes, apples, plums, pears, apricots and peaches. Take an orchard tour or check out the myriad of roadside stands selling fresh produce, jams and ciders. For great biking or strolling, the Colorado Riverfront Trail winds for more than 18 miles through the city of Grand Junction’s picnic grounds, botanical garden, protected wetlands and fishing pier. Buy one/get one free passes are available for six major attractions from the Grand Junction Visitors Center
. This “Map to Adventure” includes Dinosaur Journey, Museum of the West, Cross Orchards, the John McConnell Math & Science Center, The Art Center and the Western Colorado Botanical Gardens.
If you needed a reason to visit Keystone this summer, here are several: Cupcakes and Canvases, Bike-In Movies, Kidtopia Kids Theatre, festivals such as Snake River Festival and Cirque D’Wheels, Model Boat Regata. If those don’t keep you busy, try Adventure Point Summer SNOW Tubing Hill, Kidtopia Play Park, Lakeside SUP, paddle boating, kayaking, GPS Geo-Cache Adventure, Keystone Science School Day Camps, miniature golf and dinner wagon rides. There are plenty of freebies, too, including a free scenic ride for kids 12 and under and if you’re staying at the resort, the Kidtopia Children’s Theatre in the Quaking Aspen Amphitheatre is free on Fridays.
In the winter, Steamboat Springs is famous for its champagne powder; in the summertime the Yampa River Valley, Steamboat Lake and Zirkel Wilderness Area become a veritable outdoor wonderland with boat rentals, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, SUP, swimming and camping. The Coca Cola Adventure Zone at the base of Steamboat Ski Resort includes ropes course, slingshot bungee jump, climbing wall, mini-bounce, mechanical bull, human gyro and t-shirt spin art. Bring your bikes and wind along the paved four-mile Yampa River Core Trail that follows the Yampa River. Or better yet, grab a tube and cruise down the only free-flowing river in the state, meaning that nowhere along its 261 miles is it obstructed by dams or diversions (a bonus for those float trips). If you want to warm up (really hot), checkout the natural hot mineral springs at Old Town Hot Springs and Strawberry Park Natural Hot Springs. A not-to-be missed event is Steamboat Springs Pro Rodeo where contestants gather once a week to compete. Once upon a time, my daughter won the Ram Scramble and still raves about it. It’s not every day grabbing a ribbon from a sheep’s rear counts as a win!
Slackline Park, Photo: Jack Affleck, Vail Resorts
Adventure Ridge is the big news at Vail and mid-summer, the resort will implement several new activities, including a four-line 1,200-foot long zip line, two aerial ropes courses, and a kids zip line as well as a kids ropes course, climbing wall, rebound trampoline. Gore Creek Mini Golf offers family-friendly putting atop the Lionshead base area for the second summer season. Grab your family and try the FREE bean bag toss, horseshoes or the new slackline park where kids of all ages can test their balance at a variety of levels. If your kids are age four and older, they can use digging tools and a map to uncover dinosaur bones and learn about prehistoric creatures. The FREE Bud Light Hot Summer Nights Concert Series on Tuesdays June 12-August 21 has become the social event of the season. If you have aspiring adventurers, the 4th annual KEEN Vail Kids Adventure Race on August 10 and 11 lets kids ages 6 through 14 experience the thrill of adventure racing with mountain biking, hiking, tubing, archery, a low ropes course, a zip line, a climbing wall, a Tarzan swing, a giant slip-n-slide and more.
Do you want even more vacation ideas? Find them here.
Summer Escapes: The Broadmoor has it all right there
Summer Escapes: Dunton, Cresto remote retreats along Dolores River
Summer Escapes: Opus Hut a rare luxury experience off the grid
Summer Escapes: Snowmass Cottages not-so-hidden hidden gem
Summer Escapes: Meditate, or just chill, at serene Shambhala Mountain Center
Summer Escapes: Outlook Lodge in Green Mountain Falls a remote respite
Summer Escapes: Georgetown’s Hotel Chateau Chamonix a charmer