Colorado Family Summer Vacation Guide 2017
posted by: Amber Johnson
What is on your summer bucket list? While our kids are having the time of their lives at Keystone Science School, my husband and I are going on a second honeymoon to Keystone and Crested Butte, two of Colorado’s best mountain towns. Stay tuned for details as we zipline, hike, mountain bike and yes, EAT our way around this great state.
A few years ago, Julie Bielenberg and I wrote about our favorite Colorado destinations and she has provided some fun and fabulous updates for 2017 to get out and play! In case you missed it, be sure to check-out her Top 7 Picks for Summer 2017.
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 last 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.
Breckenridge is a gorgeous mountain community 1.5 hours from Denver where we will build our cabin someday (dare to dream, right?) Peak 8 Fun Park at the base of the resort just got a lot more fun with a two-stage zipline that soars 50 feet above the ski slopes at 45 miles per hour with a dual span of 392 feet and a second quad span of 1,095 feet. Be sure to also do the Fun Park’s Gold Runner Coaster, climbing wall, Alpine Superslide, Superputt Mini Golf and free scenic gondola rides with spectacular views of Cucumber Gulch. If you want to explore the great outdoors even more, local fan favorites include fishing 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.” Grab your bikes or strollers and explore Breckenridge’s extensive paved trail system that connects to mountain towns Frisco, Dillon, Keystone, Copper Mountain and Vail. Once upon a time, the Country Boy Mine was one of the largest and most famous gold mines and today, offers family-friendly tours where you can actually pan for real gold.
Carbondale (new this year!)
There are tons of new openings and happenings in the mountain hamlet this summer which also happens to be new to this list. But for no good reason, I adore this town, it’s much quieter than Aspen, a bit more low key, but still packs an intense punch for food, festivals and fun. Of course, summer treats are always on everyone’s minds . . . and Carbondale Creamery & Café is a new “treat yourself” stop serving delicious gelato and sorbetto made with local ingredients. (www.carbondalecreameryandcafe.com) Roaring Fork Valley bike and ski retailers and outfitters, Basalt Bike & Ski, has opened doors at a third location, in Carbondale on Hwy 133 and Dolores Way. The outfitters and retailers cater to everyone from veteran cyclists and skiers trying to maximize their speed and performance to the first-time rider who wants to get out and take in the beautiful landscape, mountains and trails. (http://www.basaltbikeandski.com/)
Adventures Around Carbondale International travel outfitter Nomad Inc. launches inspired custom adventure in the Roaring Fork Valley, basing guests out of Carbondale as they choose their own Colorado adventures from a range of activities including mountain biking, fly fishing, hiking and more. Nomad Inc. has teamed up with Cedar Ridge Ranch to accommodate guests in safari tents and yurts which feature outdoor showers, private hot tubs and stunning views of Missouri Heights and Mt. Sopris. The quintessential Colorado experience is rounded out with meals provided by local farm to table expert chef Andreas Fischbacher of Carbondale’s Allegria, who will cook on-ranch dinners featuring local ingredients. www.nomadinc.com
Local Carbondale events include the Carbondale Wild West Rodeo Season — June 1-August 17, 2017, (www.carbondalerodeo.com), Mountain Fair — July 28-30, 2017 (www.carbondalearts.com), and the wacky Porcupine Bike Loop Race — July 30, 2017 (www.alohacyclery.com).
We love Colorado Springs staples like the Garden of the Gods Park, The Broadmoor Pike’s Peak Cog Railway, Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center and Manitou Cliff Dwellings but the big news this summer is Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s newish Australia Walkabout exhibit, and newest giraffe baby, Rae. Pass by wallabies before feeding the budgies and viewing a tree kangaroo. Make sure to feed the largest reticulated giraffe herd in captivity 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 (I’ll email the three new additions here once I get the info). Colorado Wolf Adventures have teamed up to host “Up Close with the Wolves” this summer. The 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 make sure to spend a scenic day along the Arkansas River on the Royal Gorge Route Railroad before or after spending a night in the nearby Royal Gorge Cabins. And last but certainly not least, The Broadmoor Soaring Adventure consists of 10 zip-lines that range in distance from 300 feet to 1,800 feet as well as moderate hiking and rope bridges while you enjoy the Seven Falls area. Dine at the newish Sevens Falls Restaurant 1858 and don’t miss their trout fritters, honey lemonade and peach cobbler.
Here is what’s new for summer in the Springs 2017! The official groundbreaking for the future site of America’s only Olympic museum will take place on June 9, 2017. The 60,000-square foot museum will be located at the intersection of Vermijo Avenue and Sierra Madre Street. It will house an Olympic Hall of Fame, exhibits highlighting the history of American athletes, a state-of-the-art theater, gift shop, cafe, and broadcast studio. www.usolympicmuseum.org. The nation’s first two-story indoor electric go kart race track is now open in Colorado Springs. Overdrive Raceway opened its $6.5 million entertainment complex featuring feature two quarter-mile Formula One race tracks, a concession area, pro shop, arcade, party area, bar and lounge and conference rooms. The track features four hand-controlled go karts for amputees, paraplegics and disabled racers specially designed and manufactured in Italy. Track owner Jim Mundle, a double amputee himself, said he wants to “give people experiences they couldn’t otherwise have.” www.overdriveraceway.com. For the four-legged family members, a dog-friendly restaurant–Pub Dog Colorado—opened. It’s the only restaurant in Colorado where dog owners can legally eat indoors with their dogs and features a 1,300 SF patio and 3,000 SF off-leash area with artificial turf. http://pubdogcolorado.com/home.html
Awesome deal: The 14K Club is a brand new collection of exclusive deals at 18 top attractions in the Pikes Peak region. If you plan on spending any time at all in the Pikes Peak region this summer, the 14K Club is an absolute MUST. http://www.pikes-peak.com/14k-club/
Crested Butte may be a four-hour drive from Denver but the drive is worth it—it’s my favorite 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 nine-week-long Crested Butte Music Festival and the Wildflower Festival where you’ll swear you climbed onto a Monet canvas of mad, extravagant colors. At the base the resort, get airborne on the Coke Zero Gravity BagJump a 50 feet by 50 feet bag of air for guests to tube and ski and ride into. 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. It is truly one of the prettiest drives in Colorado.
I secretly fantasize about teaching at Fort Lewis one summer as an adjunct and living downtown Durango. This is one cool town, and everyone who visits usually gets it right away. The town is rooted in railroads and the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is iconic, scenic, memorable and still a huge attraction. While my boys took the train up to Silverton, my daughter and I visited James Ranch, just 10 miles North of Durango en route to the remote town of Silverton for a rendezvous. They have a great farm with a cheese making shop, tons of livestock and great stories. The tour wraps with an opportunity to snack and some delicious farm fare. Once back in Durango, there’s a fabulous little children’s museum, Durango Discovery Museum, that is heavy on the science exhibits, and truly appealing for most pre-teen children. The Animas River Trail runs through town and gives to access to gold medal waters for fishing and a white water park for water enthusiasts. My kids also enjoyed the Durango Wildlife Center and Fish Hatchery. Whether you want to wander a great downtown with brews and burgers, hike the gorgeous San Juans or drive along the awesome scenic byways, Durango will certainly be your kind of town the second your arrive. Also check out Purgatory Resort for their summer programming and outdoor adventure. The famous Mesa Verde Cliff Dwellings are also only an hour away from Durango and the opposite direction towards Pagosa Springs is Chimney Rock, a great center with hiking trails.
Take the world’s largest outdoor mineral hot springs pool (Glenwood Hot Springs), add to it a new hot springs attraction along the Colorado River (Iron Mountain Hot Springs), America’s only mountain-top theme park (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 just recently opened to the public, takes 40 minutes and has only 12 stairs (more 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, Soaring Eagle zipline ride, Giant Canyon Swing, alpine coaster, laser tag and, coming this summer, the Haunted Mine Drop.
Glenwood Hot Springs is the iconic hot springs attraction with over 129 years of soaking. Glenwood Canyon Resort has whitewater rafting on the Colorado River and for an extra thrill, soar on the zipline across the river or test your mettle on a high ropes course. Grab your bikes and take the paved Glenwood Canyon Recreation Trail along the Colorado River in Glenwood Canyon or the 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 evenings. For a night out on the town, your family will love the Glenwood Vaudeville Revue dinner variety show.
Three of Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park’s thrill rides — Glenwood Canyon Flyer, Giant Canyon Swing and the Cliffhanger Roller Coaster — are perched on the edge of Glenwood Canyon, 1,300’ above the Colorado River. For fun without fainting, try the zipline, Alpine Coaster, laser tag, Music on the Mountain’s free concert series and the guided cave tours.
Iron Mountain Hot Springs, Colorado’s newest wellness destination, offers 16 thermal mineral water soaking pools alongside the Colorado River, plus a freshwater family pool and jetted spa. The onsite café offers outdoor dining on the covered patio or at tables and lounge chairs around the family pool. The menu includes snacks, salads, flatbread pizza, smoothies, specialty coffees, juices, soft drinks, beer, wine and premixed cocktails. There’s a Ride & Relax Combo Package that provides discounted admission to both Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park and the Iron Mountain Hot Springs. It’s valid for one visit to each within a seven-day period.
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.
From June 9 to Sept. 3, Kidtopia offerings such as nature hikes, kite building workshops and Wild West nights allow families to enjoy creative experiences that provide added ways to enjoy the resort. The summer Kidtopia schedule can be found at www.keystoneresort.com/activities/kidtopia-summer.aspx. 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. The whole family will enjoy Friday Afternoon Club – from 1-7 p.m., Friday foot passenger lift tickets are free, and there are outdoor games, food and drink specials and live music (4-7) at the top of Dercum Mountain.
It may be summertime but Snowmass has returned to the Ice Age with the Snowmass Ice Age Discovery Center, which features the most significant Ice Age ecosystem find in Colorado history (and it’s free). Touch a mastodon tooth, marvel at the cast of a life-sized mastodon skull, or take a daily hike. Visit the Snowmass Rodeo on Wednesday nights (June 14- August 23) and sign your kids up for the Calf Scramble and Mutton Busting. Every Thursday (June 15-Aug. 17), the Treehouse Kids’ Adventure Center at the Base Village offers a free craft hour from 4-5 p.m. to make mementos such as hats, backpacks and picture frames. Ride the Elk Camp Gondola to the top of the Snowmass Ski Area where the Elk Camp Restaurant has activities including downhill biking, dinner, campfires, live music, and more. Try your hand at slopeside bowling at Slopeside Lanes, which features eight full-sized lanes, a lounge area with full bar, wood-fired oven pizzas, and upscale bar food. Or, there’s nothing quite like stand-up paddleboarding the Roaring Fork River with local outfitter Blazing Adventures. Then get inspired at the Anderson Ranch Arts Center, a stellar place for kids of all ages to take workshops in sculpture, photography, painting, and more.
In the winter, Steamboat Springs in northwestern Colorado 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. Hike to Fish Creek Falls or wind along the paved 7.5-mile Yampa River Core Trail on your bike. Or better yet, grab a tube and cruise down the only free-flowing river in the Colorado River Basin (grab your tube rentals or arrange a shuttle from Backdoor Sports or One Stop Ski Shop). If you just want to soak, do the short, scenic hike to Strawberry Park Natural Hot Springs (warning: clothing optional at night) or the more family-friendly yet less inspiring geothermal springs at Old Town Hot Springs with waterslides and a climbing wall. Getting there is half the fun with Del’s Triangle 3 Ranch, which offers hourly horseback rides (kids need to be at least 6 years old) and summer pack trips. During the half-hour shuttle ride from town to their 6,000-acre ranch in the Elk River Valley, fourth generation Steamboat native, Olympian and cowboy Ray Heid delights guests with stories of his family’s colorful history in the valley.
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. This summer’s newest attraction, the Outlaw Mountain Coaster, is the longest coaster in North America at more than 6,280 linear feet. If you love hot air balloons, pilots let spectators help inflate the balloons at the Hot Air Balloon Rodeo in July. The Steamboat Springs Pro Rodeo runs every Friday and Saturday mid-June through mid-August. 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.
The majority of the state REAPED the major rains in May leading to one heck of a colorful floral explosion in June when temperatures heated up. While I fancy many gardens statewide, here are some favorite stops for the family. Steamboat Springs has most wonderful, accessible and free gardens. For a small town, this garden packs punch. Named for the river babbling or rushing beside it, Yampa River Botanic Park is easily located right off the Yampa River Core Trail which is a popular walking, biking and fishing route for locals and visitors alike. Your family can do a quick loop or spend an entire morning or afternoon moseying around. I recommend early morning. yampariverbotanicpark.org
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.
New at Vail is Epic Discovery – the first of its kind at Vail. Epic Discovery provides a unique, connected, on-mountain summer experience, immersing guests in activities which provide big-time thrills, allow them to challenge themselves physically, guide them to explore and better understand their natural surroundings, and ultimately create lifelong memories. Further, more detailed information about Epic Discovery can be found here.
Winter Park/Granby/Grand Lake
Aptly named, Grand County is, indeed grand. Located about 90 miles from Denver in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, family-friendly activities abound. Winter Park boasts Colorado’s longest alpine slide, a climbing wall, free Friday movie nights and the Trestle Bike Park, which has over 40 miles of lift-serviced mountain bike trails perfect for riders of all ages and abilities. Take an one-hour educational walking tour of the kennels at Dog Sled Rides of Winter Park or a 45-minute cart ride through the forest. Grand County has five mountain lakes popular for fishing and boating and 7,000-acre Grand Lake is one of Colorado’s largest bodies of water. Known as the “Western Gateway” to Rocky Mountain National Park, Grand Lake’s historic boardwalk has more than 60 shops, restaurants, and galleries including the new Rocky Mountain Repertory Theater. The national park has more than 350 miles of hiking trails and the western slope trails in Grand County are much less frequented than those on the eastern slope. In nearby Granby, YMCA of the Rockies’ Snow Mountain Ranch offers an affordable and wholesome environment where friends, families and groups enjoy everything from roller-skating to zip lining to swimming to a new Snowflex® tubing hill that is the first of its kind and only the third in the United States. And there’s a new e-bike rental program for guests to cruise around the property without getting in their car, and with less effort for those visiting from the flatlands. Plus, a super cool new gigantic playground opening around August. If you want to sneak away from the kids, don’t miss Camp Chief Ouray’s Women’s Adventure Camp late-August.
-Julie and Amber