Colorado’s Ultimate Activity Guide
posted by: Julie Bielenberg
Summer is here! We have pulled together Colorado’s Ultimate Activity Guide for Families divided up by adventures–from railroads to fishing to sporting events to best picnic spots to yurts to museums all over our great state. If you want to vacation in a specific part of Colorado, be sure to check-out Colorado Summer Vacation Guide 2016 divided by geographic area, along with our personal bucket list this summer.
If you’re staying in the Mile High City, don’t miss our 2016 Summer Activity Guide for Denver Fun with 150+ ideas.
Railroads – All aboard!
I have a quite few train buffs in my family. From Hank the Tank to my own dad, we have ridden many of rails in Colorado. The best part of the railway trip is the scenery. Sometimes it’s the most spectacular way to view pieces of Colorado’s various terrains. Here are the lines to ride this summer.
Royal Gorge: The train route begins in Cañon City and travels the Royal Gorge Route. Think some of the most breathing-taking canyons in the world; seriously, with the mysterious and mesmerizing Arkansas River carving it’s way through time and landscape. royalgorgeroute.com
Pikes Peak Cog Railway: Ascending Pikes Peak, this is a 3 hour and 10 minute trip that spans over 8.9 miles of track and takes you to the infamous top of the fourteener that inspired America the Beautiful. Needless to say, it’s gorgeous and popular. cograilway.com
Durango-Silverton Narrow Gage Railroad: This is a BEAUTY if you can make it. With 45.4 miles of track along the Animas River between Durango and Silverton, I would recommend the one-way route and having someone meet you in Silverton for a return drive back via car or you can take their bus service back. It’s a noisy and loud and incredible trip. No one regrets it, especially the abbreviated version. durangotrain.com
Georgetown Loop: This travels between the communities of Georgetown and Silver Plume, a distance of over 2 miles, and the most popular and probably accessible on this list. They do theme rides year-round, and it’s and easy taste of the rails done in a day or less. My kids have ridden it numerous times; it’s always a fun trip, and a quick escape from mountain heat. georgetownlooprr.com
The Rio Grande Scenic Pass Train: One of the more remote and less common rail lines on this route, I have never ridden this one, but am intrigued. It claims to be the highest and longest route on standard gauge rail. The most alluring route is the historic La Veta Pass with steep grades, wildlife sightings and narrated tales of railroad and mining history. railsnw.com/tours/rio_grande_scenic_railroad/rio_grande_scenic_railroad-railonly.htm
Leadville Colorado & Southern Railroad: Should you happen to really need to escape the heat this summer, than chances are you might find yourself in the nation’s highest incorporated city. From there, embark on the Leadville Train ride, a short jaunt up the mountain with overlooks of the city is less than three hours and has lots of open-air cars. It’s an easy choice to make as it departs right from downtown Leadville. leadville-train.com/faqs
Bonus Info: Check out Glenwood Railroad Museum located in the East wing of the historic Glenwood Springs Railroad Station. The station was built by the Denver & Rio Grande railroad in 1904, and the museum has been in operation since 2003.
If it were up to my husband or any of his buddies the entire summer would be called “Gone Fish’n”. Colorado offers some of the best trout fishing in the nation. From novice to expert there are many locations that are great for the family. Our fantasy location is Emerald Valley at the Broadmoor, a new extension of the intimate resort and part of the Wilderness Experience Collection. The trout hitting the flies this season are already measuring at 20-22 inches in the stocked ponds.
My friend Julie Dunn recommends, from personal experience, taking children ages 5 to 8 on the public access part of the Blue River right outside of Silverthorne. It’s a great spot both beginner and advanced who are looking for larger fish and larger flows.
My husband’s fishing guru also has kiddos, so this is what Josh Rickard of Rocky Mountain Fly fisher has to recommend this season: Sprague Lake at Rocky Mountain National Park. http://rockymountainflyfisher.com/
“The lake is easy access right off Bear Lake Road. Not only is it easy to get to and walk around, it also has a great area to picnic with the family right in the parking lot. The walk around the lake is a easy 1/2 mile loop, but you don’t need to go all the way around, and while the trail isn’t paved, it is considered wheelchair accessible, and a stroller can be pushed around it. Moose, elk, deer and various birds can all be seen at times visiting the lake, and it allows kids to get out in nature, and if they have shorter attention spans, gives them other places to explore and things too see. The scenery is incredible, giving you plenty of opportunists for family photos and memories.
The lake itself contains Brook and Brown trout, making it a great place for kids to fish small, size 10, olive and purple woolly buggers during the summer and fall months, giving them a little more active fly fishing experience. Standard tactics also work here. Don’t expect fish to be large, but they are wild trout, and the place will help expose your little ones to nature without having to travel far off the beaten path.”
While I am not convinced of its popularity, ziplines are taking over the Centennial state. I can’t drive I-25 or I-70 without spotting their platforms. From easy 15 minutes rides to three-hour extended adventures, here is a list to find the zip line course of your choice.
Colorado Zipline & Aerial Tours Idaho Springs and Buena Vista offers some of the most unique mountain views while still offering a course that is obtainable for all members of the family. For a Front Range mama, the Idaho Springs location may be the perfect excuse to take a day trip up the hill. coloradozipline.net
Brown’s Canyon Adventure Park is more than your average zipline track. This highflying, thrill seeker, extravaganza challenges all members of the family to zip, swing, jump, and crawl their way through an exhilarating course. brownscanyonadventurepark.com
Open Air Adventure Park is a first of its kind adventure located in Estes Park, Colorado. They provide a 90 minute experience where you climb, swing, and zip to maneuver your way through 32 aerial challenges located at 10 and 21 feet above the ground. http://www.openairadventurepark.com/
Top of the Rockies definitely lives up to its name. If you are looking to test your fear of heights, we suggest checking out this company. Climb atop the storied platforms and zoom over the trees. As the closest zipline tour to Summit County, this attraction is a mere few minutes away from some of the biggest resort cities in Colorado. topoftherockieszipline.com
Adventures out West – Pikes Peak Zipline will be one of the most authentic zipline experiences you will find our beautiful state. The park only utilizes natural terrain; the course is compiled of cliffs and steep wooded forest for launch and landing zones. That’s correct, no artificial platforms. advoutwest.com/co-tours/co-ziplines.html
Soaring Colorado Zip Line in Durango is the longest zipling course in the United States. If you are looking for an entire day of action packed fun, travel to the south/west corner of colorful Colorado for record-breaking zipline. soaringcolorado.com
The Broadmoor’s Eco-Soaring Experience at Seven Falls opened to the public last summer. This new attraction in Colorado Springs boasts a number of improvements and upgrades since Seven Falls’ 2013 closure due to devastating floods. The enhancements allow guests to safely explore the area from high above on an adrenaline-pumping series of zip lines and suspension bridges. The attraction begins with 10 ziplines and many rope bridges and culminates with a rappel. Sevenfalls.com/Broadmoor-soaring-adventure/
While I am always hesitant with the high waters this season, I can’t leave out one of my favorite sports… SUP! I think I covered it when it was first breaking out here about 6 years ago, and now, it’s as common as kayaking. Heck, we were driving home on 6th Ave the other day and saw a car pulling out with 4 boards on top, kids’ ones included. So for safety measures, can I recommend lake SUPing this season?
The local metro-Denver reservoirs are going to be crowded, so try a couple of these spots. Go North of the city and look for lakes and reservoirs in and around Loveland and Fort Collins, they are numerous and Horsetooth Reservoir in Fort Collins probably rings a bell. co.larimer.co.us/parks/horsetooth.cfm
Travel the length of I-25 from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs and you are sure to be surrounded by Frisbee Golf courses throughout your duration. To say this sport is popular in our state is one giant understatement. I have personally never completed an entire game, however, if you are looking for a casual past time while enjoying the outdoors and sunshine, this may just do the trick. Listed below are a number of phenomenal courses no matter what metro area you call home.
Edora Park, Fort Collin fcgov.com/parks/map/
Birds Nest Disc Park, Arvada pdga.com/course-directory/course/birds-nest-disc-park
Bad Lands Disc Golf Course, Federal Heights dgcoursereview.com/course.php?id=870
Cottonwood Creek Rec Center, Colorado Springs pdga.com/course-directory/course/cottonwood-creek-park
Duckies – Inflatable Kayaks
No, not the bath toys. We are talking about inflatable kayaks. For any easier introduction into the sport, we suggest this option for a family looking to hit the river. The theory behind the sport is that by observation one can take the best lines by following the lead. White River National Forest and the kind folks at Blazing Adventure suggest trying the Roaring Fork, which are more suitable for a beginner but still provide whitewater thrills. blazingadventures.com/activities/inflatable-kayaks
For added adventure in a different part of the state try both Palisade River Trips and Rim Rock Adventures. These companies rent out inflatable kayaks to any visitor wanting to give it a shot. Plus the course runs to James M. Robb Colorado River State Park at Corn Lake, resulting in an enjoyable ride. palisaderivertrips.com; rradventures.com/boating-equipment
All the rain and mountain run-off is causing for a news-breaking summer on the Colorado Rivers. From amazing conditions to quite hazardous, I am not taking my wee ones out on the river until late summer or early fall. However, I am mother of young children and some of those teenagers want to get out and ride the rapids. We connected with Amy Larson, Senior Vice President of Consumer, Tourism & Hospitality at Communications Strategy Group who helped us navigate the whitewater of 2015.
“So, for family rafting this summer, your best bets would be Cache La Poudre in Fort Collins, The Animas in Durango and the Upper Colorado in Kremmling near Steamboat Springs.” This is a conservative list, with many, many additional locations. But for safety and outfitters, check out the above list. Also, check out local river conditions before any trip.
National Parks – 100th Anniversary
In 2016 we celebrate a huge honor and privilege with our country. It’s the 100th anniversary of the National Parks. In preparation for this celebration may we recommend touring some of Colorado’s most magical outdoor spaces? colorado.com/articles/quick-guide-colorado-national-parks
Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). You must be living outside the state if you haven’t heard of this one. Elk abound year-round in Estes Park, and the activities are endless from this East entrance to the Park. Grand Lake is stunning, and about ¼ of the visitors to RMNP enters through this West gate, and you’ll have better luck spotting a moose on this side. Estes Park offers everything from horseback riding to guided hiking to jeep tours; this Park has the most outfitters to assist in experience and adventure.
And don’t forget to drive Trail Ridge Road (FINALLY OPENED!) in the summer season, when open that is. It’s the highest continuous paved road in America and that’s always a fun one to knock off the bucket list. There’s 415-square-miles of Colorado gold, and so close to the Metro Denver area. nps.gov/romo/
Mesa Verde National Park is an ancient gem for Colorado and one of the flipping coolest places in America. You can even take strollers down to access the incredible cliff dwellings, and even climb into one of the kivas. The visitor center is astounding and there are multiple stopping points in this extremely arid landscape to eat, refill water, and more about this history of the Ancestoral Pueblans. A huge bonus is nearby Cortez. We spent an awesome night there in early July and caught a traditional dance, got to participate and enjoyed the Turquoise Inn and pool for a splash off after a day hiking Mesa Verde. This is a MUST for any history or ancient civilization interest. visitmesaverde.com
If you catch it right, you can still get the run off from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the trickle of Medano Creek that makes for the best beach vacation in Colorado. With this year’s run off and rain, get down there for a stunning summer. The sand dunes are the tallest in North America, and the joy of running and launching yourself into the air, only to be welcomed by sand is exhilarating at any age. Remember, if the sun is shining, the sand gets hot. Hike early or after the late day storms and this will be a photo and memory for the family for a generation. And, if you have the time, you call nearby Zapata Ranch, pretty much one of the only stops near the Sand Dunes at the bottom of the San Luis Valley. Call ahead and arrange a tour of their 2,000 head of bison roaming in one of the biggest territories in Colorado. Do it, and you’ll never forget it! The Sand Dunes are ideal for a cooler summer with clouds and rain. nps.gov/grsa/index.htm
I would dare to say this is the least visited National Park on the list, and possibly the most mouth dropping. Once your arrive at the Rim of this Canyon, you are in shock this exists in Colorado. It rivals the Grand Canyon in many aspects and is in our own state. It’s the furthest Park from the metro Denver area, so you make this a camping or multi-night adventure, and then you thank me. The sheer 2,700-foot cliff walls, the rushing of the Gunnison River and several millions years of history enclosed in this 57-mile stretch. There are by far the most float trips‑both whitewater and fishing from this National Park location in Colorado. Enjoy, you’d have trouble not taking over 100 photos and selfish from the rim trail. nps.gov/blca/index.htm
Mountain Biking / Golf / Tennis: Resort Activity
For the ultimate in family activity such as mountain biking, trail running, golf and tennis, we are going to recommend our big mountain resorts. The will have the most reliable trails in some of the best conditions. While it might be more crowded then off the beaten path spots, due to crazy weather, this will be a great option. Offered at our resorts is a quintessential Colorado weekend escape for many families includes Breckenridge, Vail, Aspen, Crested Butte, Winter Park and Telluride.
I have been requesting to write more and more about pools this water-logged spring and summer. Some families just want to get away and hit the pool, and that’s it, that’s the vacation. Colorado is enticing with a plethora of outdoor adventure but sometimes its just pool time and the rivers can still be at high flow. Note – there are NO hot springs OR hot tubs included. Wait on that for our winter round-up. For summer fun, we’ve pulled together the Denver-area’s best Splash Pads and Water Parks divided by geographic area.
Also, I want to note my complete envy of everyone located in the suburbs. Come summer, your pools are amazing. They are constantly updated with new attractions and features. I recommend going to any neighboring community pool for the day to see how far the sport of play+swim has become. Below I have the brand new, and some historic ones of 2015. Around Denver, the best pools for families are the 6 located in the Stapleton neighborhood. Any individual can enter, there is just an additional fee for non-residents. Stapleton is the 5thlargest new development in the nation, so you better believe they have one heck of a pool scene geared towards children. stapletondenver.com/community/neighborhood-pools/
Eldorado Springs, outside of Boulder, is technically a springs’ pool, but it’s a cool spring that fills the large outdoor pool, so I can sneak it in. Think 1983, astro turf and snack shack, and then add killer scenery, including the canyon walls of the infamous area (heck, a President even honeymooned here in the hey day) and gorgeous mountain air. I worked on a University Master’s project with the Park Service in the canyon, and I will tell you, this is place is historic, celebrities to athletes would visit since opening in 1905. So, it’s been functioning in the valley for over a century, something must be cool? eldoradosprings.com/about-us/eldorado-swimming-pool
If you need to splurge on a pool, here are my top choices for summer 2015. No hotel can beat the Broadmoor. It’s zero-entry, history, location and waterslides just solidify this for me. It’s my kid’s favorite and the service, cabanas, and views are probably the cover of thousands of holiday cards every year. I have taken my babies at three months, and into their youth. broadmoor.com
However, there’s competition. For young kids, it’s the Ritz Bachelor Gultch. I know, you’re thinking, the Ritz? Look for last minute summer deals on their websites and also by calling and just asking the reservations team. Upon one weekend there in mid-June, the pool was a piece of Colorado awesomeness—babies to teens to couples to family reunions to girls getaways—this pool is plenty big with lap lanes, a great set of stairs to relax and amazing poolside chaises and service. Plus, the food is cheaper via pool service than anywhere else on the property, and they gave out goodies such as popsicles or smoothie samples during the day. Daniel’s Pool and Grill offers pool-side drinks and food from 11am -6pm daily. Daily perks at the pool include Sangria and other seasonal cocktail samples, sunglass cleaning, cold Oshi Bori towels and frozen fruit. AND, the coolest little bonus, the Spa at the Ritz opens up their grotto for families from 8:15 – 9:00 pm on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights. The kids LOVE this little late night dip, just as all of us. Look for those last minute summer deals! ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/colorado/bachelor-gulch
One pool that I just always remember and long to return to is the Redstone Inn. The historic property is stunning and the most obscure on the list. It’s located in its namesake town, Redstone, outside of Aspen. It’s quiet here and the scenery is the most spectacular. Honestly, this Inn has one of the best pools in the State. And, here’s the best part, there are day passes for the pool and family night. The pool is available for public use from 10 am to 4 p.m. 7 days a week. Great side trip or look for a summer or early fall package and stay the night. The restaurant is classic, old-school lodge, and darn good, and on-site. I’ve sent family friends and family here and all I have gotten is cookies and flowers in return, you’ll thank me. redstoneinn.thegilmorecollection.com
I think I have left out Denver in many of recent write- ups. It’s my hometown and I couldn’t more proud of the summer offerings. From outdoors concerts to art exhibitions to “olde tyme” fun, here’s a quick round up if you are staying in town, have visiting family or are a visitor yourself.
Finding your summer isn’t hard to do at Water World. This place is perfect for an aquatic family or those just looking to make a splash during the summer heat. Not only is there an enormous amount of attractions, the park is absolutely gorgeous and neatly maintained. If you are planning a day of swimming pools and water slides, this is a must-do in town. Plus, Water World offers a wide array of food and drink that won’t break the bank. waterworldcolorado.com
Elitch Gardens is celebrating its 125th. The iconic downtown amusement park continues to welcome guests of all ages for their summer concert series and high-flying thrills. For the adrenaline junkies in your crew, we suggest this Denver classic and be sure to check-out their new $2.5 million SlideZilla that debuted last year. elitchgardens.com
The 30,000-square-foot Joy Park debuted last year at the Children’s Museum of Denver with caves and canyons, hills and valleys, ruins and forts, and bridges and streams. dam. My kids had the chance to preview the fun and their favorites were racing on the mini zip line, building a dam in the stream, digging a volcano in the sand dune and filling it with water. http://www.mychildsmuseum.org/
Some things get better with age and one of those is the Denver Zoo. If you haven’t been in a while, it’s time to head back. Their new tiger exhibit, The Edge, is opening this summer. If you haven’t visited in a while, Elephant Passage features two miles of interconnected trails on 10 acres of varied terrain and is one of the greatest elephant exhibits in North America. Additionally, guests can now enjoy feeding my personal favorite, giraffes, by purchasing lettuce for the long-necked mammals. denverzoo.org
If you haven’t yet, visit Union Station. With a mix of travelers, fun food for the kids, and the outdoor fountains this a downtown hot spot that tends to be over looked for its family fun. However, we love visiting this venue in the afternoon to take in a little of the city’s history and staying long enough to enjoy a s’more at the outdoor fire pits. unionstationindenver.com
There is no doubt that Denver is exuding in cultural experiences either. Museums to check out and let’s face, hide away from the heat in, include: Denver Art Museum, The Museum Nature and Science and History Colorado. From art connaisseurs to history buffs; there is a little something for everyone within the city limits.
And for extra indoor activity in case of bad weather head over the South Broadway hot spot, Punch Bowl Social. This is a warehouse of fun. Think retro bowling alley meets modern arcade with a little mix of karaoke. Plan an entire day to check out all of the games while breaking for a tasty brunch or lunch. Mondays – Wednesdays, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m., kids ages 15 and under bowl free for 1 hour , first come first serve, including shoes. All children must be accompanied by an adult. punchbowlsocial.com
Snow Mountain Ranch
Yeah, it’s hip; everyone is doing it. Many of these book quickly, but don’t forget about fall travel and start researching. The best place to sample the experience is going to be at the YMCA of the Rockies – Snow Mountain Ranch. They recently added yurts that can hold up to 6 people, but are close enough to food, bathrooms and planned activity, that’s it’s not too big of a leap. Be sure to try their summer tubing hill, free for guests. snowmountainranch.org/lodging/
My family is obsessed with Fort Collins and if you are looking to explore a new part of the state, we suggest trying out a yurt. Never Summer Nordic Yurts are just outside of Fort Collins. There popularity is growing by the season, book early to ensure your stay. This place really offers everything one could need to fully immerse in a Colorado summer. From hiking to biking and fishing in between, the wilderness is a playground for outdoor fun. The grounds house 11 total yurts; 8 in the Never Summer Mountain Range and 3 others in the distance North Park area. Never Summer Yurts can accommodate anywhere up to 12 individuals in some of their yurts, which are fully loaded. Groups only need to bring in food, water, sleeping gear and entertainment, although as previously stated, you won’t get bored at this park. neversummernordic.com
Pagosa Springs has a more eclectic yurt option of the novice team, nestled right next to Wolf Creek Backcountry and the Continental Divide. The Pass Creek Yurt is home to some of best outdoor adventure while still boasting ultimate relaxation with is proximity to the hot springs. If good beer, great waterways and gorgeous scenery are on your agenda, Travel out to The Pass Creek Yurt. As a tip, come a bit prepared for this experience, and remember to bring your own first aid kit, just in case. There are tables and chairs, a 3-burner stove, pots and pans, utensils, bunk beds and pillows for six, solar light and that’s about it. You bring the rest. A perfect excuse to “rough it” in a very beautiful place. wolfcreekbackcountry.com
The Tennessee Pass Nordic Center, Cookhouse and Yurts are where I found myself nearly three years ago. As a first time skeptic, my mind was quickly transformed. Between the dining options and the luxury of the yurts themselves, this place was more than comfortable and accommodating. The space offered water, playing cards, lights, oh and down comforters, a simple but well appreciated touch, and a romantic breakfast waiting. Open throughout the entire summer, there is always hiking and fishing within minutes. Tennesseepass.com
Nothing screams summer like taking in the sweeping views at a favorite ballpark and luckily in Colorado, we have some pretty gorgeous venues. For family fun that nearly everyone can enjoy (let’s face it, who doesn’t love a foot long hot dog in July) try a Colorado sporting event.
Coors Field is the Denver family’s dream. Not only is it easily accessible, the ballpark offers ample amount of seating to each game. Finding a ticket in your price range is a breeze. And with the Rocky Mountains as your backdrop, there really isn’t a bad section in the house. Your baseball outing highlights will include the ballpark food, snapping a photo with The Rockies’ beloved triceratops mascot, Dinger, singing “Take Me Out to Ball Game” during the 7th Inning Stretch and maybe getting lucky enough to see the fountains fly as a hometown favorite hits one out of the park.
Not in Denver? Try watching the Sky Sox, a professional team located in Colorado Springs. Tickets are very inexpensive and the ambiance is casual, good old fashion fun. The stadium is smaller and a bit more intimate, giving baseball novices or experts the opportunity to be up close and personal with America’s favorite past time. coloradosprings.skysox.milb.com/index.jsp?sid=t551
If you have a soccer star at home take them out Dick’s Sporting Goods Stadium near the Stapleton community and watch our very own Rapids compete in Major League Soccer. With a season that stretches from February to October, there will be endless opportunities to cheer on the team. Traffic is never an issue and taking the little one’s to an MLS game will give them cultural and international experiences right here in town. coloradorapids.com
Another worldwide sporting event you may want to check out is rugby. Colorado has a huge presence on the sport’s international stage. Haven’t you noticed the “Rugby Town USA” banners lining the streets of Glendale? Infinity Park is the first rugby-specific, municipally owned stadium in the United States and is home to the Glendale Raptors. Beginning June 13, stop by every other Monday for “Monday Movie Madness” on the field. In addition to being free, the simplicity of attending a movie is a big draw, especially for families. Parking is free and multiple lots are available within a two-block radius of Infinity Park. The gates to the stadium open at 7pm, and the movie starts promptly at 8 pm, every time. The best spots on the grass go fast, so movie night regulars tend to come a few minutes early to grab a spot in line before the gates open. You’ll spot many picnics throughout the stadium, as outside food is welcome while others who choose to skip packing a meal can be seen getting food from one of the vendors on-site. http://infinityparkatglendale.com/2015/movies/
Best Picnic Spots
These spots are recommendations from the Martha Stewarts of camping herself, Dawn Bitz. Bitz is the founder and owner of Grasshaven Outdoor and an expert in all things outdoor fabulous and fun. grasshavenoutdoor.com
This spot feels remote but its only about 30 minutes from Boulder. Gross Reservoir is a mixture of wildlife and a pristine mountain lake. Come up in the evening or do a sunrise picnic and you might even see moose or elk lazily near the water’s edge. denverwater.org/Recreation/GrossReservoir/
O’Fallon Park with is pine trees and stone chimney barbecue couldn’t be more picturesque. Bear Creek is close to the picnic area and hiking trails. It can get busy on the weekends so save this beautiful spot for weekday getaways. dayhikesneardenver.com/ofallon-park-trails/
Betasso Preserve is a quite and under-discovered spots for an intimate picnic. Your neighbors are generally the squirrels making this picnic destination a peaceful opportunity for lunching in nature. Betasso preserve also has a shelter that can be reserved for a slight fee. bouldercounty.org/os/events/pages/picnicshelters.aspx
Overlooking Denver, Red Rocks Park has a picnic area that rivals the views of most state parks. A short drive from Denver this destination features geologic wonders, breathtaking views and high-energy concerts to make this a premium picnic destination. Hike around the megalithic red stones, visit the Visitor’s Center for information on the area and check out one of the many concerts while you picnic. dayhikesneardenver.com/trading-post-trail-red-rocks-park/
If exploring Colorado’s other side is on your radar then the Cathy Fromme Prairie near Fort Collins not only pairs great picnic spots with an unadulterated Colorado prairie filled with blooming wildflowers. Prairie dogs, birds and other grassland inhabitants scurry amongst the prime examples of Colorado wildflowers. Picnic areas are located near the entrance to the trails so grab a bite and explore this grassland beauty. fcgov.com/naturalareas/finder/cathyfromme
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 Path 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
Fort Collins has an amazing children’s garden in their Gardens on Spring Creek Botanical Gardens. I was shocked how community-oriented this gem is right on the outskirts of town. Upon my visit in spring of 2014 they were just completing an addition to their outdoor kitchen and grill garden. It was enormous and alluring. Their children’s center, yoga in the gardens, morning member coffee sessions are all added perks to this Northern-influenced garden. fcgov.com/gardens
I would be banished from my own family if I didn’t include the Denver Botanic Gardens as a decade-long DBG member. The Children’s Garden with stream and sand area are a highlight of every visit for us when in season. But, don’t forget to wander across the street and check out the greenhouses on cooler mornings, the Japanese Garden and the large pond with multiple posses of varying goldfish. International and local exhibits rotate seasonally and between the summer concert series, kid and family classes, including cooking demos in the summer, acreage and new summer café option, you better take a long morning to discover or rediscover one of Denver’s true gems. And, something new I haven’t even checked out this summer, large-scale paintings and sculptures by artist Theodore Waddell that depict abstract American West panoramas. botanicgardens.org
Vail Valley turns from ski mecca to a wildflower (I know Crested Butte, it’s your title), lush green and canvased landscape of high alpine flora. She did it right years ago and the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens are an absolute must stop come summer in the Valley. Again, the gardens are easily visible and accessible from a main trail through the actual town of Vail. Kids can scramble through the Kid’s Amphitheater and Solstice Stones or Hike up the Gore Creek to the Children’s Garden. There are a schoolhouse, mountain perennial, mountain mediation and alpine rock gardens. And, a log cabin to explore. The wee ones love the freedom, teenagers love to wander by themselves and adults get landscape inspiration for their own homes from the abundance of mountain fauna from various regions around the world. Plus, it’s free! bettyfordalpinegardens.org