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Colorado Family Vacation Guide: Top 7 for Summer 2017

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Welcome back to my annual summer TOP VACATION IDEAS IN COLORADO. I’m honored each year to round up some of the best of the Centennial State. There is no better place to explore and enjoy family. This first installment includes my top seven for 2017, and later this week we will have the full guide online. Here’s to another happy, healthy, and safe summer from Julie Bielenberg.

If you’re staying in the Mile High City, don’t miss our 2017 Summer Activity Guide for Denver Fun with 150+ ideas and scroll down to find even more resources for Colorado activities.


Canon City has found luxury—seriously! On May 18 this year, Echo Canyon River Expeditions opened nine new single and double Colorado contemporary cabins, complete with down comforters, flat screen TVs, kitchen, spacious bathroom with rain shower, dual-glass sided fireplaces for transparency inside and out, and lots of thought in design, angles and blends. These are stunning, and I was blessed to christen one of the cabins named after the local rapids on the Arkansas River. Echo Canyon resort also installed four new luxury glamping tents that sleep up to five, and share access to a brand new shower house and wash area.

Venture across the road to Echo Canyon’s 8 Mile Bar and Grill and their rafting headquarters. Echo Canyon is the largest outfitter on the Arkansas River, and has been for 15 consecutive years! For the wee ones, there is the family float trip ( (prices start $65 per person), for ages six and up, look into the Big Horn Sheep Canyon trip ( (prices start at $62 per person), and for teenagers, and the advanced, there’s the Royal Gorge Float Whitewater Trip ( (prices start at $79 per person), an apex of float rafting trips in the United States, and always ranked in the top 10 rapids to raft. Check out Canon City in my round up for more incredible ideas from this surprising little hamlet. (


Ouray. Bless you! No, it’s a town in the Southwest of Colorado renown for ice climbing in winter, and come summer, their amazing hot springs, Main Street, hikes and outdoor paradise are truly standouts in ALL of North America. Dubbed the Switzerland of America, this mountain hamlet packs a punch and is worth the trip from the Front Range. If you are on the Western Slope, than there’s no excuse not to visit. I adore Box Canyon Springs right off the Main Street. It has a unique set of hot tubs on property that draws warm waters from its spring. In town, there are plenty of restaurants, and shops all in the shadow of impressive red canyon views.  The Ouray Alchemist Museum on Main Street is always one of my favorite stops, Lower Cascade Trail and Falls are popular hikes, ATV and off-roading are big draws in the summer, and there is a fantastic jeep trek down Red Mountain at dusk on the 4th of July each year ending up on Main Street.  Good spirits, brews and food can be found at Mr. Grumpy Pants Brewing Company in a must hit as well. ( and (



It’s a sin not to include one of Colorado’s dude ranches in the VIP list each year. We have the largest association of guest dude ranches in the world. Yup, Colorado rocks. Lost Valley Ranch is one of the closest dude ranches to the Front Range, yet it is miles and miles from anything or anyone. There are babysitters for every age group, family rides, incredible cuisine, entertainment, and a staff and culture extremely unique and exceptional. The accommodations are some of the nicest in the dude ranch realm and the onsite pool is open May through September. There’s also three hot tubs onsite, a pool pavilion with ping pong and pool, recreational facilities with tennis court, hiking, fishing, trap shooting, archery and so much more. Word on the street is that there are still summer weeks available. INSIDER TIP! Lost Valley is open nearly year-round and is one of the only dude ranches to offer weekend accommodations and riding for families during the school year. Remember to bring your helmet for riding, Lost Valley does not provide any nor do they have any for rental. (


The Sand Dunes. These insanely unique and shifting masses of sand have got to be some of the coolest formations on the planet, and they’re here in our backyard. I know each year it’s probably on half of your bucket lists, but this year, try and make it happen. There’s nothing more to be said—Sand Dunes—VISIT! PS – – – for the wee ones, the summer gets super hot, try and hike in early morning or early evening on the sand dunes to avoid dangerous temperatures. (


Fort Fun, or Fort Collins as others might refer to it, is extremely accessible for even a day trip for many Colorado families. I have an affinity and passion for the bison. I snipped stories about them in newspapers for my first internship in Colorado. Fast forward two decades and Fort Fun has a new herd of bison in their pastures. Springtime is calf time for the Laramie Foothills Bison Conservation Herd that calls Soapstone Prairie Natural Area and Red Mountain Open Space home. Currently, there are 22 animals, all descendants of genetically pure Yellowstone bison. An additional Yellowstone bull joined the herd briefly this year to diversify the genetics and nine calves are expected this spring. Summer and early fall are the best time to visit Soapstone and view the bison in their 1,000-acre enclosure from the road in Soapstone Prairie Natural Area, which is open during daylight hours.


Colorado State National Monument. My husband and I believe this to be one of the most underrated places in all of the State, and the least visited next to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. This place is pretty spectacular. Located on the extreme Western Slope of Colorado, basically, it’s almost Utah. Here is the large designated area of the Colorado Plateau massive canyons cut into sandstone, views for days, colors of the rainbow reflected in the incredible rock formations, wildlife viewing , hiking, horseback riding, bicycling, and more. There’s a visitor center, loads of recommendations for hikes, family-focused hikes, scenic drives, etc. Plus, you can get an insanely cool holiday card photo like I did … LOL J (


The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is iconic, and an opportunity to view some remote and beautiful landscape in Colorado. Its notoriety is no mystery. And now, the owners of the legendary railroad, have opened up a hotel in Silverton! The Grand Hotel Imperial was originally completed in 1883 and was “The Grand Lady of the San Juans.” She now can reclaim the title after massive renovations, upgrades and a new owner 135 years after birth. Call for the family suite on the second floor. Silverton is special, and I don’t need to explain its myth and mystique. If you find yourself available for an overnight in this mountain hamlet, the views and solitude are worth every moment. Plus, there are a handful or stores, restaurants and museums in Silverton. You mostly come for the incredible hiking and outdoor adventure. We actually hopped on the Million Dollar Highway right outside of Silverton and is always listed as one of the topic scenic drives in America. (


Additional Resources

This is only the beginning of summer fun in Colorado. Don’t miss these articles:

Guide to Denver’s Splash Parks and Spray Fountains

Best Hikes for Kids in the Denver area

Great Wolf Lodge Roars in Colorado Springs

Where to pull of I-70 when you’re stuck in traffic (fun activities and restaurants)

10 Beautiful Places in Colorado You Didn’t Know About

Borrow a Colorado State Parks Pass from Your Library

Yurt Village at Snow Mountain Ranch is Star-lit Fun

Cool Off This Summer at Colorado’s Best Beaches

A Local’s Guide to Gunnison’s Magical Summers

Best Denver-area Parks for Beginner Trail Runners (and hikers)

10 of Colorado’s most scenic waterfall hikes


Julie Bielenberg
Author: Julie Bielenberg

Julie is a mama of three who travels in search of fields, farms, families and more. Sometimes . . . she finds herself in often uncovered, or understated locales, which has since become her niche.

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  • comment avatar Marty May 31, 2017

    LOOOOOVE Colorado!

  • comment avatar LeDawn May 31, 2017

    Another top pick: Crested Butte. Can’t wait to go this summer.

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