Ultimate Colorado Family Vacation Guide: 100+ Activities (COVID-approved)
posted by: Julie Bielenberg
In part two of five of the Best of Summer 2020, we have listed town information for Boulder, Grand Lake, Twin Lakes, Colorado Springs, Leadville and Loveland along with numerous outfitter updates. There are over 100+ vacation ideas below including rafting, golf, swim, fish, kayak, hike, SUP, train excursions and more. Also included are the most remote and wide-open places in the State.
Next time, we’ll update you on mountain resorts including Vail, Glenwood Springs, Estes Park, Steamboat Springs, Silverthorne, Aspen, Snowmass and more. And in case you missed it, check-out Family Travel: Colorado’s Top Five Lodging Suggestions for Summer 2020.
Stay healthy and safe – Julie
Hiking Mamas, and their strollers, packs, gear & dogs, who are headed to Chautauqua can ride a free shuttle this summer. Hiking is such a good way to connect with other Mamas. On Saturdays and Sundays, park your car downtown for free in a city lot, or at a free lot on the CU campus, and ride for free. We’re so excited to be able to offer this service – especially this year! The Park-to-Park shuttle runs from 8-8 on Saturdays & Sundays from Memorial Day to Labor Day (plus Memorial Day, Fourth of July & Labor Day). It runs every 15 minutes. If you’d rather not use the shuttle, paid parking ($2.50/hour) is available in designated areas in and around Chautauqua.
To keep you safe, the busses will be larger (27 passenger) but only 10 people will be allowed on. The bathrooms up at Chautauqua are still open but the Ranger Cottage, the cute house that serves as the info/welcome center is closed. There are also more porta-potties this year up there. www.BoulderColoradoUSA.com/shuttle
Flying W Ranch Rides Again! Grab your hat, boots and spurs and mosey on over to Flying W Ranch, opening on June 26 after an 8-year closure. The grounds are reinvented and re-imagined. The BBQ dinner will be spectacular and the Flying W Wranglers will serenade you with favorite cowboy campfire harmonies, complete with yodeling. https://www.flyingw.com/
Get in the Spirit of the Springs at the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum. While the exact date is yet to be announced, summer in the Springs means a trip to the region’s newest museum that tells the story and honors decades of U.S. Olympic and Paralympic athletes. In one of the world’s most accessible museums, your journey will take you from the Olympic Torch display, to summer and winter games galleries and then on to how athletes train – you can even see how you stack up! Your personalized credentials will give you a unique experience, different than any other guest in the museum. Finish your experience with an impressive collection of Olympic and Paralympic medals and a simulated Parade of Nations in the Opening Ceremonies. https://usopm.org/
ROCKY MOUNTAIN OUTDOOR CENTER, BUENA VISTA
Give your kids the gift of outdoor adventure while also staying safe. Buena Vista, Colorado-based RMOC (Rocky Mountain Outdoor Center) is a leader in outdoor recreation, offering trips and classes in everything from rafting and mountain biking to kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding. This summer, RMOC is paying extra attention to its already expansive roster of private offerings by marketing them heavily to the Colorado traveler.
In addition to this, RMOC is offering private rafting trips at an exceptional rate. Private rafting trips are defined by fewer people on boats and a private van for transportation as opposed to a large bus filled with people with whom you are not currently isolating. For more information visit RMOC.com.
CANON CITY / ROYAL GORGE
I noted these cabins the past three years, and I can’t wait to get back this summer . . AGAIN! I have to say Canon City found luxury when Andy Neinas and his family expanded www.raftecho.com and opened nine single and double Colorado contemporary cabins in May 2017, 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 eight luxury glamping tents that sleep up to two to four guest depending on size, and share access to a new shower house and wash area. Bring lawn games and your own food, and book a rafting trip across the street or explore the Royal Gorge area just minutes up the road. PS—my favorite rock store in the nation is located next to the cabins, The Gold Mine Rock Shop. (royalgorgecabins.com)
More than 100 miles of Colorado’s best whitewater can be found from Granite to Cañon City, Colo., all within the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area (AHRA), managed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Bureau of Land Management. With an elevation drop of 4,650 feet along its 152 miles, the AHRA is located within Lake, Chaffee, Fremont and Pueblo counties in south-central Colorado, and runs through some of the state’s most stunning natural features, including Browns Canyon National Monument, Bighorn Sheep Canyon, and The Royal Gorge – also known as the Grand Canyon of the Arkansas. The Arkansas River is also home to The Numbers, widely considered the best Class IV run in the state. For more information about Arkansas River Outfitters Association and the 2020 whitewater rafting season, visit www.arkansasriveroutfitters.org.
The Royal Gorge Region, just two hours south of Denver, is an outdoor paradise with fun and attractions for all ages. Aside from its sheer number of incredible trail systems, the Royal Gorge Region is home to many attractions ideal for family travel. Ride through the wonders of the Royal Gorge Region in an open-air Jeep with Colorado Jeep Tours, which has new safety measures in place to ensure you stay well, or take charge of your own vehicle with an ATV tour.
If that’s a little too much adrenaline for you and your family, take a more relaxing ride on the Royal Gorge Route Railroad, a spectacular rail journey along the floor of the Royal Gorge and along the Arkansas River. Spend the day experiencing the wonder of the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park, where jaw-dropping views, extreme adrenaline rides, and fun for the whole family await. Having welcomed over 30 million guests during its 90 years, the park has perfected the art of entertaining by providing excitement for visitors of every age.
Do your kids love dinosaurs?. Not only was it the first location in Colorado to have large-scale bone discovered in Garden Park, igniting the historic bone wars, it is also home to the Royal Gorge Dino Experience, a combination dinosaur museum, animatronic dino park, and ropes course.
GRAND LAKE & GRAND COUNTY
What makes it special: Colorado’s largest natural lake also competes for Colorado’s prettiest. With the high peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park serving as a backdrop — and regular moose sightings in the shallows — Grand Lake is a wonderful place to set sail on a summer’s afternoon. As an added bonus, the charming town of Grand Lake resides on its northern shore and provides ample dining, shopping and local character. Best way to enjoy it: Embrace the solitude of Grand Lake from a sailboat or a lake kayak. At dusk, the peaks that adorn the eastern horizon often catch the sunsets golden rays, creating a beautiful spectacle.
Generally, April through September are the best times to have a whitewater adventure. However, the weather and level of snow-melt greatly impact which rivers you should raft and kayak during the season. Typical best times to visit Grand County Rivers follows, but be sure to check your current river conditions days before you head out. Blue River— from the east side of the Gore Range to Kremmling waters are best explored during June. Colorado River— can be enjoyed throughout the season, May through September. The upper Colorado is known for calmer waters, while the lower offers faster-moving rapids. Clear Creek— is also open to rafting the whole season, May through September. The upper portion is best for more advanced rafters, while the lower is less demanding.
SHADOW MOUNTAIN LAKE
What makes it special: Often overlooked by its neighbors to the north and south — Grand Lake and Lake Granby — Shadow Mountain Lake is a beautiful hidden gem with easy access off of Highway 34 as well as from Grand Lake. Since Shadow Mountain Lake is connected to Grand Lake, you can enjoy both bodies of water from the same boat.
Best way to enjoy it: Start your day early in the morning with a spin around the lake’s uninhabited western shore. You can also camp on the lake shore at Green Ridge Campground near the dam.
What makes it special: At 7,000 acres, Lake Granby is one of Colorado’s largest bodies of water. Its numerous coves and marinas make it a justly popular place for sailers, boaters and jet-skiers. For fisherman, the lake’s appeal lies in what lurks in the deep — lake trout. Known as one of the best “mackinaw” fisheries in the country, the reservoir also harbors a healthy population of kokanee salmon. Best way to enjoy it: While Lake Granby offers a wide array of camping and home rental options nearby, it is best enjoyed with a pontoon boat. Rent one from one of the lake’s marinas, and enjoy the company of friends on this scenic lake.
WILLIAMS FORK RESERVOIR
What makes it special: Located well off the beaten path, Williams Fork Reservoir appeals to those looking for some peace and quiet, and a lot of hungry fish. Deep in the reservoirs waters lurk several trophy-sized northern pike. Best way to enjoy it: Due to its exposure and location between several distant mountain ranges, Williams Fork Reservoir gets a lot of wind — much to the delight of windsurfers. Because of the chilly snowmelt-fed waters, a wetsuit is not just recommended; its virtually required.
WOLFORD MOUNTAIN RESERVOIR
What makes it special: Located in the northern section of Middle Park just beyond Kremmling on Highway 40, Wolford Mountain Reservoir offers a stark beauty that is unique to Colorado. Windswept mountain plains and sage-dotted land surround its shores. Out on the water, boaters can enjoy fishing for rainbow and brown trout, as well as kokanee salmon. Best way to enjoy it: With its beautiful location and gorgeous views of the nearby Gore Range, Wolford Mountain Reservoir offers sublime camping.
GOLF IN GRAND COUNTY
Pole Creek Golf Club, located 12 miles north of Winter Park offers tree-lined, links-style holes with breathtaking views of the Continental Divide. At 8,600 feet above sea level, it’s one of the highest 27-hole courses in North America. Golf Digest rated this 10,709-yard, Par 108 course “Best New Golf Course in America” in 1985 and “Number One Place to Play in Colorado” in 1998. (www.polecreekgolf.com or 800-511-5076)
At Grand Lake Golf Course adjacent to Rocky Mountain National Park, you may be sharing the tee with some of the native elk, deer, fox and red-tail hawk that roam this tight, tree-lined course. Each hole of this 6,650 yards–Par 72 course offers a view of Grand Lake, Colorado’s largest natural lake, and the surrounding snow-capped peaks of the Continental Divide. (http://grandlakegolf.com or 970-627-8008).
Tucked between the sparkling waters of the Fraser River and the mountain splendor for which the Rocky Mountains are famous, Golf at Granby Ranch offers golfers of every level and interest an exceptional experience. The front nine of this 7,200 yards–Par 72 course serves as a warm-up to the back nine, where golfers will encounter several memorable holes incorporating lakes, wetlands, elevated tees, and large, deep bunkers. (www.granbyranch.com or 888-283-7458)
Located south of Granby, Grand Elk Ranch & Club is the newest golf course addition to Grand County. The 18-hole, 7,200 yards–Par 71 course opened in late 2002 and is Colorado’s first Heathland-style golf course. The course sits at an elevation of 7,935 feet, and offers views of federally protected wetlands that are habitat to hundreds of birds. (www.grandelk.com or 970-887-9122)
GREAT HIGH PRAIRE
For the first time, there is a website devoted to showcasing The Great High Prairie in southeastern Colorado. Be one of the first travelers to dive into this amazing resource and discover everything there is to see and do in and around Lamar, Colorado. TheGreatHighPrairie.com features outdoor recreational opportunities, historic attractions, points of interest, and more.
Take a trip to The Great High Prairie with your kids and discover a laid back and historically rich side of Colorado you haven’t seen before. Play in local parks, hike nearby canyons, or hang out at John Martin Reservoir. It’s all here and more in The Great High Prairie. What you won’t see? Big crowds and high prices!
ALL ABOARD THE TRAIN: Take a tour of North Lake Park on the Buckhorn Northern Railroad, a miniature, authentic replica of an actual steam train. For only 75 cents per ride, bring the family and spend a day riding and playing at the park. Choo choo choo your trip every summer then head to Lake Loveland Swim Beach nearby.
FUN AT THE FOUNDRY: As a small art community, Loveland is home to two working bronze foundries that make sculptures seen around the world. Bring the family and see the lost wax process for yourself with an art foundry tour Tuesdays and Thursdays. You might even see some familiar characters. Book your tour during a bronze pour and try to spot some of our favorite toys.
PICNIC IN THE PARK: Amazing parks are found across Loveland. Kick the soccer ball at Loveland Sports Park, skate at Mehaffey Park or just enjoy playground and picnic time at any parks including Dwayne Webster Veterans Park. Bring your picnic near the Big Thompson River at Fairgrounds Park for a scenic view then splash in the water at Fairgrounds Park.
SPY SCULPTURE: Join the Loveland Museum’s Explorers Club and go on an I Spy Scavenger Hunt at Benson Sculpture Garden. Download from lovelandmuseumgallery.org/explorers-club, complete and share your creations on social media#lovelandmuseumkids. Don’t miss the new Animal Safari adventures available and find the sheep.
SPLISH SPLASH: No beach bums here – just fun in the pool and on the lake. Float down the lazy river at the Chilson Recreation Center, hit the waterslide at Winona Pool, feed the geese at North Lake Park or swim at Boyd or Carter Lake.
SAY ‘HAY’ AT SYLVAN DALE: Join a wagon sing-along or hayride. Go horseback riding or have fun on a horse lead around ride. End the day with s’mores and Cowboy Campfire songs – all when you stay for a western adventure. Don’t miss sunsets from Eagles Ridge or the campfire area.
TRAVEL TO NEW WORLDS: Explore Zimbabwe and get some fresh area and playtime outdoors. Chapungu Sculpture Park is a 26-acre natural area with 82 sculptures and open space to enjoy as a family. Kids love climbing the hill near the stage. Find it in The Children section of the park.
Loveland Water Resources
From lakes to rivers – Loveland is a water wonderland with activities for the entire family. Here are five ways to make the most out of Loveland’s beautiful weather and water from April – October.
A water-sports haven for northern Colorado, the family-oriented 1,700-acre lake and park has fishing, boating, jet skiing, kayaking, paddleboarding and a swim beach. The lake lies at the eastern-most edge with views of the Rocky Mountains and offers 148 campsites. Rentals available at the marina.
This beautiful 1,100-acre reservoir is surrounded by 1,000 acres of public lands. It’s a great place for fishing, sailing, water skiing, camping, picnicking, swimming, scuba diving, and rock climbing. Rentals available at the marina.
River’s Edge Natural Area:
The 163-acre natural area located near downtown is a great fishing spot with five ponds and numerous fishing access points. Plan a great family fishing day with Rocky Mountain views.
Free swimming happens on Lake Loveland Swim Beach from Memorial Day through Labor Day (depending on staffing and water levels). Access it near North Lake Park. Stop by the South Shore (right off U.S. 34) for a nice easy walk and shoreline fishing.
Big Thompson River:
The Thompson River flows from Rocky Mountain National Park to Loveland. The river is a known fishing spot to catch trout. Catch and release fishing is found in the canyon, or head to a spot closer to town. Local tip: Head to Fairgrounds Park.
- Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site – Currently the park’s parking lot, restrooms and hiking trails are open to the public. Access into the reconstructed fur trading post will begin on Friday, May 22 with some restrictions. No guided tours are available at this time. The site is open from 9 am to 4 pm daily. nps.gov/beol
- Boggsville Historic Site – The 39-acre National Register Historic District is currently open to visitors Tuesday through Saturday from 11 am to 4 pm. bentcountyheritage.org/boggsville
- Comanche National Grassland – Parking areas, trails and trailheads are open. Dispersed camping (in areas with no facilities) is allowed, along with hiking. Developed sites, including restrooms, remain closed. Fire restrictions are in place (no open fires allowed). Reopening of developed facilities will begin on May 31. Guided Picketwire Canyon auto tours for May and June have been canceled. Fall tours (Sept. and Oct.) are still planned to take place. fs.usda.gov/psicc
- John Martin Reservoir State Park – Fishing and boating are available. The campground is now open by reservation only. Make reservations at cpwshop.com. As camping becomes available, playgrounds, picnic areas, showers, swim beaches, group areas, and yurts and cabins at Colorado’s state parks remain closed until further notice. Colorado Parks and Wildlife visitor centers, service centers and offices are also continuing to restrict access to the public. Restrictions and closures remain subject to change. www.cpw.state.co.us
- Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site – The site of the 1864 Massacre is open to the public Thursday through Monday from 9 am to 4 pm. The park is closed Tuesday and Wednesday. Based on national and local guidance for the Covid-19 outbreak, the Sand Creek Visitor Center and Park Store are closed. All trails and Monument Hill are open during regular park hours. nps.gov/sand
- State Wildlife Areas – Two Buttes, Queens and other state wildlife areas in the region are open for boating, fishing, camping, and other recreational activities as regulations allow. Colorado Parks and Wildlife reminds anglers, hunters, and all other outdoor recreationists that it is your responsibility to research and understand the specific guidance, ordinances and restrictions in place for any planned local recreation – know before you go. cpw.state.co.us
- Lodging and commercial camping is available throughout southeast Colorado area and many restaurants offer take-out, delivery, or drive-through service. It is best to call ahead for reservations to make sure rooms or campsites are available. Under the Colorado Safer-at-Home orders, area museums remain closed at this time. Please consult and follow local guidelines regarding Covid-19 during your visit.
SPANISH PEAKS COUNTRY
Spanish Peaks Country is gorgeous with lush landscapes and geological features unlike anywhere in Colorado. Kids love Walsenburg Wild Waters, a local water park that lacks large crowds and high-priced entry fees. Nearby Lathrop State Park—Colorado’s first state park—offers swimming, boating, and trails for hiking. Head into La Veta and explore an art enclave filled with galleries. Drive a little further south and you’re in Cuchara, a relatively unknown mountain getaway that’s gaining popularity thanks to Cuchara Mountain Park, an abandoned ski resort that’s now a haven for non-motorized outdoor recreation. Throughout your stay, entertain the kids with the Highway of Legends Audio Tour, which tells the history and geological significance of the places you pass. Learn more about Spanish Peaks Country.
WET MOUNTAIN VALLEY
The Wet Mountain Valley in south-central Colorado is famous for its stellar stargazing opportunities. Its two towns—Westcliffe and Silver Cliff—were the state’s first International Dark-Sky Association Designated Community, and right downtown in Bluff Park is the Smokey Jack Observatory, which is open to the public. Teach your kiddos about the stars and have them see the sky as it was before light pollution became the norm. Once a month, local non-profit Dark Skies of the Wet Mountain Valley, hosts public star parties, where experts are on hand to teach about the evening’s special night sky occurrence. Want an extra special experience? Take an Amish hayride at night to see the stars and feel as though you’ve traveled through time.
The Wet Mountain Valley is also special because dozens of conservation easements have preserved its large ranches, making it feel as though you have stepped into Colorado 100 years ago. Get to know the ranch life more intimately with a horseback ride. Multiple horseback riding outfitters line the valley and have instituted safety measures to ensure you stay well.
LEADVILLE & TWIN LAKES
Leadville Colorado & Southern Railroad: Adventure, relaxation and sightseeing cannot be topped when riding in the Rocky Mountains on board the Leadville Colorado & Southern Railroad. This 2 and 1⁄2 hour adventure through the untamed wilderness of the San Isabel National Forest offers breath-taking panoramas of Fremont Pass and the two tallest peaks in Colorado, Mt. Massive and Mt. Elbert. Family and friends of all ages have a chance to engage in learning about the history of Leadville and railroads, ghost stories, and tales of the wild.
The Leadville Colorado & Southern Railroad (“Leadville Train”) will open to the public on June 1, Capacity will be limited to 17 people per car, allowing for approximately 125 people on board at any time (compared to 350 people pre-COVID). The limited capacity will help enforce social distancing between patrons and employees. The Leadville Train’s entire COVID-19 Plan for the railroad that serves as a complete guide for COVID-19 operational practices is available upon request. This plan has been accepted by Lake County’s Health Department.
National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum
The National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum (NMHFM) just announced the reopening of the Matchless Mine and Baby Doe’s Cabin for tours of surface structures starting May 23, 2020. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this site was purchased in 1879 by Silver King H.A.W. Tabor. The Matchless Mine was one of the richest silver mines of the era, with production rates surpassing the Comstock Lode of Nevada. With the extraordinary wealth they accumulated, Tabor and his mistress-turned-wife, Elizabeth “Baby Doe” Tabor, lived in high style. Tours led by experienced and enthusiastic guides visit Baby Doe’s cabin, the powder magazine, the hoist house, and the headframe.
Top of the Rockies Zipline
Top of the Rockies Zip Line is the only zip line in the world to fly over a train and Colorado’s only true backcountry zip line. You’ll jump from an elevation of 11,200′. Imagine the view! The Big Nugget Zip is a thrill, as you fly three across on triple cables. For the grand finale, land on the sky tower, 100′ above the ground. You’ll see a spectacular panorama of Mt. Elbert and Mt. Massive, the two tallest peaks in Colorado. Visit LeadvilleTwinLakes.com for more information on the area.
Other Great Resources:
Where to pull of I-70 when you’re stuck in traffic (fun activities and restaurants)