Frisco, Colorado: The ultimate summer playground for families
posted by: Amber Johnson
As we strolled down the Frisco Pedestrian Promenade, I paused to take it all in: Exuberant flowers in a riot of colors spilled out of planters, globe lights twinkled against the alpenglow evening as live music crooned down the street against a backdrop of enthusiastic chatter from the al-fresco diners.
Once an afterthought to its more famous mountain town counterparts, Frisco boasts a laid-back mountain vibe coupled with a vibrant Main Street and world-class outdoor recreation. The glorious Tenmile Range. The Frisco Bay Marina, one of the world’s highest deep-water marinas. The foodie finds (scroll down for my recommendations). The Frisco Adventure Park with frisbee golf and a full bike park in the summer and epic snowshoeing and sledding in the winter.
Frisco is at the heart of many of our favorite Johnson Family Memories. The Frisco BBQ Challenge over Father’s Day weekend. Taking bite-sized chunks out of the 55 miles of recreational paths that wind through Summit County. Frisco to Breckenridge. And to Copper Mountain. Oh, and don’t forget that time we biked around Dillon Reservoir across the Dillon Dam, past Silverthorne to the Dillon Farmer’s Market and kept going all the way up to Keystone.
Frisco is ripe for exploration–while still remaining calmer and more affordable than its resort counterparts–and that is why this Colorado mountain town just 70 miles from Denver is one of our favorite family staycations.
Frisco Pedestrian Promenade
There were many COVID casualties in Colorado but the Frisco Pedestrian Promenade is one of my favorite success stories. In order to facilitate social distancing, the Town of Frisco turned three blocks of Frisco Main Street from 2nd Avenue to 5th Avenue into a pedestrian and bike-only area for open-air dining and shopping. They also introduced parklets, which allow businesses to spread their operations onto parking spaces that provide comfortable spaces off of the pavement for Main Street guests during warm-weather months.
Main Street is the heartbeat of the town so we returned several times to stroll the Promenade and explore the collection of restaurants, tourist shops and clothing boutiques. Parking was plentiful and free on the side streets (a welcome relief after paying $35 at a nearby resort’s village parking). By day, we posed for pictures on the mural at 3rd and Main Street (where the street is literally your canvas), indulged in I Scream Gelato’s panna cotta gelato served in bubble waffles, shot a few basketball hoops and took a few swings on the [extra] miniature golf range. When we returned for dinner at Uptown on Main, we chatted it up on the locals while indulging in a locally sourced seasonal menu, followed by a leisurely stroll down the promenade at dusk, the barrel lighting illuminating our path.
Frisco is the Recreational Biking Capital of Colorado
There are hundreds of miles of backcountry mountain biking routes in Summit County but when my family comes to Frisco, we prefer to explore the Summit County Recreational Pathway.
We rented hybrid bikes from Rebel Sports at 3rd and Main Street with easy access to the area’s extensive trail system. The outfitter has been a family-owned business in Summit County for over 25 years with a great variety of rental options for road biking, mountain biking and fat-tire winter biking (and, of course, ski rentals in winter). I highly recommend Rebel Sports for ease of rental.
I would not, however, recommend my husband for ease of navigation. What we should have done: cruised down Main Street and easily connected with the recreational trail system across the street at the Frisco Marina. What we did: Followed him on a wild goose-chase through a potholed alleyway. Prior to setting out, we reminisced when young Hadley slammed on the brakes near the Marina, sending my husband Jamie flying over the handlebars in an attempt to avoid her. This time, it was my son Bode who crashed when his tire met a pothole it didn’t like.
Once he recovered from his back-alley bashing, we connected to the Frisco Peninsula Trail, winding 12 miles along gleaming Dillon Reservoir toward Old Dillon Road, passing through wetlands and intimate aspen groves. If you’re looking for the perfect family-friendly biking adventure, Frisco’s trail system is the place.
Where to Access Frisco’s Recreational Bike Path:
The Town shares these tips for where to park your car to access the trail system:
- Dillon Dam Road has a number of parking areas for day use close to the Recreation Path.
- The Towns of Frisco and Dillon have parking close to the Recreation Path but both the Frisco Bay Marina and Dillon Marina have parking areas that tend to fill very quickly so please avoid the Marina lots.
- The Towns of Breckenridge and Silverthorne also have parking close to the Recreation Path.
- There is trailhead parking at the Dillon Nature Preserve, Sapphire Point on Swan Mountain Road, intersection of Highway 9 and Swan Mountain Road, and intersection at Highway 6 and Swan Mountain Road.
Pedalboard at Dillon Reservoir
There are few Colorado mountain towns that boast a reservoir as expansive (3,233 surface acres) as Dillon Reservoir. Sadly, we’ve only ever biked around the freshwater reservoir and have never enjoyed its recreational opportunities. The Frisco Bay Marina rents a variety of watercraft including pontoon boats, fishing boats, kayaks, Catalina sailboats and paddleboards, as well as offers sailing and rowing lessons, boat tours and lakeside dining at the Island Grill. No swimming is allowed.
Fun fact: The reservoir is Denver Water’s largest storage facility and construction of the Dam was completed in 1963.
Most of our crew rented Stand-up Paddleboards (SUP), a great option for all ages to stand, sit or kneel. Pedalboards are also new to their repertoire. Not familiar with these Hobie Boards? Following the basic size and design of the traditional SUP, they are like an elliptical on a board with a height-adjustable handlebar, a rudder, pedals for acceleration and a lot more stability than a SUP. Want to turn? What would normally be brakes on the handlebars are actually triggers that control the rudders.
We were excited but unsure of how much physical exertion was involved with the pedalboards so we did what we always do: volunteered Bode to be our test dummy (he was, after all, mostly recovered from his crash the previous day). He seamlessly made the transition to learning how to balance and maneuver the board with just his legs and before long, we were all clamoring to try it. There are several islands to explore on Lake Dillon so armed with a map and smooth waters and those speedy Hobies, we explored the perimeter of this big-blue reservoir hemmed in by the Gore Mountains.
Other Family Favorites in Frisco, Colorado
Frisco Adventure Park: Frisco Adventure Park is full of activities for everyone. In the summer, the park includes biking, disc golf, ball fields, a dual slalam course wagon rides and a day lodge. Explore the newly renovated Frisco Skate Park, which includes 28,000 square-feet of jumps, bumps, bowl pockets, transition areas and more.
Hike to Rainbow Lake: Short and sweet (1.5 miles round-trip), this locals’ favorite trail eventually leads to the Peaks Trail (which goes all the way to Breckenridge if so motivated.) Venture through a wetland on a boardwalk, through aspen trees and lodgepole pines until you arrive at a beaver pond called Rainbow Lake. Go to www.townoffrisco.com/play/hiking/best-scenic-hikes/ for more hiking recommendations. Ever wanted to see an abandoned mining camp? Masontown is most easily accessed from the Rainbow Lake trailhead where you’ll find remnants of structures, mineshaft tailings, red brick foundations, and the occasional artifacts.
Willow Preserve: The preserve is on the northeastern edge of the town’s major commercial area along Tenmile Drive (which parallels CO-9/Summit Boulevard). It is a leisurely stroll with a boardwalk and interpretive signs and staggering views of 14ers Grays and Torrey’s Peaks and north Buffalo Peak. The area is home to a variety of wildlife, including American beavers, red foxes, brown and rainbow trout and western chorus frogs.
Get Cultured. Spend some time meeting some of the town’s most important figures and personalities; the Frisco Historic Park & Museum offers a free and self-guided tour of the town’s storied past as a silver mining town. The entire family will enjoy perusing the detailed exhibits showcasing restored log cabins furnished with antique clothing, furniture and more, while the kids stamp their historic passports in each building. Be sure to venture over to the Gatherhouse, a glass-blowing studio and gallery that offers lessons in transforming 2,000-degree molten glass into beautiful pieces of art. More than a few folks have departed with their own piece of glass art (following some serious cooling). Demonstrations are by appointment.
Foodie Finds in Frisco
Lunch and Dinner
The Uptown on Main. This family-owned and operated 22-year-old restaurant features two incredible patio spaces, Frisco’s only rooftop bar, and a family-friendly menu that includes American cuisine, Mediterranean, Southwestern, Pacific Rim and Traditional offerings like pizza, truffle fries, steak sliders, falafels, southwest chicken egg rolls, oysters on the half shell and more. There is a nationwide staffing shortage in the restaurant industry and during our week-night visit, they were operating with minimal kitchen staff and a condensed menu. Despite these challenges, they still went above-and-beyond to accommodate us which automatically made us frequent diners for life. www.uptownfrisco.com
5th Avenue Grille. We lunched at this neighborhood eatery with fusion cuisine and plenty of vegan and gluten-free options. Do yourself a favor and start with the Bison Empanadas with curried Yukon potatoes, puff pastry and a Chipotle agaze drizzle. While the boys opted for the delicious burgers and wraps, the girls opted for their delicious Udon and shrimp (featured image) and southwest chicken and rice bowls. Whatever your preference, you can’t go wrong at this casual and fun restaurant on Main Street. www.5thavegrille.com
About I Scream Gelato. Two words: Bubble waffles. A passion project inspired by its owners’ childhood nostalgia, I Scream Gelato offers gourmet, handcrafted desserts made with fresh ingredients sourced directly from Italy. Trained by a distinguished Italian gelato artisan, chefs at each location create a variety of flavors from scratch daily, including a rotating selection of unique gelatos from seasonal, alcohol-infused and even vegan flavors (seriously, try the pana cotta). In addition to its gelato selection, the Instagrammable menu also features elaborate milkshakes, smoothies, gelato brioche sandwiches, bubble waffle cones, pancakes and more, including an assortment of espresso beverages and Italian affogatos. The best news? If you can visit their Frisco or Breckenridge locations, they’re now open in Denver’s Lowry neighborhood! iscream-gelato.com
Foote’s Rest Sweet Shoppe. Enjoy a sweet treat at Foote’s Rest Sweet Shoppe. The nostalgic sweet shop features old-fashioned candy in addition to house-made donuts, ice cream and fudge.
Butterhorn Bakery & Café : The Butterhorn Bakery has been a Frisco favorite for breakfast, lunch and dessert for the past 40 years. Everything is baked fresh daily in the bakery. The café offers both full table service and quick counter service.
Bread + Salt: Bread + Salt’s menu features fresh, classic breakfast dishes prepared with a twist; you’ll leave satisfied but not weighed down. Try the butternut squash scramble and vegetable hash with beets and goat cheese. Open until 2 p.m.
Stop by Rocky Mountain Coffee Roasters for your coffee fix, and sink into one of their leather loveseats as you watch the eccentric local clientele caffeinate. The establishment has been roasting their own beans for more than 16 years, and at an elevation of more than 9,000 ft., they’re one of the highest altitude small-batch roasters around.
Where to Stay in Frisco
Looking for family-friendly lodging in Frisco, Colorado? Start and end with Summit Mountain Rentals. This locally-owned and operated full-service vacation rental property management company has everything a family needs for their stay. We loved that choices ranged from small to luxury homes that accommodate 20+ people at all different price points. They have kid-friendly properties, dog-friendy and you can even book activities through them so Summit Mountain Rentals is a one-stop-shop.
We stayed in a generously-sized condo with penthouse views of Dillon Reservoir. On our final morning, I left my slumbering teens to explore the adjacent rec path. Shortly after I began my explorations, I ditched the paved trail and followed a hiking trail that skirted along the water’s edge past Giberson Bay Fishing Point and Heaton Bay Campground. Frisco was still asleep as I wound through the forested shoreline, the smoke in Colorado’s air turning the sky mystifying pink. Then orange.
I sat mesmerized at this laid-back town that, with its mountains, lake, and family fun, showcases the best that Colorado has to offer.