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Colorado’s Top 20 Family Vacation Ideas for 2014

If there’s anything we love at Mile High Mamas, it is family travel. Living in Colorado, you don’t need to go far to experience world-class destinations in our own backyard. We have rounded up 20 of our top family vacation ideas for spending summer 2014 in Colorado.

-Amber Johnson and Julie Bielenberg

aspenAspen/Snowmass

It may be summertime but Snowmass has returned to the Ice Age with the Snowmass Ice Age Discovery Center that features the most significant Ice Age ecosystem find in Colorado history (and it’s free). Touch a mastodon tooth, marvel at a half-sized 6-foot Wooden Mammoth Skeleton, do a dig of your own or a daily hike. Visit the Snowmass Rodeo on Wednesday nights (June 11- August 20) and sign your kids up for the Calf Scramble and Mutton Busting. Every Thursday (June 19-Aug. 14), 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 up Snowmass Mountain where the Elk Camp Restaurant has activities including downhill biking, dinner, campfires, live music, movies, a Stryder Park and a kid’s playground on Friday evenings. Try your hand at some slopeside bowling at Slopeside Lanes that 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. Then get inspired at the Anderson Ranch Arts Center, a stellar place for kids of all ages to take workshops in sculpture, photography, painting, beading and mask-making. (AJ)

Pearl Street. Photo: Gordon Stach/Boulder CVB

Pearl Street. Photo: Gordon Stach/Boulder CVB

Boulder

Just a hop, skip and a jump away from Denver, Boulder is surrounded by a greenbelt of city trails and open spaces. Chautauqua, a National Historic Landmark, is our favorite stomping ground with charming rental cottages, 48 miles of hiking trails, a dining hall with the best patio dining around and thousands of acres of natural lands. The Ranger Cottage at the Chautauqua trailhead offers free guided hikes or for something new, Theater-Hikes Colorado will be performing “Alice in Wonderland” while you hike. If biking is more your speed, cruise the shady 7-mile Boulder Creek Path that runs through the center of town. On Saturdays, we love to explore the Boulder’s Farmer’s Market for eclectic and delicious offerings. Not to be forgotten are Pearl Street Mall’s restaurants, shops, people-watching, the Pop Jet Fountain (between 13th and 14th Streets), the climbable animal structures (between 15th and 14th Streets) and the rock garden play area (between 13th and Broadway). The newly-renovated Fiske Planetarium, the largest planetarium west of the Mississippi, is now one of the most sophisticated planetariums and multimedia centers in the world with a cool laser light show. Take a free tour at Celestial Seasonings or the National Center for Atmospheric Research where a new exhibit teaches kids about the ingredients of weather while they play with clouds, make a tornado and steer a hurricane. (AJ)

breckenridgeBreckenridge

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. The Kingdom Days/Outhouse Races June 14-15 are a must. It’s not every day that the star attractions are Outhouse Races, old-fashioned games like potato sack races, magicians, blacksmithing demos, gold panning and historic hikes.

Wind Walker Challenge

Wind Walker Challenge

Colorado Springs

Colorado Springs may be only an hour south of Denver but it feels like a world away. We love local staples like hiking Garden of the Gods, the Pike’s Peak Cog Railway that climbs to 14,114 feet, tours of the U.S. Olympic Training Center, exploring the fascinating Manitou Cliff Dwellings and Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s newish $13.5 million exhibit Encounter Africa. For a thrill, check out the Cave of the Winds’ new “Terror-Dactyl” zipline and the Wind Walker Challenge Ropes Course that is located on the rim of a 600-foot drop into Williams Canyon.  Colorado Wolf Adventures offers 1-hour educational programs with their ambassador wolf or you can actually go for a walk with a wolf!  It’s Christmas all summer long at Santa’s Workshop, a 25-acre theme park built on the slopes of Pikes Peak. Or venture out to the 4,400 square-foot Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument’s visitor’s center with exceptionally preserved fossils and interactive exhibits. Following Colorado Springs’ devastating floods, the Royal Gorge Bridge has plans to reopen their brand new park late this summer or early fall. Popular attraction Seven Falls was recently purchased by The Broadmoor but sustained significant flood damage and will reopen in 2015. (AJ)

View from Snodgrass mountain

View from Snodgrass mountain

Crested Butte

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 five-week-long Crested Butte Music Festival (with the free Divine Family Young People’s Concerts on select Saturdays) and the Wildflower Festival (kicking off July 7) 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. (AJ)

Denver

Denver Museum of Nature & Science's new Maya exhibit

Denver Museum of Nature & Science’s new Maya exhibit

Whether you’re from out-of town or staycationing, the Mile High City is fabulously kid-friendly for summer! If you love museums, the already impressive Denver Museum of Nature & Science added 126,000 square feet and five levels of discovery including the new exhibit Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed. Travel around the globe in the Wildlife Experience’s 3-D exhibit that features animal animatronics and eight different habitats or if you want the real thing, you’ll love the Denver Zoo’s 80-acre facility with Toyota Elephant Passage as its crown jewel. The Children’s Museum of Denver’s interactive playscapes are great for kids under 10 and next door, the Downtown Aquarium houses over 500 species of animals. Outside of the Children’s Museum and Aquarium you’ll find the multi-use Platte River Trail that is perfect for biking or stroller walks. Hitch a ride on the Platte River Trolley that runs Friday-Sunday along the South Platte Greenway, being sure to stop at Confluence Park to watch the kayakers and get your own feet wet. Cool down at nearby Little Man Ice Cream, Denver’s iconic shop in the shape of twenty-eight foot tall, 14,000 lb. cream can. Red Rocks is not only a world-famous concert venue but also boasts fantastic views, a visitor’s center and trading post, not to mention classic films at Film on the Rocks. Find out where kids eat free any day of the week and don’t miss our Denver summer activity guide with 100+ suggestions.

durangoDurango

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 Gage 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 Durango Mountain 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. (JB)

Estes Park

YMCA of the Rockies' Craft Center

YMCA of the Rockies’ Craft Center

The iconic entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park needs some extra love and attention this summer. Hit hard by Mother Nature in 2013, this resort town is ready for the visitors! We were up in early November last year and had a blast! You go to Estes to visit The Park, and it never disappoints. Bear Lake Road is a brand new road, was never impacted by the flood and it leads to great family hikes including Sprague Lake, Bear Lake and Nymph Lake. Regardless of your destination in the Park, the wildlife abounds and brings laughter to all generations. Downtown has your quintessential tourist candy and ice cream shops, boutiques and burger joints, but speckled in there are goodies like the Estes Park Brewery, Snowy Peak Winery (that has a juice tasting area for children), Mary Jane Boutique (fabulous home decor and lifestyle store), Ed’s Cantina and many more. Miniature Golf, the classic and affordable, Tiny Town is a throw back to yesteryear, including prices. For a more supped miniature golf experience head down the road to Fun City, it includes the giant Rainbow Slide, bumper boats, trampolines and more. The Bielenbergs hit up the YMCA of the Rockies and this place is Disneyland in the wilderness. You name it, they got it from swimming, horse back riding, roller skating, arts and crafts studio (it’s huge!), rock climbing, zip lines and DAYCAMP for children while adults go play, there is everything. The teenagers even came and played BINGO with my little ones, it was darling. There are over 250 cabins with multiple bedrooms, lodge rooms and multi-family lodges. This resort is over 860 acres, so you cannot even pack everything in during one trip, especially since you can hike right into the park from the property. There is a real adventure element, especially for the older children in Estes Park as well: The Open Air Adventure Park, Off-Road Tours with Green Jeep Tours or Rocky Mountain Rush, guided fly-fishing and classes and adventures and classes through the Rocky Mountain Nature Conservancy.

fortcollinsFort Collins

Fort Fun or Choice City, whatever you want to call it, Fort Collins is the perfect urban getaway for Denverites. Just an hour jaunt up I-25 and you are in an agricultural, bicycling, beer-brewing, coffee-grinding, farm-to-table wonderland. Visit the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery and don’t miss out on the Tornado Tunnel, it’s a kid and adult favorite. More kid fun includes wandering through the Gardens at Spring Creek loaded with kid’s activities. Certainly book a trip on the Magic School Bus offering up kid tours, farm tours and history tours, all around the city and even Horsetooth Reservoir. Want to do a brewery tour with kids, head to the third largest craft brewery in the nation, New Belgium. Stick through the entertaining 90-minute tour and take your turn down the slide. This brew tour is loaded with strollers and families. Stroll down Main Street (College Avenue) near the CSU Campus and take in the coed culture and the blooms at the Annual Trial Garden. The Farm at Lee Martinez Park is an agricultural oasis smack dab in town. And, to top off any day, had to The Colorado Room for some of my favorite local eats in town, may I recommend the bison poutine? My daughter LOVED it! (JB)

glenwoodcavernsGlenwood Springs

Take the world’s largest outdoor mineral hot springs pool (Glenwood Hot Springs), add an adventure park built on top of a mountain (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. 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. For fun without fainting, try the zipline, alpine coaster, laser tag, Music on the Mountain’s free concert series and the Historic Fairy Caves tour.  Local rafting companies annually guide thousands of visitors down the Colorado and Roaring Fork Rivers through rapids with names like Upper Superstition and Tombstone (consider yourselves warned). Even if you’re not a kayaker, you’ll love watching the the daredevils at the Glenwood Whitewater Activity Area or have your own adventure by renting a Segway and glide through downtown Glenwood Springs, up Red Mountain or along the river trails.  Head outside of town 7 miles to Hike the short, steep mile-long trail to Hanging Lake, a crystal-clear, turquoise blue lake. Grab your bikes and take the paved Rio Grande Trail, which winds along the Roaring Fork River from Glenwood to Aspen. (AJ)

fruitaGrand Junction / Fruita  

The Western Slope town of Grand Junction has truly transformed itself in recent years. The Grand Valley, surrounded by three very distinct mountain ranges: The Book Cliffs, Grand Mesa and Colorado Plateau, is bustling with young families. Kids might love the Main Street splash pad in downtown best. The never-ending water spout entertainment gathers tourists and locals alike. The Bielenbergs went bananas at Bananas Fun Park (go carts, bumper boats, arcade games, etc) what a gem so close to the downtown. The Thursday evening farmers market throughout summer is a great way to sample the Western Slope culture, eat, dance and relax. Just a few miles down the road from Grand Junction is Fruita, home of the Colorado National Monument, an over 100-year-old designated region for families, bikers, local and even international tourists to view and experience some of the Western United States’ most remarkable sites such as Independence Monument or Balanced Rock. Head to downtown Fruita for a quaint downtown and lovely food and beverage options. The Dinosaur Journey Museum is also tucked off Highway 340, right off of Interstate 70, and is a small, yet, immensely important dinosaur museum with an interactive collection known throughout the world as well. And, new to Fruita is the Children’s Nature Center. (JB)

Leadville's Mineral Trail

Leadville’s Mineral Trail

Leadville

This funky historic town 100 miles west of Denver is surrounded by high-alpine forests, glacial lakes and boasts a backdrop of the Sawatch and Mosquito ranges including 14,440-foot Mount Elbert, Colorado’s highest peak. Camping, hiking and mountain biking are king, as are several unique activities such as free tour of the Leadville National Fish Hatchery where kids can feed the fish and do 1-mile Evergreen Trail with educational signs and access to the Colorado Trail. If your family loves trains, the Leadville, Colorado & Southern Railroad’s 2.5-hour ride is not only scenic but chock-full of historical gems. Speaking of scenery (it’s tough not to in Leadville), Interlaken Boat Tours were introduced last summer at Twin Lakes. Be sure to bring your bikes and cruise on the paved 11.6-mile Mineral Belt Trail that loops Leadville through aspen groves and wildflower meadows or drive serpentine Independence Pass with oodles of hiking options and a ghost town on the Aspen side. Reward your efforts with Leadville’s Cookies with Altitude with fresh cookies, breads, fudge, sandwiches, soups, breakfasts and whoopee pies.

tellurideOuray / Telluride

It’s going to take most of you mamas a good drive to get to either of these destinations, but this is for superb reason, Ouray and Telluride are noted as some of the most beautiful mountain towns in Colorado, and quite honestly, all of America. The remote mountain hamlets are surrounded by the massive San Juan Mountain Range. In Telluride, ride up and down one of the only free gondolas in America connecting downtown to Mountain Village. In downtown walk the streets made famous by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Head to nearby Bridal Falls for views and history. There isn’t anything in or around Telluride that isn’t beautiful or secluded.

Just an hour or so drive from Telluride is the town of Ouray, loaded with hot springs, so take your pick, many are even offered at hotels and motels in town. Ouray Hot Springs is the most popular choice. Ouray is also world famous for it’s climbing, both summer and winter. Take it a bit easier with the wee ones and visit Box Canyon Falls. It’s an easy boulder hike with water and you can always go further up the rocks. Stroll down the idyllic downtown and stop in one of my favorite kitchen stores, Khristopher’s Culinare, it’s perfect for finding the unique gifts for foodies. We in Ouray for the 4th of July, and it’s memorable. The town parade, BBQ, water fight and late-night Torch Light Parade (lighted Jeep parade descending from Red Mountain Pass) certainly takes advantage of the surroundings for an all-American holiday. (JB)

palisadePalisade

Palisade is just East of Grand Junction and is the true sweet fruit capitol of Colorado. You take your family here for one reason, to experience orchards and groves of produce that is rare for many in and around the metro area. First up, the famous peaches. Those orchards offering tours are Aloha Organic Fruit, High Country Orchards, Clark Family Orchard (who does a tour with a wagon and team of horses), Kokopelli (who does a tour on their hoopie) for an up close and personal view of the fruits. Second up, visit multiple other producers for grapes, pears, apples, apricots, cherries and plums. Next, visit my personal favorite, SunCrest Orchard Alpacas and say hello to some of my favorite furry, quiet, and sincere creatures on this planet. I even wrote a MHM blog on about this farm and why these darling buddies would make great husbands back in 2010. The Fruit and Wine Byway intersects through Palisade and is a must for every generation. The highway winds by over 20 farms, and just take your pick (literally!), you can’t go wrong. (JB)

riverwalkpuebloPueblo

The last “bigger” town South on I-25 before New Mexico is Pueblo. The Historic Arkansas Riverwalk offers shops, restaurants loads of . . . surprise, history! Try and plan a trip to Pueblo to coincide with one of their many festivals: Loaf ‘N Jug Presents Boats, Bands & BBQ, Bands In The Backyard, 30th Annual NSRA Rocky Mountain Street Rod Nationals Plus, Rollin’ On The Riverwalk, National Little Britches Rodeo Finals and the grand daddy of them all, the Colorado State Fair. Lake Pueblo State Park is one of the state’s most visited parks with 60 miles of shoreline for lots of “beach” family time.  Endless water recreation awaits all including sailing, motor boating, waterskiing, river tubing and prime fishing. And, if animals are on the mind, located in City Park is the Pueblo Zoo, home to more than 140 species of animals! Kids really clamber for the shipwreck journey in the Islands of Life building. For evening, try the City Park Rides for only 25 cents. Established in 1904, every ride ion this carousel is specifically tailored toward younger children. (JB)

Captain Zipline Aerial Adventure Park

Captain Zipline Aerial Adventure Park

Salida / Buena Vista

Salida is one of my favorite “destination” towns in Colorado for many reasons—the non-tourist appeal, the home of the Sawatch Mountain Range that contains 15 14ers (14,000-foot peaks), the great restaurants and secretly, the shopping. Only 12 blocks in from Highway 50, is historic downtown Salida. This charming, recently designated, creative district is only 3-4 blocks in length, but it’s packed with some of the best boutiques, shops, eateries and artist-owned galleries in Colorado, and a riverfront that makes many other mountain towns jealous. Salida also ranks as one of Colorado’s best beach towns. There is a whitewater park downtown, on the Arkansas River and a great spot to put your feet in and let the kiddos splash around. My kids’ favorite entertainment was the fetching dogs and the kayakers, SUPers and white water rafters going by—it provided MORE than a couple hours of entertainment. If you’re a thrill-seeker, Captain Zipline Aerial Adventure Park is an interconnected network of 120 different combinations of swinging bridges, catwalks, ladders, platforms, nets, rope and cable swings, obstacles and flying elements. Mount Princeton Hot Springs, a full service resort just 15 minutes north of Salida, is one of the most popular attractions to Chaffee County with constant additions, lots of lodging, oodles of pools and springs, a brand new spa and our favorite hot springs directly in the river.

Chaffee County also houses Buena Vista, which is about 20 minutes North of Salida off 285. The town has its own White Water Park on South Main and a charming downtown from yesteryear; however, this new park is part of South Main’s new urban development. A new hotel is also on tap so check back. For big mountain biking families, attempt the world famous Monarch Crest Trail. Buena Vista has less tourists than almost any other place on this list and also access to Crested Butte via the popular summer-only Cottonwood Pass. For big mountain biking families, attempt the world famous Monarch Crest Trail via shuttle from Poncha Springs.  Both Buena Vista and Salida have mountain bike trails adjacent to their downtowns and many other great trails within minutes of town. Friendly bike shops in both towns can direct you to the trails that are perfect for all abilities.  (JB)

Tubing the Yampa River

Tubing the Yampa River

Steamboat Springs

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 4-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. If you love hot air balloons, pilots let spectators help inflate the balloons at the Hot Air Balloon Rodeo July 11 and 12. 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. (AJ)

grandlakeWinter Park/Granby/Grand Lake

Aptly named, Grand County is, indeed grand. Located about 65 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 a 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 (opening July 15). -AJ

-Amber Johnson and Julie Bielenberg

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Do you want to have even more fun? Check-out these 2014 Colorado Summer Escapes!

Silvershield/Oak Creek trail. Photo: Ouray Chamber

Silvershield/Oak Creek trail. Photo: Ouray Chamber

RAFT: Cache La Poudre offers easy day or weekend opportunities

HIKE: Ouray’s 60 trails means something for everyone

FISH: Arkansas River has Gold Medal status, plenty of trout

BOAT: Grand Lake a grand getaway for water sports fans

BIKE: Grand Mesa’s Mesa Top and Flowing Park Loop trails

WRANGLE: Back on the ranch, summer is for dudes

SPA: Breckenridge home to top massage treatments

Top Five Memorable Reasons to Spend Spring Break in Steamboat Springs

Once upon a time when I was a Utah-based travel writer, I fell in love with a foreign land of steaming hot springs, world-class mountains, a charming rodeo and 7 miles of multi-use paved trails that wind through downtown along the roaring Yampa River.

That was summer in Steamboat Springs and though I’ve lived in Colorado for 10 years, I had yet to visit during the winter. We finally made it happen this week during Spring Break.

Five Great Reasons to Spend Spring Break in Steamboat Springs

5) Hot springs.

Old Town Hot Springs

Old Town Hot Springs

Steamboat isn’t Steamboat without soaking in one of their two natural springs. Strawberry Park Hot Springs’s stone-walled pools 9 miles north of town are in an idyllic forest range and water temperatures range from 102 to 104 degrees. But be warned: clothing is optional after dark.

On our recent visit, we had a grand time at the more family-friendly Old Town Hot Springs with their eight hot spring-fed pools, a 25-yard lap pool, a fitness center, exercise classes and massage services. A huge hit was the climbing wall where attempt after attempt was made to climb to the top, ring the bell and jump back into the water. There are two 230-foot water slides for kids over 44 inches that are open seasonally (winter and summer). I screamed in trepidation the whole way down while both my kids laughed, which means the slides are actually really fun for those who don’t need a pacemaker.

4) Horseback riding with Del’s Triangle 3 Ranch.

Steamboat Springs is renowned for its Western charm so we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go horseback riding with one of Colorado’s oldest licensed outfitters, Del’s Triangle 3 Ranch, which offers hourly horseback rides (kids need to be at least 6 years old) and summer pack trips. The half-hour shuttle ride from town to their 6,000-acre ranch in the Elk River Valley was my favorite part of the trek as fourth generation Steamboat native, Olympian and cowboy Ray Heid delighted us with stories of his family’s colorful history in the valley.

horsebackThere are around 40 horses housed at the ranch. My husband rode Kirby, Bode teamed up with Music, I was on Boots, while Hadley rode Bode, which made my son humorously uncomfortable to think of his sister riding his namesake. For our winter horseback ride, we wore our ski clothing but turned out we didn’t need them. Though the snow sparkled around us, the spring temperatures were toasty as we rode through the aspen forest with staggering views of Hahn’s Peak and the knees of the Sleeping Giant (a.k.a. Elk Mountain) bowing before us.

There were moments of excitement. When Bode’s horse lagged behind, Music kicked it into gear with a full-fledged canter. “Was it totally fun?” I asked overly-cautious Bode. “Not really,” he dryly retorted (read: understatement). Later in the ride, another horse bit my horse Boots’ behind, to which he responded with a swift kick to the horse’s face, freaking out Jamie’s ride. Lesson learned: don’t nip my butt. Kissing is just fine.

3) Steamboat Sleigh Ride Dinner at the Haymaker Golf Course

Put this one on your bucket list for next year because the final day of Steamboat’s Sleigh Ride Dinner is March 29, 2014 and the 8 km of cross-country ski and skate tracks and 3 km of snowshoe trails will close April 1.

sleighI’ve been to a few sleigh ride dinners and usually the drill is to ride to dinner in the sleigh, eat and return. However, we took a shuttle bus from the Steamboat Grand to the Haymaker, warmed up with hot beverages and appetizers (I’m still salivating over the fried artichokes) and placed our dinner order. We then journeyed back in time as we snuggled up under a blanket in our 20-person sled as a pair of draft horses kicked up plumes of snow while they pranced through the Yampa Valley’s dazzling white dreamscape.

Upon our return, a gourmet three-course dinner was promptly served and the lineup included choices like a sultry roasted red pepper and tomato soup, beef tenderloin (my daughter’s “most favorite steak ever”), Macadamia nut crusted halibut and warm molten chocolate lava cake with raspberry sauce. While my kids played cards by the fire, my husband and I watched the sunset, wishing this Frozen evening could last forever. Just call me Elsa.

2) The others.

Photo: Howelsen Ice Arena

Photo: Howelsen Ice Arena

There so many things to do in Steamboat Springs that we couldn’t fit everything into our two-day visit. An absolute must is F.M. Light & Sons. If City Slickers want a real pair of cowboy boots, this is the place to find ‘em with literally hundreds of choices, as well as stylish western wear and novelties the kids will love. Be sure to pop into Lyon Drug & Soda Fountain next door for awesome gifts, cards, lotions, potions and spring for an old-fashioned soda. Another local’s favorite is Freshies Restaurant. Their breakfasts are legendary but this time we did lunch, which was equally delicious. Dear Freshies’ specialty salads, sandwiches and onion rings: I’ll be back.

Bucket list: Bump-n-Skate. Bumper cars on ice? You betcha! These bumper cars have four tiny wheels and are propelled by a small motor with hand controls that will have you bumping, sliding and laughing at Howelsen Ice Arena. Be sure to check their website for their bumper cars on ice schedule as well as public skate sessions.

1) Steamboat Springs, The Mountain.

skiingThe thing that keeps everyone coming back is Steamboat Springs’ 2,965-acres of champagne-powder bliss. Steamboat is actually a complete mountain range: Mount Werner, Sunshine Peak, Storm Peak, Thunderhead Peak, Pioneer Ridge and Christie Peak. Despite the vastness of the terrain, what I loved most about Steamboat was they have only one base area, making it easy to navigate.

When we dropped the kids off at ski school, they were each outfitted with a Flaik GPS device and we were later able to track their whereabouts. Jamie and I took a private lesson with 27-year Steamboat veteran Dave Hartley who did a phenomenal job teaching us the secret to skiing (ski uphill fast), had a gray jay eating out of my hand (literally), and pushed us to our limits by having me conquer my worst nemesis: trees (his advice was don’t ski the trees, ski the open space!)

At the end of an exhilarating day, we picked up Hadley and Bode. Hadley was thrilled to graduate to a Level 6 skier with Bode hot on her trail for next season. We skied as a family until last chair and they were eager to show off their refined skills. We hit one of Steamboat’s four terrain parks, Lil’ Rodeo Terrain Park, which is more challenging than it sounds with small boxes, jumps and a mini half pipe.

familyMy kids loved the mini-half pipe (or rather, a quarter pipe a.k.a. a half-pipe for wussies). My first time through the terrain park, I inadvertently caught about three feet of air on a jump, swore, somehow landed on my feet and regrouped.

I later concluded that learning to fly at Steamboat Springs wasn’t so bad after all.

Steamboat Springs closes on April 13, 2014 with plenty of fun events in the line-up including the 34th Annual Cardboard Classic, where costumes and themes go a lot further than engineering and craftsmanship for these corrugated creations. On closing day, the Splashdown Pond Skim tests the mettle of those who dare brave the freezing water at the base of the mountain. Thanks to Steamboat for hosting!