Like many people, we’re watching our dollars this year, so our family vacation this summer is going to be a family staycation in our Colorado backyard. After some intensive research, I drafted up an itinerary for my family’s staycation Tour de Colorado this summer.
We will visit Colorado’s Best-kept Secret, Best Splurge, Best Mountain Festival, Best Mountain Community, Best Dude Ranch, Best Camping and Best Front-range Destination.
BEST-KEPT SECRET: Chautauqua in Boulder
I stumbled upon Boulder, Colorado, an outdoorsy city just 25 miles from Denver, when I hiked Chautauqua’s Enchanted-Mesa Trail with some friends. It was then that my love affair with Chautauqua’s 48 miles of verdant trails began.Epic Summer Deal
One more Colorado family travel tip:
Vail Resorts has put together Epic Summer, an all-inclusive package with some of the best Colorado has to offer. Scenic gondola rides at Keystone and Vail. Whitewater rafting in the Rockies. Horseback riding in Beaver Creek. Panning for gold in Breckenridge.
There are four-day/three-night and seven-day/six-night packages available. All accommodations, transportation and meals are included with a mix of picnics, cowboy dinners, restaurants and BBQs. The best part is you will have a personal guide so you don’t need to plan a thing.
This National Historic Landmark nestled against the Flat Iron Mountains is one of Colorado’s true hidden gems. It’s an area heaped in history and very few locals know about the historic and affordable cottages for rent. The Dining Hall boasts some of the best outdoor dining in Colorado with epic mountain views. Don’t miss the silent films, concerts and children’s programs at the Auditorium that will delight old and young.
Visit the Boulder Farmer’s Market on Saturdays—a veritable cornucopia of organic food, live music, eccentricities and fun. Then take a stroll along the Boulder Creek Trail and also take a foray over to famed pedestrian mall Pearl Street Mall to shop, eat, play in the spray fountain and watch the street performers.
BEST SPLURGE: The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs
Where do you take The Mother Who Has Seen Everything? The Broadmoor’s new cottages, of course! These gorgeous 1- to 8-bedroom cottages are welcome additions to The Broadmoor’s already lofty 5-star pedigree and are the ultimate Colorado destination for the extended family. My parents are making a special trip from Canada and these cottages will impress even my beloved high-maintenance mother.
The Broadmoor is located on 3,000 lush acres under the shadow of Cheyenne Mountain and offers two swimming pools, an award-winning spa, fitness center, three outdoor hot tubs, one lap pool, 54 holes of championship golf, six tennis courts, children's programs and an exceptional Sunday brunch.
Located 70 miles south of Denver, Colorado Springs has some of the state’s best activities for families. Take a tour through Cave of the Winds, pay Santa a visit at the North Pole’s family-themed amusement park, chug to the top of 14,110-foot Pikes Peak on the world’s highest cog railroad, hike Seven Falls, eat a high-flying meal at The Airplane Restaurant and sample chocolates at the Patsy’s Candy tour, topped off by a genuine ho-down, dinner and stage show at Flying W Ranch. And there’s plenty of free stuff to do in Colorado Springs on a family vacation, too.
BEST MOUNTAIN FESTIVAL: Crested Butte
This will be our first summer trip to Crested Butte after falling in love with the ski area a few years ago. Not only is this charming hamlet renowned for its world-class mountain biking, but July rules supreme. Don’t miss the 4th of July revelries and The Crested Butte Music Festival July 4-26, which brings symphony, chamber and jazz music to the mountains.
Want to know what it would have been like to have a Beer with Beethoven? Find out during one of the symphony orchestra’s most popular concerts. Best of all, this music festival also caters to kids with the Divine Family Young People’s Concerts.
Located 230 miles southwest of Denver, Crested Butte also offers a full slate of activities during the popular Wildflower Festival July 6-12 that includes horse-drawn wagon rides, guided hikes, yoga classes in mountain meadows, and photography classes.
While Mama and Papa hit the trail, our daughter will be at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory’s Kid Nature Camps. The camps run all summer and each individual session is two hours long, affordable and fun.
BEST MOUNTAIN COMMUNITY: Steamboat Springs
During my only vacation to Steamboat Springs (located 170 miles northwest of Denver), I got lost hiking to the famed Rabbit Ears. This trip will be about redemption…and celebration with fabulous activities such as hiking Creek Falls (allegedly easier to find than some silly bunny parts), soaking in Strawberry Park Hot Springs and soaring in the resort’s gondola with fabulous views of the Yampa Valley.
Be sure to check out the Gondola Square Adventure Zone, which features a 24-foot climbing wall, miniature golf, and a nine-hole Frisbee golf course. Not to be forgotten is the Howler Alpine Slide that will be sure to make you, well, howl. And Steamboat’s free summer concert series at the Rusted Root is all about hooting…and hollering!
Oh, and did I mention tubing down the Yampa River and all of Routt National Forest’s wildflower-dotted trails just waiting to be explored? Redemption, here I come.
BEST DUDE RANCH: Devil’s Thumb Ranch
Maybe “Dude Ranch” is an unrefined description for this rustically upscale resort and spa located on 5,000 acres at the foot of the Continental Divide, just 75 miles from Denver. One of the greatest things about Devil’s Thumb Ranch is it caters to cowboys of all ages, not to mention their mamas who like a bit of pampering on the side.
Why it’s my choice for Best Dude Ranch: swimming in a heated outdoor pool and outdoor hot tub, the petting zoo at Cabin Creek Stables, wagon and feed rides, pony rides, hikes along easy-grade trails, nature/bird watching tours, a game room with no electronics, a candle pin bowling alley and a 37-seat movie theater for movies and sports viewing.
BEST CAMPING: YMCA of the Rockies
I love backpacking but my young children are not quite yet up to the task. That is why I looked for a camping destination that offered varied activities as well as some great services.
Enter: YMCA of the Rockies. The two locations—one at Estes Park (adjacent to Rocky Mountain National Park) and the other at Snow Mountain Ranch (just minutes from famed resort Winter Park)—are known for extremely affordable and fun family vacations. We have stayed in their rustic lodges and cabins before but for the first time, we will camp on their grounds with a group of friends.
YMCA of the Rockies’ activities are varied and include hiking, fishing, camps, mini-golf, volleyball, tennis, crafts, scavenger hunts, canoeing, family programs, picnics, a high-ropes course and archery.
BEST FRONT-RANGE DESTINATION: Beaver Creek
With the tagline “Not exactly roughing it,” Beaver Creek is synonymous with luxury and recently received the National Ski Areas Association’s Best Overall Guest Service Award for the fourth consecutive year. We will get a taste of this during our stay at a gorgeous Beaver Creek Resort Properties condo.
But the budget-conscious need not be scared off because in addition to the renown pampering, there are plenty of fabulous deals. Beaver Creek offers free daily nature walks for the family and Beaver Creek Hiking Center’s Hike-ology program, which invites kids to play at the Big Dig (an archeological dig site at Spruce Saddler). Don’t forget the free Children’s Museum, free children’s theatrical performances in the village and recreational-Mecca Nottingham Park in Avon has free outdoor movies for the family once a week.
Another fantastic freebie is Fridays at the Park Hyatt with music, activities and gondola rides for the whole family, not to mention a gourmet s’moregasbord at the open fire pit. This is “not exactly roughing it.” Count me in.
When she was swingin’ single, Amber Johnson worked as an adventure travel writer and publicist in Utah’s ski industry. Since marrying, moving to Denver and giving birth to two kiddos, family travel is her passion. She is also the editor of The Denver Post’s Mile High Mamas and blogs at Crazy Bloggin’ Canuck.