Cool Trips for Kids

By Lisa T. Bergren


For the last few years, my family has been passionate about exploring the greater world. One thing strikes me, every time I come home: There’s a lot of Colorado I’ve yet to see. And as our family has ventured out more in our home state, I’ve discovered that children (my kids are 14, 11 and six) are as happy to be someplace new here as they are abroad. This is good news for all families grappling with leaner times and struggling to scrape together this year’s vacation budget—among our parks and towns, we can find fascinating vacation destinations, right here at home.

Breckenridge

Country Boy Mine
Country Boy Mine, Breckenridge
© Country Boy Mine

This charming ski town sports great off-season rates for the summer traveling family, and an adorable Main Street with lots of shops and great child-friendly restaurants.

If you want to go the formalized fun route, check out Breck’s Peak 8 Fun Park, including an alpine slide, putt-putt golf, panning for gemstones, scenic chairlift rides, a maze and more. Or just do a couple of those activities and then head above town for a spectacular hike around the remnants of old, ghostly gold mines. Our favorite was the X10U8 trail, east of town off French Gulch Road—a gorgeous hike for autumnal leaf peepin’ too.

If you have budding equestrians among you, check out Breckenridge Stables. But almost all kids like biking and Breck offers some wonderful opportunities. Take the Vail Pass bike tour, which drops participants at the top of the pass to coast down to Frisco. Not a lot of effort, but a whole lot of fantastic views. Or if kids and a mountain road sounds like a nightmare combination rather than fun, consider the more sedate Glenwood Canyon route, a fairly flat, nine mile (one way) bike path that’s well maintained and has some lovely views of its own. Rent bikes (or inline skates!) at a local shop—youth bikes, Burley trailers and tag-alongs are available too—pack water and snacks, and head out. If you’re not up for the entire round trip, you can hop a free shuttle in Frisco with your bike (catch it behind Walmart) to get back to Breckenridge.

Educational bent? Consider a tour of the Country Boy Mine, where the fam can sport hard hats to experience the pitch black of a real, working mine and catch a glimpse of what it might’ve been like, back in the day.

Great Sand Dunes National Park

Medano Creek
Great Sand Dunes National Park.
© NPS

First time to the park? Stop at the visitor center and learn how these amazing dunes were formed, walk a short nature trail and then head down to the creek. If you want to hike to the top of High Dune (650 feet)—or Star Dune (750 feet), the tallest dune in North America—allow several hours and bring plenty of water.

Arrive early to beat the heat (and the potentially brutal, sandblasting wind), as well as to score a campsite or a prime picnic spot by Medano Creek. The shallow creek is at its highest in May and June; later in the summer, it recedes and visitors might have to hike farther to see it.

If you want a different perspective on the park, stop just before the entrance to take the cool Zapata Falls trail, a short half-mile loop. Hike in the morning with the kids, then spend several hours playing on the dunes by the creek. Afterward, spend a night somewhere—note that most lodging, apart from campsites and RV sites, is 35 miles away in Alamosa—then return to do some alpine hiking above the dunes. This park features some of the prettiest mountains in Colorado, the Sangre de Cristos, and rangers tell me few get up very close to see them. Why not be among the lucky few?

See the Great Sand Dunes National Park website for more information; for lodging and other area attractions contact the Alamosa CVB.

Mt. Princeton/St. Elmo

St. Elmo
St. Elmo Ghost Town
© Carrie Patrick/AAA Colorado

If warm water is your thing, head north from the dunes about 120 miles to the hot springs of Mt. Princeton, which offer all the fun of a small water park—but nestled among Colorado’s fabulous granite peaks. Arrive mid-morning (afternoon thunderstorms are common) and spend several hours at the water slide. Then meander down to the river. In several spots among the rocks, fresh snowmelt meets the hot spring water emerging from the banks, combining for the ideal kid-temperature.

After you’re sufficiently pruned by all that water immersion, dress, grab a snack and then head up the highway through massive aspen groves to St. Elmo. This old ghost town (c.1880) offers a fairly well preserved Old West Main Street, as well as a plethora of chipmunks that will enchant the kids. You can purchase chipmunk fodder at the General Store. Just bring Purell to clean up all exposed skin afterward.

Another option is to rent ATVs at the mercantile and take your own back country tour up to Tincup Pass. The guys at the counter told me, “Anyone can ride ‘em, after a little lesson.” Your call on safety.

Head on back down the mountain and you can spend the night at the Mt. Princeton resort, and even take in a horseback ride the next day at one of the nearby guest ranches—if you can drag your kids away from the water.

Grand Mesa

The only downer about Colorado, many say, is that our lakes are few and far between. But in the Land o’ Lakes region of Grand Mesa, the largest flat-top mountain in the USA, there are more than 200. Christine Henderson, a mom who vacations in the region every year with her boys, said, “There are fish in every lake—my kids caught them with their bare hands and Snoopy fishing poles!”

If you’re an active family that enjoys primitive camping, this region offers a host of four-wheeling and dirt biking options, as well as dips in the frigid, snowmelt-fed lakes. If you’re not quite that adventurous, there are cabins and lodges on some of the large lakes. Fish for rainbow, brook or brown trout, canoe, or hike to your heart’s content—while it’s a climb to reach Grand Mesa, once you’re up there it’s pretty flat.

Durango is quintessential Colorado, a lovely, small-town setting that offers a taste of big-city culture minus the traffic jams and crowds.

The Ute Indians called this “Land of the Departed Spirits.” Perhaps they’ve taken the form of the most common mountain lake hazard: mosquitoes. Be sure to bring your repellant, or as Henderson says, “Ride hard and fast.” There are also a good number of free range cattle; caution young riders to watch out for them. And if you’re driving deep into this mountain wonderland, bringing a GPS and map is a very good idea.

Grand Mesa National Forest: 970-242-8211 or www.stateparks.com/grand_mesa.html. For area lodging and businesses, visit www.coloradodirectory.com/grandmesaarea.

Boulder

Seeking nature, but in more refined surroundings? Rent a quaint cabin at historic Chautauqua (summer reservations fill up early, but there is sometimes more availability later in the season), picnic on the gently sloping grounds beneath the towering red spires of the Flatirons, or gather together for a nice meal in the dining hall. Hike to your heart’s content, but keep to the paths; poison ivy abounds.

Don’t miss a walk down Pearl Street Mall, stopping at the fun kid-centric kite and toy stores, or for an ice cream cone. Children under 10 (and an accompanying adult) can hop the Tebo Train to cruise the pedestrian mall. Let them wear bathing suits under their clothes—the Pop-Jet Fountain in front of the County Courthouse is a fun place to cool off.

Other great places on a hot summer day:

For general Boulder information, visit www.bouldercoloradousa.com.

Lisa T. Bergren blogs about family travel and is the author of more than 30 books.

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