Make Denver your family basecamp as you hit the road to experience the natural glory and man-made wonders of the Centennial State, at any time of year.
Colorado is a beautiful state, and one of the best reasons to take day trips out of Denver is the scenery. Motorists find glorious vistas and public lands in every direction. Don’t be surprised to glance up a mountain slope and see a herd of buffalo. When the aspen trees flame with color in the fall is a particularly good time to get out of the city. But all-year round, there are a great variety of places you can visit, and come back to Denver the same day. Visit the Denver Metro Convention & Visitor’s Bureau (303/892-1112) for more information.
Great Fun for the Kids
(Toddler to Age 8)
Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
4250 Cheyenne Mountain Zoo Road
Colorado Springs, CO 80906
The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is the largest mountain zoo, and highest public zoo in the United States. It’s perched 6,800 feet up on the side of the mountain from which it takes its name, just under 70 miles from Denver. Views here are, of course, spectacular. Since the zoo opened in 1926, it has grown to house more than 800 animals representing 172 species, and more than 30 of them are endangered. There’s the “usual suspects” in the animals represented here, but there’s also a Primate World filled with simians of all types that is a highlight. Children can feed the animals at the giraffe enclosure in the African Rift Vallet exhibit or, on spring weekends, they can ride ponies for an additional $5. The entire family might want to check out the rare Mexican wolves, the smallest of the gray wolf species, while they’re still around (there are only about 200 left in the world).
Lookout Mountain Nature Center and Preserve and Buffalo Bill Museum & Grave
700 Jefferson County Parkway
Golden, CO 80401
Lookout Mountain was the favorite retreat of Buffalo Bill Cody and he is buried here at his own request. Two observation decks are adjacent to his mountaintop burial site, about 14 miles away from Denver. The views here are a spectacular panorama of the Rockies to the west and the ever-changing Denver skyline to the east. Cody’s gravesite is simple and rustic, surrounded by a wrought-iron fence. Less modest is the sprawling museum, named #3 in the Top 10 Best Western Museums in the United States by True West Magazine, that celebrates the frontiersman’s life lived to the fullest. Buffalo Bill lived long enough to get in the movies, some of which can be seen here. Children love to play in a teepee outside the entrance to the museum. They can also choose cowboy hats and chaps and mount a simulated cow-pony. Visitors can also explore nearby nature trails.
The Buell Children’s Museum
210 North Sante Fe Avenue
Pueblo, CO 81003
Located two hours from Denver in the city of Pueblo, the Buell is part of the Sangre de Cristo Arts and Conference Center and has been rated the nation’s #2 Children’s Art Museum by Child Magazine. The 12,000-square-foot, two-level facility has interactive exhibits with a crafty element — creativity is key. In the Baby Buell Barn exhibit, visitors under the age of 4 can explore an exhibit especially designed for them. It also has a sensory experience like no other, with some 50 sight and sound sensors located on the walls and floors. During your visit, stop by Faoli’s Kid Rock Cafe for a nutritious and delicious lunch.
6252 West 104th Avenue
Westminster, CO 80020
This is one of the area’s newest animal parks where 1,200 colorful creatures fly freely in a verdant tropical plant setting. You can reach out and touch them (though you’re not supposed to). Don’t miss the “Crawl-A-See Um” display where you’ll get an eye-to-eye view of over 35 species of exotic arthropods. Children particularly love the creepy-crawly exhibits. But everyone seems to like holding Rosie, the pavilion’s three-inch tarantula (he’s friendly). Anyone brave enough to hold him gets a sticker to impress friends.
Denver Museum of Miniatures, Dolls & Toys
1880 Gaylord St.
Denver, CO 80206
Emerging 26 years ago in the Denver cultural scene, this museum aims to educate and inspire children and their families in the greater Rocky Mountain region on art and culture. Exhibits showcase unique collections of miniatures, dolls and toys, and educate visitors on the history of their collections. The collections include beautiful antique dolls, miniature doll houses, and cowboy figurines that both boys and girls will enjoy.
Fun for Older Children
(Up to Age 18)
Ruby Hill Rail Yard
Park located between West Florida and Jewell Avenues and South Platte River Drive and Quivas Street
Denver, CO 80233
This winter-only attraction opened in January of 2007 with 3 feet of manmade snow provided by the City of Denver and lots of enthusiasm from the folks at Winter Park, the popular family mountain resort about an hour’s drive north. Ruby Hill is the first free and public “rail” yard in North America for young snowboarders and freestyle skiers to practice their tricks. Picture skatepark bowls with snow, six rails of varying configurations and difficulty, plus the latest equipment from Burton, Never Summer and Vans. Open from dawn-dusk, the park recommends that minors 17-years and younger interested in testing equipment are accompanied by an adult. For more information e-mail email@example.com.
The Cave of the Winds
Cave of the Winds Road
Manitou Springs, CO 80829
About an hour’s drive from Denver, or perhaps when you’re starting to get tired of seeing what’s on the road, you can find out what’s been hiding for millions of years under your feet at The Cave of the Winds. This subterranean landscape, where you can take a leisurely stroll through the tunnels and chambers in search of bats, was discovered by two boys in the 1880’s. If you have old clothes- wear them… you can get muddy while crawling through the eerie, dark crevices of fanciful geological formations. The kids will love the tiny secret passages and will feel as though they were designed just for them.
Adams County Historical Museum
9601 Henderson Road
Brighton, CO 80601
Located about 14 miles from Denver in Brighton. this museum is about more than history: it’s a celebration of the entire community. Pieces of the past include a 1920s parlor, a barbershop, a blacksmith shop and a 1940s dollhouse. Children can rotate between making butter from cream, grinding corncobs into corn meal, making rope, or visiting the one-room schoolhouse.
800/444-0447 or 303/442-2911
Pet-owners are called “guardians” in the city of Boulder, where the City Council has been known to spend a lot more time discussing international relations than what roads to pave. The upscale city about 30 miles from Denver takes a lot of good-natured rib-poking, but it’s a beautiful city with many fine galleries and gourmet restaurants. Book-lovers will appreciate the Boulder Book Store (303/447-2074, 1107 Pearl Street, Boulder, CO 80302). So will shoppers who find those unusual items such as thick-cut English marmalade and New Zealand honey at the Pearl Street Mall.
Another town to visit is Estes Park, with an old mountain town atmosphere about 100 miles west of Denver. The city’s most famous hotel is The Stanley (800/976-1377 or 970/577-4000, 333 Wonderview Avenue, Estes Park, CO 80517), where Stephen King wrote most of “The Shining.” It’s also where the television version was filmed. It’s worth a look also to see where Jim Carrey, Jerry Seinfeld and Bob Dylan all stayed at one time or another. If you’re hungry, the Cascades Restaurant and Lounge, located inside The Stanley, specializes in wild game. If you’re looking for lighter fare, stop by the Steamers Cafe, where Starbucks coffee is served along with fresh baked pastries, and a relaxing area with free wireless internet access.
Fun for the Family
‘B-cycle’ Bike Sharing Program
Locations all around the Mile High City
‘B-cycle’ is the nation’s first citywide bike-sharing program. Some 500 new, shiny red Trek bicycles (each complete with a wire basket, built-in light and lock, and three-speed gears) are now available for sharing at 40 stations. By purchasing a $5, 24-hour memberships at any B-cyle station, you and your family can all pick up bicycles at any station and drop them off at any other station throughout Denver. Rides of 30 minutes or less are free and rides up to one hour are only a dollar, with prices increasing from there. The purpose of the new bike-sharing program is to make it easy for visitors to get around town without having to worry about pricy transportation, and also to promote the City’s greening efforts to lower carbon emissions.
Rocky Mountain National Park
1000 Highway 36
Estes Park, CO 80517
The unquestionable jewel of the national park system is Rocky Mountain National Park (photos courtesy of Denver Metro C&VB), one of Colorado’s most popular destinations, with nearly three million visitors annually. Situated near the town of Estes Park, about 50 miles from Denver, the park covers 416 square-miles or 265,769 acres of wilderness. Elevations here rise to 14,000 feet. The landscape includes rugged, rocky mountain peaks and glistening mountain lakes. At more than 12,000 feet, the Trail Ridge Road is the nation’s highest continuous paved road at the site where it crosses the Continental Divide. The park has 359 miles of trails that traverse fields of wildflowers. Most of the hiking done here is in the summer. In the fall, visitors come to see the dramatic colors of the changing leaves and to hear the bugling elk in mating season. During the winter, cross-country skiing and other snow-related sports are popular, making the park a year-round attraction. Ask about the Junior Ranger program and other activities for children at the Visitor’s Center. In winter, the park becomes a Mecca for cross-country skiers and snow-shoe explorers, and Park Rangers maintain a list of the best kept trails.
16831 West Alameda Parkway
Morrison, CO 80465
The entire family will enjoy seeing the world’s first stegosaurus at the outdoor park of Dinosaur Ridge. This one-mile stretch of land about 10 miles from Denver displays 150-million-year-old Jurassic dinosaur bones. More than 300 dinosaur footprints are preserved here. The site is also where the brontosaurus, diplodocus, stegosaurus, and allosaurus were first discovered. Tours are offered year-round and reservations are required. Admission is free.
Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park
51000 Two Rivers Plaza Road
Glenwood Springs, CO 81601
About 2½ hours from Denver, Glenwood Springs has a little bit of everything — consider it a homegrown theme park with Western flavor, organized around some natural wonders. Tours are organized by length and level of strenuousness; the most basic is appropriate for all ages. Visitors ages 3 and up can go horseback riding or attend a musical dinner show for an extra fee. There’s also a climbing wall, the country’s first alpine roller coaster, and the “Iron Mountain Tramway,” a gondola ride with dramatic mountain views. Note that during the winter months many attractions are closed for the season.
Garden of the Gods Visitor and Nature Center
1805 North 30th Street (at Gateway Road)
Colorado Springs, CO 80904
This Colorado Springs vantage point gives you a great view of the red rock formations for which the state of Colorado is so well-known. Like Glenwood Springs Adventure Park, Garden of the Gods is an attraction built around a natural wonder, with horseback riding, hiking, guided walks, nature talks, and natural history exhibits. Places for mountain biking and picnicking (bring your own bikes, and food) are also available.
Cherry Creek State Park
Office located at: 4201 South Parker Road
Aurora, CO 80014
It’s no wonder that Cherry Creek State Park draws more than 1.5 million visitors a year. It’s a magnet for boaters, fishing fans, birders and all outdoor enthusiasts. The park, only 12 miles from downtown, has become one of Denver’s most beloved outdoor splash spots. Within its 880 acres are sections for hiking, camping and even a shooting range and model airplane field. In the summer, you should come early before it hits capacity, which often happens on weekends.
Office of the Parks and Open Land Department
1800 South Country Road
Loveland, CO 80537
Carter Lake’s beaches are only a small part of a larger, 1,100-acre reservoir but in the summer, they’re the main draw for this Larimer County Park situated 45 miles from Denver. At an elevation of 5,760, the small lake is frequented by everyone from scuba divers to sun bathers. Boating and water-skiing are permitted in the entire lake, while fishing is confined to the western shoreline. Call the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District at the above number for more information.
Favorite Daytripper Ski Resorts
The Loveland Ski Area is just 53 miles west of Denver on I-70, and for more than 50 years its 1,365 diverse acres of terrain have provided some of the best skiing and snowboarding conditions in Colorado.
True aficionados count on Arapahoe Basin Ski & Snowboard Area, fondly known as A-Basin, which offers the highest skiable terrain in North America. Half of the mountain is above timberline with open bowl skiing and snowboarding through spring, and it often remains open longer than any other, sometimes into early summer. Great deal too: Kids and adults can ski or board for only $15 along the Molly Hogan hill, or get a free child ticket (age 6-14) with the purchase of a full price adult ticket.
Budget watchers should consider the student-friendly Echo Mountain Park because it has the most affordable skiing and riding, free parking and public Wi-Fi.
For great cross-country facilities, locals frequent the Eldora Mountain Resort located about 21 miles from Boulder. Next to their chairlifts and downhill skiing area is a network of cross-country ski trails with snowmaking running on 100% of groomed terrain.
This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.