Visit Colorado: our crazy fun travel journal of Denver and beyond

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We love time in the Rocky Mountains, but it’s rare that we get to enjoy it in Colorado. We’re exploring Denver and beyond this week and it’s started with a bang! Planning for the family to visit Colorado was as simple as Googling “Denver + hiking + kids + science”. OMG.  Let’s just say that it’s given us the perfect Denver area itinerary for the week.

We’ve partnered up with Visit Colorado, Visit Denver and Visit Estes Park to make sure that we can experience and share our most interesting and totally Colorado sites.  If you have some ideas for places for us to visit or any insider tips, please share!

Starting in Denver: lunch at Steuben’s

We landed in Denver to blue skies and no traffic. Score!  After picking up our car and heading into the city, we immediately sought out lunch (even if it was a bit earlier than normal).  We headed right to Steuben’s Uptown on the recommendation of a friend and it was ideal for the family. Straight out of the 60s, it was a great taste of Denver with healthy options as a standard for kids and craft beer at the ready for the dads. With roasted chicken, Philly cheese and edamame with cucumbers, we were set. And driving around the neighborhood we saw many more cool foodie spots that we MUST come back to. Just another reason to Visit Colorado more often.

Staying at Capitol Hill Mansion B&B downtown

The kids always love it when we check into a new hotel. Like, it’s the highlight of the trip. When we pulled up to the Capitol Hill Mansion Bed and Breakfast, they were totally stoked.  Built in the 1890s and pretty monumental in the neighborhood, the Mansion had the perfect spot for us. We’re in a two room suite with our own entrance and plenty of room for the kids. It’s great for relaxing, sleeping and getting a bit of work done. And it’s walking distance to everything.

Hiking at Dinosaur Ridge and Red Rocks Park

Of course we’re going hiking when we visit Colorado! Dinosaur Ridge was our starting point. We headed up the hill, checking out the fossils all up the hillside and in the rocks and the kids were just as wowed as any adult. Really cool.  The highlight of Dinosaur Ridge though is actually the dinosaur bones still in the rocks and dirt. Oliver (our oldest) was really excited to spot a few dinosaur bones that weren’t labled. #paleantologist

Red Rocks is really cool.  Just past Dinosaur Ridge it’s more than the famous amphitheater. With endless hiking trails and the Colorado Music Hall of Fame, there’s something for everyone at Red Rocks Park.  Because the kids were a bit tired and we’d already hiked 2.5 miles in the warm sun, we just did the simlple Trading Post Trail Loop. It was short, really dramatically beautiful and there were bunnies.  It was a hit!

Coolest dining experience: Avanti F&B

We didn’t completely understand the concept of Avanti F&B when we arrived, but it was really incredible. A whole bunch of restauarateurs got together in this big cooperative space with some bars, outdoor seating, dining rooms, lounge space and beautiful views of downtown Denver and they created the most delicious collection of diverse food.  We enjoyed poke (we love poke), Mexican food, Peruvian sandwiches, deep fried risotto, gelato and more. It was a really fun way to dine with kids and we ate a bit too much goodness. When you visit Colorado, be sure to stop into Avanti F&B for a truly unusual experience.

Starting the day by hitting Snooze (AM Eatery)

We rolled out of bed after all that hiking and food yesterday and headed right for Snooze AM Eatery at Union Station.  We’ve been to another Snooze location once in Tempe (love Tempe too!) and it was awesome, and this one was as well!  Again, Denver is killing it with the awesome 60s decor and great menus.  We enjoyed blueberry pancakes, an awesome breakfast sandwich (Havana Dreamin’ was delish) and all kinds of breakfast side.  FYI, this was the first time in history that the kids ate hash browns.

Denver Art Museum: the most family-friendly art museum ever

Often we head right for the children’s museum and outdoor spaces, but went right for the Art Museum this time. Immediately we had to go into the DIY art room so the kids could get some arts and crafts out of their system before checking out the exhibits. Upon heading up into one of the architecturally coolest buildings around we we immediately pulled into one of the many family spaces for interactive art. After some play time, we got into the brunt of the museum. Our favorite exhibit was Stampede, animals in art.

History Colorado: making history fun for kids

It’s sometimes tricky to get kids to care about history, but we always make the effort. History Colorado is kind of the perfect blend of fun and fact and was lots of fun to explore with the kids. They particularly enjoyed the Play Ball and skiing history exhibits.  We could’ve spent all day playing and learning, but more of Denver called us to head back out.  FYI, if you’ll be in Denver over the summer there’s going to be the coolest exhibit:  Legorado – Lego art of Colorado. (we may have to come back just for it!)

Denver Botanic Gardens and Children’s Garden

Every conservatory and botanical garden has its gems and unique features.  The Denver Botanic Gardens is really incredible with an impressive conservatory and expansive gardens of all sorts. We really enjoyed exploring both the conservatory and the science pyramid, as they were really different than what we typically see, although the conservatory at the Olbrich Gardens in Madison, WI is really amazing too.

The highlight overall of the Denver Botanic Gardens was actually the Children’s Gardens. Separate from the main gardens, the children’s gardens are all about the different ecosystems you’d see when you visit Colorado, including a great kids stream for playing in.

Weekend escape to Estes Park and the Rockies

Following Denver, we really wanted to experience Colorado at its best and take an break from the city before we were done and heading back to Seattle, so we did the short drive from Denver to Estes Park. Set at the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park it was the perfect small town for getting away from it all.

Staying at McGregor Mountain Lodge

Knowing that we had a busy weekend in front of us, we headed right for our hotel in Estes Park, the McGregor Mountain Lodge. What a cool place.  There were birds everywhere and of course the kids saw the small playground on property right away.  Our cabin was perfect for our family with plenty of space for the four of us. A bonus was that each day we had our firewood supply replenished and we got to enjoy cabin life to the max each evening. Awesome!

We very much enjoyed our stay at the McGregor Mountain Lodge, just outside the north entrance of the National Park. A collection of beautiful cabins built in the 1950s, it’s ideal for a family weekend outside of Denver. Kitchens, fireplaces and wandering elk, you can’t go wrong with a getaway here.

Tip: places like the McGregor Mountain Lodge have long time return guests that may book far in advance, so as soon as you know you get to have bonus time in Colorado, book your stay.

Hanging out in downtown Estes Park

Our kids aren’t big into window shopping and strolling just for the sake of strolling, so Estes Park was a great surprise for them. With lots of beautiful wildlife sculptures, actual live elk wandering, vintage candy shops and a river winding through the town, it felt more like one big park than a downtown. The west end of downtown with its waterwheel and cool old structures was really neat.

What really made downtown Estes Park fun for our family was the scavenger hunt set up by the town. From one end to the other, 12 small bronze pikas are hidden through the town. Pikas are tiny mountain creatures that live in the vulnerable alpine ecosystem of Rocky Mountain National Park, and the town of Estes Park has established this great activity to bring awareness to their plight and give kids something exciting to do when they visit.

Exploring Rocky Mountain National Park

We visit every National Park we can and yet until recently hadn’t gotten to visit Rocky Mountain National Park. Wow, it’s gorgeous! It’s a blend of the Yosemite Valley’s granite peaks and cliffs and the meadows and wildlife of Yellowstone National Park.

Green Jeep Tour of RMNP

Sometimes it’s nice to go on a guided tour instead of driving yourself. When you plan your weekend in Estes Park, look into a Green Jeep Tour for exploring Rocky Mountain National Park. Riding in an open-air jeep you get unobstructed views of the park and lots of opportunities for wildlife viewing.  When it comes to safety, I particularly appreciated being on a guided tour so that I could enjoy the sweeping views while somebody else drove. Really, it was a great addition to our extra days around Colorado.

Driving into Rocky Mountain NP

With two different entrances on the Estes Park side, driving into Rocky Mountain NP turned out to be very easy. There are ample pull-outs and trail heads to help you enjoy the park and watch for wildlife and we took advantage of every one! If you are heading up in elevation, know that much of the road going through the park is along steep mountain sides, so drivers who are afraid of such driving conditions should stick to the low roads where there is still plenty of fun and beauty to be had.

Tip: all of the area around Estes Park is elk territory and they have the right of way. Be very cautious and watch out for individuals and herds of elk wherever you may be.

A few easy hikes to do on your weekend away are very close to the entrances of the park. Near the north entrance, Adams Falls is a short ¼ mile in and the view of the falls and valley is gorgeous.  About 20 minutes in from the south entrance is Alberta Falls. At just over a mile round trip it’s easy with kids and offers beautiful hiking trails through aspen groves and gorges.

Where else to stay in Estes Park

Being a top escape for Denver families since the 50s and ealier, there are lots of small inns and lodges. There are also some grand choices for every travel style.  The famous Stanley Hotel, the inspiration for The Shining, looks out over the town of Estes Park and is a picturesque historic hotel.  The YMCA of the Rockies, while it sounds like an odd choice, is a huge resort bordering Rocky Mountain NP and it’s full of cabins or lodge rooms and endless family activities.

Tip: if you choose the YMCA of the Rockies, carve out some time for an outdoors survival class with the kids. It’s both really fun and informative (and you get to build forts in the forest).

We had such an awesome time exploring Denver and beyond and cannot wait to return in the winter for some snow fun and to check out some of the other awesome mountain towns of Colorado.

 

For more of our favorite Denver area activities check out our other articles about family fun in Colorado!

Family Skiing in Vail, Colorado

Denver Museum of Nature and Science

Denver’s Downtown Aquarium

Crazy fun at the Denver Children’s Museum

The Butterfly Pavilion with Kids

Staying at the Inverness Hotel in Denver


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