Traveling to Colorado has been a long dream of mine – ever since I was a kid. I remember on my first date with my now-husband, he told me how much he liked camping and had visited Colorado many times with his family. They went on all sorts of adventures from backpacking in the middle of nowhere, white water rafting, nature viewing, and just taking in the western scenery that is so different from my view of upstate NY.We had finally saved up enough money to make this year to make this “big” trip with our family – and made it easy since we flew out (my husband was used to taking a few days to drive out) and we stayed in hotels and didn’t camp. Yes that made for a much more expensive trip, but after years of saving, it was so well worth the comfort and convenience!
What Can A Family Vacation Do In Colorado?
Today I’m going to show you my full itinerary that my husband put together. Without him previously traveling there, we would have been clueless about what to see, especially when traveling with a 10 and 6-year-old. If you are planning a family trip traveling to Colorado, I hope this inspires you to possibly visit the same places we did.
A fun way to start our trip right of the bat was to meet Jake. Jake is an airport therapy dog and you can follow him on instagram @jake_the_airport_dog. My youngest daughter loves dogs! I’m not sure what she was more excited about the morning of our trip – seeing planes take off knowing we’d be on one soon, or loving Jake as much as she could in a short period of time.
What Is There To Do In Mt. Princeton, Colorado?
We landed in Denver and rented a car and had about a 2 hour drive ahead of us to get to our first stop: The Hotel Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort. When we arrived it was dark, and I didn’t know just how amazing it was there until the next morning when we could see the mountains and the amazing naturally heated pools! They recently expanded and made a huge 400 ft winding waterslide that was a lot of fun! The kids and I loved that a whole bunch!
They also have “relaxation pools” on-site – aka no kids allowed! I did go into the adult-only pool by myself one night – and it was heavenly and quiet and I almost fell asleep just soaking in the perfectly warm water!
My one picture above doesn’t do it justice. I didn’t want my cell phone around water, so I left in the room while we were enjoying the pools Be sure to look at the images on their website because that is what you truly do see!
They have individual cabins on-site if you prefer to stay in one of those. But we stayed in a suite in the main building where the girls had their own bedroom.
It was kind of a bummer though because the rivers and streams that flow on the property are usually open for wading and being in the true naturally warm hot springs, rather than a chlorinated pool that just feels heated. But spring rainfall caused the water levels to be too high for that experience – we’ll have to wait for next time!
We stayed here for 3 nights and it was the best way to start off our trip!
The second night at Mt. Princeton we drove to about 10 miles down the road to Buena Vista and had the best authentic Mexican at this Buena Vista Mexican Restaurant! The staff was extremely friendly! And be ready – they won’t ask you “if” you want a margarita, they ask you how many do you want. 😉
What is there to do in St. Elmo, Colorado?
Our second day we took a little drive up to the best-preserved ghost towns in Colorado which was in St. Elmo. Upon arriving (which looks like an old western movie set) you’ll see a general store that is open for business. Right outside the general store you can buy sunflower seeds and feed the famous St. Elmo chipmunks! I’ve never seen anything like this before in my life! They acted like little mini cats just crawling all over you and eating out of your hand like that was totally normal and expected. I spend lots of time feeding those cute little critters and it was a highlight for me for sure.
My kids also couldn’t get enough of it and we spent a good 45 minutes just feeding these little guys. My husband was busy talking to a local about getting an off-road vehicle to get up into some trails in the mountains that you just can’t travel on in an SUV. Again – that will be another adventure for a different trip.
I put the bag of birdseed under the hat to see if this little buddy could find it – and yes he did!!!!
Here is a picture of the street in St. Elmo that is now the “ghost town.” Looks like a rundown set of When Calls The Heart!
Here is the inside of the preserved schoolhouse. There was glass covering so we couldn’t go in – but it sure does look like the Little House on the Prairie schoolhouse!! This is a legit original!!!!
At this point, I was for sure feeling woozy from the 12,000 elevation we were at. I was the only one in the family that was really affected by minor altitude sickness. I woke up dizzy and with a headache each day for the first few days, and the higher we drove, the more tingly my hands good and couldn’t breathe unless my mouth was open. There were times too when my heart was palpitating walking up to the water slide at Mt. Princeton. So I knew I just had to drink lots and lots of water and not push it. By the end of the trip, I was totally adjusted and fine.
So I sat in the car and my hubby and kids had a nice short walk up past St. Elmo. They, of course, wanted to search for gold. No luck – so my daughter just ended up buying some in a souvenir shop! 🙂
What is there to do in Salida, Colorado?
Our last night while staying at Mt. Priceton, we drove to Salida and hit up the Boathouse Cantina for dinner. I was excited because there was a vegetarian quinoa burger on the menu for me, and my husband could still get all the tacos he wanted. He was on a true mission to eat Mexican food at every dinner we had.
They also had open-air seating and we had a river right outside where we were eating, watching people play in the river and it was just beautiful! There were a lot of cute shops in Salida and we even had Dairy Queen frosties for dessert and sat by the river while our kiddos played in the town playground.
The next morning we packed up from Mt. Princeton (and oh how I was sad to say goodbye to those amazing warm pools!) it was time for our next adventure.
What is there to do in Leadville, Colorado?
Next up was driving to Leadville, CO, the highest town in America! Here was the view from where we parked. I wish pictures could do it justice – but you don’t get the full appreciation unless you are seeing it with your own eyes.
Leadville is unsinkable since it is the highest town in the US at 10,151 ft! It was very busy that day and it turns out they were hosting the Leadville 100 that weekend. We were shopping in one of the stores and the lady cashing us out asked us where we were from and I said New York, but I always clarify that it’s upstate NY because we live in the boonies. She said that makes sense since its probably difficult to train in the city. I agreed, even though I wasn’t sure what she was talking about.
Then at a different shop, someone asked if any of us were running this weekend. I asked “running what?” Oh, just the Leadville 100 – you know – the easy peasy 100-mile trail run they have every year. That’s like 4 marathons with the least amount of oxygen in the US! I laughed out loud and I was like, OH! That’s what the lady was referring to in the other store and she thought I was training for that??? Like total LOL moment! I mean yeah – I’ll run my good ole’ 3 miles a few times a week. But they didn’t know I was light-headed just walking from the lack of oxygen in that town. Can’t even imagine someone training for something like that! If you know anyone who has (and didn’t die!) I’d love to hear about it!
I also enjoyed shopping in Leadville – especially the antique stores where I grabbed a very old glass Listerine bottle for $5 that now sits on my bathroom floating shelves.
What is there to do in Steamboat Springs, Colorado?
We just had lunch in Leadville and then drove down to Steamboat Springs. My husband said they had the best shopping there off all of the places we’ve been to. Then on the way, I had this feeling pop up that I really really really wanted to see a rodeo. (I mean there are either extreme athletes or cowboys everywhere you turn in Colorado!) So I quickly googled it and it was the last weekend of the Steamboat Springs Pro Rodeo! I bought tickets right away! Before the rodeo started, we had dinner at Salt and Lime in Steamboat Springs. They had $3 tacos that night and I had the BEST fried avocado tacos I have ever had in my life! In fact, I’m pretty sure that it was the first time I’ve eaten fried avocado, and they were amazing!
Then we just had to travel literally 2 miles from the restaurant to get to the Rodeo. We had a good hour before it started, but got good seats under a covering since it rained off an on that night.
There was a wedding party there that night for their rehearsal dinner, which made the crowd fun and a little rowdy. But without them, I think it would felt like the audience just wasn’t as excited. Since it was the last rodeo of the season, they said that many riders were either hurt by this point in the season, or they had to go back to their regular full-time jobs. So we only got to see 2 buck riders.
The entire rodeo was very kid-friendly though! They had a great clown that my youngest laughed and laughed at, and there was a little playground for the kids to play if they were tired of watching. They also had a time where all the kids could enter the ring and chase a calf. The first kid to catch the ribbon on the calf won a gift card to a local cowboy shop – F.M. Light & Sons . You see signs all over going into town and out of town about this historic store. (We didn’t go but I wish we did – I just knew I wasn’t in the market for a couple thousand dollar new saddle.)
We stayed at the Hampton Inn & Suites in Steamboat Springs. I didn’t know this, but my husband signed up to be in the Hilton Honors program since he travels for work from time to time. Turns out that honors membership got us a HUGE upgrade to our room that night – for free! We walked into a room with a living room, dining room, 2 king size beds, 2 bathrooms, and a separte room with a queen bed for the girls to sleep in. It was such a bummer we were there for only one night – but boy were we thankful for that surprise upgrade!
What is there to do in Hot Sulphur Springs, Colorado?
The next morning we left Steamboat Springs and headed to Hot Sulphur Springs. My husband was there once when he was a teenager. They have pools of natural hot springs containing minerals, mostly sulphur. I’ll admit that since our experience at Mt Princeton was so amazing that I was expecting the same kind of atmosphere at Hot suphur springs. But it wasn’t. 🙁
The main kid’s pool was down for maintenance. They have 19 “soaking” pools on site – but they aren’t much bigger than hot tubs. A couple of them were bigger and could hold multiple families, but it was still very “intimate” when you are with strangers. The kids could only go in 4 of the 19 pools because those were the largest, and didn’t get so hot that it could be damaging to kids.
Then the hotel room – while had been once renovated from the 60’s when it was built – still very much looked liked the 90’s with a 60’s bathroom.
After our amazing upgrade with Hampton Inn, I will say this place was a huge disappointment when it cost the same amount of money. The furniture was from the ’90s. The pictures on the wall were faded and from the ’90s. There was one pretty Ansel Adams picture – but it wasn’t framed, and was all wrinkled after being exposed to moisture for years. I wish I got a picture of the bathroom but I didn’t. Let me just say that my 10-year-old daughter said, “wow mom, this bathroom looks antique!” I laughed and told her the cool term to say is “vintage!”
There is a sign above the heater (that my husband thinks is an original from the 60’s) that said “Do Not Put Anything On Top Of Heater – It Will Start A Fire.”
Um…….isn’t that violating some sort of code or something????? No continental breakfast either. Just coffee and if you wanted instant oatmeal, there was hot water and paper bowls available for that.
And again – this cost us the SAME as the amazing suite at the Hampton Inn.
If you want to soak in sulphur (and it takes a long time to wash out the smell), then only pay for a day pass. Avoid the weekends unless you want to soak very close to strangers. (which is like the most uncomfortable thing in the world for any introvert like me!)
What is there to do in Rocky Mountain National Park?
We were going to stay 2 nights at Hot Sulphur Springs, but it just wasn’t what we thought – so we left a day early and found a Best Western in Estes Park instead. Then we had two full days to see Rocky Mountain National Park when we were only originally going to have one. I’m so glad we made that decision!
In case you don’t know this (and I didn’t until a friend told me) but all 4th graders in the entire nation get free tickets for themselves and their family to any national park the entire year they are in 4th grade! My 4th grader was still a 4th grader technically until August 31st, so because we had her, we were able to get into the park for FREE! If you are planning a trip that involves visiting a national park, be sure to sign up here to get your free pass!
We entered the park on the west side and stopped at the Holzwarth Historic Site.
“Exploring the property today offers visitors a glimpse into the life of Colorado homesteaders. To preserve the legacy of the family and the early pioneers, volunteers offer daily tours in the summer from mid-June through Labor Day weekend. Take a tour of the Mama cabin to see many original furnishings, linens, and even the Admiral Blue stove! The heritage of the Holzwarth family’s success, perseverance, and their beautiful dude ranch high in the Rocky Mountains is preserved through the stories and buildings of Holzwarth Historic Site.”
As you can see above, my girls learned how life was before there were washing machines and dryers!
After a picnic lunch, we continued driving on the main road of the park up to the Trail Ridge – the highest part of the park. And boy was it windy!!! The best part for me was visiting the trail ridge store. I got a lot of Christmas shopping done there. 🙂
My husband and 6-year-old daughter ran up one trail by the store, while me and my 10-year-old did the shopping! I was too light-headed to attempt the trail by the store. But I did manage to go up one trail not so steep and tried to take one of those tourist pictures of me “holding” the rock. My hand needed to tilt up two inches though.
This might be our Christmas card picture this year! My oldest daughter actually found those sunglasses in our rental car that someone left. She was so proud of that find and was faithful to wear them every single day!
What is there to do in Estes Park, Colorado?
We continued driving down the main road in the park until we were out of Rocky Mountain National and into the town of Estes Park. I was shocked because my husband didn’t want Mexican that night and agreed to going to Smokin’ Daves BBQ. I’m personally addicted to BBQ sauce and eat it on many foods that you just might think is disgusting. So since I’m such a huge fan of BBQ sauce, I was just fine getting a huge basket of onion rings and try all six of varieties of BBQ sauce they make in house. There was plenty of chicken, corn pudding, corn muffins and salads on the table to fill us up quick and it was delish!!!
After dinner my husband drove on a back road to avoid the busy main street so we could get back to our hotel faster. And the back way certainly paid off! We saw some Elk crossing the street – so we quickly pulled into a parking lot where we could see them better. A small herd of them started all laying down in the grass near us. I’ve never seen a male up close like this before! (We were in our car, with the window down, and yes this is zoomed in from my phone.) After seeing them, my husband was googling “how dangerous are elk?” Turns out they can be very dangerous, especially the males who can charge at anytime for any reason. I’m thankful for the zoom lens and I’m thankful we were still safe! 😉
The next day, we headed back into Rocky Mountain National Park and wanted to see more of the east side that we didn’t get to the day before.
We stopped at the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center and got this adorable picture of my youngest playing with puppets in the tree fort.
We then traveled on and did a short hike to see the alluvial fan that was formed in 1982 from the breaking of a dam. This was really cool because you are on a short trial, and all of a sudden the view opens up to a waterfall and its gorgeous! Our girls walked in the freezing water for a bit and we enjoyed sitting on the rocks and soaking up the sunshine. Then we drive a bit further down to where there were picnic areas set up and we had lunch. Made friends with some Steller’s Jays that were desperatly looking for any crumbs we would leave behind.
Then for our last hour before we needed to leave the park, we went to Sprague Lake where there was a mile or so trail around the small lake. I knew it was our last hour before we had to leave and I was still so desperately wanting to see a moose, but I knew at this point in the trip, it would be pretty much impossible.
Then I turned around looking behind me on the Sprague lake trail and saw 2 HUGE brown animals coming our way and I yelled out MOOSE!!! My husband didn’t believe me, and then he turned around and we were all silent as we watched this mama and baby cross the trail and head into the lake for some lake weed lunch! I’m sure this was probably a once in a lifetime viewing of wild moose like this! They stayed in the lake for a very long time and gave all of the visitors the best view of them you could get!!
I’m excited because I’m going to paint the picture above from Winnie’s Picks – Premium Paint By Number for Adults. They can make custom paint by number kits for any image you send them. It hasn’t arrived yet, but I can’t wait to get started and will for sure post a picture of it when I’m done.
After that highlight moose-viewing, it was time to head back toward Denver to catch our flight out the next morning. We were ready for our own beds at this point, but at the same time so sad that our big trip was over.
Where should I go for a summer vacation in Colorado?
If you are asking, where should I go for a summer vacation in Colorado and looking for family-friendly activities, I certainly hope that this detailed list of our journey will inspire you to explore similar activities! It was the best family vacation we have had yet!!!
Looking for more traveling ideas to do with a young family? Check out these ideas:
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