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Best family fun vacation ideas for Colorado, Part Two

(This is a guest post by tourism expert, Mom and all-around great gal Sarah Page. Part One of  her kids in Colorado series is here.)

Estes Park/Rocky Mountain National Park

If you love the mountains, then Rocky Mountain National Park is the place for you.  I’ve traveled a fair amount, and this is still one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen.  The majesty of the place just makes everything right in the world.  I can’t promise it will affect you the same way, but I can promise you there is something very special about this place.

The town of Estes Park is the gateway to the park.  It’s changed quite a bit since I was there 20+ years ago, but it’s still a great little place to visit.

The main drag, Elkhorn Avenue, is full of little shops and restaurants.  Most are pretty tourist-y, but there are some gems as well.  Estes Park is also home to the Stanley Hotel, which was Stephen King’s inspiration for The Shining.  Not exactly a kid-friendly place, but definitely worth a look.  In addition to the park, there are some local attractions that are lots of fun.  We didn’t have time for all of them, but we did enjoy these very much….

Horseback Riding

Since our kids were a little too young for rafting or kayaking trips, we decided to go on a family horseback riding trip.

In the Colorado Rocky Mountains, the Page family on horseback (courtesy Sarah Page)

There are literally a gazillion stables to choose from, and you probably can’t go wrong.  We chose Cowpoke Corner Corral based on a cousin’s recommendation, and were not disappointed.

I don’t know if they always do this, but our group consisted of only our family of four and the guide.  She took us up into the mountains, so this was no ordinary trail ride.  We even stopped for a photo with the Continental Divide in the background.

It was a beautiful and fun way to spend two hours.

Tips:

  • Our two-hour ride cost us about $50 bucks per person.
  • They try their best to match the person to the horse.  Our kids’ horses were smaller and gentler than ours were.

The Tram

Estes Park Aerial Tramway

The tram in Estes Park has been a family owned and operated business since Colorado - feeding chipmunks at Estes Park Aerial Tramway (courtesy Sarah Page)1955.  The Heron family knows how to do it right.  The views of Estes Park and the surrounding mountains are spectacular from the top, and the trip up and down are pretty cool too.

But if you have kids (and even if you don’t), the views aren’t the best part.

The best thing about the tram is the chipmunks.  Okay, so the chipmunks are sort of tame, and it’s not the most authentic experience.  But when a chipmunk takes a peanut from your child’s hand, you won’t care about authenticity.  It’s the cutest thing you’ve ever seen.

Tips:

  • Adults are $10, kids are $5, and the little ones under age 5 are free.
  • Just do it.  Buy each kid a bag of peanuts in the shell.  It’s hours of fun watching them find the chipmunks, and watching the chipmunks take the peanuts from their hands.
  • Bring your camera!

Yay, hiking!

Hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park

Since this was our first hike with the kids, we wanted to take it fairly easy.  Turns out my husband and I were the ones who needed the breaks to rest and Colorado - hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park (courtesy Sarah Page)catch our breath.  The kids were fine and not even winded at all!  We ended up hiking somewhere between 4 -5 miles and climbed 745 feet in elevation to around 10,000 feet.

We stuck to the trails near and around Bear Lake.  These are fairly popular trails, so you’ll see lots of people, but they aren’t overcrowded.  All said, we hiked up to four lakes that day – Bear, Nymph, Dream, and Emerald Lakes.

Each of the lakes was spectacular in their own way, though I think Dream Lake might have been the family favorite.

To quote my son, “I know why they call it Dream Lake.  Because it’s just so beautiful, Mommy.”  I had to choke back tears on that one.

Tips:

  • Leave no trace.  You pack it in, you pack it out.
  • Take lots of water and some light snacks if you plan to hike up to Emerald Lake and back.  You’ll be gone a few hours.
  • In the summer, it rains most every afternoon.  Bring a windbreaker.
  • It’s pretty cool in the park anyway – even at mid-day.  But if/when it rains, the temperature drops dramatically.  We got caught in the rain wearing shorts and t-shirts.  Let me tell you, temps in the low 50s, rain, and shorts are not a good combination.
  • It will cost you a mere $20 per car, which lasts for 7 consecutive days.  You can’t find a better value.

So despite being back in the Texas heat, we’ve gone hiking twice since our vacation.  We invested in some nice camelbacks from REI in Round Rock, and are hitting some of the trails in the area.

I’m already busy planning our next national park vacation.  Yosemite anyone?

Check out all of our vacation photos in our Colorado set on Flickr.

(Thanks very much for telling us about your family’s Colorado favorites, Sarah!)