Colorado for Families

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Colorado for Families
There are enough kid-friendly outdoor adventures in Colorado to keep families busy—and when the little ones get worn out, there are plenty of city sights to see, too.
Photo courtesy of Karen McHugh/Red Rocks Amphitheatre
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    Concerts and Movies at Red Rocks
    Red Rocks Amphitheatre, built into a natural sandstone auditorium near the city of Morrison and just 10 miles west of Denver, is the most iconic concert venue in Colorado and one that's well-known throughout the country. Since it opened in 1941, it has played host to superstars in nearly every musical genre—from Steely Dan to Snoop Dogg. During summer months, Red Rocks doubles as an open-air movie theater for its Film On The Rocks series, which pairs a variety of flicks—including some classic childhood favorites—with shows by local bands.
    Photo courtesy of Karen McHugh/Red Rocks Amphitheatre
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    Hanging out in Durango
    Think of Durango as a one-stop shop for family adventure. Founded in the 1880s as a railroad depot to serve nearby mining camps, Durango is a hotspot for rafters, rock climbers, skiers, and other outdoor enthusiasts, tucked away in a mountain valley miles from the nearest interstate. The Animas River cuts right through town—rafting its moderate rapids is as easy as pulling off the road and putting in—and the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad preserves a bit of Durango’s locomotive history with regular trips in summer and fall between the two towns. When the kids have turned in for the night, parents can visit one (or more) of the town's six craft breweries and two distilleries.
    Photo courtesy of Matt Inden/The Colorado Tourism Office
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    The Broadmoor's Pikes Peak Cog Railway
    Dominating the skyline to the west of Colorado Springs, Pikes Peak is one of the most famous fourteeners in the Front Range—but at around 13 miles one way with 7,800 feet of elevation gain, the standard hiking trail to the top can be a doozy for little legs. For those who aren’t quite ready to commit to the trek, the Broadmoor's Pikes Peak Cog Railway climbs nearly nine miles from the nearby town of Manitou Springs to the mountain’s summit, providing passengers with panoramic views of the city and foothills along the way. In operation since 1891, the railway runs year-round though trips are limited in winter.
    Photo by Joshua Berman
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    Dinosaur National Monument
    Coming face to face with a real-life dinosaur is an experience sure to make any child’s vacation, and there are few better places to do it than Dinosaur National Monument. Located in the Uinta Mountains in Colorado’s northwestern corner (and straddling the border with Utah), the park contains fossils of the extinct giants, ranging from the carnivorous allosaurus to the iconic apatosaurus and stegosaurus. Make sure to visit the Quarry Exhibit Hall, located just across the border in Utah, to see the Dinosaur Wall, a massive rock slab with over 1,500 fossilized bones embedded in it.
    Photo courtesy of Matt Inden/The Colorado Tourism Office
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    Mesa Verde National Park
    Long before it was a national park, Mesa Verde—Spanish for “Green Table”—was a city of the Ancestral Puebloan people, who lived in apartment-like stone villages built in natural alcoves in the area's tall sandstone cliffs. Today, the area is one of the country's most extensive collections of these ancient dwellings. Highlights include the much-photographed Cliff Palace, a complex with well over 100 rooms that has stood on its site for some 700 years, and Balcony House, whose residents had to scale a rock wall using carved handholds and footholds just to get inside. Tours are ranger-guided and require tickets, so plan ahead.
    Photo courtesy of Denise Chambers/The Colorado Tourism Office
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    Fruit Picking in Paonia
    Barring the odd year that a late frost decimates the crop, the orchards around the western Colorado town of Paonia, located about four hours away from Denver, get heavy with fruit every summer and fall, thanks to a valley microclimate that's friendly to agriculture. Families yearning to get their hands dirty can pick a peck or two themselves. McClure Orchards in Paonia invites visitors to pick their own organic peaches and cherries, while Camelot Farms has raspberries, apples, pears, tomatoes, and more. Most orchards require a reservation, so call ahead to make sure you get a spot.
    Photo courtesy of Denise Chambers/The Colorado Tourism Office
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    Laid-Back Fort Collins
    Fort Collins, about half an hour south of the Wyoming border, has a cool, laid-back, college-town vibe with a good shopping scene and thriving outdoor culture. Stroll along downtown's College Avenue, making a detour to treat the kids to a locally made scoop at Walrus Ice Cream. Parents who need time away from the kids can tour the New Belgium Brewing Company. In the foothills just west of town, Lory State Park has 20 miles of hiking trails, almost all of them moderate; take the 1.7-mile trek up to local lookout Arthur’s Rock. To the northwest is the Cache la Poudre River National Heritage Area, which blends educational programs and opportunities for outdoor pursuits.
    Photo by Ana del Castillo/age fotostock
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    The Deer Trail Rodeo
    The small town of Deer Trail, Colorado, some 50 miles east of Denver, claims to have staged the first rodeo in U.S. history in 1869. More than 100 years later, the rodeo still comes back to town every August. Besides bull-riding, spectators can expect to see traditional cowboy and cowgirl disciplines like steer wrestling, tie-down roping, and barrel racing. Adventurous kids can join in themselves during the mutton bustin’ competition, which is basically bull-riding but with the cowboys and bulls replaced by children and sheep. While the Deer Trail Rodeo is small, the National Western Stock Show, which takes place in downtown Denver each January, is the largest in the world.
    Photo by Daniel Grill/age fotostock
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    Garden of the Gods
    No manicured rectangle of ersatz nature elsewhere in the United States can compare to Colorado Springs’ city park, Garden of the Gods. A geological oddity dotted with steep sandstone spires and fins, the park is a popular destination for both tourists and locals, who come to ride mountain bikes on the park’s gravel trails or gawk at the climbers who practice their pastime on the Garden’s formations. The park teems with non-human fauna too, including bighorn sheep, mule deer, and hundreds of avian species, ranging from the ever-present magpies to raptors like the American kestrel. Be sure to stop by the Garden of the Gods Visitor & Nature Center, which recently received a multimillion dollar renovation.
    Photo by Ruth Baranowski
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    Denver’s Museums
    As the biggest city in the region, Denver is the de facto culture capital of the Rocky Mountains, and the city has enough museums that even a dedicated art and history buff could burn days seeing all of them. Highlights include Denver Art Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science (check out the gems and minerals exhibit), and Molly Brown House, the preserved former residence of one of the survivors of the Titanic. Also worth a visit is the Downtown Aquarium; while unabashedly commercial (it doubles as a theme restaurant), it is the largest exhibit of its kind between California and Chicago.
    Photo by Michele Nastasi/age fotostock