Colorado is just a dreamy as the photos make it look, and I promise that if you take a family trip to Colorado you’ll immediately want to go back for more! While there’s a huge variety of things to do in Colorado with kids, outdoor activities are really where The Centennial State shines.
In this guide, you’ll find some of the best things to do with kids in Colorado spanning the entire state and lots of insider tips for how to make your trip amazing.
Fun things to do in Colorado with kids outdoors
Enjoy the majesty of Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park is easily the crown jewel of most Colorado family vacations – it’s the reason why so many families choose to visit, and with good reason. The park’s scenery and wildlife are iconic, and Rocky Mountain National Park offers plenty of things to do with kids of all ages and abilities – check out our complete guide to visiting Rocky Mountain National Park with kids.
There are a few highlights of visiting Rocky Mountain National Park with kids: driving Trail Ridge Road, taking a few short hikes, spotting local wildlife, and completing the Junior Ranger program. You’ll want to spend at least two days exploring Rocky Mountain National Park, but potentially up to four or five.
We had the most amazing stay at The Ridgeline Hotel in Estes Park. It’s our kids’ favorite hotel ever thanks to the massive indoor pool where movies are projected on the wall, the all-hours game room and the outdoor fire pits to match the s’mores kits we were given at check in. It’s a total winner and walking distance to all of the restaurants and shops in town.
Explore Estes Park
Thanks to Kim of Stuffed Suitcase
Estes Park is a cute Colorado mountain town with plenty to offer families looking for outdoor fun. Let’s start by mentioning that Estes Park is one of the best places to stay if you’re wanting to visit Rocky Mountain National Park. The town is only a 10-minute drive away from the Beaver Creek Entrance and Visitors’ Center. Families can stop in here to get a Jr. Ranger book for kids before they drive through the park. Be sure to arrive early in the summer! Parking lots around the famous Bear Lake waterfall hiking trails fill up very early. Shuttles are available from the visitors’ center.
Even beyond the Park, there are plenty of great things to do in Estes Park with kids. In town, kids will love to go on a pika scavenger hunt. Pikas are a native to the area and there are 12 bronze sculptures hidden around town. You can download an activity guide online to help your kids locate all the pikas. Once they’ve found them all they can turn their book into the Estes Park Visitors’ Center and get a Pika Finder Button. The pikas are hidden around the main shopping district of town, making it a perfect activity that will allow adults to shop and stroll while the kids stay engaged. And make sure you grab some of the local ice cream or saltwater taffy while you explore!
And if the pika hunt is too childish for families with teens, perhaps a night tour at the haunted Stanley Hotel will bring some excitement. During the day the Stanley Hotel offers historical tours about its owner and famous visitors, including that it was the inspiration for The Shining. But at night, the tour takes on a spookier feel, making it frightfully fun for teens.
If you haven’t had enough outdoor activity in the National Park, try rock climbing at YMCA of the Rockies, take a family bike ride around Estes Park or even go trout fishing nearby.
Estes Park has plenty more to offer families and is a great getaway for every season. There are plenty of unique places to stay in Estes Park, making it a perfect Colorado family vacation destination.
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Experience the quiet side of the Rockies in Grand Lake
Thanks to Preethi of Local Passport Family
Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the most popular in the country, and with good reason. Still, only a small percentage of families make it over to the town of Grand Lake on the west side of the park. Situated at the western entrance to the National Park and by the Arapaho National Forest areas, the town is charming with stunning views and plenty to do for families of all ages.
Though named Grand Lake, the area actually has a number of lakes that are perfect for family-friendly recreation. It’s easy to rent a kayak or boat to go out on Grand Lake or Shadow Mountain Lake, or you can bring your own. The town of Grand Lake also has a beach that’s perfect for playing with little ones!
There are a number of rewarding hikes in the Grand Lake area, including the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park. Adams Falls is a favorite if you’re visiting with kids as it’s very easy but high reward, and connects to a number of other trails.
While in town, pick up Grand Pizza, which is yummy, family friendly, and perfect for picking up to go to eat by the water to enjoy the scenery while you eat. In terms of lodging, there are plenty of places to stay right in town. If you happen to be in an RV or campervan, though, there are a number of stunning campsites and National Forest areas that are perfect for boondocking. So many gorgeous, forested areas are perfect to stay totally for free!
Go skiing in Colorado with kids
Thanks to Jessica of Skiing Kids
As a Colorado Native, I’m pretty particular about the best places to ski and snowboard in Colorado. Growing up, I skied all over the state, and I absolutely love that there are so many options and diverse ski resorts for skiing in Colorado.
When it came time to teach our own kids to ski, I instantly knew that we would be teaching our kids to ski at Arapahoe Basin (or A Basin as the locals say). Not only is Arapahoe Basin one of the cheapest places to ski in Colorado it’s also one of the absolute best for beginners who are learning how to ski. One of the best things about Arapahoe Basin is that the beginner hill is directly out of the parking lot, and some of the most advanced terrain is right next door. This makes it great for families where mom and dad want to ski something harder, but still check in on the kids each run.
If you’re looking for a Colorado ski resort with an “Old West” feel, you’ll want to head to Steamboat. It’s not uncommon at all to see locals skiing in cowboy hats while you’re at Steamboat, which the kids will absolutely love. The entire town has a very laid back feel, so it’s a fantastic place for a winter getaway in Colorado. While you’re in Steamboat, make sure to check out some of the local hot springs for the perfect apres ski activity for families.
If you’re looking for a ski vacation where you can be treated to a full five-star service, head to Vail. While Vail is less expensive than Aspen, you’ll still pay a premium to ski and stay here. However, Vail does have one of the most impressive kids ski school programs in the state, and even on non-ski days, the kids will love going ice skating, sledding, fat biking and even on the mountain coaster.
Ready to start planning? Read my in-depth comparison of the best Colorado ski resorts for families.
Try some kid-friendly hiking in Denver
Thanks to Jessica of Bring The Kids
If you’re planning a visit to the Denver area, you’ll be thrilled to find that there are plenty of great kid friendly hikes nearby. Denver thrives on its great outdoor activities and within 20 minutes, you can be out of the city and breathing fresh air on the trail.
If you’ve got young kids who like to explore, or just want a short and easy hike, head to Lair O’ The Bear outside of Morrison. Half of this hike goes along a creek, which kids will love, and there are some massive cottonwood trees that kids of all ages will love to climb on. This hike is a short 2 mile loop with minor elevation gain.
If you want to combine your Denver area hike with some education, make sure to head up to the Lookout Mountain Nature Center. In addition to a great trail system with several short hikes that kids will love, their educational programs are simply fantastic. They have several educational programs geared at kids and adults of all ages, so check their website for their full program schedule.
If you’re ready to tackle a hike that’s a bit longer, consider heading up to Mount Falcon and hiking the Castle Trail Loop. This trail has several historic buildings and signage along the way, and also will give you some of the best views overlooking Denver and the entire front range.
Hiking around Denver is a great way to give your kids a taste of the outdoors while still enjoying the best that the city has to offer. It’s easy to spend a day out on the trail and then come back to the city to enjoy the restaurant scene and stay overnight.
Be a paleontologist at Dinosaur Ridge
If you’re visiting Colorado with a kid who loves dinosaurs, you can’t miss Dinosaur Ridge. This fascinating park is just 20 minutes west of downtown Denver, across the street from Red Rocks Park, making it one of the easiest places to see dinosaur fossils in America.
Dinosaur Ridge offers visitors a chance to get up close with all sorts of dinosaur fossils, from footprints to bones, all under the guidance of a real paleontologist. Our guide was extraordinarily knowledgable and patiently answered our questions.
The bus tour uses a shuttle bus to take visitors along the park’s main route, Dinosaur Ridge Trail. Tours last around an hour and cost $10 per child and $15 per adult. The bus tour is ideal for those visiting with little kids, as it keeps their attention focused on exploring the unique geology and paleontology of the area. This tour is offered all day, nearly every day.
Dinosaur Ridge now offers guided walking tours on weekends as well, with various durations and distances to meet different visitor needs. You can choose from a short walk that covers half of the ridge ($6 per person) all the way up to a 2.5 hour walk with a geologist ($15 per person, ages 16+).
If you’re looking for a full day trip from Denver, consider visiting Dinosaur Ridge and other stops on the scenic “Lariat Loop” including Red Rocks, the Buffalo Bill Museum and more.
For those who would rather not stay in the hubbub of Denver, nearby Golden is a great alternative. It’s close to Dinosaur Ridge and lots of wonderful front range hiking while boasting plenty of small mountain town charm. Stop in for a brew, a pizza, a pretzel and a board game at Golden City Brewing. There’s even a lovely creek running right through town where you family can enjoy a stroll after dinner. If that sounds right up your alley, you’ll love staying at The Golden Hotel in the heart of town!
See the beginning of the Colorado Plateau at Colorado National Monument
The Colorado Plateau is one of the most unique features of the western United states. The deeply-hued rocks and towering mesas define so much of what we think of for the region. But the great news is that you don’t have to go all the way to the Grand Canyon to find it!
Once you head to the west side of the Rockies, you’ll find Colorado National Monument just outside the small town of Grand Junction. It’s a great stop if you’re doing a cross-country or western states road trip.
You can easily spend most of a day at Colorado National Monument. It offers a few different hiking trails to consider, but the best one for families is the 0.5 mile Alcove Nature Trail just across the street from the visitors center. When you stop in to talk with a ranger, they’ll provide all the supplies you need – including a Junior Ranger booklet! There are several other easy trails that are less than 1 mile each way, making Colorado National Monument one of the best places in Colorado for hiking with toddlers and little kids.
The park is also the perfect spot for a scenic tour along Rim Rock Drive – you can appreciate the park’s beauty even if you have limited mobility. Most of the time it’s not especially crowded unlike most other parks in the region.
Overall Colorado National Monument is a real gem and a must-see if you’re taking a Colorado road trip with kids!
Get outside in Steamboat Springs
Thanks to Keri of Bon Voyage With Kids
One of the best things to do in Colorado with kids is to visit the Western ski town of Steamboat Springs! Called Ski Town USA, Steamboat Springs is known for being one of the most family-friendly destinations to visit with kids, with a large variety of activities for all ages.
During the winter months, Steamboat Springs offers epic skiing, with a range of slopes from challenging to beginner and an excellent ski and ride school. My kids loved the variety of terrain and learned a lot during our week visit, and the opportunity for night skiing was a unique treat. One of their favorite sights was spotting Steamboat’s mascot, Powder the dog!
In addition to skiing, there are plenty of other fun family activities including ice skating, horseback riding (even in the snow!), dog sledding, and the mountain roller coaster. In the warmer months, activities include mountain biking, hiking, horseback riding, and fly fishing.
The Western town of Steamboat is also worth a visit, with a variety of wonderful family-friendly restaurants and shopping, including our kids’ favorite, F.M. Light & Sons. This historic family-owned clothing store is a step right into the Wild West and a great place to pick up quality Western wear including boots and hats. Don’t miss the opportunity to get a photo on the horse out front!
No visit to Steamboat Springs is complete without a visit to one of the hot springs. Whether you visit the Old Town Springs in the heart of town or our family’s favorite, Strawberry Park Natural Hot Springs set out in nature, this unique experience is a must-do! The natural mineral water reaching temperatures well over 100 degrees is a great way to relax after ski days or hiking on your mountain vacation.
There are many hotels and resorts for lodging in the area, but our favorite is the Torian Plum slope-side condos in Steamboat Springs. There are also several hotels including the Sheraton and Marriott in the area, perfect for families. Steamboat Springs is definitely one of the best things to do in Colorado with kids.
Learn about the Ancestral Pueblo people at Mesa Verde National Park
Thanks to Melissa of Parenthood and Passports
One of the most culturally significant national parks in the United States, Mesa Verde gives visitors a fascinating glimpse back in time when the indigenous people who first settled this area built their homes on the side of cliffs. Located in the southwestern corner of Colorado, Mesa Verde is an easy addition to any southwest USA road trip. If you’re booking flights to visit Mesa Verde, note that it’s only 4 hours from Albuquerque versus almost 7 hours from Denver.
With more than 5,000 protected sites within the park, Mesa Verde is the largest archeological preserve in the country. In fact, it is one of the only national parks meant to protect man-made structures rather than natural ones. The Cliff Palace is the most notable and most impressive attraction in Mesa Verde. The massive, and incredibly well-preserved dwelling built into the side of a cliff is believed to have housed more than 100 Ancestral Pueblo Indians before it was abandoned in the 1300s, when the tribe migrated south to New Mexico and Arizona. Aside from the ruins found throughout the park, Mesa Verde is a wonderful place to go camping with kids, to hike, or explore the natural landscapes of southern Colorado.
With an arid, desert climate surrounded by vast, sprawling valleys, Mesa Verde offers some awe-inspiring panoramic views. Many of the lookout points are accessible from short trails off one of the park’s scenic drives. So, if visiting with young kids, no strenuous hiking is required to see some of Mesa Verde’s best viewpoints.
The Morefield campground located within Mesa Verde National Park is a wonderful place to spend a few nights under the stars. With plenty of space and clean facilities, it is definitely one of the more comfortable places to camp. But if you prefer hotels to campsites, there are plenty of family-friendly places to stay in the town of Cortez, just 15 minutes away.
Wonder at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Thanks to Dalya of Sweet Little Journey
Black Canyon of the Gunnison is arguably the most overlooked national park in Colorado. This is mostly due to the long 4 hour drive from Denver, combined with not much else to do in the area besides the park, so it’s not a major tourist destination. Luckily, that means less crowds and more undiscovered areas!
There are two entrances to the part; North Rim and South Rim. South Rim is where you’ll find the visitors center, serviced campgrounds, marked trails and paved roads. The North Rim is a little more wild and does not have a ranger or visitor station. A lot of the roads are unpaved and there are usually a lot less visitors on this side of the canyon. The majority of the hikes are along the rim of the canyon and easily accessible by car. The hikes are very kid friendly as they’re mostly flat and have gorgeous views along the way.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison is also designated as a Dark Sky Park and the night skies here are incredible in the summer! If you’re staying in Crawford, you’ll be able to see the stars right from your accommodation.
For visiting the South Rim, stay in Montrose. This is the closest city to the entrance of the canyon from the south and has various accommodations. If you’re interested in exploring the North Rim, look for accommodations in Crawford. Crawford is 40 minutes drive to the entrance of the North rim and is the closest town from this side of the Canyon though hotel options are more limited.
Slide down Great Sand Dunes National Park
Thanks to Tanya of Rad Family Travels
An often missed national park in Colorado, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is a big hit for families with kids of all ages. Go sand sledding down North America’s tallest dunes, hike to Zapata Falls and through pine forests, and make your bed under the stars in the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range. If you time it right, you can even float through Medano Creek.
Just a few hours south of Denver and even closer to Colorado Springs, this national park in Alamosa, Colorado packs a punch with outdoor adventures. The highest sand dune, Star Dune, is 750 feet tall. But this diverse park includes more than racing down ginormous sand dunes on a rented sand sled. Discover pine forest, grasslands, wetlands and 13,000+ foot mountains for climbing.
We recommend at least two days and two nights in Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, or longer if you plan to take hikes in the forest and explore more of the park.
If your family loves camping then check out Zapata Falls Campground. This first-come, first-serve campground sits at 9,000 feet under Blanca Peak (14,345’). Enjoy stunning 360 views of the San Luis Valley, the San Juan Mountains and the Great Sand Dunes day and night. Four wheel drive is helpful, but not required here. Piñon Flats Campground in the park is also great campground for families with a trail directly to the dunes. Reservations are highly recommended here.
There are no hotels or lodges inside the park. But just 3.5 miles from the park entrance, Great Sand Dunes Lodge offers seasonal lodging options. The Oasis also offers primitive campsites, RV sites, and cabins.
Relax at Vail’s Piney Lake
Thanks to Kirsten of Kids Are A Trip
If you are looking for the perfect bucket list activity in Colorado, head to Piney Lake. Located just outside Vail, it is the perfect destination for adventure loving families.
Vail in summer does not disappoint as there are endless outdoor activities, but Piney Lake is in a league of its own. The drive to Piney Lake takes you on winding roads, through pine forests with stunning views everywhere you look. Keep an eye out for wildlife in the summer, as we were lucky enough to spot a moose bathing itself just off the main drive.
Once you arrive at Piney Lake, it will be hard to know where to begin. The lake is surrounded by thousands of acres in the White River National Forest and has stunning views of the Gore Range. There are several hiking trails and families should plan on spending the day.
To access the lake, you have to visit Piney River Ranch, as they manage the activities in and around the lake. Families can rent kayaks, canoes, paddle boards, and even fishing gear. Those who love hiking won’t want to miss the Piney Falls trail that ends in a spectacular waterfall. It’s six miles round trip, but we promise it’s worth it.
For those who want more relaxing activities consider horseback riding or fly fishing. And when everyone has had their fill, be sure to grab a bite to eat at the Lodge Restaurant and take in the spectacular views.
Should you decide you can’t leave this little slice of Colorado paradise, you’re in luck. Piney River Ranch offers cabins and glamping tents for rent. How nice would it be to fall asleep to the sounds of summer and wake up next to the lake?
We think Piney River Ranch and Piney Lake are true hidden gems in Colorado and we think you will too. If you choose not to stay on-site at Piney River Ranch, we love Antlers at Vail and Manor Vail Lodge. They both offer amazing locations and top-notch amenities.
Mapping your family trip to Colorado
Use the map below to help you plan our your Colorado family trip itinerary. Just remember that drives may take longer than they look on the map due to the mountainous terrain.
Prefer a visual version? Check out the summary in our Colorado with kids web story!
Where to go next
Do you want to extend your Colorado family vacation to other places within the region? Here are some great ideas to consider in the southwest USA:
- New Mexico:
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