Winter is coming, but that doesn’t mean it’s too late to jump in the car and explore someplace new with your kids. There’s plenty to see in Colorado, as well as hikes to be had, adventures to embark on and new things to excite both children and their adults.
These six spots have plenty of great outdoor fun and/or well-thought-out indoor experiences to offer visitors, from national parks to water parks to a socially distanced arcade.
Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument
Two hours from Denver is this gem of a national park that’s open year-round. A visit here involves a lot of wandering and exploring outside, and a good dose of geology and history to weave in. Pick one of the 15 trails based on how much everyone wants to walk. The Petrified Forest Loop is a mile-long, easy jaunt. Next on the difficulty level is the Hornbek Wildlife Trail, an almost 4-mile trail that goes over an area once covered by the ancient Lake Florissant. The Shootin’ Star Trail is another moderate one to try, and this 2½-mile trek goes along an old roadbed and through a ponderosa pine forest. There are also a series of self-guided fossil trails for those kids really looking to get into what makes this spot so special.
Right now the visitor’s center remains closed, but parents can still download the Junior Ranger Activity Book for kids to work on during the trip. And, since the area closes between 4:30 and 5 p.m., you can be back home in time for dinner. Or, on your way out. stop for a taco at Skinny Taco (8655 US-24 W, Cascade). Just make sure to get there before it closes at 7 p.m., Wednesday through Monday. If you’re looking for a good lunch bite or are leaving the park early, the Iron Tree (37 Costello Ave., Florissant) is also a good option for casual American fare. It stops serving at 5 p.m. and is closed on Tuesdays.
Wild Animal Sanctuary
This is not a zoo; it’s a 10,473-acre patch of land that hosts more than 600 carnivores that have been rescued, including lions, tigers, hyenas, bears and wolves. Yes, you can spend a whole day there learning about the creatures, walking around and taking plenty of photos. The journey starts at the large visitor’s center. From there, guests embark on a 1½-mile walkway high above where the animals roam. As a bonus, many of the tigers seen were the same animals taken from the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park, which was run by Joe Exotic of the Netflix show “Tiger King.”
The Wild Animal Sanctuary is about an hour east of Denver in Keenesburg. Tickets run $30 for adults, $15 for children up to 12, and is free for ages 2 and under and those over 70. For the safety and well being of the wild creatures, absolutely no animals are allowed, even service dogs. The sanctuary opens at 9 a.m. 360 days a year and closes at sunset.
RELATED: Netflix’s “Tiger King” animals now spending their days at Colorado’s Wild Animal Sanctuary
As for making it a day trip, pack a lunch or eat at the venue’s Lion’s Den Cafe, which serves basic American fare and has an ice cream shop. All the food can be ordered online and picked up to be eaten outside in the picnic area of the Welcome Center. There’s also Ben’s Brick Oven Pizza (101 East Bison Highway, Hudson) just 5 miles away that serves pizza, calzone, salads, pasta and ice cream so you can grab dinner on the way home.
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
The Great Sand Dunes in the San Luis Valley is open every day, all year round. It’s basically a giant sandbox that looks like a mini Sahara Desert leaning against the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Located about 3½ hours from Denver, this spot is prime for sand-loving kids, and don’t be surprised if they dive right in and start digging. Yes, sand toys, shovels and buckets are recommended.
Currently, the visitor’s center at the park is closed, but it matters not, since it’s all about the dunes (and read about how they got there online beforehand). Hike up one of these giant sand piles for exercise and/or to get to a prime spot for sand sledding. Rent a sand sled in a nearby town before entering the park. SpinDrift Sand Board Rentals (612 Main St., Blanca) is open year-round, and you can reserve sleds by calling (719) 379-4410. Or, bring your own sled; just keep in mind that snow sleds need to be slicked with wax in order to work well on dry sand.
In the warmer months, this area has great camping, though nights get cold in the fall so it may not be ideal with kids. Instead, book a room at the Great Sand Dunes Lodge (7900 State Highway 150, Mosca), which is right by the park and offers rates starting at $155 per night. This modest and modern stay has a patio in each room that features a panoramic view of the mountains and is perfect for nighttime stargazing, which you can do by renting one of the high-powered telescopes for $20 a night.
About 85 miles northwest of Denver in the Rocky Mountain Valley is the charming town of Granby. It’s surrounded by Rocky Mountain National Park and offers skiing, hiking trails and lakes. This town is also near the Hot Sulphur Springs Resort and Spa, which boasts 22 pools, three of which are open to younger kids. Just make sure to book ahead, since the hot springs are by reservation only during the pandemic.
Also plan to take a hike along the moderate, almost 4-mile Strawberry Lake trail. It’s an easier trek for kids but interesting enough for the whole party. Plus, it’s named after the beautiful body of water you can see during 25-minute drive east from Granby. The Continental Divide Trail is also accessible from Granby, and 30 of the 3,100 miles that make up this historic trail (which runs from Canada to Mexico) are located in the RMNP. Fall in the Kawuneeche Valley is a great time to see elk as they come out to mate; just don’t go near them.
Because it’s a 2-hour drive, you can decide to leave the city early and head back late, or stay overnight. For day trips, the quaint town center has plenty of casual places to get a meal. If you do decide to make a weekend of it, stay at the River Run RV Resort. This spot has places for RVs to park, small cabins to rent, airstreams and even old-school wagons that have been tricked out for a fun glamping adventure. The property also sports a pool, bowling alley, kids’ programs, market and a laidback restaurant.
Great Wolf Lodge in Colorado Springs
Not all day trips have to feature the wonders of nature. At this mega hotel in Colorado Springs, kids and adults can get wet and wild any day of the year. It’s good break from the TV, computer and cellphone screens. The water park features a four-story water slide, an interactive “tree” house to explore, wave pool, water basketball court, little kid area and a lot of slides, all indoor in a heated, high-ceiling facility.
While staying a night at the lodge adds to the getaway, you don’t have to book a room in order to play. There are plenty of food options on the property, too, so it’s easy to make a day out of it. Though, if you do want to overnight, there are perks such as kid story times, special activities for younger guests and, through October, the Howl-O-Ween event that features daily trick-or-treating, crafts, a monster mash dance party and themed events. The facility is dedicated to keeping public areas sanitized, mask-wearing and social distancing, too, and is only letting the space fill to 50 percent capacity.
If you do decide on a weekend trip, visit the nearby Garden of the Gods, a National Natural Landmark. It’s a free park, though due to the pandemic and season it’s running on limited hours: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday. Colorado Springs also has the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo (4250 Cheyenne Mountain Zoo Road). While small, it’s an awesome venue with the animals’ homes built along the rocks. There’s a new exhibit called Water’s Edge: Africa, and plenty of cute critter that the kids can feed. And it’s all just an hour drive along Interstate 25 from Denver.
This quaint town is just an hour from Denver, making it a day trip perfect for the season no matter what your kids are into. For an outdoor adventure, head to Carter Lake and hike the Sundance Trail, located in a 1,100-acre reservoir just 12 minutes away from Loveland proper. There’s also the 3,007-acre Devil’s Backbone open space that has plenty of trails to explore, rocks to climb and views perfect for family photos. A great spot for pictures in town is the giant LOVE sign and heart arch, the two largest love-lock sculptures in the world.
Families who want a dose of art may also enjoy the Benson Sculpture Garden (2908 Aspen Drive) when the weather is nice. Or head inside to check out the Loveland Museum (503 N. Lincoln Ave.). With rotating galleries that change every eight to 12 weeks, guests can visit multiple times a year and see something new. Both museums are working to keep surfaces clean and people distanced, and require masks. Also indoors is The Flipside, an arcade with Skee-ball, pinball and digital games that has been reimagined during the pandemic to offer private pods filled with activities for customers to reserve.
In between the fun or before you go on a hike, grab food at The Loveland Breakfast Club (1451 Boise Ave.). To help with social distancing, the eatery suggests calling ahead to get a table, (970) 461-1261. For dinner options, Henry’s Pub (234 E. 4th St.) has solid pub food and kid-sized portions of the classics.
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