Colorado is a wonderful place to introduce the kiddos to the great outdoors, with endless blue skies and hiking, climbing and exploring galore. But the state is also bursting with history and culture, from prehistoric times to today. You could spend weeks crisscrossing the state and never truly see it all – but don’t let that stop you from herding everyone into the car and giving it a try!
Is Colorado Good for Kids?
Colorado’s outdoor wonders combined with its historic sites and kid-friendly cities, make it a superb destination for families. With so many possibilities, consider choosing a few primary destinations and connect them with a flexible driving plan.
Be sure to check road conditions: mountain roads can close in the winter and the I-70 highway is bumper-to-bumper on weekends and holidays. Snacks and fully charged tablets go a long way in keeping everyone happy in case of delays.
If you’re headed to the mountains, bring layers and warm hats; temperatures can vary widely throughout the day, even in the summer. Ditto for billed hats, sunscreen and water bottles, which are essential for any outdoors activities. In fact, if you or the kiddos are feeling cruddy, whether you’ve been hiking the high country or just walking around Denver, it may well be from altitude sickness. Slowing down and hydrating can work wonders.
Discounts for children often apply for tours, admission fees and public transportation, sometimes as much as 50% off the adult rate; infants under two are typically free. If traveling to Denver, consider purchasing a CityPASS, a prepaid ticket package that offers significant discounts for some of the city’s top attractions.
Colorado is home to four national parks. Spectacular and wildly distinct, all offer camping and outdoors recreation, kid-oriented exhibits and fascinating programs. Join ranger-led tours and campfire talks to learn more about each park, typically offered daily.
Rocky Mountain National Park is the state’s signature park, with hundreds of granite peaks and shimmering lakes, flower-filled meadows and leafy forests. It’s best known for its 300 miles of trails, offering hikes for all levels plus opportunities to see wildlife, big and small.
Similarly, families flock to Great Sand Dunes National Park, drawn to the otherworldly dune field for off-trail hiking and sand sledding down towering slopes (with gleeful wipe-outs). In late spring, the Medano Creek flows alongside the dunes, creating an oasis of sorts, perfect for water play and sandcastle-making.
Equally sensational is Mesa Verde National Park. The country’s largest and best-preserved Native American archaeological site, visitors can explore elaborate cliff dwellings, see rock art and delve into the history of the Ancestral Puebloans, imagining what life was like there once. Prepare to clamber down ladders, crawl through tunnels and peer over cliffs – a one-of-a-kind experience.
Finally, head to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park for spectacular views into the country’s deepest canyon, most reached by paved road and short hikes. It’s a good option for older kids, but perhaps less-so for toddlers since guardrails are limited.
Wildlife Sanctuaries and Zoos
For little people who love big creatures, a visit to one of Colorado’s wildlife sanctuaries is a sure hit. Near Denver, the Wild Animal Sanctuary is home to over 600 rescued predators – lions, tigers, leopards, bears and wolves – that live in expansive natural habitats; a 1.5 mile-long elevated walkway runs through the site allowing for observation with minimal impact.
Outside of Colorado Springs, the Colorado Wolf & Wildlife Center offers up-close-and-personal programs with its wolves, foxes and coyotes. Varying in length, the experiences are fun and educational (and often end in a group howl).
Raptor fans shouldn’t miss the Nature & Wildlife Discovery Center outside of Pueblo. Rehabilitating over 200 injured birds of prey per year, guided tours are offered weekly.
And if zoos are more your pace, kids can feed giraffes, elephants and rhinos at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo or wander through the Denver Zoo with its 700-plus species.
If you’re traveling with dino-philes, you’ve come to the right state. Colorado is one of the country’s top places to see fossilized dinosaur bones and tracks at their original sites. Dinosaur National Monument is the quintessential stop; located in northwestern Colorado, visitors can touch dinosaur skeletons and see over 1500 prehistoric bones embedded in a cliff face.
In southern Colorado, Picketwire Dinosaur Tracksite is the largest documented dinosaur tracksite in North America – over 1300 enormous tracks. Guided tours are especially rewarding (4WD and reservations required); if you have strong hikers on your hands, an 11.3-mile round-trip trail leads there too.
Near Cañon City, Garden Park Fossil Area is one of Colorado’s largest Jurassic graveyards, with several trails leading through it. And if you’re in Denver, don’t miss nearby Dinosaur Ridge, where prehistoric footprints and fossils are easily viewed on tours.
Alternatively, guides at Morrison Natural History Museum lead visitors through exhibits, answering questions and encouraging kids to handle dinosaur fossils, most found nearby; visitors often can help “clean” fossils in the Paleontology Lab too.
In Colorado’s major cities, junior travelers should head to the many hands-on museums. Denver, by far, has the most. Children’s Museum Denver Marisco Campus is a must for the 10-and-under set with imaginative exhibits and activities, including cooking classes, a maker space and even a special section for toddlers.
Denver Museum of Nature & Science is another go-to in town, a state-of-the-art museum with exhibits that range from the fascinating to the bizarre; an IMAX Theater and planetarium seal the deal. Likewise, History Colorado Center has fabulous and constantly evolving exhibits about the Centennial State’s people and places.
Several affiliate museums are scattered around the state and are engaging for all ages, including the Ute Indian Museum (Montrose), Fort Garland Museum & Cultural Museum (near Alamosa) and Healy House Museum & Dexter Cabin (Leadville).
The Old West
Everyone from pioneering entrepreneurs to desperate Civil War–scorched families came to Colorado, lured by gold and searching for a fresh start. Today, travelers enjoy exploring the state’s Old West sites, to learn what life was once like here.
Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site is a good start. Once a bustling trading post on the Santa Fe Trail, visitors are treated to staff in period dress, “working” the fort, providing details and stories about prairie life in the 1800s.
To the south, Trinidad History Museum has excellent exhibits about the Santa Fe Trail (little ones can stretch their legs – and lungs – in the onsite gardens). In Leadville, Colorado’s boom-and-bust mining lore is on full display in the town’s National Historic District.
Stop in the National Mining Hall of Fame & Museum with its exhibits on the lives of miners and even a mock-up coal mine. Or take a surface tour of one of the state’s richest silver mines, Matchless Mine, where kids can pan for gold and learn about the riches-to-rags story of famous Baby Doe Tabor.
For DIY experiences, visit Colorado’s ghost towns, where visitors wander past weathered log cabins, poke their heads into collapsing shops and saloons, and imagine life long ago. Easily accessible ones include Ashcroft and Independence outside Aspen St Elmo near Buena Vista and Boston Mining Camp along Mayflower Gulch trail near Frisco.
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