Did you know that according to Vacasa’s travel trends, well over 50% of Americans plan to get away for a summer vacation? And US News Travel expects Colorado to be a popular destination for those summer vacations.
My husband and I have called Colorado home for over 20 years. In that time, Chris and I have explored all over the state searching out the best places in Colorado—places that are especially great for family travel. In fact, in 2020, we planned a “state-cation” to visit a number of the most scenic places in Colorado that have always been on our bucket list.
A Local’s Guide to Cool Places to Visit in Colorado in the Summer as a Family
Perhaps you are wondering, “What makes Colorado the perfect place for a summer vacation?”
Well, it makes one of the best places for a summer vacation with your family due to the Rocky Mountains, the climate, and the fantastic sunshine. If your family loves adventures, hikes, camping, and scenery that goes on for miles, then Colorado is THE best place to visit this Summer (and in the Fall, Winter and Spring!)
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The weather in Colorado, and especially in the mountains, is unpredictable and can change in a matter of minutes. Be prepared for both warm and cold weather. Be sure to check the forecast, wear sunscreen, and bring sunglasses, hats, water and jackets.
Best Places to Visit in Colorado for Families
While you might immediately associate Aspen, Colorado with world class skiing and winter sports, it is one of the cool places to visit in Colorado in the SUMMER months as well. Listed by Forbes as one of the top 22 places to visit in the U.S. in 2022. Discover these amazing adventures and destinations in Aspen this summer:
- Visit Maroon Bells – The Maroon Bells, a grouping of bell-shaped, wine-colored peaks just 10 miles outside of Aspen, that tower 14,000 feet. Viewing the peaks from Maroon Lake offers a stunning view with reflections in the water. You will need to have Parking & Shuttle reservations from May through October.
- Go Take a Hike – Hiking in and around Aspen is a popular summer activity. There are hikes for a variety of skills levels.
- Stroll through the Saturday Market – The Saturday Market offers Colorado-grown veggies and fruits, Colorado-made artisan products, bread, meats, jams, etc. from 8:30 am – 2 pm beginning in mid-June until early October.
- Enjoy the Summer Music Festival – You won’t want to miss this musical summer tradition in Aspen. The Aspen Music Festival offers over 400 classical programs (including performances, productions and classes) from July to August.
- Ride the Silver Queen Gondola – Take a trip up the gondola at Aspen Mountain for stunning 360° views. Beyond the views, you can also enjoy the world’s highest disc golf course, a variety of activity for kids, and concerts as well as hiking and biking trails.
- Visit the John Denver Sanctuary – There is something to the “Rocky Mountain High” you experience at this peaceful sanctuary in the heart of Aspen. Enjoy a meditative moment or a family picnic among the trees.
- Seek a Few Thrilling Adventures – You may be interested in hot air balloon rides, river rafting, rocking climbing, mountain climbing, or plunging down the side of the mountain at breakneck speeds on a mountain bike.
Visit Aspen and I think you’ll see that it is one of the best places in Colorado for your family to explore, go on adventures, and just enjoy time together.
- Distance from Denver: ~200 miles or 3 1/2 hours driving
“Breck”, as it is affectionately called, attracts tourists from all around the world all year long. Similar to Aspen and Vail, its big draw is the ski resort and winter sports during the winter months.
Breckenridge also makes the perfect place for summer travel in Colorado for amazing outdoor adventures and family vacations:
- Hiking – Chris and I chose to hike the McCullough Gulch Trail while visiting for a long weekend. Starting at 11,000 feet this hike is the perfect hike to make you feel as though you are in the worst shape ever! You will scramble over boulders and hike rocky trails before reaching the Upper Blue Reservoir. There are many hikes that are better suited to families and anyone not acclimated to the high altitude in Colorado.
- Mountain Biking – Although conditions may vary, the trails around Breckenridge are typically ready for riders in July. Need a few lessons? Breck offers lessons for beginners and intermediate riders. Bring your own bike or rent.
- Escape rooms – Try your sleuthing skills at a local escape room. Perfect for a slower afternoon and a change of pace.
- Nearby Ghost Towns – Plan an adventure to a nearby ghost town. Did you know that Colorado has numerous Ghost Towns that you can visit? Check out Dyersville not too far from Breckenridge.
- Mine Tours – Once word spread that gold and silver had been discovered in and around Breckenridge in the 1880s, hundreds of mines sprang up and people flocked to the area. While no longer operating as mines today, a few of the mines are still open for tours.
- Scenic Drives – Colorado has scenery that will keep your camera busy for days. And Breckenridge is one of the best places in Colorado for picturesque vistas. Put away the electronics and enjoy the drive.
Breckenridge may be a former mining town, but you will find that it is now home to a variety of restaurants and cafes, shops, and even saloons!
- Distance from Denver: ~80 miles along the I-70 Corridor.
3. Chimney Rock National Monument
The tagline for Chimney Rock is “Where Culture is the Adventure”. It may be a little off the beaten path, but this archaeological wonder in Southwestern Colorado is a hidden gem. Walk in the footsteps of the Puebloans and discover the structures they built and artifacts used in every day life 1,000 years ago.
Chimney Rock is definitely one of the cool places to visit in Colorado in the summer.
The Puebloans were sky watchers and lived by sky wisdom. They relied on the sun, stars, and moon for their living, growing seasons, and festivals.
Take a self-guided tour through Chimney Rock National Monument. You’ll find trained volunteer interpreters along the trails who are willing to answer question and share the history of the site. The walking tour includes six excavated and stabilized structures.
Beginning in 2021 (and lasting for approximately three years), the Major Lunar Standstill at Chimney Rock will occur. This event is a spectacular phenomenon that happens every 18.6 years where the moon rises between the two stone pillars of Chimney Rock. The Major Lunar Standstill (MLS) is believed to have had a significant influence on the construction of dwellings atop Chimney Rock’s highest mesa.
The moon’s orbit of Earth oscillates or wobbles, gradually causing the moon to rise at different points on the horizon over the years. The entire cycle of wobbling north to south and north again takes 18.6 years. At each end of its swing, the moon appears to pause for about three years, rising at the same point on the horizon before beginning to move back toward the opposite end of the swing. This pause is known as a MLS.Chimney Rock
- Distance from Denver: ~300 miles or 5 1/2 hours driving
Nestled in the peaks of Southwestern Colorado, discover the mountain town of Durango. It makes the perfect Colorado summer destination for a family vacation.
Here are a few activities your family will love:
- Climb aboard the historic, open-air Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad for a trip through the San Juan Forest
- Use the Alltrails App to plan a hike
- Go mountain biking
- Enjoy some retail therapy time
- Sign up for a white water rafting or kayaking excursion
- Take a day trip to Mesa Verde (see below)
- Experience a jeep tour
- Swoosh down the mountain on Purgatory’s alpine slide
- Go ziplining
- Relax in the moderate summer mountain temperatures
- Join a walking tour through the historic downtown
- Savor a gourmet dinner
- Visit a museum or art gallery
- Take in a show or musical event.
- After a fun-filled day, soak in Durango’s hot springs
As another one of the popular and scenic destinations in Colorado, Durango offers a variety of outdoor activities and picturesque byways.
- Distance from Denver: ~340 miles or 6 hours driving
5. Estes Park
Estes Park, as the Gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, is one of THE best places in Colorado to visit. It has a lot to offer for family travel, adventure, and beautiful mountain scenery.
Most weekends from Memorial Day until Labor Day, the streets of Estes Park are bustling with tourists.
The main street of Estes Park is lined with cute shops, cafes, and restaurants if you are looking for the perfect Estes Park memento or dining experience. And if you have a sweet tooth for fudge, ice cream or salt water taffy, well, you won’t be disappointed.
Estes Park is one of the prettiest vacation places in Colorado for families, outdoor enthusiasts, and photographers alike.
What do families enjoy in and around Estes as one of the cool places to visit in Colorado in the summer?
- Sliding on the rainbow slide at Fun City (you can also enjoy bumper boats, go-kart racing, and a bungee trampoline)
- Playing a round of mini-golf
- Riding the gondola
- Strolling along the River Walk
- Taking the Ghost Tour at the Stanley Hotel
- Visiting Rocky Mountain National Park
- Spotting wildlife
- Perusing tourist shops
- Fishing, paddle boarding, boating and kayaking on Lake Estes
- Shopping at the summer arts festivals
Come to Estes to spend the day or plan for a week-long family reunion. Colorado does not disappoint.
- Distance from Denver: ~65 miles or 1 1/2 hours driving
Check out the GyPSy Guide audio tours for Colorado.
6. Garden of the Gods and Colorado Springs
Colorado Springs offers another hidden gem in Colorado that is really a magnificent marvel—The Garden of the Gods.
The Garden of the Gods is made up red rock formations. The “Garden” was purchased in 1879 by Charles Elliott Perkins, and was originally scouted as an endpoint to the Burlington Railroad.
Due to the stunning beauty of the area, Perkins opted to leave the “Garden” in its natural state not only for his enjoyment but also for the public to appreciate as well. In 1907, Perkins officially made arrangements for the land to become a public park and donated the land to the city of Colorado Springs with the stipulation that it would always be FREE to the public.
A few of the activities that are perfect for families visiting the Garden of the Gods:
- Join guided nature walks
- Visit the Garden of the Gods Trading Post
- Enjoy a Living History Tour from Rock Ledge Ranch
- Sign up for a rock climbing class
- Join a bike/e-bike tour
- Become a Junior Ranger
- Enjoy a jeep, trolley, or segway tour
- Go for a hike
- Take lots of pictures
- Climb among the red rock formations…and take more pictures!
While you are in Colorado Springs, take advantage of a few other amazing activities by visiting the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo (the giraffes there are pretty cool), climb the Manitou Incline (2,744 steps straight up the side of the mountain), tour the US Olympic Training Facility, take the cog rail train to the top of Pikes Peak, visit the Broadmoor Resort, tour the US Air Force Academy, or hike around Seven Falls.
Like much of Colorado with the close proximity to the Rocky Mountains, there are always amazing hikes and adventures just minutes from your hotel.
- Distance from Denver: ~70 miles or 70 minutes driving
7. Glenwood Springs
Whether you drive through the mountains to Glenwood Springs or hop the Amtrak from Denver to Glenwood Springs, adventure awaits for the whole family.
Once you arrive in Glenwood Springs, the opportunities of things to do will keep you busy whether you are visiting for a quick weekend getaway or longer. There are activities that you will love to experience as a couple along with plenty of family-friendly activities.
- Relax at Iron Mountain Springs
- Join the crowd at Glenwood Hot Springs
- Visit the Vapor Caves at Yampah Spa
- Enjoy summer sports – rafting, fishing, paragliding, golfing, hiking, mountain biking
- Book a spa treatment
- Hike to Hanging Lake (you will need a reservation)
- Ride the gondola to Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park
- Enjoy a scavenger hunt
If you are driving along I-70, take the time to pull off at Glenwood Springs. At least stop and enjoy the hot springs. Your kids will thank you.
- Distance from Denver: ~160 miles or 2 1/2 hours driving
8. Great Sand Dunes National Park
You may find yourself waiting in a line of cars at the entrance to Sand Dunes National Park, but be patient. The line moves quickly. If you have an America the Beautiful annual park pass, you can move right on through when it is your turn.
Once you arrive, there are plenty of a shaded picnic areas close to the parking area if you wish to stop for a picnic lunch before moving on to the dunes.
Important Recommendation: Wear good shoes and socks. You may fill your socks and shoes with sand as you walk, but that is preferable to burning your feet on the sand if you wear flip flops or open water shoes. The sand can reach temperatures as hot as 150°.
You might think a regular winter sled or even a piece of cardboard would be perfect for sand sledding, but you will have better luck renting a sand board or sled specifically designed for sand. They feature a special board and wax and can be rented at locations outside of the national park. You will want to plan ahead.
Walking through the sand and climbing the dunes WILL BE your daily workout; if you and your kids are planning on sledding, you’ll get more exercise hiking back up the dunes after your race down on your sled.
If you are lucky enough to visit the dunes when the Medano Creek is running, it is perfect for wading through and splashing in. The creek rarely gets deeper than 2 inches, with occasional surges up to 4 inches.
Be sure to wear sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat. Bring water! There is no shade once you are on the dunes.
- Distance from Denver: ~240 miles or 3 3/4 hours driving
9. Mesa Verde National Park
Chris and I had lived in Colorado for 19 years before we took the opportunity to visit Mesa Verde National Park on our “state-cation“.
You will want an early start for Mesa Verde to avoid crazy crowds and to visit at a cooler time of the day. As the National Park sits atop a mesa, it gets pretty hot in the summer months.
The visitor center is outside the park, and once you enter Mesa Verde National Park there is still a twenty-minute drive to reach the top of the mesa.
Spend your morning exploring the ruins and cliff dwellings on the Chapin Mesa, starting first on the Cliff Palace Loop. Since all ranger-guided tours were canceled due to Covid-19, Chris and I only had the luxury of looking at each of the sites from a distance.
The tours are open now, so please note that most cliff dwellings can only be visited on a ticketed tour with a ranger. Tours are offered May 1 to October 22, 2022. Tickets are required and are available online 14 days in advance of tour. Read more about Cliff Dwelling Tours and buy tickets on Recreation.gov.
- Distance from Denver: ~370 miles or 6 3/4 hours driving
Ouray, Colorado, often referred to as “The Switzerland of Colorado” and claiming the title of “The Outdoor Capitol of Colorado”, is located in a beautiful valley surrounded by mountains in the Southwest section of the state.
If you are looking for something the whole family will enjoy, visit the Ouray Hot Springs Pool and soak in the sulfur-free hot springs (sulfur free = stink free). Bonus * Children under 4 and Seniors over 75 are FREE! The Hot Springs will be fun for kids of all ages with two water slides, a playground, obstacle course, and climbing wall IN THE ACTIVITY POOL, lap lanes, two pools for the whole family to enjoy and an “adult only” soaking section.
The hot springs will be a welcome sight after a busy day of exploring and adventuring with the family:
- Hike the Perimeter Trail – The entire trail skirts the town for about six miles and could take the better part of a day to explore. You can plan to complete the entire loop or simply choose to hike for an hour or two. The nice feature of the trail is that you can leave it at many different points around the perimeter and simply walk back into the main area of town.
- Visit Cascade Falls
- Explore the Ouray Via Ferrata – A heart pounding, thrilling experience with narrow rock ledges and rock climbing sections. Don’t worry though, you are locked in with a safety cable as you traverse rungs across blank rock sections, climb, and descend.
- Celebrate with the 4th of July Parade
- Join the fun as local volunteer firefighters host a Water Fight on Main Street!
- Stop at Maggie’s Burgers for a tasty lunch and enjoy the covered porch and outdoor seating.
- Explore Uncompahgre Gorge
- Take a scenic drive to Creede – Drive the 17-mile Bachelor Loop Historic Tour through the historic mining district above Creede.
“Ouray is proud to be a family-friendly destination that offers visitors an immersive connection to the great outdoors. Complimented by a friendly community and long list of fun activities, our town and backyard is the perfect place to instill adventure and appreciation for the outdoors within your family. From Grandparents to couples to kids, our slice of the Rocky Mountains offers something for everyone. Get ready to reconnect, unplug, and enjoy your experience.”Town of Ouray
- Distance from Denver: ~333 miles or 5 1/2 hours driving
11. Pagosa Springs
Pagosa Springs sits in a valley surrounded by the rugged San Juan Mountains.
As you drive to the Springs, the road takes you through an amazing mountain pass and past the beautiful town of South Fork. As you continue on, the road signs announce two hairpin curves on your way down the mountain.
Just before you reach the first hair pin curve, there are signs for a scenic overlook. If you aren’t paying attention, you will miss it. The vista below is so beautiful and worth the stop.
What is there to do in Pagosa? Be mindful of the catch phrase: There is SO MUCH TO DO all year long! Pagosa is one of the best places to go in Colorado in the summer. Here is sample of family friendly ideas:
- Book a hot air balloon ride
- Mountain bike
- Schedule a dog sled tour – Yes, you read that right! In the summer too.
- Go camping, backpacking, or hiking
- Try your hand at disc golf
- Saddle up for a horseback riding adventure
- See waterfalls
- Rock climb
- Visit a museum
One of our favorite hikes with amazing views is the Alberta Peak: Continental Divide National Scenic Trail. It starts at Wolf Creek Pass at an elevation of 10,857 feet. Pretty much explains why you may feel as though you can’t catch a full breath. That and the quick elevation gain over the first few miles. But, oh the view…
- Distance from Denver: ~280 miles or 5 hours driving
12. Rocky Mountain National Park
If you visit our family in the summer, chances are good that we will take you to visit Estes Park and then on to Rocky Mountain National Park, two of the most beautiful places in Colorado.
We visit the national park so often that we always purchase the ANNUAL America the Beautiful Park Pass. Not only does having the yearly pass inspire us to visit Rocky Mountain National Park often, but we also plan vacations around other national parks in the United States. It’s a win-win.
RMNP is another one of the best places to visit in Colorado during the summer!
- Drive Trail Ridge Road
- Climb to the Elevation Marker at the Alpine Visitor Center
- Drive Old Fall River Road
- Take pictures
- Enjoy a picnic lunch at Endovalley
- Explore the Alluvial Fan
- Enjoy scenic drives
- Spot wildlife
- Ride horses
- Go hiking
Some of our favorite hikes within the park include Alberta Falls, Lake Haiyaha, Mills Lake, The Loch, Ouzel Falls, Deer Mountain Trail and East Portal.
Reservations in RMNP
TAKE NOTE: Due to the popularity of the park, Rocky Mountain National Park requires a timed-entry reservation through their online system if you wish to visit the park between the hours of 5 am and 6 pm. Reservations are required from the end of May through the middle of October
The reservation can be purchased for a nominal fee of $2. However, interest in RMNP is high and you will need to make your reservation as soon as tickets become available for the next month. Check the website link above for the ticket schedule.
In 2021, Rocky Mountain National Park instituted two options on the reservation system.
- Bear Lake Road Corridor + Full Access to the Park
Due to the popularity of the Bear Lake Road corridor of the park, you will be required to a have a specific reservation to visit this area.
If this is your first time visiting Rocky Mountain National Park, you WILL want to choose this option. Bear Lake is stunning and there are many great hikes—short and long—that can be accessed along the corridor.
2. Park Access (excluding the Bear Lake Road Corridor)
With this reservation, you can visit anywhere in Rocky Mountain National Park except for the Bear Lake Road Corridor.
You must visit the park during your reservation window.
Also note that having a reservation does not guarantee parking. You can make use of the shuttle system once you are in the park on Bear Lake Road to reach Bear Lake.
- Distance from Denver: ~70 miles or 1 1/2 hours driving
13. Steamboat Springs
Located in the Northern corner of Colorado, Steamboat Springs also hosts many winter tourists with its abundant winter outdoor opportunities. What is there to do in the summer?
If you’re looking for an authentic mountain town, steeped in adventure, history and culture yet full of modern amenities, we invite you to browse our vacation ideas that are as big as the Rockies themselves. However you like to spend your down time, you’ll find the perfect mountain vacation here in Steamboat.Steamboat Springs
Like much of Colorado, there are abundant hiking and mountain biking trails throughout the Rocky Mountains close to Steamboat Springs. The summer activities also include fishing, backpacking, camping, golfing, gondola rides, kids’ activities, bowling, boating, museums… just to name a few.
You may have already guessed from the name, Steamboat Springs, that you can also enjoy a relaxing dip in hot springs during your stay.
- Old Town Hot Springs – A family-friendly facility that includes hot springs-fed pools, two waterslides, a climbing wall, and a fitness center.
- Strawberry Park Hot Springs – Hike or bike into Strawberry Park via the Hot Springs Trail or take an all-inclusive shuttle service that will take care of everything for you.
NOTE * AFTER DARK Strawberry Park Hot Springs is “clothing optional” and open only to those 18 years and older.
- Distance from Denver: ~160 miles or 3 hours driving
Vail has a vibrant European look and feel. If Vail weren’t so darn expensive, it would be a lovely place to live… in the summer (I wouldn’t want to deal with the winter snow!).
Vail is home to the beautiful Vail Ski Resort and offers adventure and fun-filled activities for families year round.
- Stroll through the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens
- Enjoy summer concerts and art shows
- Experience summer gondola rides and enjoy the view
- Enjoy “Vail Mountain’s Epic Discovery… with the Forest Flyer Mountain Coaster, Eagle’s Nest Tubing Hill, Marmot Mini Kid’s Tubing Hill, Kids’ Zipline, Bungee Trampoline, Paramount Peak Climbing Wall, Gore Creek Mini Golf and more.” Discover Vail
- Go off road with adventures
- Go mountain biking, hiking, or horseback riding
- Try your hand at the Whitewater Park in Vail Village
- Kayak, paddle board, boat, canoe or raft on the lakes and rivers around Vail
- And finally, relax at the spa
As a summer destination for families that offers plenty of things to do, Vail is one of the best places in Colorado that you can visit.
- Distance from Denver: ~100 miles or 1 1/2 hours driving
My Favorite Things…
Many of My Favorite Travel Things and My Favorite Photography Things will make your visit to the colorful “Centennial State” so much more enjoyable. Here are a few suggestions, but check out My Favorite Things tab for even more ideas:
- Apple iPhone 11
- Canon 6d Mark II
- Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM Lens
- UV Protection Lens Filter
- Life is Good T-shirt
- Merrell Men’s Hiking Boots
- Oboz Women’s Hiking Boots
- Merino Wool Hiking Socks
- The NorthFace Recon Backpack Women
- The NorthFace Recon Backpack Men
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Final Thoughts on The 14 Best Places in Colorado for Family Travel This Summer
Most of the excursions and adventures for Chris and I involve searching for great hiking places in Colorado whenever we explore close to home. As a family, we have also loved camping, river rafting, ziplining… really all of the adventures that Colorado has to offer.
If YOU are looking for some super cool places in Colorado for hiking or to enjoy beautiful mountain lakes, summer adventures, and relaxing in the mountains with YOUR family, THE best places to visit in Colorado for families this summer are waiting for you.