Traveling with kids can be a difficult task that only gets harder the farther out you go. Of course, the only way to get them used to traveling is by…well, traveling. So, with that in mind, here are some of the best road trips from Denver with the added bonus that you can get there, have fun, and come home all in one day.
The Royal Gorge is a canyon of the Arkansas River in Southern Colorado, just west of Cañon City. It is 116 miles from Denver, about 2 hours by car. The Royal Gorge Bridge and Park is a fantastic destination for the whole family. The bridge, originally built in 1929, held the record for highest bridge in the world for nearly 75 years. Now, it is still the highest in the country and is home to a park with a wide range of attractions, not the least of which is the gorge itself. Featuring gondolas, a zipline, a skycoaster, children’s playground, theater, and more. There really is something for everyone here.
Breckinridge is best known as a ski town, but it has so much more to offer. The town is perhaps the most robust of any ski town in Colorado, with plenty of restaurants and shops. They are also home to many festivals and events, including the annual Ullr Festival in December. In addition to some of the best skiing in Colorado, there are also plenty of great places to hike around the town, weather permitting of course. Be sure to head up in the fal and continue through the town and up Highway 9. Just over the pass is a valley covered in aspen trees, and is absolutely beautiful when the leaves start to turn.
Around an hour and a half down I-25 from Denver is Colorado Springs. There is a lot on offer in this second largest city in Colorado, including Manitou Springs. But perhaps the most iconic places are the Garden of the Gods and the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. The Garden of the Gods is a registered National Landmark, and for good reason. The beautiful geological features draw people from around the world. The park offers hiking and mountain biking, rock climbing and more. The visitor center offers a host of interesting and educational exhibits, including a world exclusive dinosaur fossil.
Even though St. Mary’s Glacier is not in fact a glacier but instead a semi-permanent snowfield, that shouldn’t detract at all from its beauty. While the trails rocky start may not be best for super young kids, it isn’t a terribly difficult hike. Just use your discretion, as you know your kids and their abilities best. Probably not best for their first hike, but if they are comfortable on trails, it is well worth it. The views at St Mary’s are more than worth the short hike to the top. Leashed dogs are welcome.
The Wildlife Sanctuary is not a traditional zoo. To that end, your admission fee only covers the costs of keeping the center open to visitors. Only direct donations go towards helping the animals, and you are encouraged to donate in order to help them. The facility is open to visitors in order to teach them about the rescue process and the Captive Wildlife Crisis. The animals are not kept front and center, and are instead allowed to roam their areas freely and without stress. However, they do have a 1.5 mile elevated walkway to allow plenty of opportunities to see the animals. Every animal in their care was rescued and rehabilitated, so their primary focus is on wildlife sanctuary and education. This is a great place to see animals, and more importantly learn about their specific struggles and the rehabilitation process. Consider donating after your visit to allow them to continue their great work.
At an hour and a half away from Denver, Estes Park is another great town worth visiting. Museums, amusement parks, lakes, hikes, and the historic Stanley Hotel, this town has something for everyone. There is even a scavenger hunt through downtown Estes where kids can get a free button for finding all of the pika statues scattered throughout. Be sure to keep an eye out for events and festivals in the town while you plan your visit.
While there are too many great attractions throughout the mountains to count, sometimes it’s the journey that matters more than the destination. With that in mind, consider town-hopping up I-70. Idaho Spring, Dillon/Silverthorne, Frisco, and more are right on the highway and have enough each to keep you busy all day.
Pikes Peak is the first mountain you can see when coming in from the East, in fact it is the first thing that settlers saw on their arduous trek west. Today, it houses many attractions, including museums, hiking and biking, tours of the mountain, and is also great to drive up for the drives sake. It is also home to the world famous Pikes Peak Hill Climb event. The hill climb started in 1916, and occurs annually on the last Sunday of June. You can spectate this event on practice days, or for the race itself. Tickets go fast, and you have to get there quite early, so plan ahead if you want to see the highest race in motorsport, and if you want to avoid this at all costs, know that the road is taken up by racers in the last week of June.
Georgetown is a beautiful small town about an hour from Denver. It is home to plenty of hiking, snowsports, museums and historic sites, and the famous Georgetown Loop Railroad. The railroad offers trips around the loop year round, but keep an eye out for their themed trips, including seasonal Halloween and Christmas trips.
Morrison, CO is just 25 minutes from Denver and has a lot to offer. You can start your day at Tiny Town, a ⅙ scale town complete with a miniature railway, head over to Dinosaur Ridge, a segment of the Dakota Hogback and home to one of the world’s most famous fossil hotspots, with a kid friendly visitor center, and plenty of tours of the hike itself, then finish your day at the world famous Red Rocks Amphitheater for a Film on the Rocks, a summer program featuring a musical opener, a comedian, a cartoon short, then a film. The schedule for Film on the Rocks is released in the spring, and always has at least one family friendly movie.
Colorado is really just full of great day trips, and each destination has well more than one days worth of activities, so don’t worry if you can’t get in everything you originally planned. Remember, it’s about the journey, not the destination.