Family-Friendly Colorado Vacations

Colorado native, Allyson Shulte lists her top seven family-friendly mountain towns.

By Allyson Shulte
Explore Ambassador

Colorado has so many mountain towns worth exploring, sometimes it can be overwhelming to decide where to start when planning your trip. Whether you’re looking for mountain views, alpine lakes, fall aspens or anything in between, this guide will help you decide the best location for your next Colorado vacation.



Best time to visit: summer and fall (July through October)

Not only is Durango an adorable mountain town itself, but it’s nestled in the perfect spot with access to one of my favorite mountain ranges in the state, the San Juan Mountains. Durango is packed with things to do, ranging from hiking and mountain biking to museums and hot springs, and you could easily spend a week or more enjoying everything it has to offer.

One of my favorite attractions is a ride along the Narrow Gauge Railroad, which takes you from downtown Durango to Silverton, Colo. The train ride is a truly unique and magical experience, and it’s fun for the whole family. Expect to be blown away by the sights and sounds as the train weaves through a narrow mountain canyon overlooking a river. If you are planning to do the full round-trip journey in one day, you can expect the entire journey to take about nine hours. While you’re in Silverton, make sure to stop by Old Arcade to grab a souvenir and some outstanding fudge.

If you drive 35 miles west of Durango to Mesa Verde National Park, you can experience one of the most impressive Native American sites in the Southwest. These elaborate cliff dwellings were at their peak close to 1,000 years ago, and visiting is like a step back in time. Since most cliff dwellings can only be accessed via a guided tour with a park ranger, make sure to book your tickets in advance. 

And lastly, while you’re in Durango, make reservations for an adventure activity! Try whitewater rafting down the Animas River, get your adrenaline pumping with a scenic zipline or take the kids to Purgatory Resort for the alpine slide. 


Steamboat Springs

Best time to visit: summer and fall (June through October) or winter (December through March)

Whether you’re a mountain biking enthusiast, looking for fall colors or ready to hit the slopes, Steamboat Springs has it all.

During the summer months, Steamboat Springs is famously known as Bike Town USA. This mountain town offers a plethora of mountain biking trail options, with difficulties ranging from beginner level to adrenaline downhill. If you prefer to explore on foot, there are plenty of hiking trail options for all ages. One of my absolute favorite hikes near town is Fish Creek Falls (pictured), featuring a 283-foot-tall waterfall that is easily accessed via paved trail or viewpoint. To access the lower falls, the path is stroller and wheelchair friendly. If you want to extend your adventure to see the upper falls, continue on for a 5-mile round-trip journey with roughly 1,400 feet in elevation gain. This trail is abundant with wildflowers in the summer, and the aspens glow a beautiful golden yellow during the fall. After your hiking and biking adventures, cool off and enjoy the mountain views by floating down the Yampa River or visiting Burgess Creek Beach.

The winter months are all about the ski mountain. Steamboat is known for its champagne powder variety of terrain and for being a family-friendly ski resort. The resort stretches across nearly 3,000 acres of skiable terrain, with options for those new to the sport, experts and everyone in between! Finish up your ski trip with a soak at one of the two local hot springs, Old Town or Strawberry Park. Old Town Hot Springs is located downtown and has a variety of soaking pools based on your comfort level and water slides for the kids. If you’d rather be nestled in the mountains, make the drive to Strawberry Park Hot Springs for a truly unique experience. 

Steamboat Springs is jam-packed with opportunities to get outside with the family and is a great long-weekend to weeklong-trip destination. When planning your trip, I recommend checking the Steamboat Chamber Event Calendar for local happenings (such as free concert series, art walks, farmers markets and more). 


Colorado Springs

Best time to visit: spring through fall (May through October)

Looking to stay closer to the city? Colorado Springs offers mountain adventures with access to all the conveniences of a city. This is a great long-weekend destination or an easy add-on to any Colorado road trip. 

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be on top of a mountain, Pikes Peak Highway gives you the opportunity to experience life at 14,115 feet. The 19-mile journey to the summit of Pikes Peak offers breathtaking views, with plenty of pull-offs to get that perfect picture. Always check weather conditions, as it’s not uncommon for there to be a 30- to 40-degree temperature difference on the summit versus in town. Pack layers accordingly, and confirm that the road is open before heading out. When you make it to the summit, stop by the Summit House for some world-famous doughnuts! 

For those families looking to explore, make the trip out to see the Seven Falls. While there are 224 stairs to climb, you’re quickly rewarded with fascinating rock formations and a 181-foot-tall waterfall. If you’re looking for an adventure with fewer stairs, Garden of the Gods is a popular landmark near Colorado Springs that is known for its towering red rocks. Tourists, photographers, bikers, campers and hikers from all over come to wander the trails in awe of the unique landscape. And a bonus: This activity is completely free!



Best time to visit: summer and fall (June through October) or winter (December through March)

While Breckenridge is known for its skiing and snowboarding, you don’t HAVE to ski to enjoy this mountain town! Skiing is certainly a great option, but only a small part of what Breckenridge has to offer. 

If you’re looking for wildflowers and alpine lakes, you’ve found your match! It would be easy to spend weeks exploring all the nearby trails, but four to five days is a good amount of time to budget. The elevation of Breckenridge is roughly 9,600 feet above sea level, and if it’s your first time visiting, I recommend giving yourself one to two days to acclimate. Drink lots of water and stay hydrated throughout your stay! 

Here are a few of my favorite places to see in Breckenridge during the summer and fall months.

  • Drive Boreas Pass. Any rental car can make it to the top of Boreas Pass, which starts not too far outside of downtown. Experience life above the treeline, learn about the history of the mountain pass and enjoy the panoramic views. This road is lined with aspens, making it the perfect fall adventure.
  • Plan an adventure with Epic Discovery. Located at the base of Breckenridge, Epic Discovery offers family-friendly activities for all ages. Enjoy a variety of outdoor adventures, including a zipline, adventure course, climbing wall, scenic rides and more.
  • Hike to Blue Lakes. This is an easier out-and-back trail near Breckenridge that features an alpine lake tucked into the mountains. If you’re lucky, you might even get to see some mountain goats!
  • Find the Breckenridge Troll. This 15-foot-tall sculpture named Isak Heartstone is a unique experience that will be fun for the whole family. This trail only requires about a half-mile of hiking round trip, and while it’s not a paved path, it’s an easy trail to follow. 

Great Sand Dunes National Park

Best time to visit: early summer (May through June) or fall (September through October)

If you’re in need of an epic weekend getaway, look no further than Great Sand Dunes National Park. I recommend planning your trip here during the shoulder-season months. If summer is the best time for you, plan to hike the dunes in the early morning or evening to avoid hot surface temperatures. 

Great Sand Dunes National Park has 30 square miles of sand dunes to explore, including the tallest sand dune in North America. Not only that, but the dunes have a magical mountain backdrop! Exploring the sand dunes is an activity perfect for all ages, and you really get to choose your own adventure. Play in the sand, hike for miles, get a permit to backpack on the dunes or rent a sled and have some fun! 

Once you’ve enjoyed the beauty of the sand dunes, head a few miles down the road for a hike to Zapata Falls. This is a family-friendly hike featuring a 30-foot waterfall, with the total distance being just under a mile round trip and about 200 feet of elevation gain. Finish up your trip with a soak at Splashland Hot Springs, which is a heated swimming pool featuring three water slides, a diving board and lap lanes. The pool is kept at a warm 88 to 96 degrees Fahrenheit year-round and is the perfect place to unwind and relax with the family.


Estes Park

Best time to visit: summer through fall (June through October)

This mountain town is known for being the base for the amazing Rocky Mountain National Park. As you drive into Estes Park, you’re greeted with sweeping views of the Rocky Mountains. From camping and wildlife viewing to family fun and scenic beauty, Estes Park offers a myriad of options for outdoor adventure. If you decide to plan a trip to Estes Park, I recommend reading my Simple 7: Visiting Rocky Mountain National Park for specific tips, tricks and ideas for your visit. 

Outside of the national park, Estes Park is a great spot to spend your family vacation. Visit the famous Stanley Hotel, a historic hotel known for its connection to the iconic horror novel and film The Shining. Pick a spot to soak up the warm Colorado sun along the shores of Lake Estes, or rent a kayak from the marina. Explore downtown Estes Park’s shops, restaurants and galleries. Pick up some local taffy from Purple Mountain Taffy Company or a refreshing treat from Hayley’s Ice Cream. If you’re looking for a vacation that offers not only outdoor fun, but also history, food and good shopping, it’s time to start planning!


Idaho Springs

Best time to visit: summer through fall (June through October)

For those looking for a weekend trip to Colorado, Idaho Springs is the perfect location, being in close proximity to the Denver airport while also providing easy access to the mountains. There are many adventures to be had for families or solo travelers in Idaho Springs, with hiking and biking trails, hot springs and a wide variety of outdoor activities. 

When visiting Idaho Springs, here are a few things you must add to your itinerary.

  • Hike to Saint Mary’s Glacier. Enjoy a classic Colorado hike that leads you to a beautiful alpine lake and glacier. The trail is only 1.5 miles round trip and doable for all ages. There is a $5 parking fee, so make sure to bring cash with you! 
  • Visit the Argo Gold Mine & Mill. Experience the history and wonder of one of the largest and best-preserved gold mines in the world. 
  • Soak at Indian Hot Springs. Relax and unwind in the warm mineral water springs, with options for family-friendly pools or geothermal caves.  
  • Drive Guanella Pass. This road is lined with wildflowers in the summer and glowing aspens in the fall. Go for a hike or drive to the top of the pass at 11,669 feet and marvel at the view of Mount Bierstadt (pictured). 

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