Requested by Loriatx

Suggestions for an amazing family vacation this summer in/near Denver

Specifically (in this case) three kids under 6. Thanks for the request @loriatx!
  1. These are things you can do with children in a couple of hours or during an easy day trip from a Denver-based vacation
    This list probably reflects my interests and the interests of my children, who were children in the 1990s. #sorrynotsorry
  2. Note: The weather here is always perfect, but be sure to have layers if you go to the mountains as there may be a thunderstorm with brief rain between 2 pm and 5 pm, and the higher you go the colder it gets. Also carry snacks, sunscreen and hats, and water. Plenty of water.
    In my experience kids won't ask to drink until they are thirsty and by then it may be too late. Making them drink water at higher altitudes will help them avoid headaches, which can be frustrating for child and parent alike. Dad Lecture over.
  3. To the fun!
  4. In Denver area:
  5. Denver Museum of Science and Nature
    Like dinosaurs?? Visit for the excellent Prehistoric Journey (dinosaur bones galore!) area on the third floor. My kids also loved what they called The Fabulous Hall of Buttons (panoramas of native animals and biospheres with many interactive parts — button pushing for sound effects!) Stay for the great exhibits on animals of Africa, the Arctic and the various altitude-based environments of Colorado. Classic huge IMAX and planetarium too, if that's your thing.
  6. Dinosaur Ridge
    Like dinosaurs?? Located in the west suburbs between Golden and Morrison, it's a self-guided walk up a ridge on a now closed-to-traffic road where you can see fossilized dinosaur bones and foot tracks still in the ground. Interpretive signage explains all. (There is some sort of new private profit-generating visitors center that I've never visited and can't vouch for... it appears to offer shade, restrooms and tours for $.) But you can also park at fence and walk the hill. Bring water! Free!
  7. The Denver Zoo
    Like animals?? Most areas have been rebuilt and improved since we made monthly trips when my kids were small 20 years ago. Be sure to visit Primate Panorama, Elephant Passage and Tropical Discovery. I've been to a lot of zoos in the west, and this is one of the best (up there with San Diego, Seattle and Kansas City).
  8. Wings Over The Rockies Air and Space Museum
    Like airplanes?? This hanger at a former US Air Force base right in Denver is now a museum jammed with military fighter jets, space stuff, nuclear bombs (deactivated we assume) and other airplane and military stuff. You'll even see a large Star Wars X-Wing fighter and Anakin's pod-racer from Star Wars.
  9. Tattered Cover Bookstore
    Like books?? Take a load off and buy the kids a book or two. A Denver institution. Previously listed:
  10. Snooze
    Like breakfast or brunch?? Denver's trending hipster breakfast eatery has good food and many locations. The wait for a table may be too much for young children?
  11. Smashburger
    Like burgers?? I think they are expanding into a regional or national chain now, but they started in Colorado. Get the Colorado burger with smash fries; get it with the black bean patty if like me you're a vegetarian. Prepare to clean the kids up after eating here: juicy! Fast, clean and cheap(ish).
  12. Further afield:
  13. Georgetown Loop Railuroad
    Like trains?? If your kids (or their granddads!) love trains, make the 45-minute drive west up I-70 into the mountains to ride the working steam engine and passenger train of the Georgetown Loop train. Caution for those afraid of heights as there is one trestle bridge crossing that may make your feet tingle. Bring money.
  14. Hike Elk Meadow in Evergreen, Colo.
    Like nature?? There are literally dozens of kid friendly hikes within an hour of Denver. I like this one because while in the mountains, it is relatively flat, gives you forests and meadows and maybe elk and deer and the 7500 foot elevation isn't too stressful. I-70 west to Evergreen at SR-74 exit, south about 5 or 6 miles. Search 'Elk Meadow Jefferson County Open Space' for maps. (Stop at Buffalo Overlook to see the bison herd and amazing view of high country right on I-70 before exit). Free!
  15. Drive to top of Mount Evans
    If you want to experience a mountain top from safety and convenience of your own car, pay the small toll to drive to the top of Mount Evans. There's a parking lot at the top and you walk about a quarter mile to the summit of a 14,000+ mountain. You might see Rocky Mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and elk, too. Beautiful scenery and long-distance views too! Kids may fall asleep in their car seats if you time it right or first hike Elk Meadow (above), which is on the road to Mt Evans.
  16. Hike the Flatirons at Chautauqua Park, Boulder
    If Boulder is on your itinerary, there are steeper trails here with more dramatic sights (and greater crowds of people and dogs) around Chautauqua Park in Boulder. The Flatirons formation tower above Boulder and are very popular with hikers and visitors; parking on weekends can be a challenge and with small kids this may be a deal-breaker. Free!
  17. Pearl Street, Boulder
    A four-block long outside shopping district with plenty of great distractions for children, including playgrounds, climbable rocks, street performers, mimes, food, homeless people, pot smokers, neo-hippies, arts and crafts stores, jugglers, unicyclists, musicians and generally stellar people watching. Boulder Creek is nearby to play in. Be sure to challenge Zip Code Man (look for the rope outline of USA)!
  18. Estes Park
    Like souvenirs?? The touristy mountain town about 90 minutes northwest of Denver features the typically collection of tourist town t-shirt, taffy and gift shops, mini-golf, ghost tours at Stanley Hotel and fudge. It's also the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park so don't stop and get to the park instead! (Be sure to get an early start as traffic up the canyon can be heavy on summer weekends!). And if you come to Estes to shop and don't plan on going to RMNP, consider a short hike, next item:
  19. Hike around Lilly Lake
    Best "hike" for tiny kids at Rocky Mountain National Park. Easy, flat trail, less than a mile, circles the high elevation lake with mountain views and several picnic tables. Throw rocks in the lake. Find pine cones. Look for birds. And you don't need to pay national park admission as the parking lot trail head is on the edge of RMNP a few miles south of Estes Park on SR 7, the Peak-to-Peak Highway. Free!
  20. Greeley Freight Station Museum
    Like model HO trains?? This is an hour away from Denver, away from the mountains, but it's a huge and very cool model train layout that kids love to look at and explore. You can search for hidden dinosaurs, too. You have to really love trains or model layouts to invest the time to get here, but it is pretty fantastic. You could include it on a full day trip to Estes Park.
  21. Play in Clear Creek
    Like waterplay?? Nothing is more fun for kids than playing in a river. Also, nothing is perhaps more dangerous so please keep your eyes and hands on your toddlers! Clear Creek runs right through downtown Golden Colo, about 15 minutes west of downtown Denver. There is tubing, floating, wading and splashing fun to be had on the river and along the banks in Golden. Dad or Mom can take the nearby Coors tour too. Beware of spring run-off! And PLEASE don't let your kids drown in swift water! Free!
  22. Now a few things for those of you with older kids (7-14) or parental interest
  23. State Capitol Building
    Two must visits: the marker on the west steps denoting 5,280 feet above sea level (a mile high!) and find (third floor, north/west side of building) and climb the stairs inside the dome (kids love it!) to the dome balcony with amazing 360-degree views of Denver and mountains.
  24. Baseball game at Coors Field
    Naturally. Summer night games are the best.
  25. Denver Mint
    Learn how money is made! You'll need to plan ahead to reserve a tour time. Reservations are required, space is limited and they fill up quickly. But if your children are budding capitalists, it's kind of cool.
  26. Elitch Gardens
    A downtown Denver amusement park with coasters, water slides, etc. I'd rather go to the mountains but if your hometown doesn't have roller coasters and Disney is too far away this would be a suitable visit.
  27. Have fun in Colorado!