Vail: Adventurous Family Fun in the Rocky Mountains

Vail: Adventurous Family Fun in the Rocky Mountains Vanessa Santamaria Contributor Miami Moms Blog
Colorado National Monument

While you may think of Colorado as a winter wonderland with a plethora of activities from skiing and snowboarding to sledding and ice skating, this picturesque vacation destination offers fun for the entire family all year long.

With renowned ski resorts in Vail, Beaver Creek, Aspen, Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, and Keystone — as well as others — there’s certainly no shortage of cold-weather adventures to enjoy. But our family favorite is traveling to Colorado during the warmer months of the year.

We’ve traveled to Vail and Beaver Creek for a couple of years now and my kids never want to leave. “Next time we want to stay two or three weeks,” they say. “Can we stay longer?” While it seems there’s never enough time to fit in all the exciting things on our list, the good news is we can always go back and enjoy more.

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Hiking in the Mountains

On our most recent visit, we stopped by the beautiful Walking Mountains Science Center in Avon. While there, all I kept thinking was, “I wish we had something like this in Miami!” This innovative natural science learning center sits on 10 lush acres that include wetlands, aspen forest, wildflowers, wildlife, a pond, and some fun and easy trails. Inside the building, my daughters couldn’t get enough of the exhibits, especially the recreated beaver dam. Visit the Walking Mountains website because they offer cool activities all year long.

There are numerous trails to choose from based on your ability, so be sure to research those before you head out. Some trails will have you trekking uphill through the mountains and forest. But you’re usually rewarded with a beautiful lake or waterfall, Instagrammable views, and animals. The three-mile Hanging Lake Trail is one of the most popular ones, but it’s a bit rigorous. And you must obtain a permit to hike here, as it’s a protected area. We really enjoyed the Lily Pad Lake Trail and the views it offered. It’s a nice trail for all ages. Although we didn’t make it to the end because it was raining and thundering, we would like to go back and see more.

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Thrilling Adventures

Just a short drive from Vail, you’ll find a mountaintop theme park at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park. You can hop on the gondola in Glenwood Springs, enjoy the park rides and tour the caves. Don’t miss the Glenwood Hot Springs Resort, which is quite a treat for the family. They recently added an awesome water park!

If you want to spend more time on the water, local tour operators offer plenty of options for whitewater rafting along the breathtaking Colorado River. Since our girls are only 5 and 8 years old, we opted for the Family Rafting Adventure with Lakota Guides.  This adventure offers mild class 1-2 rapids for young and old. If you’re looking for a bigger adrenaline rush, you can select from one of the splashier raft trips. They even offer overnight adventures.

One of my kids’ favorite activities is taking the Eagle Bahn Gondola to the top of Vail Mountain at an elevation of 10,350 feet. As if that’s not adventurous enough, the real reward is Epic Discovery, which offers tubing, zipline tours, adventure courses, a bungee trampoline, climbing wall, and the Forest Flyer Mountain Coaster. You can also book a 4×4 tour or go mountain biking to really appreciate the incredible views. Just make sure to select a clear weather day for the trip up because they will shut down the gondola and mountain top activities if there’s lightning in the area. Here you’ll also find the Walking Mountains Nature Discovery Center with natural history and wildlife exhibits, fun activities and nature hikes.

Vail: Adventurous Family Fun in the Rocky Mountains Vanessa Santamaria Contributor Miami Moms Blog
Horseback Riding at Vail Stables

Giddy Up!

We love horses and my girls have even taken horseback riding classes in the Redland area (near Homestead). They ask me to go on trail rides every chance they get, so it’s a must-do activity during our Colorado vacations. 4 Eagle Ranch offers a great authentic ranch experience with lots of fun activities for the entire family. We’ve done trail rides with Triple G Outfitters before and they were great. But this year my 5-year old was determined to do a trail ride just like her big sister. Luckily, I found a great option that takes kids 5 and older on rides. We headed to Vail Stables and all four of us had the opportunity to ride through the lush aspen forest, mountainous terrain and rocky slopes. We were rewarded with picture-perfect vistas once we reached the top. It was certainly a highlight of our trip.

Another fun outing is the rodeo. There are a couple of different options in the area, so check the schedules and locations to find what works best for your trip itinerary. We attended the Beaver Creek Rodeo and it was packed with all the usual things like barrel racing (our favorite), bull riding, trick riding, and team roping. This event had burro racing, which was new for us, as well as horse rides and archery.

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See the Sights

Some of our favorite activities have included hopping on the scenic Leadville Colorado and Southern Railroad to experience the train as it meanders through the mountains. It’s one of the world’s highest railways so the views are pretty spectacular.

We also enjoyed driving out to Piney River Ranch. The journey there along a mountainous dirt road was part of the fun! Once you arrive, you’re surrounded by spectacular views of the majestic Gore Range. This is a perfect day trip for hiking and checking out the backcountry, spotting wildlife and canoeing on Piney Lake. While canoeing, we came across a moose that came down to the edge of the water. On the drive back, we saw some deer. The ranch also has a restaurant that serves up delicious smoked BBQ so be sure to check it out.

A day trip to the Colorado National Monument near Grand Junction is highly recommended. Although it’s about a 2-hour drive from where we were staying, we enjoyed the drive and discovering new places. We entered the park through the town of Fruita, which also boasts a Dinosaur Museum. The red rock formations, deep canyons and desert landscape filled with juniper and pinyon trees make for some impressive photo ops. It will remind you of the Grand Canyon. Here, you’ll find lots of really cool trails and awe-inspiring views. You’ll also learn a lot about the area’s history. We stopped by the Visitor Center for a “rock talk” and the girls filled out their park-related booklet.  After they answered some questions they made pledges and became official Junior Rangers. So cute!

You’ll discover lookout points and gorgeous views just about everywhere.

On our drive back to Denver to catch our flight home, we made a stop at Sapphire Point Overlook, located between Keystone and Breckenridge. We walked a short distance and were rewarded with spectacular mountain and water views — plus lots of chipmunks waiting to greet us. It was a quick but well-worth-it visit. Then we headed to Breckenridge for lunch before continuing to the airport.

There’s certainly no shortage of things to see and do in the Rocky Mountains throughout the year. In fact, I’ve already made a list of several things we want to experience during our next trip and my daughters are already making plans. We can’t wait to return to Colorado.

What You Should Know

  • We’ve stayed in Avon during both of our trips, which is conveniently located near Vail and Beaver Creek.
  • The temperature in Colorado can quickly change from high temps during the day to much cooler weather in the evening, so be sure to pack sweaters just in case.
  • Since you’re traveling to a much higher elevation, be sure to stay hydrated and get some rest to avoid altitude sickness.
  • We always buy a small cooler once we arrive and pack drinks to take with us, so we stay hydrated all day long. If we’re going on a hike, it’s easy to just grab a couple of drinks and put them in a backpack.
  • The air is much drier than what we’re used to here in Miami, so you need to add moisture if you feel your sinuses getting dry. I always pack saline spray and Aquaphor and that works great.
  • Don’t forget your hiking boots, cushioned socks, hat, sunglasses and rain gear.