Colorado’s summers are even more spectacular and predictable than its winters. From snowmelt-driven rivers to lush green forests shading hikers with leafed branches and pine arms scented in summer sweetness, the Rocky Mountains provide endless family entertainment, adventure, hospitality and most important, experiential travel that combines curiosity with outdoor fun and relaxation. These are the best summer family vacations in Colorado.
The largest town in southwest Colorado, Durango is unique to the state in landscape and culture, with a thriving university (Fort Lewis College) and an incredible array of summer activities. The area is extremely tourist- and family-friendly, with summer adventures including hiking the surrounding San Juan Mountains, and water sports such as tubing, paddling, kayaking and the most popular, whitewater rafting! The Animas River Trail runs through town and gives access to gold medal waters for fishing and a white water park for water enthusiasts.
Historic downtown is packed with restaurants, family-friendly breweries, retail stores, and boutique hotels. Close to downtown is the Durango Discovery Museum for any inclement-weather days.
During the summer months, book tickets early for the Durango & Silverton Railroad. This narrow-gauge railroad is one of the most iconic in America. Departing from the downtown Durango Depot, the ride takes families through mountain passes, canyons, valleys, and past rushing streams—it’s picturesque the entire route—to Silverton, a once-thriving, high mountain mining town with an operational Main Street with restaurants and shops. Visit Durango’s tourism website to combine train tickets with a visit to nearby Mesa Verde National Park (the only U.S. national park dedicated solely to ancient civilizations) and other area attractions.
Recommended Hotel: Colorado Trails Ranch
Telluride is one of the most remote mountain towns in Colorado. However, access to the acclaimed resort and historic town is easier than ever—Telluride Regional Airport recently launched its first-ever commercial jet service, and nearby Montrose-Telluride Regional Airport airport is another easy option with shuttle services available. It’s worth the extra efforts for its unspoiled nature, no stoplights or chain stores (aside from one Starbucks on the mountain), historic Main Street, and the nation’s only free gondola transportation.
There’s a new Telluride Bike Park on the mountain in addition to hiking trails accessed via chairlifts and other base mountain choices. Over two-dozen hikes depart from right outside the main town or the Mountain Village. Bridal Veil Falls is the most popular spot to view, via foot, bike, car, or four-wheel vehicle. Telluride Outside, located at 121 W. Colorado Avenue, can arrange family fly-fishing, river rafting or paddling, 4WD tours and more.
Recommended Hotel: Madeline Hotel and Residences
3. Vail Valley
This iconic ski area now has more summer activities than winter! The resort towns of Vail, Avon, Edwards, and Beaver Creek offer more than 100 activities—mountain biking, hiking, tubing, archery, ropes courses, climbing, paddling, fishing, shopping, picnics, discovery centers, daily kids’ camps and more.
During the summer, much of the family activity is at Vail Resort. Adventure Ridge, located on the mountain, includes a four-line, 1,200-foot long zipline, two aerial ropes courses, and a kids’ zip line, kids’ ropes course, climbing wall, rebound trampoline and more. Also at the ski mountain is Gore Creek Mini Golf, and at the Lionshead base area, there’s a free bean bag toss, horseshoes and a paid slackline park where kids of all ages can test their balance at a variety of levels.
Recommended Hotel: The Grand Hyatt Vail
Boulder stuns come summer! It’s loaded with activities, a vibrant restaurant and cultural scene, and plenty of family-friendly lodging options. The National Historic Landmark has rental cottages with 48 miles of hiking trails and thousands of acres of natural lands. The Boulder Farmers Market is also voted as one of the top in the nation and is easily accessible from the famous Street Mall, loaded with restaurants, shops, street entertainers and great people watching.
Herschel Goldberg, founder of Boulder Bike Tours, has an epic summer package where families can rent bikes and helmets (including electric bikes for adults). Bike from downtown Pearl Street to a farm for the Thursday night “Sunset Tour” with wood-fired pizza featuring veggies that are harvested that day. There’s music playing, children dancing, libations, coffee, and more. It’s the epitome of Boulder!
Recommended Hotel: Hotel Boulderado
Snowmass has fast become one of the most exuberant, authentic summer family vacation options in Colorado. From trout hook fishing to a Treeline Trial Challenge Course, the on-mountain Lost Forest should not be missed! The adventure park is located near the Elk Camp Restaurant and offers the Canopy Run Zip Line, the Breathtaker Alpine Coaster, Rugged Ascent Climbing Wall, Aerial Approach Disc Golf, and Timber Territory Paintball. It’s truly fun for the whole family whether you prefer to take it slow and participate in disc golf, or are more of an adventurous crew willing to attempt the Treeline Trial Challenge Course.
Families can ride the Elk Camp Gondola up Snowmass Mountain where the Elk Camp Restaurant has activities including downhill biking, dinner, campfires, live music, movies, a Stryder Park and a kids’ playground on Tuesday evenings. An increasingly popular Colorado sport, standup paddleboarding can easily be done with local guides on the Roaring Fork River. Guests get creative at the Anderson Ranch Arts Center, a stellar place for kids of all ages to take workshops in sculpture, photography, painting, beading and mask-making. And, the weekly Wednesday night Snowmass Rodeo is a mix of locals and visitors, all enthralled with the Western action.
Recommended Hotel: Limelight Hotel Snowmass
6. Glenwood Springs
Glenwood Springs is one of the most famous hot springs resort towns in the world, with the largest outdoor mineral hot springs pool at Glenwood Hot Springs Resort. The mile-long pool is great for parents (who can soothe their achy muscles) and kids (who can swim to their heart’s content). During the summer months, there are cabana rentals and a new Splash Zone. Lap lanes are also available for swimmers year-round.
There’s even more adventure to be had at the Historic Fairy Caves Tour at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, packed with family attractions including the Cliff Hanger Roller Coaster, alpine coaster, a zip ine, giant swing over the canyon, rides geared for younger adventures, games and more. For a unique evening activity, try the Glenwood Vaudeville Revue dinner variety show.
Recommended Hotel: Glenwood Hot Springs Resort
7. Steamboat Springs
Once summertime arrives in the Yampa River Valley, Steamboat Springs showcases some of the most spectacular summer offerings across the state. The authentic Western town has a legendary weekly rodeo that’s a huge draw for the town, and the Main Street offers plenty of shops, pubs and restaurants to entertain for hours. In town is also the Old Town Hot Springs, with numerous pools and areas to play. For the more adventurous, there’s a small scenic hike to Strawberry Park Natural Hot Springs with numerous geothermal pools of varying temperatures.
On-mountain adventures include hiking and biking (with use of the chairlifts), Maverick Mini Golf, summer tubing lanes, mini-boats, a challenging ropes course, bungee trampoline, bounce house, climbing wall, Outlaw Mountain Coaster and more.
Summer season is also filled with events and celebrations; be sure to check the town’s website for dates. The 4th of July is one of the biggest celebrations of the year with an impressive parade through the Western town. There are also numerous marathons, runs, the hot air balloon rodeo, car shows and much more that are unique to the town.
Recommend Hotel: The Porches
8. Winter Park/Granby/Grand Lake
Located about 90 miles from Denver, in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, is the year-round resort town of Winter Park. On-mountain activities include Colorado’s longest alpine slide, climbing wall, free Friday movie nights and the Trestle Bike Park, which has over 40 miles of lift-serviced mountain bike trails perfect for riders of all ages and abilities. For something a little more laidback or for smaller ones, take a one-hour educational walking tour of the kennels at Dog Sled Rides of Winter Park or a 45-minute cart ride through the forest!
Grand County has five mountain lakes that are popular for fishing and boating, including 7,000-acre Grand Lake, Colorado’s largest body of water! Known as the “Western Gateway” to Rocky Mountain National Park, Grand Lake’s historic boardwalk has more than 60 shops, restaurants, and galleries including the new Rocky Mountain Repertory Theater. The national park has more than 350 miles of hiking trails and the western slope trails in Grand County are much less frequented than those on the eastern slope.
Recommended Hotels: YMCA of the Rockies – Snow Mountain Ranch
9. Colorado Springs
The second largest city in Colorado, Colorado Springs is also a haven for recreational activity with close proximity to mountains and water. Pikes Peak is iconic; America the Beautiful was written from an experience atop, and towers over the city. Pike’s Peak Cog Railroad is extremely popular with families and we always advise to purchase tickets in advance. This is the world’s highest cog train, taking passengers to the summit of 14,110 feet for truly incredible and 360-degree views.
Families can hike, bike, walk, drive, horseback ride, and more through the Garden of the Gods Park. Cheyenne Mountain Zoo recently underwent major renovations including a new ‘Encounter Africa’ exhibit, and guests can also feed the giraffes here.
Cave of the Winds has a dozen options for visitors including cave tours, a climbing wall, adventure slide, panning for gemstones, nature center, adventure course and more. Colorado Springs is also home to the U.S. Olympic Training Center, where numerous tours are offered.
The Broadmoor is a storied resort where you can visit for the day or spend the night in nearly 60 different spots throughout the property. It’s free to meander around the lake inside the resort, and all are welcome to dine at any of the restaurants, burn some energy off on the playground, rent a paddleboat and more. Overnight guests have access to multiple outdoor pools and hot tubs.
Recommend Hotel: SCP Colorado Springs Hotel
Julie Bielenberg is a Denver-based journalist and Colorado’s leading agritourism writer. She contributes her expertise to various outlets including AAA, USA Today 10 Best, 5280, Westword, Mountain Town Magazine, Hunting Life, and Mile High Mamas. Julie also works with the National Dude Ranchers Association. When she’s not traveling or on horseback, Julie is at home with her husband and three young children, who are passionate about everything Colorado has to offer, from skiing to hot springs! Follow Julie’s adventures, @slowandgotraveler.