Fun-loving families have a lot of options for Colorado adventures this summer. Here are five of our favorite activities; kick off your summer by trying one. Or better yet, try them all!
1. Llama Treks
Snow Mountain Ranch
1101 County Road 53 outside Granby
If summer’s got you feeling nostalgic for sleepaway camp, book a trip to Snow Mountain Ranch, which offers a camp-like experience for adventurous families. In addition to horseback riding, mountain biking, archery, swimming, crafts, miniature golf and tubing on Colorado’s first summer tubing hill, this YMCA of the Rockies site now offers llama treks, June through August, for lodging guests and day-pass purchasers.
“I did a family backpacking trip with llamas and thought they would be a great addition to our current offerings,” says Chris Michalowski, assistant program director at Snow Mountain Ranch. “Llamas are a great way to get families – especially families with young children – into backcountry camping.” The docile creatures are also photogenic. “They love selfies,” Michalowski says.
Learn to pack your llama at Snow Mountain Ranch’s historic Rowley Homestead before exploring portions of the property’s scenic 5,100 acres, nestled below the Continental Divide. When the trek ends, hunker down in a lodge room, tent camp — or try Snow Mountain Ranch’s yurt village, opening July 1 with twelve new yurts capable of accommodating up to six people each with a queen bed, two bunk beds and a camping tent pad, plus a full bathhouse and fire ring. When you book a yurt or room at Snow Mountain Ranch, you’ll have access to on-site meals and a full lineup of activities during your stay.
2. Vail’s Epic Discovery
675 Lionshead Place in Vail
Zip, fly, tour and tube your way through the warm weather months at Vail’s latest on-mountain experience launching this month, "Epic Discovery will provide an avenue for our summer guests to experience our alpine settings in a new, immersive way — similar to what our ski and snowboard guests experience in the winter,” explains Chris Jarnot, senior vice-president and chief operating officer of Vail Mountain. “For kids, it will be the ultimate playground in an alpine setting."
An $89, one-day Ultimate Adventure Pass grants patrons unlimited access to an array of activities including two ziplines, three adventure courses, tubing and mini-tubing, a bungee trampoline and the Mountain Goat Climbing Tower. On the Forest Flyer gravity-based alpine coaster, guests descend on individual sleds on a raised track through the forest; another must-try is the Game Creek Canopy Tour, a guided forest tour featuring zip lines and aerial bridges as high as 300 feet above the valley floor.
Learn-through-play activities are interspersed throughout the site, and an expanded trail system paves the way for wildlife exploration. While hiking, you'll stumble upon a series of installations, each resembling a different animal ability that’ll invite guests to, say, test their sense of smell against a bear’s. Vail is partnering with the Nature Conservancy, the U.S. Forest Service and Walking Mountains Science Center to bring these interpretive elements to Epic Discovery; 1 percent of all summer lift-ticket and activity revenue will be donated to the Nature Conservancy for forest-restoration projects.
Keep reading for more family adventures.
3. Butterflies at Chatfield Farms
8500 West Deer Creek Canyon Road, Littleton
For the third year, the Butterfly Pavilion and Denver Botanic Gardens have teamed up to present Butterflies at Chatfield Farms, open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily through September. Near Chatfield Farms’ main entrance – across from the visitors' center – guests can interact with hundreds of butterflies inside a 1,500-square-foot structure housing a garden with more than fifty indigenous Colorado plant species. The natural flora and fauna serve as a habitat for mostly native butterflies, though some tropical breeds have been introduced, too.
Species sightings will vary by day; keep an eye out for the monarch, painted lady, common buckeye, queen, black swallowtail, viceroy and red admiral. “We get live butterflies every few weeks,” says Chatfield Farms visitor-services representative Jackie Gordon. “We also hatch chrysalis; we’re trying to showcase the whole life cycle of the butterfly.”
Kids love “hanging out with the butterflies,” Gordon continues. “The butterflies do land on you, and they’ll fly by your face.” Budding photographers can bring their cameras for up-close shots. A $5 parking fee per non-member vehicle gets you general admission to Chatfield Farms, and a separate admission ticket – $4 for non-members, $2 for members – is required to enter the butterfly house. The butterfly house will be closed on July 12 and August 2 and 4.
4. Dinosaur Train Rides in Durango
479 Main Avenue, Durango
All aboard! The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad will host its fifth annual Dinosaur Train several days in June. Based on the award-winning PBS Kids program, this special twelve-ride series has become one of the railroad’s most popular family excursions, and is particularly appealing for kids ages three to seven.
After boarding at the depot in Durango, patrons take a scenic half-hour trip through the San Juan National Forest. Along for the ride and some very special sing-alongs is Buddy, that lovable Tyrannosaurus rex from Dinosaur Train. Grab a snack on-board, too, and settle in for a natural history presentation about dinosaurs and their habitats; this year the railroad is partnering with the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science and its team of paleontologists to provide riders with enhanced educational information and fossils, too.
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When the train reaches its destination – the Nature Trackers Adventure Area – guests have ninety minutes to participate in activities and challenges, including a fossil dig, dinosaur tracking, a live reptile show, face painting and a photo op with Buddy. “These special events reflect our continued commitment to staging fun, interactive and family-friendly events that are enjoyable for parents and children alike,” says Allen C. Harper, co-owner and CEO of American Heritage Railways, the parent company of the D&SNGRR. Standard tickets start at $24 and can be purchased online or by calling 888-872-4607. Excursion dates and times are listed online.
5. Free Bowling at Punch Bowl Social
You don’t have to venture far from Denver to have fun this summer. With old-school entertainment, culinary refinement and a stellar craft beverage program, the hip eatertainment concept known as Punch Bowl Social has been entertaining grownups and fun-loving families since opening in the Baker neighborhood in 2012.
New this summer, Punch Bowl Social is offering free, hour-long kids' bowling sessions on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, for children and adolescents under fifteen. Bowling shoes are included, and bowlers must be accompanied by an adult.
“Punch Bowl Social is quickly becoming a top spot for families to gather, and we wanted to offer parents and kids a cool space to have fun and keep busy this summer,” says marketing director Jodi Collier. When your hour is up, try karaoke, wall-size magnetic scrabble, ping-pong, arcade games and bocce, along with the establishment’s notoriously good scratch cooking.