Best Road Trip — East 2017 | Comanche National Grassland | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

The Colorado grasslands aren't for everyone. Their lush periods are slight while the dry spells are brutal, but if you fine-tune your eye (which has probably been spoiled by all those mountain vistas) to the more subtle charms of the plains landscape, visiting them is well worth the drive. Find out what the fuss was all about when the U.S. Army tried — and eventually failed — to expand its Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site by encroaching on the grassland ten years ago: There are dino tracks preserved in the canyon along the Purgatoire River (anglicized to "Picketwire" by its American denizens), the ruins of the Dolores Mission to explore, and petroglyphs and tipi circles in Picture Canyon. Wildlife runs the gamut from prairie chickens and pronghorns to collared lizards and roadrunners, and you can even follow the Santa Fe Trail, imagining yourself crossing the plains in a covered wagon.

Rich in mining lore, Texas-sized belt buckles and beautiful scenery, the Silver Thread Byway follows the Rio Grande River out of South Fork, passing by the Collier State Wildlife Area on ancient Ute Indian lands on the way to historic Creede, a mining town reinvented with art galleries, eateries and a famed summer repertory theater on Main Street. In spite of its charming new directions, you can still revisit Creede's mining past firsthand at the Underground Mining Museum or on side trips into the hills above town before heading over steep Spring Creek Pass and past Lake San Cristobal to picturesque Lake City, a Victorian aerie perched high in the San Juans. From there, it's on through high-walled canyons to Gunnison — and back again.

You can add to or take away from this extensive loop by stitching together a variety of scenic byways and national heritage areas, but whichever route you commit to, you're going to gain a new appreciation for northern Colorado — and especially for its rugged scenery, from the Poudre Canyon to the headwaters of the Colorado River. Highlights range from the de rigueur Trail Ridge Road and Rocky Mountain National Park to the pristine and nature-heavy beauty of North Park and Walden, the Rawah Wilderness and the Medicine Bow and Never Summer Mountains.

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Daniels Park is in a part of Douglas County dominated by gated communities and homes beyond the means of the 99 percent. But you don't have to be stupendously wealthy to enjoy this spectacular slice of Colorado. The 1,000-acre property was donated to the City and County of Denver by Miss Florence Martin more than eighty years ago, and since the early days, an 800-acre preserve for a buffalo herd has been among its grabbiest attractions. But there's a lot more to see than just bison: On a clear day, visitors can experience one of the great views in the state, stretching from Pikes Peak to Long's Peak, as well as gorgeous hiking and picnicking areas. And despite the park's location, there's no admission fee.

Jefferson County

Tired of hearing your kids whine, "Are we there yet?" Mount Falcon Park is a Jefferson County gem that sits a mere twenty miles from downtown Denver, but it still offers all of the topographic variances, tucked-away treasures and sweeping panoramas of a more remote trek. Park at the east entrance (3852 Vine Street in Morrison) and hop on Castle Trail, which links up with Turkey Trot Trail after a 2,000-foot elevation gain for a rigorous-but-doable loop boasting views of Red Rocks and the LoDo skyline. Take Castle Trail farther west, and you'll stumble on the historic Summer White House Trail, leading adventurers to stone remnants of an early 1900s home, the cornerstone of a would-be summer White House for presidents. There are over twelve miles of trail between the east and west entrances at Mount Falcon Park, and picnic tables, shelters and restrooms are accessible from both entries.

Ben Siebrase

Belly Bliss founder Lauren Williams makes the daunting task of parenting a little bit more blissful with a center devoted entirely to pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood. We recommend dropping in for a family yoga class. Offered weekly, these hour-long sessions include games, music and partner poses, along with flowing asanas and a few challenging postures, too. Parent-child yoga delivers the same mental and physical benefits of regular yoga, like peace of mind, relaxation and increased flexibility, but the perks don't stop there. Family Yoga is a time for parents to truly connect with their babies, toddlers and children in a calming yet playful environment — and to meet other parents, too. No previous yoga experience required.

Great Wolf Lodge Facebook

Nestled between iconic red sandstone formations and majestic mountains, Great Wolf Lodge is an all-inclusive getaway suitable for wolf packs of all ages. Not many hotels are created specifically for kids and their parents, but Colorado's latest travel addition, which opened in Colorado Springs in December 2016, is one of those unique properties. Everything's under one roof: a 50,000-square-foot aquatics center, a 20,000-square-foot indoor entertainment complex, pristine rooms and six eateries, some boasting locally sourced, scratch-made grub. Water-park access is included with lodging, and your kiddos are sure to sleep soundly after exploring three pools, obstacle courses, a multi-level treehouse-slash-water-fort and twelve water slides, including two-story body slides, the four-story Alberta Falls, and Howlin' Tornado, a six-story funnel. Kiddie chutes are available for wee guests, along with the zero-depth-entry Cub Paw Pool. Free activities — yoga, wildlife walks and storytimes — are offered on site daily through the Great Wolf Kids Program.

YMCA of the Rockies

Who says you have to spend a fortune on your next family getaway? YMCA of the Rockies delivers two fantastic destinations at Snow Mountain Ranch and its Estes Park Center. At each site, guests are greeted with a robust lineup of year-round activities; the experience is a little bit like camp for the whole family. In addition to hiking, horseback riding, archery, swimming, crafts and miniature golf, each site boasts its own unique entertainment: There's fishing, a summer tubing hill and llama treks at Snow Mountain Ranch, and concerts, guided hikes and a spectacular zipline at Estes Park Center. When night falls, gather 'round the campfire for a marshmallow roast, then hunker down in a lodge room or cabin — or in one of Snow Mountain Ranch's new yurts.

Maize in the City Facebook

In the era of being plugged in 24/7, there's something indulgent about spending an autumn day with family and friends wandering through a humongous corn maze. There's plenty of agrotourism in Colorado, but we think Maize in the City's twenty-acre labyrinth takes the cake. This family-friendly destination engages visitors during the fall with a variety of attractions, including a mini-train, a petting zoo and pony rides. Youngsters can even navigate their own mini-maze cut from shorter stalks. At sundown, the maize morphs into an insanely terrifying Haunted Field of Screams that'll have even the most devout Children of the Corn fans practically peeing their pants.

The North Pole Facebook

Christmas wishes come true at the North Pole, an enchanted family theme park centered around Kris Kringle. From May 20 through December 24, visitors are greeted with nostalgic Christmas tunes as they wander through Santa's Workshop, a magical village consisting of eight quaint shops and restaurants stocked with unique holiday gifts and classic American food. The highlight, of course, is visiting Santa's home, where children are invited to share their Christmas wishes with Santa himself as his helpers snap photos. Don't forget to swing by the Post Office, where park-goers can send mail to the North Pole. Beyond the village you'll find dozens of rides, including the up-down-and-around Christmas Tree Ride, a Candy Cane Coaster, the Peppermint Slide and an exhilarating zipline. Classic amusement-park jaunts are also available, including pony carts, an antique carousel and spinning cups .

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