Spend a few days exploring Denver and then head to Estes Park to visit Rocky Mountain National Park
There’s so much to do and see in Colorado with kids and we think you are doing yourself a disservice if you don’t combine a few days in Denver with some time in the mountains when you visit. That’s why this itinerary is perfect for families, especially if you are traveling with tweens and teens. Start your trip in Denver and spend a few nights at a rad hotel with bunk bed rooms, an Airstream in the lobby, and a food hall in the same building. Your city itinerary includes a street art tour, lots of top-notch restaurants, and a visit to the over-the-top art installation Meow Wolf.
Then head to the mountains where the YMCA of the Rockies is your home base. It’s only a 90-minute drive from Denver and offers loads of on-site activities for families from snowshoeing to crafts to roller skating. Best of all, it’s 15 minutes from the adorable town of Estes Park and the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. We did this trip in five days and have the full scoop below!
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What are the top things to do with teens in Denver?
1. Do yourself a favor and book a walking tour with Denver Grafitti Tour. Our family felt this was one of the top activities we did in Colorado as there was so much amazing art to see. This tour leads you through the RiNo neighborhood and you’ll get a good helping of Denver history as you walk along and see the many murals. The tour ends at Denver Central Market where you definitely need to grab a bite to eat (more on that below).
2. The Stanley Marketplace in Aurora was another top spot to visit for some good eats, shopping, and even a fun VR experience at VR Social. Definitely put Churreria de Madrid on your must-eat list as they offer some of the best churros with drinking chocolate we’ve ever had (along with other traditional tapas like patatas bravas). If the weather is nice, little ones will love LuBird’s Light, an all-abilities playground with lots of fun play equipment and seating areas for adults.Kate Loweth
3. Plan to spend at least a few hours at Meow Wolf: Convergence Station. We weren’t sure what to expect from Meow Wolf but it definitely kept our teen crew interested. This 4-story immersive art exhibit will have you wondering what’s real and what’s not from the moment you step off the elevators. Wander through a room of mirrors and emerge into a dark land that could be part of a Dr. Seuss story. You can walk through walls, interact with the characters in the different exhibits, and be open to discovering the mysteries that lie within. Meow Wolf is kid-friendly but might be a little overwhelming for little ones. There’s a cafe on the first floor (with a water station) if you need a little sensory break.
4. Visit some of the many kid-friendly museums that Denver has to offer like the Children’s Museum of Denver which has an awesome outdoor climbing structure that will be a kid favorite for sure.
Where should you stay in Denver?The Maven
We loved everything about our stay at The Maven in Denver (and are already planning our return visit). Located in the super trendy Dairy Block, The Maven is right down the street from Coors Field and Union Station. As soon as you walk in and spot the Airstream in the lobby, you’ll know that this is a spot where you’ll want to hang out. The Maven has urban-styled rooms with the bunkroom being a family favorite (hello, personal swing!). Nightly happy hour served from the Airstream and a free shuttle service that will take you and pick you up anywhere within a two-mile radius are a few of the perks. Just off the lobby, you’ll find tons of dining options (more info below).
Where should you eat with kids in Denver?Kate Loweth
1. Right off the lobby of The Maven you’ll find the Denver Milk Market, a grouping of restaurants, bars, and a co-working space. You can walk down from your room and grab a crêpe for the kids and a coffee for yourself without much effort at all. We loved the convenience of the food hall for grabbing food that everyone likes and the casual dining space that works well with kids.
2. Just a short walk from The Maven is Union Station, where you’ll find quite a few dining options. We loved the pretzel bun breakfast sandwiches and iced chai from Snooze Union Station and recommend you add it to your list.
3. In addition to many grab-and-go options, Stanley Marketplace is home to Annette where you can sit down and be treated to a delicious scratch-to-table meal with shareable plates like mussels + frites and sunchoke gratin. Don’t skip the popcorn; it’s addictive.
4. Root Down was a family favorite with small plates like Colombian arepas topped with poblano pistachio pesto, as well as pan-roasted chicken and bison NY strip if you are feeling a little more hungry. Parents will enjoy the inventive cocktails using ingredients like beet juice and fig jam. The salted chocolate chip cookies were a top pick.
5. If you find your way to RiNo, Denver Central Market offers indoor and outdoor seating with lots of different dining options including a fish market (get the fish tacos!), an Italian spot with wood-fired pizzas, and a bakery.
Ready to head to the mountains? Here’s how you should do it.Kate Loweth
Once you are ready to leave the bustling city behind and spend some time in nature, pack up the car and head to Estes Park. Just a 90-minute drive from Denver, we found to drive to be very manageable with only a short stint of windy roads as you got closer to the town. Do yourself a favor and stop at Colorado Cherry Company, located between Lyons and Estes Park. The hand pies were a real treat and they have just about every cherry product you could imagine.
We didn’t get to check it out due to high winds during our visit but we planned on stopping by the Mustang Mountain Coaster on our way to Estes Park. It looks like the perfect activity for thrill seekers and we have it on our list for next time for sure!
YMCA of the Rockies: Your Estes Park Home BaseKate Loweth
There’s no better choice than the YMCA of the Rockies for your Estes Park stay. So much more than just a spot to sleep, the YMCA offers so many on-site activities you won’t want to leave the property. During our winter visit, you could sign up for indoor archery sessions, spend the afternoon in the heated indoor pool, test your family cooperation skills in the escape room, and so much more. Our teens particularly enjoyed jamming to 80s music for their first time roller skating (to our extreme delight). You can borrow sleds and head to the sledding hill, rent snowshoes for exploring, and book some time at the indoor climbing wall. And let’s not forget the most over-the-top crafts center you’ve ever seen! Summer offers even more activities like guided hikes, rafting excursions, mini golf, fishing, and astronomy.
We stayed in a very spacious three-bedroom, two-bathroom cabin that had a full kitchen. This is a super family-friendly setup as you can bring food and cook your own meals. YMCA of the Rockies also offers a cafeteria-style dining plan that makes it that much easier for families traveling from far away.
Things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park with KidsKate Loweth
Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) is a not-to-be-missed destination when you are visiting Estes Park. Just a short drive from the YMCA, RMNP is full of hiking trails, waterfalls, mountain overlooks, and wildlife. Stop in the visitor’s center before you enter the park to get tips on where to go. We rented snowshoes from the YMCA and brought them with us into the park. The ranger recommended that we head to the Bear Lake Loop trail for snowshoeing and then Sprague Lake Loop for an easy one-mile hike. Along the way, we saw deer and quite a few elk! The water was flowing at the Alluvian Fan and the vistas were more than impressive (even to the sometimes-surly teens). Be sure to bring plenty of water and food with you, and wear layers for the varying weather conditions.
Things to Do in Estes Park with KidsKate Loweth
If the kids are looking for a fun indoor activity, head to the Estes Park Mountain Shop just past downtown for some indoor rock climbing. They have a 3-for-$20 deal where you can have a friendly staff member belay while you climb the wall. This is also a great place to remember in case you need to pick up any forgotten winter gear items like beanies and gloves.
Stephen King fans will want to book a tour of The Stanley Hotel or at least stop by for a drink in the saloon. This historic hotel was the inspiration for the Overlook Hotel in The Shining.Kate Loweth
You’re going to love walking through the quaint mountain town of Estes Park and checking out the (MANY) taffy shops, rock shops, and souvenir shops.
Where to Eat in Estes Park:
- Sandwich Mafia was a little hole-in-the-wall we were happy to discover while walking around downtown. Hot and cold sandwiches of every type were on the menu and we especially enjoyed the chicken with pesto panini.
- Hearty, seasonal eats fill the menu at Bird & Jim and there’s plenty the kids will enjoy. The charcuterie plate is a great way to start the meal and entrees like the buffalo burger and the lamb bolognese were a hit with our crew.
- Grab some to-go food from The Bird’s Nest before you head into RMNP. Hearty breakfast burritos, sweet rolls, and strong coffee fill the breakfast menu and they are known for their pizza and paninis for lunch and dinner.
- For a good margarita and a huge menu, head to Ed’s Cantina where they serve up tacos and other Mexican favorites that everyone loves.
- Don’t knock a donut spot in a gas station until you’ve tried it. We might have stopped at Donut Haus twice during our three days in Estes Park. It’s that good (and the staff is so nice!).
- Smokin’ Dave’s BBQ and Brew is the perfect dinner option after a long day of hiking in RMNP. It’s no frills and the food is plentiful and delicious.
If we have piqued your interest in a visit to Colorado check out the following pages for more information!
The Colorado Tourism Office: colorado.com
Visit Denver: denver.org
Visit Estes Park: visitestespark.com
Editor’s note: This trip was paid for by The Colorado Tourism Office, Visit Denver, and Visit Estes Park but all opinions belong to the writer.