Tips For Visiting Santa’s Workshop

Tips For Visiting Santa’s Workshop

This page contains affiliate links. Santa’s Workshop

What are your childhood memories of visiting Santa? Did you go to the mall to sit on Santa’s lap and ask for that one special gift? Maybe you spoke to Santa’s helper at a Christmas party? Personally, I rarely went to see Santa, but I did write him letters. As I grew older I knew what was actually going on, but I didn’t want to let go of the magic. Truly, I embraced the idea of Santa and his reindeer stomping on our roof and saying ‘Ho! Ho! Ho!’ down the chimney.

Where is Santa’s Workshop?

Well, this year our family made the trip to Santa’s Workshop at North Pole, Colorado, and it was fabulous! North Pole, Colorado you say? Yes, that’s what they call it, Santa’s Workshop at North Pole, Colorado. Actually, it’s located conveniently near Colorado Springs outside the town of Manitou Springs. It’s a full-blown theme park dedicated to the North Pole and Santa Claus. Santa’s house is at the center of the village, and a visit with Santa’s an important part of any trip! I’m going to save you a hassle and let you in on my tips for visiting Santa’s Workshop.

Tips For Visiting Santa's Workshop pin

What is Santa’s Workshop?

Santa’s Workshop is a theme park aimed towards younger kids, but teenagers and adults alike love the place. In spite of the fact it’s not as large or modern as Disney or Six Flags, it’s treasured by locals and visitors alike. Moreover, it’s set in the mountains, unique, and nostalgic. Santa’s Workshop is in its 61st year, a quaint mountain village theme park with fun rides especially for ages 3-7. Of course, there are other rides for older kids and adults, but there are few a 3 or 4-year-old can’t ride.

My kids love it because you can ride as many rides as you want all day long with very short lines if any at all. Well, that’s if you avoid the busiest days! Also, my daughter enjoyed the magic show so much she wanted to go again later in the day. You’ll find rides, shows, food, shops, and fun!

Tips For Visiting Santa's Workshop Colorado entrance

My top tips for visiting Santa’s Workshop

1. Print out the $3 off coupon before you go

If you visit the Santa’s Workshop website go to the coupon section to print off the coupon. When I last checked it was three dollars off the general $23 admission. Also, if you have a military or dependent ID an even greater discount so be sure to bring it with you.

Tip! Print the coupon before you go or copy a picture of it in your phone. Internet and phone services are iffy, and most phones will not have service.

Tips For Visiting Santa's Workshop Colorado ride

2. Double check to be sure they’re open the day you wish to go

In winter Santa’s Workshop is closed most Tuesdays and Wednesdays and can be closed due to weather. If you’re not sure about the weather you can call 719-684-9432 to check whether or not they’ll be open.

3. Wear your walking shoes and several clothing layers depending on the weather

There are picnic tables and benches all around, but even so, you’ll do a lot of walking! In order to be comfortable, wear comfy shoes and a jacket or layers depending on the weather. Therefore, check the weather and dress accordingly.

Tips For Visiting Santa's Workshop Colorado sled

4. Arrive at least 10 minutes before they open

Santa’s Workshop opens at 10 am, and if you’re there on a busy day (such as the day after Thanksgiving) you’ll want to be early! I suggest you arrive and park 10-15 minutes before they open to get in the entrance line. Then again, some days there may be little to no line, but do you want to take that chance?!

Tips For Visiting Santa's Workshop Colorado bridge

5. Go see Santa first to avoid the lines. Smile big for your picture!

Again, in order to avoid long waits, make a beeline for Santa’s house to get in line for a visit. With kids, you HAVE to visit Santa, and you might as well get it done early and then enjoy the rest of the park. In addition, be sure to avoid the lunch hour. You won’t be happy if you’ve been in line for 45 minutes, Santa goes to lunch, and you have to wait in line another 30 minutes until he gets back!

You can have an elf or helper take a picture with your own camera or have them use theirs. After that, you can go to the shop around the corner to view the pictures and make any purchases you wish. For example, get your picture on an ornament, a mug, or in a photo book just to name a few. Smile!

Tips For Visiting Santa's Workshop family picture

(Yes, I covered up my kids’ faces. I generally do on the blog, and that is a personal choice. In this post you may notice I got a little carried away with adding characters to my pictures…)

Santa's Workshop Colorado tree

6. Make any personalization orders in the shops immediately after visiting Santa

There’s a great shop with all sorts of ornaments and Christmas decorations that can be personalized with kids’ names and years, family names, whatever you want. If this is something you want to do go early so the personalization can be done while you ride rides. Then you can pick up your order on your way out and not have to carry it all day either.

Santa's Workshop Colorado slide

7. Pack your own lunch for any sort of special diet or to cut costs

The food is expensive at Santa’s Workshop and limited to pulled pork, turkey, chicken nuggets, hot dogs, pretzels, and various other items. Moreover, if you’re on a special diet, need gluten-free, or have other allergies I would suggest bringing a sack lunch. You can keep it in the car and send someone out to get it when the time comes if you don’t want to carry it around with you. As I said before, there are quite a few picnic tables in the eating areas, and you can enjoy your lunch there.

Santa's Workshop Colorado tree view

8. Make some s’mores!

Santa's Workshop Colorado s'mores

I loved this! There’s a fire pit in front of the village shops, and there you can stop and warm yourself. OR…go into the candy shop and purchase a s’more kit! Who doesn’t love to make s’mores? If you have kids with you, it will be something they remember. Also, they’ll need a good snack mid-afternoon. In the candy shop, they’ll also give you sticks to roast the marshmallows. So much fun!

Santa's Workshop Colorado candy kitchen

9. Get super-excited about the magic show!

Like I said, my daughter thought the magic show was AMAZING! As with anything, go in with a positive attitude and play it up to the kids. The more excited you are, the more they will be.

10. Have fun and be a kid again!

Santa's Workshop Colorado ferris wheel

Our family favorite holiday is far and away Christmas. Did you know you can get a dose of Christmas cheer any time of the year? Indeed, one can visit Santa’s Workshop in North Pole, Colorado year round. Do you need a dose of Christmas in July when you’re on your family camping trip in Colorado? I hope you’ll review my top tips for visiting Santa’s Workshop. Then go for it! Santa’s Workshop is merry anytime during the year.

Do you need some Christmas book ideas for Mom?

Check out my cozy Christmas book list and grab a couple today!

 

Christmas Books for Adults pin

 

Best Estes Park Hikes For Kids

Best Estes Park Hikes For Kids

This page contains affiliate links. Estes Park hikes for kids

I was such lucky kid to have many memories hiking around Rocky Mountain National Park and other areas near Estes Park, Colorado. Quite often I think about how fortunate I was to grow up near to such a beautiful place. Naturally, I want my kids to love it as much as I do, and so it’s necessary we explore as often as possible. Of course, we don’t get up there nearly as much as I’d like!

Estes Park hikes for kids elk pin

Flashback!

I close my eyes and flashback to my childhood. My parents and I drive up to Estes Park and eat lunch at a local restaurant. Then, we head into Rocky Mountain National Park to drive around and look at the leaves or the elk, and stop at a hiking trail to explore. My father bends down with his black Canon camera to take close-up pictures of leaves and rocks along the trail. Squeal! I see a chipmunk, and my day is made.

What’s in it for you?

Together, my kids and I adventure out to explore the same trails and others in the Rocky Mountains. For you, we’ve put together a collection of our favorite Estes Park hikes for kids. Why? Because I want you and your family to have a fabulous Rocky Mountain experience. If you’re nearby or plan to vacation next summer and come in from across the country these are must-see beginner hikes. I hope you will love and protect these areas too.

How could you not love it?! Really.

The hikes we’ve listed are an easy introduction to hiking and meant for families to do together. Consequently, they are each no more than a mile or so in distance and fairly level. They were selected intentionally so a 4-year-old can walk them with Mom and Dad, and Grandma can join in if she wants. Try any or all of these Estes Park hikes for kids your whole family will love!

Our 8 favorite Estes Park hikes for kids

1. Lily Lake

Estes Park hikes for kids, Lily Lake

Lily Lake is an absolutely magical place in Fall. I highly recommend going there anytime, but if you are in the area in late September this is a must-see. There are yellow and orange aspens all about the lake and a nice flat walking area all the way around (about 3/4 of a mile). This is a handicap accessible trail, and you are in for some great photo ops!

Lily Lake is located about 6 miles south of Estes Park on Colorado Highway 7. There’s a convenient parking area very near the entrance to the trail. Everyone in the family will enjoy this one.

Hiking at Lily Lake

Bonus! The historic Bald Pate Inn is just nearly across the street and makes some of the most awesome pie I’ve ever eaten. Read about the Baldpate Inn here.

2. The Knoll

This is a good hike if you’re actually staying in Estes Park or spending a lot of time in town. Maybe you check out the historic Stanley Hotel, go on the ghost tour, and then the kids are ready to run. Park your car in the small parking lot or on Wonderview Avenue, just across from the Stanley Hotel. You will be able to access the trail from the parking lot. FYI – Dogs are not allowed on this trail.

Estes Park hikes for kids, Stanley Hotel

First, start off going south on the trail to the Knoll. Don’t you just like that name? “The Knoll…” What it is really is a view of downtown Estes Park and what’s left of an old stone cabin. For those of you who like histories, I was told it was originally built in 1907 by a former editor of the Denver Post. The elaborate cabin had a huge porch and fireplace, maybe too big, since it burnt down at the end of that year.

Next, go back north on the path until you see a downhill trail to the west. Follow it until you find the cabin built by the editor, Mr. Birch, to replace the one burnt in the fire. This one was built in 1908 and used by the Birch family into the 1980s. It’s is a fun path to scout out and to see some great views of the Stanley Hotel and downtown Estes Park.

3. Lake Estes Trail

Did you bring dogs with you on vacation or your bikes? You can walk with your furry friends around Lake Estes or have a fun family bike ride. When the fog and mists are down you almost imagine yourself in the Scottish Highlands (especially if the Scottish Festival is going on in mid-September, and you can hear the bagpipes over the lake!).

4. The Downtown River Walk

The Estes Park Downtown River Walk is a fun “hike” with the kids along the river. There are cafés and restaurants with tables set up should you need refreshment. Also, parents can peruse the gift shops as you walk, and kids can explore with another adult or take a rest at one of the many wooden benches with a fabulous view and sounds of the river running by.

5. Moraine Park Discovery Center Nature Trail

As you enter Rocky Mountain National Park, hold onto that map and newspaper the ranger hands you after you pay your fee to get in. The newspaper lists a ton of hikes and activities you can participate in during your visit. Certainly, take a look at your map if you need to, and head on over to the Moraine Park Discover Center.

After you park, you’ll find an easy half-mile trail the kids will enjoy just behind the Discovery Center. Before you begin, be sure to find a ranger in the center and get the activity booklet for kids to complete as they explore. You can get other great ideas from the rangers here for things to do with kids, and in the summer there are activities like Discover Days and Discover Hikes led by the rangers.

Another awesome program is the Junior Ranger Program where kids can complete a booklet, speak with a ranger, and earn a Junior Ranger badge. Lots of fun! For more information on the Junior Ranger program click here.

6. Sprague Lake

Sprague Lake trail

Sprague Lake, oh how I love you! Sprague Lake is located in Rocky Mountain National Park up Bear Lake Road. This is a fabulous place to go for a leisurely picnic by a stream. We like to go to Sprague Lake in the fall, generally mid-week when it’s less busy. Although, as long as you can find a parking spot there are many picnic tables and a nice path around the lake. We always have a good time whether it’s busy or not.

Estes Park hikes for kids, Sprague

First of all, you can enjoy your picnic, and then put your lunch stuff in the car. There’s even a well-kept bathroom with regular toilets during the summer, which is always important with kids! From there, head over to the path around the lake. It’s about 3/4 of a mile all the way around, and my kids love it! You’ll find log benches placed every 50 feet or so to sit and take in the magnificent views. Not only that, but it’s wheel-chair accessible, stroller friendly, and ready for the perfect photo op! A couple of weeks ago when we visited, my son stopped at every bench, rock, sign, flower, whatever, then plastered a smile on his face and yelled, “Picture!”

Sprague Lake view and tree

Therefore, take your camera or phone. You’ll get some great shots.

7. Bear Lake

After you finish at Sprague Lake if everyone’s still full of energy head up Bear Lake Road until you get to the Bear Lake Trailhead. The loop trail around Bear Lake is not to be missed, and even though it’s only about .6 miles, it’s a bit more challenging than Sprague Lake and others. I don’t mean it’s incredibly difficult, but it’s not completely level and may be harder for younger kids.

Word of warning. Bear Lake is INCREDIBLY popular all times of the year so I would suggest going early, or late in the day, mid-week. There are a lot of other fun more lengthy trails that start out here, but they’re more advanced. For example, Nymph Lake is only .5 miles away, but it has an elevation gain of 225 feet. You can look at RMNP’s list of trails here.

8. Copeland Falls

If you’re heading out of Estes Park to Meeker or Allenspark south on Colorado Highway 7, you’ll want to pay a visit to the Wild Basin Trailhead. It’s about 12 miles south of Estes Park, then turn right off of Colorado Highway 7 onto Wild Basin Road. From there, drive about half a mile more and take another right into Rocky Mountain National Park. Keep going to the Wild Basin Trailhead just a couple more miles from the park turn-off.

In our experience, this trail is not nearly as busy as some of the others. Moreover, it’s conveniently located near Allenspark and one of my absolute favorite restaurants, the Meadow Mountain Cafe, a rather fabulous gem you should definitely check out (read about it here in Estes Park Restaurants With Character). But enough tangent there, back to the hike!

So you’ve made it to the Wild Basin Trailhead. The trail will eventually take you all the way up 2565 feet and seven miles to Lion Lake. However, with the kids we like to hike to the Lower, then the Upper Copeland Falls, only about .3 to .4 miles up the trail. There’s an elevation gain of 15 feet so pretty manageable! From the main trail, you will want to branch off to the side trail to take you right by both parts of the falls. After you pass by the Upper Falls it will reconnect back to the main trail without having to backtrack down by the falls on the same path. There are more lakes, cascades, and falls the farther up you go, but it’s also a lot steeper so I’d wait until the kids are quite a bit older to tackle those.

Sprague Lake purple flowers

Now go hike!

There you have it! Those are 8 of our favorite hikes in and around Estes Park, Colorado. Give them a try and let us know what you think. OR if you have another kid-friendly hike suggestion in the area PLEASE let me know because we’d love to try them out!

Estes Park hikes for kids pin-

A Baby Giraffe and 10 Tips for the Perfect Denver Zoo Visit

A Baby Giraffe and 10 Tips for the Perfect Denver Zoo Visit

This post contains affiliate links. A Baby Giraffe at the Denver Zoo.

Denver Zoo pin

Are you planning a trip to the Denver Zoo or any other zoo for that matter? Is your little one begging to see that adorable new baby giraffe? My family loves the Denver Zoo, but it can get extremely crowded or overwhelming if you don’t make a plan. Before you go keep in mind my tips for a perfect zoo visit.

1. Meet Dobby, the baby giraffe!

First of all, oh my cuteness! When you arrive at the Denver Zoo, grab your map and head in the direction of the giraffes. Amid the cries of, “So cute!”, “Awww!”, and “The sweetest ever!” you will see the most adorable baby giraffe named Dobby. Yes, Dobby – isn’t that just the perfect name? I may be gushing a bit, but Dobby was a huge highlight in our recent visit to the zoo. I didn’t have the giant-lensed camera like the gentleman just down a bit from us, but we still got some good pictures of the little guy.

Dobby, the baby giraffe Denver Zoo giraffe family

Dobby was born February 28, 2017, and we saw him April 18. He seemed comfortable in front of our small group and walked around by himself and amongst the other giraffes. Furthermore, I am certain that with a glint in his eye he winked and smiled just as we turned to walk away. Surprisingly, some of my own family do not believe this assertion! Therefore, I strongly suggest you go to the Denver Zoo and see for yourself!

2. Get a membership

Going to the zoo, the natural history museum, the aquarium, and others can be costly for a family. We absolutely love the zoo so even though we don’t live in Denver I purchased a zoo membership. I ended up getting the individual and guest membership, but there are family memberships as well as several other different kinds. Compare the membership options here: Denver Zoo Memberships. 

What do I like about a membership? For one, it saves me money. If we go to the zoo more than 2 times this year it pays for itself, and anything after that is a bonus. I have the satisfaction of suggesting going to Denver and visiting the zoo at little cost other than gas. Most memberships include 1 or more additional free guest passes, tickets to ride the train and carousel, and a discount on food and other purchases. Be sure to include to tally these in your comparisons if you’re considering it.

Another thing I like is that this is an outdoor, educational activity for kids. If you’ve read much from me you’ll know my son absolutely loves animals, and he is fascinated by their different ways of survival. The Denver Zoo is a huge place, and there is always a new animal for him to discover and learn some amazing fact about. He loves to tell me and other family members all about what he’s learned. Of course, as a mom, this is a huge win for me too!

Eagles

3. Visit the zoo on a weekday

This may be a no-brainer to some parents out there, but when should you visit the Denver Zoo? Well, before we went last week I double-checked their website to be sure it was not a free day or a special event day. For example, there were added advertised activities and shows for kids during Spring break. Did we go at that time? Accidentally, yes, but then we changed our plans and did something else because the crowds were so overwhelming.

If your family doesn’t mind crowds definitely attend some of the special events, but my 4-year old gets stressed with a lot of people around and immediately wants to leave. He loudly lets us know of his unease, and it’s not fun for anyone.

Conclusion? Visit the zoo on a weekday, maybe a Tuesday or Wednesday when there are no special holidays or events happening.

Denver Zoo camel

4. Pick the main things you want to see and plan out your route

The Denver Zoo is a huge place, and you will wear yourself out running back and forth to see the specific animals requested by the kids. “Mommy, I want to see the alligator, and the gorillas, then the elephants!”

These animals are far apart at the zoo so take a moment to look over your map and plan your basic route around. If the kids are worried about certain animals make a point to show them on the map and let them know when you’ll see them. Your feet will thank you.

Monkey hanging

5. Plan out the shows you want to see beforehand

This goes along with planning your route. If you want to see any of the shows take a look at the sign as you enter for the daily show times. It’s located just after the ticket taker or you can ask in the visitor center.

I highly recommend the sea lion show as it’s one of our favorites!

In summer there are more show times than other seasons so don’t assume times from past experience. If you don’t want a screaming kid who’s devastated they missed the elephant show, it’s always good to double-check. Planning is good.

Are you looking for more educational experiences in Denver for kids?

Read all about our awesome trip to the Denver Downtown Aquarium!

6. Denver Zoo activities

What can you do to make your visit more educational? My daughter especially likes to use a scavenger hunt page to find specific animals. Then it becomes a game to her and almost a race to find the animal with its new fun fact.

Another fun thing to do for older kids is to give them their own naturalist journal. Depending on your child you can give instructions or not. I tell my daughter to sketch and label the animals she sees and write one to three sentences describing interesting things about it. Possibilities include physical description, what the animal eats and how it gets it in the wild, how it moves around, how it protects itself, etc.

You can order a fun naturalist journal like one of these from Amazon. Click on the journal to take you to the Amazon site:

7. Make a search for new animals

Go see some of the lesser known animals. Tell your kids to imagine they are going to discover new animals and introduce that animal to the world! Next, you or one of the older kids can introduce the new-found animal to the group and give some facts about them.

For example, on our last trip I fell in love with the fossa. The fossa is a predator that lives in Madagascar, has the longest tail for grabbing onto trees, and a surprisingly small head. I was fascinated watching it walk around its habitat.

8. Take a stroller or wagon and bring your lunch

Even though my son doesn’t use his stroller much anymore I still brought it to the zoo. As I’ve stated, it’s a large place! If your child gets tired of walking they can ride in the stroller, and you have the added perk of a place to stow all your gear.

Also, to save money you can pack your lunch and stow it in the stroller with an ice pack. I like to pack a lunch and then just buy a snack for the kids later in the day as a treat. Or bring your own snacks too and with an already paid for membership you won’t have to spend a thing!

Monkey Island lunch view

9. Ride the train and carousel

Carousel sign

The train and carousel are must-dos for kids at the Denver Zoo. There are always huge smiles all around, and a nice variation in your zoo experience. I like to do these two rides in the later part of our visit when the kids are getting tired and need a change in activity.

Buy tickets or get the tickets from your membership at the little house in between the train and carousel beforehand. If it’s busy and you go directly to the carousel you will waste a lot of time in line and then have to go buy tickets anyway.

Tip: If you’ll be going often save time and money and buy a punch card. With the card you can go directly to the ride and not have to wait in line a the ticket house.

Zoo train

10. Check the weather report before you go

In summer it can get extremely hot so don’t forget hats, sunglasses, sunscreen, and water for everyone. Conversely, if it’s going to be cold or rain part of the day you can still have a great zoo experience if you plan the right clothing, umbrellas, and focus on the warm houses such as Tropical Discover (lovingly called the reptile house by my family) and Bird World. Always, just follow the Boy Scout motto and be prepared!

Zoo carousel zebra

Exploring new places is always such fun, and often you don’t have to go far for a great experience. We are so lucky to have the Denver Zoo fairly close by, and whenever we travel with kids we check out the zoos and museums wherever we are. If you have a young, curious zoologist or two in tow you can have a fabulous time with a little preparation.

What are some of your favorite zoos or places to see wildlife? Please put some of your ideas in the comments. I’d love any suggestions for places to take the little ones!

Denver Things to Do with Kids: Downtown Aquarium

Denver Things to Do with Kids: Downtown Aquarium

Denver things to do with kids: Downtown Aquarium

Searching for Denver things to do with kids? You really can’t go wrong with a zoo or aquarium in my experience, and when one has an ocean-life obsessed 4-year-old, the Downtown Aquarium is the obvious choice.

Spring Break Activities: Denver with kids

Spring Break this year was two different weeks for my two kids (preschool and elementary) so we weren’t able to go on any far off adventures. We decided to content ourselves with a staycation and do some short day trips from home. Furthermore, the trip to the zoo was a no-brainer easy quick day trip, and the kids were super-excited.

We had our day all planned out and were set to spend at the Denver Zoo. We drove into the city and noticed a lot of traffic as we got closer and closer to the zoo. Then we discovered all the cars were actually turning into the zoo parking, the parking garage was already full, and the neighboring museum and park lots were full of zoo patrons as well. As we drove farther and farther looking for a parking spot, I watched the masses head toward our destination. Because of my perceived lack of air due to the sheer crazy number of people, my mind began screaming, “Get out of here! Now, while you still can!”

There’s not a lot I find more miserable than inching around in giant crowds, and so I suggested we forego the zoo and try the Downtown Aquarium. Needless to say, I expected some squawking, but the rest of the family immediately agreed (amazing), and we were on our way leaving the throngs behind. Phew!

Aquarium escalator

The Downtown Aquarium is a great educational place for kids

Starfish eating

The Downtown Aquarium has a ton to offer and impressively looks out over downtown Denver. First of all, the escalator as you enter looks like a giant metal fish sort of in the style of Captain Nemo’s submarine from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. You get swallowed by the fish and head up to the main floor to begin your tour. There are some remarkable displays, and then the tanks begin. Big tanks, little tanks, wall tanks, table tanks, you name it, and you can see some sort of marine life in all of these. My son loved them all but was especially transfixed at the massive shark tanks. He stared at them awhile before he recovered himself and began to lecture on the different kinds of sharks.

Aquarium shark tank

If you get tired of marine life, there are also areas with snakes, tarantulas, macaws, and even a tiger! Moreover, if you’re not expecting to see the tiger you can actually get quite a surprise after going through the glass tunnel tank. You’re still marveling at the manta rays and eels and bam! You walk straight toward a glass wall, and you’re face to face with a tiger! Now, he has a pretty large area and is often up on top of a bunch of rocks where he’s hard to see. Still, it is possible for him to walk right up next to you.

 Aquarium fish

Looking for more fun travels with kids?

Try Carlsbad Caverns With Kids: 10 MUSTS For An Amazing Visit

Hands-on activities for kids

In addition to the displays, there are some cool hands-on areas. Kids can carefully feel stingrays, starfish, horseshoe crabs, and even some small sharks. My daughter was fascinated by the thought of actually touching a shark, and it was the favorite thing she did her entire visit. Also, a close second was when she got to see “actual, real-life mermaids” to quote her. Be sure to look for the mermaid dive times when they swim in the tank with the fish. Later she actually got to talk to one of them, wow!

Aquarium fossil

My son, on the other hand, did not feel the need to touch the sharks and all the rest. He stated his favorite part was seeing the Giant Pacific Octopus, better known as Jackie. Jackie was active when we came by and was all over the tank with her eight legs whirling. “We could go to the Pacific Ocean and see a bigger one, but Jackie is nice,” the small one determined.

Giant Pacific Octopus

Denver things to do with kids: the Downtown Aquarium Restaurant

If you’re wanting to eat at the Aquarium, the restaurant is definitely an experience. The seating area is surrounded by large fish tanks of fish and “mermaids” swimming about. You can make reservations at the restaurant and request to sit near the tanks, and I would recommend this particularly if you’re visiting on the weekend or special day. The gift shop is just next to the restaurant so be ready for the kids! They’ll want marine life t-shirts, stuffed animals, hats, trucks, and all sorts of other trinkets emblazoned with  “Downtown Aquarium”.

How to cut down on cost

The one downside, in my own opinion, is the cost of the visit. It can add up quickly with Aquarium tickets, a carousel ride outside, food at the restaurant, a souvenir, and the $7 parking. If this is a concern for your family plan it all out beforehand using the current prices on the Downtown Aquarium website.  Then decide what you will or will not do beforehand. For example, you can bring your own picnic lunch and eat outside at tables on a large balcony area on the second floor. Also, you can completely bypass the gift shop if you don’t plan to purchase souvenirs.

Tip: A few days before you go subscribe to the Aquarium’s mailing list. The first email I received from them contained a half-off adult admission coupon so definitely worth subscribing. You can always unsubscribe after your visit if you wish!

Denver aquarium squid

More fun!

If you’re looking for different Denver things to do with kids, do visit the Downtown Aquarium. There are so many fish and animals for the kids to learn about, it’s well worth the time. Likewise, we were incredibly grateful to have another option when our zoo plans fell through, and everyone had a fabulous time.

What is your favorite fish or animal to see at an aquarium? What are some of the other aquariums you’ve visited or would recommend?

Carlsbad Caverns With Kids: 10 MUSTS For An Amazing Visit

Carlsbad Caverns With Kids: 10 MUSTS For An Amazing Visit

This post contains affiliate links.

Carlsbad Caverns is high on my list of natural wonders of the world. Where else can you go down 700 feet into the earth and be transported into what seems another world? Moreover, it’s a world you’ve only imagined in stories with dwarves and Gandalf, or perhaps with Tom Sawyer, Becky, and Injun Joe. But should you visit Carlsbad Caverns with kids? The answer to that questions is yes, this is a place you want to take your kids. Not only will you look around, but believe me, it will create an impression in their minds they will remember their entire lives.

We have a family reunion almost every year in Ruidoso, New Mexico, and we often do side day trips from there exploring New Mexico. Carlsbad Caverns is definitely a favorite one of those trips for both adults and kids and not to be missed! The kids didn’t even mind the 3-hour drive (too much) back and forth they were so excited.

Carlsbad Caverns is no little cave you walk in and do a quick walk around the main room. The “Big Room” as it’s called, is about a mile around with a walking trail. Keep in mind only part of the area is wheel-chair friendly and strollers are not allowed down in the main cave. There are over 300 limestone caves in the area, and if you are a brave soul you can even arrange a  spelunking adventure in some of the less frequented caves. However, it is not for the faint of heart! There will be ropes, crawling, climbing, dirt and wet involved. If that’s your thing then go for it; it’s awesome!

Are you a fan of National Parks?

Pick up some great tips here for exploring Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park with kids in winter.

10 MUSTS for visiting Carlsbad Caverns with kids

Carlsbad Caverns 3

Back to the main point. If you happen to be in New Mexico, or even if you’re not, make sure you plan to visit the Caverns. To make the most of your visit, by all means, read and utilize these 10 tips for an amazing visit to Carlsbad Caverns with kids!

Bring water bottles

Water is the only thing allowed down in the caves so don’t try to sneak in lunch, snacks, juice, etc. This is for the protection of the caves so I wouldn’t get too worked up about it. Still, this makes it even more important to bring water bottles for all as you will be walking around at the very least for an hour or two. There is a little snack area for emergency refueling, and it’s an almost eerie experience sitting at your table in the dark cave eating a sandwich.

Don’t forget a jacket or sweatshirt

It’s chilly down in the caves, even in 100-degree summer weather, so be sure to bring a jacket or sweatshirt for everyone. Or you can be like my husband and refuse then just be a little cold walking around. However, if you want to enjoy your trip, make sure everyone, especially the kids, have sweatshirts.

Carlsbad Caverns walkway

The Natural Entrance vs. the elevator

So here’s the debate. Do you walk down the Natural Entrance or use the elevator? It completely depends on your group. The Natural Entrance is about a mile and a fourth and is narrow in places and quite steep. If you have the time, health, a group including older kids, and a sense of adventure take the awesome Natural Entrance where the original explorers descended. On the other hand, if you have younger kids or anyone with health problems (such as a bad knee or asthma) I would suggest taking the elevator down to the Big Room.

Prep kids for what’s below

I didn’t have to worry too much about this as my kids showed only interest and no fear, but I would describe a cave for your kids before you go down. It’s not a small, enclosed area, but it is dark with spotlights around to see the pathway and formations. In addition, it’s cool and feels humid so very different than what they’ve experienced on the surface. Another thing to remember is that a cave echoes! Signs and rangers encourage you to speak quietly if you must speak. Your cell phone won’t work either so you’ll want to put it in airplane mode.

Carlsbad Caverns 7

Cameras all around!

Do you have a budding photographer in the family? Flash photography is permitted in the caves as long as you’re considerate of those around you. Take advantage of it! My little guy loved getting his camera out and taking pictures of the pools, the “tree”, and “dinosaur” formations as he called them.

Carlsbad Caverns camera man

Flashlights/headlamps

Another warning! There are multi-colored mining helmets with lamps for sale at the gift shop and down in the cave. It is inevitable the kids will want one. If this purchase is not something you’re willing to make for everyone, arm the family with their own flashlights or headlamps. We have a couple headlamps we take camping, and they’re great because wherever you look, BAM! the light points there. This lets you see some of the areas that may not be as well lit as others. Explore!

      

Read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (or listen to it in the car on your way to the cave!)

Okay, so this one is me. You will probably have some travel time on the way to Carlsbad so fill that time with a classic! The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain was a great favorite of mine when I was a kid and should be shared. While you’re not in Missouri, you will be in a cave, and who can forget the great scene when Tom and Becky are lost in the cave with a murderer?! Right? Please tell me this made an impression on you as a child as well because it always comes to mind when I think of caves.

                                                                        

Exodus of the Brazilian free-tailed bats

Are there naturalists in the family with an interest in bats? Be sure to plan time in the evening to sit and watch the departure of the Brazilian free-tailed bats leaving the caves. Don’t worry, they won’t be down in the Big Room on your cave tour, they live in another cavern and stay away from people. Go to the amphitheater for a free talk from one of the rangers about the bats and wait for the mass exodus. The best time to see them is from August to September when the babies join in. It’s quite an experience even for those who may not be quite so fond of the creatures. For more details see the link here.

Carlsbad Caverns ceiling 2

Self-guided and optional ranger-led cave tours

Speaking of Park Rangers, there are all sorts of tours you can sign up for if you want more of an adventure away from the Big Room. My daughter begged to go on the Spider Cave tour because she thought it would be awesome to crawl around through the cave maze on your stomach with her head lamp. Unfortunately for her, most tours are for those 12 years old and up. If anyone in your group is not great with small, enclosed spaces, be sure to talk to the rangers about the particular tour you’re interested in. Take a look at the tour schedule here: Carlsbad Caverns tour scheduleOf course, you can do your own self-guided tour of the Natural Entrance and Big Room.

Carlsbad Caverns & me

Carlsbad Caverns with kids: The Junior Ranger program

Finally, for my last MUST, take advantage of the Junior Ranger program. Ask in the Visitor’s Center or one of the rangers for a free Junior Ranger Activity Book. They have two books, one for ages 0-6, and the other for 7-12 year-olds. Your child will visit the caverns then complete the book and other requirements. After that, a ranger will review their work and award the participants with a Junior Ranger badge. Super-fun free educational experience! Score!

Are you ready for some more exploration either without kids or with those 12 and older? Experience a ranger-led tour like one of these:

The King's Palace

Try this hour and a half journey to the deepest part of the cave open to the public! View the different formations as you go 830 feet below the desert surface. Experience the ranger-led blackouts on one of the most impressive mile hikes you will ever take part in.

Left-Hand Tunnel

2 hours exploring an unpaved section of the cave by candle-lit lantern. Don your hiking boots for staying upright as you view slippery slopes, cavern pools, and delicate formations.

Slaughter Canyon Cave

A 5 and a half hour “moderately strenuous” tour where your efforts will allow you to gaze upon magnificent formations: the Christmas Tree, the Monarch, the Mushroom, and the Chinese Wall.

Hall of the White Giant

Are you ready to rough it, get dirty, and do some crawling around in small spaces? Enjoy ladder climbing, slippery surfaces, and free climbing too! Make your way through the narrow passage of Matlock’s Pinch and see the fabulous White Giant formation.

So what comes to mind when you picture a giant cave? Have you been in a large cave before? For me, it’s a once in a lifetime experience not to be missed! Make your plans for summer vacation and visit Carlsbad Caverns with kids. Also, be sure to keep all the MUSTS in mind for a super-amazing trip to be talked about in AWE for years to come!

Carlsbad Caverns 4

Estes Park Restaurants With Character

Estes Park Restaurants With Character

We all love to eat, right? I probably do a little too much!  Without a doubt eating out when traveling is one of my favorite parts of a vacation.  We all need to make healthy food choices, but the occasional splurge can be considered a learning opportunity to promote cultural diversity (that’s what I tell myself).  Local food specialties are a part of the culture of an area, and an occasion for a food adventure.  With that in mind, we try not to eat at food chains or anything familiar while traveling (unless the children are completely losing it), rather search out the hidden gems in an area.  So just for you, here are some of my discoveries in and around Estes Park, Colorado.  Estes Park restaurants with character!

Estes Park restaurants with character

Poppy’s Pizza and Grill

First off, I’ll start out in town with a few of the places we enjoy.  For a great place to go with kids, try Poppy’s Pizza and Grill at 342 Elkhorn Avenue, just across the street from the public library and parking area.  You will want to park near the library and cross the street at the light. Then why not do some shopping and exploring before or after you head to Poppy’s?  I’m drooling just thinking about the pizza at this place.  Above all, my favorite is the Thai Pizza with peanut sauce, red onion, chicken, broccoli, water chestnuts, and mozzarella.  YUM!

The traditional meat lovers in your family may like the Straziante: Italian sausage, pepperoni, salami, cappricola, smoked mozzarella, & Italian herbs.  However, if a picky eater doesn’t care for any kind of pizza they also have sandwiches, burgers, and salads. 

BONUS: Plenty of gluten free and dairy free options!

Why else do we like Poppy’s?  Great location and a beautiful view by the river.  Great place for lunch or dinner.

 Estes Park Restaurants

Antonio’s Real New York Pizza & Deli

Another great pizza place in Estes is Antonio’s Real New York Pizza & Deli.  Are you from the east coast?  Did you grow up with east coast style pizza?  If yes, then this is the place for you!  If you are a fan of traditional wood-fired New York pizza head on over to 552 Elkhorn Avenue and dig in.  Moreover, Antonio’s staff is super friendly, and you can even order on-line to take back to your cabin if you don’t want to eat in. 

Hint: If you like garlic, or are trying to ward off vampires, try the garlic sauce NY white pizza made with local mozzarella.

The Other Side

The Other Side Restaurant

Did I mention Estes Park restaurants with character?  If I had to pick a character for The Other Side it would be a duck because they’re so associated with the place. Not to eat mind you, but to watch out the window on the duck pond.  This restaurant is comfortable, welcoming, and in many ways homey to me.  In the downstairs dining area, there are huge windows displaying beautiful mountain views over a charming duck pond.  Also, at Christmas time we love the huge Christmas wreath on display. 

Hint:  Do request to eat downstairs, not up in the cafe as it’s a much more open area with those fabulous picture windows.

This is a wonderful restaurant for kids for several reasons:

  1. Big parking lot for easy access to the restaurant
  2. Great basic kids menu with Rocky Mountain National Park coloring map to keep them busy
  3. If they get tired of coloring they can go outside on the deck and look at the ducks at the duck pond.  I like to send Grandpa or Daddy out to help them with this task so I can enjoy a moment to breathe and enjoy the view!
  4. There are different mountain animals on the backs of the chairs so it becomes a huge game to see what “animal” everyone is for lunch that day.  The moose is highly coveted.
  5. Nice location on the west side of Estes close to Rocky Mountain National Park

Drake

The food at The Other Side I would describe as American, and you can get a good burger, fried trout, or a very important grilled cheese for the four-year-old. 

Favorite Snack Stop: The Taffy Shop

The Taffy Shop, and yes I mean the original Taffy Shop established in 1935, is a nostalgic treasure in Estes Park.  The front of the store is white and decorative with a turquoise sign reading simply, “The Taffy Shop”, which makes you feel as if you’ve stepped into a movie from the 50s.  First of all, don’t be shy and just peek in from the window!  Well, of course, you might be mesmerized for awhile by the period taffy pulling machines working away in the front window.   Once you can pull (ha! pull!) yourself away check out the front counter and all the different colored taffy lined up in front of you. 

Next, you really must sample a few of the different flavors and make a show of selecting exactly the right mix for your box to take home.  I love them all but am partial to the peppermint, cinnamon, and lemon.  Select flavors that go well together because “the children” (well me really) will want to experiment and twist two pieces together to create new flavors like chocolate peppermint, lemon vanilla, and who knows maybe molasses cinnamon?  Hmmm…not so sure about that one.

Salt water taffy – does that sound appealing?  Not so sure?  Well, believe me, it is amazing! In addition, visiting the shop is an experience you and your kids will remember for years to come.

Salt water taffy - foodiesfeed

(Word of caution: Pecans are used in one of the taffy flavors so beware for any tree nut allergies.  If necessary check with the store for any other allergens.)

My favorite Estes Park restaurants with character not quite in Estes Park (but close by!)

The Baldpate Inn

Baldpate wagon

You don’t have to travel far from Estes to find this amazing inn tucked in amongst the pine and aspen trees near Lily Lake.  It’s located at 4900 South Hwy. 7, Estes Park, so still considered a part of the town.  There is so much character in this place, I need a new word for it, or maybe a few.  To begin, make reservations for lunch and step back in time at the Baldpate Inn; she has a quaint personality and sense of humor all her own! 

Baldpate Inn    Near Lily Lake

The inn is closed for the winter, but I strongly encourage visiting in September when the aspens are in their full autumn yellow splendor.  Definitely have a relaxing lunch, and be sure to plan some time to explore the famous Key Room (thousands of keys on display).  Then take a stroll around nearby Lily Lake with your camera for some breathtaking shots.  You’ll eat so much you’ll want to get some exercise besides.

First of all, when you visit the Ballpate Inn for their soup and salad buffet, you will be seated in the sunporch dining room boasting an unrivaled treetop view of the mountain valley.  For lunch or dinner you can enjoy the buffet with delicious homemade soups, salads, breads, muffins and other buffet items.  My son especially enjoyed the peanut butter muffins, and they have different flavors every day like strawberry rhubarb, banana butterscotch, or savories such as garlic onion.

Baldpate chocolate pie

You know that extra stomach you have for pie?  Be prepared because you will need it here!  Enjoy some conversation with the family and some coffee as you finish your buffet, and then go drool over the assortment of pies available.  If you have a larger group you can all get a different kind and then sample each other’s.  Of course, if you get pieces of the apple or chocolate pies you may not feel inclined to share!

Meadow Mountain Cafe

Meadow Mt Cafe

The Meadow Mountain Cafe is like finding the X at the end of a treasure map when you’re hungry.  It’s located in the small, rustic town of Allenspark, Colorado, just outside of Estes Park.  If you’re wanting character with AMAZING food this is the place to be.  They’re open for breakfast and lunch, but due to the weather in winter they may be closed some days so you’ll probably want to call before you visit.  Be ready to slow down and relax.  Here you can chat with friends or read a book by the wood burning stove and sip on a cup of coffee with just a hint of cinnamon.

Meadow Mt Cafe sign

This cozy mountain cafe is popular with locals and the perfect place to stop for rustic charm, hippie flair, and home-cooked delicious food. They have great breakfasts with eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes, waffles and more.  If you’re around for lunch try a fabulous burger, BLT, veggie burger or soup of the day.  They also generally have a special of the day like a Cuban sandwich or other choice.

Hint: Try the homemade bread; it is awesome! 

Meadow Mountain Cafe is definitely worth the quick trip from Estes or your rented cabin in the area.

Also, please check out our post on winter activities in Rocky Mountain National Park with kids! 

I hope you try some of these places out on your next trip to Northern Colorado and Rocky Mountain National Park.  You won’t be sorry eating at any of these Estes Park Restaurants with character.  Bon appétit!

Breakfast

Lunch

Dinner

YUM!!!

Explorer Momma EM

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