Things to do in Grand Lake, Colorado

Things to do in Grand Lake, Colorado

Are you ready to start planning the perfect summer family vacations and adventures? A lot of times I start planning much earlier in the year, but when spring hits I allow myself to really dig into the details and begin to daydream about summer days on the lake. We love to find new things to do in Grand Lake, Colorado, our absolute favorite lake retreat!

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Did you know Grand Lake is the largest natural lake (meaning not man-made) in Colorado? Also, it’s on the western side of Rocky Mountain National Park so can be a great base to avoid the crowds of Estes Park and explore not only the Grand Lake area but the Park as well. There are just so many things to love about Grand Lake, from the historic boardwalk to the burger and ice cream shop on the beach, to the spectacular hikes nearby.

So let’s dig in. What are some of the best things to do in Grand Lake, Colorado as a family?

Things to do in Grand Lake Colorado

Awesome things to do in Grand Lake, Colorado

Why do I love Grand Lake so much? For me, it’s the perfect little mountain town on the lake with charm and old-time character. It’s not pretentious, and nearly everyone’s friendly and ready to enjoy themselves on the lake. In addition, it’s super kid-friendly. Did I mention it’s also the most beautiful idyllic spot?? So, if you get tired of reading a book in your beach chair by the lake or your kids drag you away, here are some fun and entertaining things to do.

Trail Ridge Road

To get to Grand Lake, we like to head west from Estes Park, through Rocky Mountain National Park. The highlight of this route is the awesome Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous road in the United States. Let me tell you, there are some amazing views to be had, and I highly recommend taking your time. Stop to take pictures, explore the visitor’s center, and take the Alpine Ridge trail hike at the top. It’s not a long hike, only .6 miles roundtrip; however, you gain 200 feet so can be a bit of a climb. Slow down and breathe in the views. You won’t regret it!

Trail Ridge Road, Things to do in Grand Lake, Colorado

Play on the beach

Shoveling sand in Grand Lake

Here’s a great way to stay relax and enjoy the view as you read a book and drink your coffee next to the lake. There are a couple of sand beach locations, one in town and open to the public between Grand Lake Marina and Headwaters Marina. We like to stay in one of the cabins in Lemmon Lodge with its own beach and kids’ play structure. Grab a floaty and some sand castle supplies, and the kids are set for the afternoon!

My morning coffee spot Grand Lake, Colorado

Get some hiking on!

There are some awesome hikes around Grand Lake, at many different levels depending on who’s going. I can’t think of many better things to do in Grand Lake, Colorado than some good hikes. Try one out with your family!

Adam’s Falls – easy

Adam's Falls, Things to do in Grand Lake, Colorado

From the East Inlet Trailhead, Adam’s Falls is a great short hike with an impressive reward at the end. I like this hike because it’s accessible to nearly everyone, and kids feel a good sense of accomplishment when they reach the falls. When I was little I remember my father hanging off the side taking pictures, and I was scared to death he was going to fall in. I think he enjoyed that. However! Since then they’ve added more stone walls to block off dangerous areas and make it more kid and family friendly. Also, it doesn’t take very long if you need an activity because it’s only .9 miles roundtrip.

Cascade Falls – medium

Grand Lake wildflowers

If you start at the North Inlet Trailhead, Cascade Falls is a good 6.8-mile roundtrip hike with amazing views and falls. I like it because there’s only a 430-foot elevation gain and doable with older kids. In this area, we’ve seen moose and deer and other wildlife so be on the lookout! It’s also a good trail to spot wildflowers along the trail.

Shadow Mountain Lookout – hard

Shadow Mountain Fire Lookout

I’m classifying this hike as hard because it’s difficult for me, and at the ages of 5 and 9 my kids would not get very far. However, it’s a beautiful hike with far-reaching views from the lookout point at the top, and I do recommend it for adults or older, experienced kids. The hike begins at the East Shore Trailhead and is about 9.6 miles roundtrip with an elevation gain of 1,635 feet. Good luck!

View from Shadow Mountain

There are many more hikes around, and it’s always good to ask in one of the local hiking shops which hike is good at the moment. For people who are on them all the time, they can generally tell you which ones are in good shape or difficult to navigate because of snow or mud. I also like to hear which area is their current favorite. You can get some good recommendations!

Are you also headed to Estes Park, Colorado?

Estes Park hikes for kids, mountain with golden aspens

Fishing things to do in Grand Lake, Colorado

Fishing is my husband’s favorite activity when we get to Grand Lake. There are great opportunities to catch trout, especially rainbow, brown, and lake trout. I’ve been advised the best time is early morning and the best spot where the river runs into the lake. Of course, there are many great fishing spots from land or even from a boat on the lake. If you forget to purchase a Colorado fishing license, most marinas, fishing tackle shops, and even some gas stations sell them. Currently, kids and seniors fish for free, although seniors must still obtain a license. When you get your license be sure to also grab the year’s Colorado Fishing Brochure containing regulations and information on the area.

Fishing things to do in Grand Lake, Colorado

My son told me recently he’s planning to catch a lot of seaweed and sticks because he doesn’t want to put a hook in the fish. A kind soul.

Get out on the lake

There are many options to get you and your family out floating on Grand Lake. Truly, there are so many things to do in Grand Lake, Colorado. As a family, we like to sometimes take the tour boat from the Headwater’s Marina next to the public beach. We like to take it around the lake because the drivers give you the history of the area, lake facts like depths and fishing, and they also point out all the cabins and the famous people who’ve lived there. You’ll also get random facts about which ones are accessible by road or only by boat or snowmobile.

Swimming in Grand Lake Colorado

At several of the marinas, you can rent a canoe, paddleboat, motorboat, pontoon boat, kayak or the newest fad – a stand-up paddleboard (SUP). Have you tried out a stand-up paddleboard? They’re those things that look like big surfboards you stand on with a paddle. I’ve even seen people doing yoga on them, but so far I’ve been a chicken to try one. Therefore, this summer’s the time! I will get out on an SUP, and it’s really not the end of the world if you fall in, right? 😉

Nature hunt

Momma and baby moose, things to do in Grand Lake, Colorado

My kids always love to go out on what we call a “nature hunt”. This is one of their favorite things to do in Grand Lake, Colorado. You can do this on a hike, around town, or just as you wander around your cabin. Be on the lookout for animals such as hummingbirds, deer, elk, moose, coyotes. We try to take pictures when we can, and my daughter likes to draw a picture of each animal spotted in your journal. There are also some beautiful wildflowers and plants to see around, and we always love seeing the Colorado state flower, the Columbine.

Kauffman House Museum

I’m a complete history geek and love to check out local museums when we travel. The Kauffman House Museum is conveniently located near the lake just up from the public beach. It was built in 1892 and run as a hotel by the Kauffman family until 1946. Now it’s run by the Grand Lake Area Historical Society as a museum and open most days from 11 am to 5 pm. Check their website here for more information and hours.

The museum is a fun activity for history buffs like myself and for older kids interested in how people lived in the area over 100 years ago.

Holzwarth Historic Site

Another interesting hike and interactive historic site for the family to visit is the Holzwarth Historic Site, also sometimes called Never Summer Ranch. The trailhead and parking area to visit the ranch is located a little over 7 miles north of the Grand Lake Entrance on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s about 1.3 miles roundtrip from the parking lot to visit the site and historic structures.

Holzwarth Historic Site

During the summer, volunteers help visitors connect to the Holzwarth’s story, the German family who immigrated to Colorado and settle the original homestead and began the ranch. They also teach the homestead way of life and what early dude ranches were like on the border of Rocky Mountain National Park. You might even get to have your picture taken in a period giant bearskin coat!

Grand Lake boardwalk and shopping

Another fun activity is to wander up and down visiting the shops along the historic Grand Lake boardwalk. You may be on a mission to find your perfect cabin style souvenir or just window shop, but it’s a must-do activity for our family. There’s also a conveniently located park and play area for kids about midway down the boardwalk, so a good resting place.

There are so many other things you can find to do if you want such as putt-putt golf, bowling, making s’mores, card games, and fun restaurants to try.

Our favorite restaurant – The Fat Cat Cafe

I’ll do another post later on restaurants and food in Grand Lake, but I have to point out the Fat Cat Cafe here too. Of all the wonderful things to do in Grand Lake, Colorado, of course, you have to eat. Do NOT miss the Fat Cat! We absolutely love the food and the people who run this place. Truly, I don’t know how she does it, but the sausage, yes I said breakfast sausage, is to die for. I love pretty much any of the food, but I’d also recommend especially any of the homemade pies. Like the banana cream. The last time I was there I bought a whole one on our way out of town to take home with me it was so good.


Yesterday I walked around my backyard with my son, just sort of to survey the yard work we need to get done. I was also trying to get him to burn some energy because he’d been going crazy being inside so much lately. Did you know that children actually grow faster in spring than other times of the year? So says the book Spring: A Spiritual Biography of the Season by Schmidt and Felch, and I really believe it to be so. Kids have been cooped up more all winter and are ready to run and grow!

Back to our explorations, we discovered some tulip and crocus leaves starting to peak out through the old leftover fall leaves we planned to clean out. I LOVE spring flowers, lilac bushes starting to bloom, and the sun warming off the chill in the air. It’s spring, and do you know what that means? Yes, indeed, it’s time to plan a trip to Grand Lake, Colorado!

At least, that’s what it means to me. Flowers coming up through the snow are the clear signal I’m allowed to begin dreaming of our June trip to Grand Lake. It’s truly one of my favorite spots on this earth, and I hope you get to visit one day. Try out any or all of these activities, and if you discover something else awesome I’ve left out please give a shout-out in the comments below!

Things to do in Grand Lake Colorado, Mount Baldy

Things to do in Grand Lake, Colorado.

Top 10 Things To Do In Ruidoso, New Mexico With Kids

Top 10 Things To Do In Ruidoso, New Mexico With Kids

Picture your favorite Western movie. Do you see wide open spaces, dusty ground with cactus and yucca plants as far as the eye can see? But wait! What’s that in the distance? Is it a plateau, a mountain? Imagine the scene as Billy the Kid and his crew come at you in a cloud of dust. As they get closer you can make out figures on horseback in cowboy hats racing to guide the stampede of cattle. The rustlers just made off with the cattle from a nearby ranch, will get rid of them for a price, and for good measure may even rob a train in the evening. Who knows? Things to do in Ruidoso, New Mexico with kids.

What I know is that the scenery as you near Ruidoso, New Mexico inspires all my stereotypical western stories to come to life. Moreover, it’s truly another world you step into, at least another culture, as we travel from northern Colorado to mid-southern New Mexico. The area around Ruidoso may be the dry, cracked Western scene; however, go up the mountain and into Ruidoso, and you’ll find a charming mountain town perfect for family vacations.

But what are the top things to do in Ruidoso, New Mexico with kids? What is it that draws us so often away from our beautiful Colorado mountains? To be perfectly honest, my grandparents lived there long ago, and now it’s where we meet up with our relatives from Texas for fun and family. We LOVE it.

So be inspired! Go pull up that western soundtracks playlist on Spotify, and plan your family vacation today.

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Top 10 things to do in Ruidoso, New Mexico with kids

Things to do in Ruidoso, New Mexico pin

1. Book a cabin with plenty of outdoor space to play

If at all possible I highly recommend booking a cabin or house with plenty of outdoor space for the kids to play. It’s true we usually go as a large group and so enjoy a larger area, but there are smaller cabins choices available too. Then, with your own cabin, you have a kitchen to do more of your own meal prep, and more space for the family to rest and relax. We loved our space this last summer with a fabulous outdoor seating area complete with grill and hot tub, our own little golf green, horseshoes and much more!

Things to do in Ruidoso, New Mexico cabin Things to do in Ruidoso, New Mexico cabin yard

Website options for cabin rentals:

1. Airbnb – We’ve had good experiences with Airbnb in the past. My advice is to make sure you look for places with plenty of good reviews and use your best judgment. If you are new to Airbnb you can use my link here to sign up and get $40 off your first booking. Click here for the link to sign up.

2. VRBO – Click here for their website.

3. Ruidoso Reservations by Condotel – Click here to see the cabin availability on their site.

A lot of these cabins are available on multiple sights so you can do some searching to get the best deal.

Things to do in Ruidoso, New Mexico horseshoes

2. Inn of the Mountain Gods

Things to do in Ruidoso, New Mexico, IMG buildingThe Inn of the Mountains Gods is owned by the Mescalero Apache Tribe and boasts beautiful scenery, fabulous rooms, food, and a casino. It’s located a little over seven miles from Ruidoso and will take you about 20 minutes by car.

For kids, we like to make a day excursion out of it. First, we drive out to the hotel and look around the inside for a bit. When we’re ready we head down to the buffet and enjoy the variety and quantity of the breakfast or lunch buffet. After that, once sufficiently stuffed, we either continue to look around the inside of the hotel or wander down to the lake for the kids to play or walk around it on the convenient pathways.

What kid doesn’t love a walk around the lake with frequent stops to look for fish, study the plants, or throw rocks and twigs in the lake? You probably won’t make it all the way around, but it’s fun to explore!

3. Pillow’s Funtrackers, Family Fun Center

Things to do in Ruidoso, New Mexico Funtrackers carFuntrackers is a great place for families to play and have a fun time together. First, you might play a round of miniature golf. Following that, race around the track on the goKarts (there are several tracks depending on ages). Then perhaps you’ll want to cool each other off with a giant splash from the bumper boats and then go get lost in the Mountain Maze.

For weeks after we visited this place my son’s favorite thing to call out was, “Grandpa’s lo-oost!” Yes, Grandpa got a bit mixed up in the maze, which was of endless amusement to the children.

There is just so much to do here you could literally hang out most of the day or until the kids get there fill and wear out. The goKarts were great. Lots of fun for all!

4. Kids Konnection Playground

Things to do in Ruidoso, New Mexico playground

For a morning out to a playground, you won’t want to miss the Kids Konnection Playground (685 Hull Road, Ruidoso). First of all, the equipment is fun and original and actually covers a large space. Also, there are areas for kids 5 and under as well as 6 and up, fabulous!

We also like the fact it’s located right next to a big open grassy field where the kids can run, play soccer, play tag, or just burn off some energy. I’ve also been told there’s a good dog park nearby, and although we haven’t been in need of one, you may!

Ruidoso, New Mexico, best of 2017


5. The Hubbard Museum of the American West

26301 Hwy 70 West, Ruidoso Downs, NM

Things to do in Ruidoso, New Mexico Saddle

All right now, tell me. Have you cranked up an American Western film soundtrack yet? You might try , or , my favorite , or if you have Amazon Prime .

Listening to a bit of this will get you in the mood to visit the Hubbard Museum of the American West. This is a fun museum for kids and adults alike, although with kids you may have to move a bit quicker than if you were on your own! Be sure to see the horse statues at the top of the hill.

A tour of this place is sure to bring out your inner cowboy, and if you’re like me you’ll start saying, “I’m your huckleberry” in a southern accent to all friends and family. Or to that random person who meets your eyes in the museum. 😉 Just kidding.

6. Horseback Riding, Grindstone Stables

523 Resort Dr, Ruidoso

Things to do in Ruidoso, New Mexico, Horseback riding

It’s inevitable the kids will be dying to go on a horseback ride after a visit to the Hubbard Museum of the American West. Therefore, why not saunter on over to the Grindstone Stables and go on an hour-long guided horseback ride? Or if that’s not your thing, enjoy a carriage ride through mid-town Ruidoso with amazing views of Sierra Blanca in the distance.



7. Ruidoso Municipal Swimming Pool

515 Sudderth Drive, Ruidoso

Things to do in Ruidoso, New Mexico, swimming poolIf it’s hot, and the kids need some exercise, we love to head over to the Ruidoso Municipal Swimming Pool for open swim. Be sure to check their website or give them a call (575-257-2795) to get open swim times before you drive over. The swimming pool is nice, and although definitely not brand new, a lot of fun. As a matter of fact, they have a huge, fabulous slide perfect for kids. While I stayed in the baby pool with my son the last time we were there, my eight-year-old daughter probably went down the thing 15-20 times. It’s a climb to get up to the top of the slide so it’s also great for ensuring an easy bedtime routine in the evening because they’ll be so worn out!

8. Wildlife Photo Scavenger Hunt

Things to do in Ruidoso, New Mexico deer

Ruidoso is a beautiful mountain location with mountain views, a variety of flora, but also wonderful chances to see wildlife. Go on a wildlife photo scavenger hunt with the kids to get pictures of elk, deer, wild horses, hummingbirds, eagles, and so much more. However, I will advise if you happen to run into one of the bears, steer clear!


Things to do in Ruidoso, New Mexico, Hummingbird



9. Gondola Ride at Ski Apache

1286 Ski Run Road, Alto, NM

Things to do in Ruidoso, New Mexico, gondola

Is your family ready to see some stunning views? Make the drive to Ski Apache in summer to take the gondola ride to the top of the mountain. You won’t regret it a visit to this magical place, unless perhaps you have a child like mine who claims vertigo and refuses to step on all gondolas, funiculars, etc. But never mind that! Have an amazing ride up the mountain, eat at the snack bar, and enjoy yourself.

Things to do in Ruidoso, New Mexico


Ski Apache view

10. Flying J Ranch

6 Flying J Road, 1028 State Hwy 48, Alto, NM

Things to do in Ruidoso, New Mexico Flying JThe first time I visited Flying J Ranch was over 20 years ago (no need to be exact!), and I loved it just as much then as I do now! It’s my favorite attraction in Ruidoso, and kids love it.

Relax and find your inner New Mexico western cowboy, or cowgirl. At Flying J you’ll enter an old west town complete with Sheriff and a live gunfight. The kids can ride ponies, explore teepees, and even rope some cattle. Then the whole family will enjoy a chuck wagon dinner with beef, chicken, beans (of course!), biscuit, applesauce, and my daughter’s favorite spice cake!

After you eat be ready for James and Cindy Hobbs and friends to entertain with the Flying J Western Show. See their website here for more information. “The show is an action-packed show filled with World Champion yodeling, amazing harmonies, fancy fiddling, hilarious comedy, banjo playing and guitar picking! The show at the Flying J Ranch is simply fantastic!”

Things to do in Ruidoso, New Mexico Flying J, game Things to do in Ruidoso, New Mexico horse Ski Apache view

What are your family vacation plans for this summer?

Are you planning to visit Ruidoso this summer? Take advantage of my kid-tested list of top things to do in Ruidoso, New Mexico with kids. Then let me know how it works out for you! For us, it’s a family tradition and fabulous time.

Where else are you planning a family trip this summer? Or maybe where did you go recently? Give me your suggestions below!

Looking for an excursion from Ruidoso?

Carlsbad Caverns featureCarlsbad Caverns are a must-see and completely awe-inspiring. It’s such the perfect exploratory experience for kids. We love it!



Are you planning a fun family vacation to escape from the noise of the everyday? Perfect for family reunions and getaways, check out my top 10 things to do in Ruidoso, New Mexico with kids.

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


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!


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?

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