Rocky Mountain Playground

In Colorado's banner national park, you'll traverse the country's highest continually-paved highway, trek to raging waterfalls, grind over sinewy singletrack, and get in touch with your inner Audubon.
  |  Gorp.com
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Colorado
A Boy's-Eye View: Looking up at Colorado's majestic aspens  (Eric Wunrow/Colorado Tourism)

The loop from Denver through Estes Park and across Rocky Mountain National Park includes one of the great thoroughfares in the Rockies—Trail Ridge Road, the highest continually-paved highway in the United States. Trail Ridge reaches 12,183 feet at its highest point, and if summer traffic makes it slow going, the scenery makes that irrelevant. For reasons a parent probably doesn't understand, kids of all ages find it a thrill to get into the car during the summer down in the valley, and out of the car on sky-high trails where there is snow—even in July. There's something about hiking around snow in sandals that's just plain fun (just be sure to have extra socks handy). And if you worry that the kids will get bored by all that opulent nature, both YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park and the Y's Snow Mountain Ranch in Grand Lake have tons of family and kids' activities, plus a choice of cooking or utilizing Y dining rooms.

Day 1: Denver to Estes Park (65 Miles)
From Denver, take I-25 to the Boulder Turnpike (U.S. 36). Boulder is about 35 minutes from Denver and an hour from Estes Park, so there's time to check out the miles of bike paths in and around Boulder. There are a number of rental shops in town, but if you want to wander along Pearl Street Mall with its sidewalk entertainers and restaurants, you'll have to lock up your bikes on the street—no bikes on the mall. On a hot summer day you can also pick up tubes at area gas stations and float in Boulder Creek with the locals. For a truly unique meal, check out the Dushanbe Teahouse (303.442.4993; www.boulderteahouse.com) on 13th Street near the Boulder Creek bike path for its fairytale-like interior. It's an authentic, handcrafted teahouse from Tajikistan that serves excellent fare for all ages.

Then hop back in the car and take 28th Street north to U.S. 36. Pass through Lyons and continue on, following signs to Estes Park. It's a curvy canyon road that will bring you in above Estes Park, overlooking the town and lake. Bear to the left in town as U.S. 36 becomes CO 66, the road that leads to YMCA of the Rockies (970.586.4444; www.ymcarockies.org). At this Y camp you stay in lodge rooms or rustic cabins, but the emphasis is assuredly on the outdoors. The Y's extensive family program includes activities like hiking around beaver ponds (ages five & up), archery (ten & up), Animal Detective (six to 12), family relays and scavenger hunts (all ages), survival skills and night hikes (eight & up), and learning what's natural and unnatural to this Rocky Mountain environment (four to eight). Overnight at YMCA of the Rockies (make reservations well in advance; 970.586.3341).

Published: 1 Mar 2006 | Last Updated: 12 May 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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