Denver Activities with Kids: Hiking, Museums and More

Denver Activities with Kids: Hiking, Museums and More

Over the years we’ve had several work and family events that have taken us to Denver, Colorado. Since we always try to travel as a family, we make the most of our extended weekends wherever we are and have some great, family-friendly ideas for how to make the most of extra days exploring the Scenic Route in and around Denver.

With some interesting museums, plenty of kid-friendly activities and unmatched outdoor experiences, spending a few extra days around Denver are a must. Take a look at our top picks to make the most of staying through the weekend or going beyond the Mile High City.

When to Visit

The answer is easy: any time! But, if you’re looking to have the best, most consistent weather, we would recommend visiting in late spring or early summer. Colorado is known for its unpredictable weather, meaning it could be a gorgeous 80-degree day on Wednesday, then Thursday morning you’ll walk out of your hotel to brush snow off your car. We’ve had this happen to us twice on two different trips.

Traveling to Colorado with kids means that you’re bringing a mix of shorts and long pants. It means you’re ready with sunglasses and tank tops, but you’ve also got a warm jacket and hat at the ready. We’re not saying that you need to pack everything but the kitchen sink, but you should have warm clothes as a backup in the event Colorado shows its true (weather) colors. Still, even with sometimes unpredictable weather, the greater Denver area is one of our favorite family travel destinations. Fly into Denver International Airport and pick up your rental car to kickstart the fun out west!

Nearby Denver Hikes with Kids

Because so many of our trips to Denver are for family functions, we look for the easy-to-get-to outdoor spots that will pack the most fun without a long drive. We’ve got two must-do hikes that are great for kids or adults, and they’re just outside of downtown!

Winding road into Red Rocks Park Road into Red Rocks Park

 

Finding Fossils at Dinosaur Ridge

Just west of downtown Denver is the small town of Morrison. Here you’ll find the Dinosaur Ridge National Natural Monument. With two small visitors centers (exhibit areas) you can approach the ridge from the east or west. Hiking along the paved road, you’ll see fossilized dinosaur tracks, all kinds of cool geology in the bends of the earth and even dinosaur bones still embedded in the hillside.

Dinosaur Ridge is great for getting some outdoors time as well as inspiring kids to grow their interest in science and see a world just beyond the city.

Note: If you happen to find a fossil that is small enough to pick up, examine it and then put it back. Dinosaur Ridge is a National Natural Monument site and everything within it is protected.

Discovering fossils at Dinosaur Ridge Discovering Fossils at Dinosaur Ridge

 

Hiking at Red Rocks Park

Next door to Dinosaur Ridge is the dramatic and colorful Red Rocks Park. Just a 20-minute drive from downtown Denver, the wildlife here is abundant and beautiful. Starting from any number of trail heads, hiking at Red Rocks Park is easy and makes for a simple afternoon escape.

Hiking trail in Red Rocks Park Hiking trail in Red Rocks Park

One trail that’s easy to access and offers beautiful views of the red rocks is the Trading Post Trail. At around 1.5 miles, the loop trail takes you into one of the smaller red rock canyons and then across the sandstone tables. The rocks maintain a lot of heat and the wind can be a bit drying, so in addition to your camera, be sure you bring plenty of water to keep you hydrated along the hike.

Tip: If you can plan it just right, the Red Rocks Amphitheater brings in some incredible headliners for awesome outdoor concerts.

Hiking in Red Rocks Park Hiking in Red Rocks Park

 

Top Denver Museums with Kids

When the weather becomes too extreme (hot or cold) to be outdoors, the Denver area has some really great, kid-friendly museums to explore. It’s easy to plan or be flexible when there are so many good options for the family.

Denver Art Museum

This was the first art museum we visited with the kids that they truly loved. In fact, it was difficult to convince them to leave. The Denver Art Museum has several areas dedicated to families where kids can get creative, make art and play. Several exhibits, particularly the current Stampede show, do a great job captivating kids’ attention. For adults, rotating exhibits and a wonderful collection of Western and Midwestern art make it a unique art museum to visit.

Denver Art Museum Denver Art Museum

 

History Colorado

Located near the Denver Art Museum and Public Library, History Colorado is tons of fun to explore, particularly on a hot afternoon. From civil rights history in Colorado to kid-friendly spaces all about life in the old west, an afternoon in this continually updated museum is a fun family activity.

History Colorado History Colorado

 

Denver Children’s Museum

Typically, we won’t tell people “You have to visit X Children’s Museum. It’s just the best!” but we’ve said this to countless people upon hearing that they’re visiting Denver. The Denver Children’s Museum is nonstop fun and a great way to show your kids that you want them to enjoy their time in the city just as much as you. With climbing and science, mock storefronts and bubbles, kids (and parents) love hanging out at the Denver Children’s Museum.

Tip: If your family is easily overwhelmed in a busy, active place, check in advance for days with low-sensory hours. These are great times for experiencing all the fun in a more controlled environment.

Denver Children's Museum Denver Children's Museum

 

Denver Food for the Non-Foodie

When you travel a lot in general, or when you’ve brought the kids along, it’s nice to be able to enjoy meals that are both fun and unique. Denver makes it easy to do just that with all kinds of cutting edge and family-friendly dining.

Our favorite destination for dinner in Denver is Avanti F&B. A grand conglomeration of food truck-inspired vendors, there’s something for everyone and every dietary need. We explored the many options in their reclaimed shipping container booths and then headed outside for stadium-style seating with a perfect view of downtown Denver.

Our other favorite spots for delicious Denver dining were Steuben’s Uptown and Osteria Marco. Steuben’s was ideal for signature Denver tastes, like green chili burgers, and fresh food options for kids. Osteria Marco filled our need for quality Italian with a slice of Colorado, including delicious house-cured meats.

Osteria Marco Restaurant Osteria Marco Restaurant

 

Weekend Escape to Estes Park and the Rockies

Drive 90 minutes north of Denver to really experience Colorado at its best and take a break from the city in Estes Park. Located at the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park, it’s the perfect small town for getting away from it all.

Relaxing in Downtown Estes Park

Our kids aren’t big into window shopping and strolling just for the sake of strolling, so Estes Park was a great surprise for them. With lots of beautiful wildlife sculptures, vintage candy shops and a river winding through the town, it felt more like one big park than a downtown area.

What really made it fun for our family was the scavenger hunt set up by Estes Park to find 12 small, bronze pikas hidden around the town. Pikas are tiny mountain creatures that live in the vulnerable alpine ecosystem of Rocky Mountain National Park, and the town of Estes Park has established this great activity to bring awareness to their plight and give kids something exciting to do when they visit.

Exploring Rocky Mountain National Park

We visit every national park we can, but hadn’t gotten to visit Rocky Mountain National Park until recently. It’s a gorgeous blend of the Yosemite Valley’s granite peaks and cliffs, and the meadows and wildlife of Yellowstone National Park.

Driving into Rocky Mountain National Park

With two entrances on the Estes Park side, driving into Rocky Mountain National Park is very easy. There are ample pull-outs and trail heads to help you enjoy the park and watch for wildlife. Much of the road going through the park is along steep mountain sides, so drivers who are afraid of such driving conditions should stick to the low roads where there is still plenty of fun and beauty to be had.

Tip: The area around Estes Park is elk territory and they have the right of way. Be very cautious and watch out for individuals and herds of elk wherever you may be.

A few easy hikes to do on your weekend away are very close to the park entrances. Near the north entrance, Adams Falls is a short, quarter-mile hike in, and the view of the falls and valley is gorgeous. About 20 minutes in from the south entrance is Alberta Falls. At just over one-mile round trip, it’s easy to do with kids and offers beautiful hiking trails through aspen groves and gorges.

Road into Rocky Mountain National Park Road into Rocky Mountain National Park

 

Guided Tours of Rocky Mountain National Park

Sometimes it’s nice to go on a guided tour instead of driving yourself. When you plan your weekend in Estes Park, consider a Green Jeep Tour for exploring Rocky Mountain National Park. Riding in an open-air jeep, you get unobstructed views of the park and lots of opportunities for wildlife viewing. When it comes to safety, we particularly appreciated being on a guided tour so we could enjoy the sweeping views while somebody else drove. Really, it was a great addition to our Colorado visit.

Green Jeep tour in Rocky Mountain National Park Green Jeep tour in Rocky Mountain National Park

 

Where to stay in Estes Park

Estes Park has been a top escape for Denver families since the 1950s, and there are lots of small inns and lodges available. There are also some grand choices for every travel style. The famous Stanley Hotel (the inspiration for the book, The Shining), looks out over the town of Estes Park and is a picturesque historic hotel. While it might sound like an odd choice, The YMCA of the Rockies is a huge resort bordering Rocky Mountain National Park full of cabins or lodge rooms and endless family activities.

The Stanley Hotel The Stanley Hotel

Tip: If you choose the YMCA of the Rockies, carve out some time for an outdoors survival class with the kids. It’s both fun and informative (and you get to build forts in the forest).

We very much enjoyed our stay at the McGregor Mountain Lodge, just outside the north entrance of the national park. A collection of beautiful cabins built in the 1950s, it’s ideal for a family weekend outside of Denver. Kitchens, fireplaces and wandering elk — you can’t go wrong with a getaway here.

Tip: Places like the YMCA of the Rockies and McGregor Mountain Lodge have longtime return guests who may book far in advance, so book your stay early.

There are endless opportunities and fun awaiting in and around the Mile High City. Extra days in Denver are great for getting some R&R with the family or reconnecting with nature. So go, explore the Scenic Route and drive happy.

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About the Author

2TravelDads is an energetic pair of dads, Rob and Chris Taylor. Sharing their stories and travel tips while raising their two kids, 2TravelDads have plenty of miles under their belts. Their travel blog comes from the viewpoint of parenting, being a part of the LGBT community, being immersed in nature and wanting to teach their kids the value of cultures from around the world.