Traveling with kids can be complicated, stressful and expensive. When we were making plans for our Colorado fall break we were very mindful of the activities we chose to do as a family. The hard part with young kids is they are complete wild cards during every activity. They might do great and be happy the entire time and make it an enjoyable experience. On the flip side they could be miserable and make it not worth it.
So when we look at costs associated with activities there is always a cost benefit analysis. We could go to a great museum that cost the family $20 per adult and $15 per kid – roughly $100 for our family, and we could have one or two little ones that an hour in are restless and cranky and require a quick exit. It’s not worth the money. I know it’s just a stage and eventually we’ll get to those museums and enjoy it to our heart’s content. But that’s not the stage we’re in now and both Steve and I are pretty realistic about what the younger kids can handle and what pushes our stress level past enjoyment.
Denver (and surrounding areas) has plenty to offer with minimal cost which is perfect for young families such as ours. Here’s a few activities we all enjoyed together.
Hammond’s Candy Factory tour
This is a free tour for all ages. We watched a short 9 minute video on the history of the company and then they took us back to the area where we could watch what was being made. This kept all the kids interest, including Cannon’s. They specialize in hard candies and watching the candy canes being made was really interesting. I think the entire tour was 30-45 minutes. The only meltdown was walking out of the tour into the candy filled store where the kids each got to choose a candy – such tough decisions!
Flat Irons/Chautauqua Park
We stayed north of Denver for a few nights with our friends just outside of Boulder. If you have not been to Boulder – it’s a must see. It’s beautiful and unique in so many ways and has so much personality. We explored Chautauqua Park and hiked to the base of the Flat Irons. Cannon was carried in a backpack but Bennett walked the whole way himself and he was so excited to be “climbing the mountain.” They have several trails that were easy enough for our young family to maneuver and the views were amazing.
I’ve heard a lot about frisbee golf from my brother who lives in Denver (or frolf as he so lovingly calls it). They’ve got so many courses dedicated to frolf (which is free – you just have to have the frisbees) and we checked out one of them. Frolf is fun. I was skeptical, but after I beat everyone I was a believer!
Denver Mint Tour
We got lucky on this one. I wasn’t aware, but Mint tour tickets are tough to come by (they are free tickets) and you must have a reservation. They open tickets a month in advance and they said they typically are gone within a couple hours. We checked several days and finally found a time slot that had opened up due to a cancellation. We prepped the kids with what we were doing and what they could expect on the tour. Steve and I were both pleasantly surprised with how well they all did and how long they stayed interested. The talking portion of the tour was only about 10-15 minutes – the rest of the time was self guided and observing of coins being made. We made extra effort to keep the kids interest by talking through and explaining every step of the process. So glad we were able to snag tickets.
Castlewood State Park – South of Denver
This wasn’t free – but $8 for our carload is worth checking out. We hiked about two miles through a canyon – stopping to explore whenever the kids felt the urge. A backpack for Cannon would’ve been handy on this hike – but we didn’t have it so he walked and walked. Halfway through his little legs couldn’t handle the rough terrain so he was carried the rest of the way. Like most of the scenery we had seen in Denver – this area was beautiful and unique. We packed a picnic lunch and enjoyed it sitting amongst the boulders.
National Center for Atmospheric Research
This is a free museum/exhibit in Boulder. It’s not very large and doesn’t take more than an hour or two to explore but it’s hands on exploration of weather and environment. The kids could touch and feel everything and they learned about the environment around them. There’s also a hike that has exploration points that we didn’t take advantage of because it was getting too close to lunch time but it looked interesting as well. It was a great morning activity that was free of charge.
One area we didn’t end up making it to was the Rocky Mountain National Park – which would’ve been free with Hallie’s park pass. We decided with all the driving we had already done, another 2 1/2 hour roundtrip excursion wasn’t in our cards. The cost-benefit analysis again!
After visiting Denver I get why it is consistently ranked in the top 10 most fit/active cities in the US. They have outdoor activities everywhere and everyone seems to participate in one way or another. We explored and played, they had beautiful parks and trails we took advantage of, we spent more time outside in one week than we had in the previous two or three months!