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2016 summer family fun: Colorado's best bets

By: The Gazette
May 12, 2016 Updated: May 12, 2016 at 4:28 pm
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For the first time in over two years, tourists and locals were able to climb the 224 steep steps to the top of Seven Falls on Thursday, August 13, 2015. The Colorado Springs landmark was shut down two years ago when the S. Cheyenne Creek flooded the attraction. The Broadmoor hotel has spent $12 million to buy, rebuild and makeover the property that's been one of the Pikes Peak region's marquee tourist attractions for decades. An elevator takes those less inclined to climb the steps to a 14 stories high vantage point to have a straight on view of the falls. (Jerilee Bennett/The Gazette)

Pack the kids and go for a drive.

COLORADO SPRINGS AREA

- Arcade Amusements Inc. - Time to break into that piggy bank and head to scenic Manitou Springs, where whatever change you have will go a long way. You can play Skee-Ball, pinball, arcade games or "race" in a derby where your horse gallops based on how well you roll a little ball. manitouspringspennyarcade.com

- Bishop Castle - You've got to see it to believe it. Go for a drive on Frontier Pathways Scenic Byway out of Colorado City and suddenly a castle appears, complete with a ferocious, fire-breathing dragon chimney. Since 1969, Jim Bishop has created this stone and iron fortress in San Isabel National Forest. bishopcastle.org

- Cave of the Winds - This Manitou Springs destination offers much more than cool cave tours. Kids - and kids at heart - will love taking on the challenge of the Wind Walker Challenge Course, a three-story obstacle course, and screaming their lungs out on thrill rides Bat-a-Pult and Terror-dactyl. caveofthewinds.com

- Cheyenne Mountain Zoo - The views of Colorado Springs are almost reason enough to visit the nation's first and only mountain zoo, which was opened in 1926 by mining mogul Spencer Penrose. It's home to nearly 1,000 animals, including one of the larger giraffe herds in the world and nearly 1,000 animals. cmzoo.org

- Cripple Creek and Victor - These mining towns share history and Old West charm. Take a two-hour guided tour at the Cripple Creek & Victor Gold Mining Co. (ccvgoldmining.com) or go for a laid-back, scenic ride on a century-old steam locomotive at Cripple Creek & Narrow Gauge Railroad (cripplecreekrailroad.com).

- Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center - With glass-walled wings, faux palms and a jungle- themed entrance, the $3.5 million center in Woodland Park houses a dinosaur exhibit and one of the world's more active paleo labs. There's a children's learning center where kids can get lost in time. More info: rmdrc.com

- Royal Gorge - At Royal Gorge Bridge and Park (royalgorgebridge.com) in Cañon City, guests can walk across a suspension bridge that is 956 feet high. Another option for viewing the famous bridge comes from below, aboard the Royal Gorge Route Railroad (royalgorge route.com), which rolls along the Arkansas River.

- The Broadmoor Seven Falls - "The Grandest Mile of Scenery in Colorado" recently received a major face-lift, and the beauty is once again on full display. There are several ways to view the stunning canyon, including stairs, trails and a pair of thrilling zip-line courses that will take your breath away. sevenfalls.com

- Walsenburg Wild Waters - In this small town just west of Interstate 25 in southern Colorado lies a miniature water park that plays big with the kids. There are two water slides - one of which is enclosed - three pools, a lazy river ride, fountains and sprays, and, of course, a snack bar. spanishpeakscountry.com

- Wildlife centers - The region is home to three sanctuaries that provide shelter to remarkable animals: Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center (wolfeducation.org) in Divide, Mission: Wolf (missionwolf.org) in Westcliffe and Serenity Springs Wildlife Center (serenityspringswildlife.org) in Calhan. Go online for tour information.

DENVER AREA

- Colorado Renaissance Festival - Celebrating its 40th season, the festival in Larkspur comes to life with a colorful cast of characters, live music and stage shows. On Saturdays and Sundays from June 11 through Aug. 7, you can score giant turkey legs, listen to Celtic music and watch knights joust. coloradorenaissance.com

- Philip S. Miller Park - Castle Rock turned 320 acres into a park that is the envy of every city along the Front Range. There's a 7.4-mile trail network that includes a 200-step staircase (a mini-Incline of sorts), a 2.5-acre adventure playground and a 64,000-square-foot indoor facility that's home to 16 trampolines. crgov.com

- Heritage Amusement Park - This amusement park in Golden features all sorts of fun for kids. There are small roller coasters and carnival rides plus mini golf, paddle boats, bumper boats, arcade and go-karts. Make a point to visit on Tuesdays or Thursday to receive a hefty discount. heritageamusementpark.com

- Elitch Gardens Theme and Water Park - The gates first opened on this park in 1890. Over the years, it has changed locations and updated its look - becoming America's only downtown theme and water park in 1995. There are roller coasters, water slides and plenty of food options in between. elitchgardens.com

- Water World - There might not be a better way to beat the heat than by visiting this water park north of Denver. It boasts more than 45 attractions on 70 acres, making it one of the larger water parks in the U.S. You can avoid concession costs by bringing a cooler with drinks and food. waterworldcolorado.com

- Butterfly Pavilion - When it opened in 1995, this 30,000-square-foot space north of Denver was the first nonprofit, stand-alone insect zoo in the nation. The main exhibit area is styled after a tropical rainforest and is filled with 1,600 butterflies. In all, the pavilion is home to more than 5,000 animals. butterflies.org

- Denver Zoo - Founded in 1896 with the donation of an orphaned black bear, the Denver Zoo was the first in the U.S. to eschew traditional cages in favor of enclosures that more closely resemble animals' natural surroundings. The space houses 4,000 animals and features several free presentations. denverzoo.org

- Downtown Aquarium - This combination aquarium and restaurant, owned by Landry's Restaurants, houses more than 500 species. The interactive stingray touch-and-feed tank is popular with visitors as is a 40-seat theater that plays 15-minute films that change throughout the year. aquariumrestaurants.com

- Mount Evans Scenic Byway - It doesn't take much effort to bag this fourteener. Simply press down on the accelerator and let the vehicle do the work. It's the highest paved road in America, and the elevated route offers incredible views above treeline. Keep your eyes open for Rocky Mountain goats. tinyurl.com/nndjenf

- Georgetown Loop Railroad - Completed in 1884, this stunning stretch of railroad was considered an engineering marvel. The 3.1-mile loop includes four bridges between Georgetown and Silver Plume. There are special evening adventures such as the Wine & Cheese Train and the Beer & Brat Train. georgetownlooprr.com

BRECKENRIDGE AREA

- Adventure Center at Keystone Lake - Stop in to rent a paddle boat, kayak or canoe or simply to enjoy the indoor arcade. If you're itching to explore, you can rent a variety of bicycles and take to the Summit County rec path. This impressive network of paved trails offers dozens of traffic-free miles. keystoneresort.com

- Breck Summer Fun Park - The whole family will love this unique mountain amusement park. Three 2,600-foot alpine slide tracks and a roller coaster through the forest are just the beginning. Ride the BreckConnect Gondola to the park, where you'll find miniature golf, a climbing wall and more. breckenridge.com

- Captain Zipline - A two-hour drive is all that separates you from soaring across a canyon with nothing but air between your feet and the treetops. If zip lines aren't for you, take on the challenge of Colorado's largest aerial adventure park. There are nine courses with catwalks, cargo nets and more. captainzipline.com

- Leadville Colorado and Southern Railroad - Board the train in the historic mining town and climb 1,000 feet above the headwaters of the Arkansas River Valley. For two and a half hours, riders will chug through pine forests, aspen groves and high alpine meadows filled with wildflowers. More info: leadville-train.com

- Leadville National Fish Hatchery - Established in 1889, the second oldest federal fish hatchery furthers a mandate issued by President Benjamin Harrison to keep the nation's inland waterways stocked. The trail-filled grounds are open during the day. Also check out Turquoise Lake nearby. More info: fws.gov/leadville

- Monarch Crest Scenic Tramway - This tramway west of Salida first opened in 1966, making it the oldest working tramway in the state. It takes visitors on a cool ride above 12,000 feet, where views of Pikes Peak easily are seen on a clear day. And don't forget: You can bring Fido along for the ride. monarchcrest.com

- Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort - Located between Buena Vista and Salida, this resort is popular with those relaxing after adventures in the mountains and with those for whom the soak itself is the goal. Take a float on the lazy river or go big on the 400-foot water slide at the Nathrop hot springs. mtprinceton.com

- Salida Hot Springs Aquatic Center - This year-round destination bills itself as the largest indoor hot springs facility in the country. So, rain or shine, you can enjoy the 25-meter, six-lane pool, with two lanes reserved for lap swimming. Or try the smaller soaking pool at about 100 degrees. salidarec.com/public-pool

- South Park City Museum - This restored 1880s town inside Fairplay is an accurate representation of a mining town in Colorado between 1860 and 1900. The remarkable collection includes 34 buildings filled with more than 60,000 artifacts. Seven of the buildings are on their original sites. southparkcity.org

- Top of the Rockies Zip Line - This attraction goes to extreme elevations to deliver extreme thrills. The first deck sits at 11,200 feet, and the tour goes directly over a running train! The zip line also partners with Leadville Colorado and Southern Railroad for a combo package with lunch. topoftherockieszipline.com

ESTES PARK AREA

- Amaze'n Steamboat - Care to walk on water? Head to Steamboat Springs to try out Water Walkerz, where you can climb into an inflatable balloon and walk on water. While you're there, check out the laser games, miniature golf, bungee trampoline, gemstone panning, bounce house and more. amazensteamboat.com

- Boyd Lake State Park - If it's water you want in northern Colorado, it's water you'll find at the western edge of the plains and in the shadow of Longs Peak. This water-sports haven in Loveland welcomes all types of watercraft on its 1,700 surface acres. Plus, there's a sandy beach. cpw.state.co.us/placestogo/parks/boydlake

- Celestial Seasonings tour - There's a lot more to that box of tea on your desk than meets the eye. The factory in Boulder offers a free, 45-minute tour that takes you through the whole process - beginning at raw ingredients and ending at the finished product. Stick around for tea and lunch in the cafe. celestialseasonings.com

- Estes Park Aerial Tramway - The tram, one of the few European-style cable cars operating in the U.S., has carried more than 3 million people to the top of Prospect Mountain. The summit offers inspiring views of neighboring Rocky Mountain National Park and family-friendly hiking trails. estestram.com

- Gateway Park Fun Center - "Mom, can I have some more tokens?" It's a good bet you'll hear that on a trip to this Boulder fun spot. But it's summer ... so why not? While away an afternoon (and some spare change) with miniature golf, go-karts, batting cages, driving range, a human maze and arcade. gatewayfunpark.com

- Into the Wind - Two architects founded the store on Boulder's Pearl Street Mall in 1980 and went on to create amazing kites for beginner and expert fliers. They sell traditional and stunt kites, wind art and all the kite repair supplies you'll need. They'll take care of the kite. Colorado will provide the wind. intothewind.com

- Open Air Adventure Park - Try life from a different vantage point. If your family has time to spare and the desire for a challenge, this is the ticket. There are 32 elements at the Estes Park destination to climb on, move over and swing through, including an aerial snowboard and swinging bridge. openairadventurepark.com

- The Farm at Lee Martinez Park ­­- Stop by this Fort Collins destination for an interactive, educational experience. Learn about the agricultural industry that shaped the region and visit with farm animals, including the adorable new additions. You also can go for pony rides and hayrides. fcgov.com/recreation/thefarm.php

- Winter Park - The snow is gone. The skis and snowboards are back in the garage. But this ski resort is full of life. Summer is hardly an offseason in Winter Park. You can hike, bike, fish and golf. Or ride a zip line, alpine slide or hot air balloon. And, yes, there's more. How about a dog cart ride? playwinterpark.com

- WOW! Children's Museum - The Lafayette family-friendly experience offers hands-on learning in art, science and life. Play around with giant bubbles, a pirate ship and lighthouse, pulley chairs, a puppet theater, art room, medical clinic, bank and much more. Wow, that sounds like a very busy day. wowchildrensmuseum.org

GRAND JUNCTION AREA

- Bananas Fun Park - Pop by this Grand Junction amusement park for a play date the kids won't soon forget. Check out the go-karts, inflatables, bumper boats, arcade and laser tag. Fuel up throughout the day at the Congo Cafe, where you can find frozen chocolate bananas and funnel cake fries. bananasfunpark.com

- Children's Nature Center - This is the only place in the region where you can see more than 150 exotic creatures, including a 13-foot python, poison dart frogs and stingrays, in naturalistic habitats. The Fruita nature center is also site of the largest indoor honey beehive in the state. More info: thechildrensnaturecenter.org

- Delta Family Fun Park - Who doesn't love batting cages? It's an opportunity for kids to swing and miss and for dads to relive their "glory days" while the kids look on. This Delta attraction also offers miniature golf, a playground, snack bar and a game room with ping pong, foosball and air hockey. deltafamilyfunpark.com

- Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park - This is another local treasure, and getting there is easy via a gondola. You can choose a walking tour of the caverns or opt for the adventurous Wild Cave Tour. Take a ride on the highest elevation roller coaster in North America or the Giant Canyon Swing. glenwoodcaverns.com

- Glenwood Hot Springs - This town is known for its laid-back mountain life, and one of the better ways to experience that is by visiting the world-famous hot springs pool. For an additional fee, check out the water slides that feature more than 300 feet of twists and turns cascading down four stories. hotspringspool.com

- Lincoln Park-Moyer Swimming Pool - Summer can get downright hot on the Western Slope, but you can cool off in style at this Grand Junction pool. Children will love the waterslide, water playground and two diving boards. There's also a separate shallow water instructional tank for little ones. visitgrandjunction.com

- Mack's Family Entertainment and Sports Center - Stormy weather on the Western Slope? Head to Montrose for this indoor play place. Check out the inflatable giant slide and obstacle course, play air hockey or foosball, or get involved in many hands-on activities in the exploratorium. macksfamilyentertainment.com

- Morrow Point Boat Tour - Get a different perspective of stunning Black Canyon of the Gunnison on this 90-minute boat tour. A park ranger guides viewers through Morrow Point Reservoir and provides tidbits about geology, wildlife, early inhabitants, the narrow-gauge railroad, dams and reservoirs. nps.gov/cure

- Museums of the West - This is one-stop shopping in Grand Junction with three museums, three active outdoor paleontology sites, an educational center and a research library. Go way back in time on a dinosaur expedition or sign up for a local or international historic and cultural tour. museumofwesternco.com

- Pioneer Town - Head to Cedaredge and transport back in time to the late 1800s and early 1900s. The Surface Creek Valley Historical Society has created a museum of 24 buildings filled with artifacts, including a log cabin, schoolhouse and store. Stop by the Lizard Head Saloon for a drink. pioneertown.org

DURANGO AREA

- Colorado Gators Reptile Park - Welcome to the Everglades! What began with 100 baby alligators - a means of waste disposal for a tilapia farm in Mosca - now is a destination and a sanctuary for surrendered reptiles. Watch the professionals wrestle gators or take a class and try it yourself. More info: coloradogators.com

- Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and Museum - This is probably the prettiest train ride in Colorado. Completed in 1882, the train began to haul both passengers and freights of silver and gold ore. Today, the restored steam locomotive offers a slow trip through breathtaking scenery. durangotrain.com

- Mesa Verde National Park - This UNESCO World Heritage Site - the nation's largest archaeological preserve - outside Cortez contains some of the world's better-preserved cliff dwellings, constructed by the Ancestral Puebloan people who lived in the region between 600 and 1300 AD. More info: nps.gov/meve

- Million Dollar Highway - If you're traveling with young children yet still want to experience the beauty often only seen on backcountry hikes, follow this stretch of U.S. 550 from Ouray to Silverton. The origin of the name varies depending on who you ask, but the drive offers million-dollar views. roadtripusa.com

- Ouray Hot Springs Pool - Billed as the "Switzerland of America" because of its beautiful setting, Ouray is a must-stop if you're in southwest Colorado. The pool here offers a sulfur-free soaking experience ranging from 88 degrees to 106 degrees. There are also water slides and an area for lap swimming. ourayhotsprings.com

- Purgatory Resort - Choose from a packed roster of family activities, including an alpine slide, zip line, gyro chair, bungee trampoline, ropes course, climbing wall, bounce house, disc golf, scenic chairlift and miniature golf. Then refuel at a selection of restaurants and bars at this Durango destination. purgatoryresort.com

- Rocky Mountain Wildlife Park - This park near Pagosa Springs hopes to educate people about native Colorado wildlife. In operation since 1986, the park offers tours to give guests the chance to see beautiful animals, including bears, wolves and mountain lions, in what would be their natural habitat. rmwildlifepark.org

- Telluride/Mountain Village gondola - Take the free, 13-minute ride from Telluride and have fun with the kids via the Gravity Play Combo. Try all three unique attractions: a suspended ropes course, a bungee trampoline and a water walkers course that offers the thrill of walking on water. More info: tellurideskiresort.com

- The Springs Resort and Spa - The spring that feeds mineral water to 23 soaking pools at the Pagosa Springs resort holds the Guinness World Record for deepest geothermal hot spring at 1,002 feet. Water temps range from 83 degrees to 114 degrees so it's a good bet you will find a pool to your liking. pagosahotsprings.com

- Zip lining - Enjoy the stunning beauty in and around Durango while flying through the air. Soaring Tree Top Adventures (soaringcolorado.com) has 27 zip lines that range from 56 feet to 1,400 feet. Full Blast Adventure Center (ziplinedurangoco.com) is another quality option that's only a mile from downtown.

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