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Colorado travel options abound for parents with teens

By: Linda DuVal Special to The Gazette
June 23, 2013 Updated: June 23, 2013 at 1:45 pm
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Teenagers are particularly tough to please on a family vacation or road trip - if they can be persuaded to come at all, that is.

It might not be too hard to persuade them to go along with the plan, however, if you have a few enticing attractions and activities designed with them in mind.

Colorado happens to have a lot of them. We're talking zip lines, wild rides, whitewater rafting and more. Here are some great things to add to your Colorado road trip this summer that will have the teenagers in your family not only willing, but eager, to ride along. (Just be sure to remember to have them pack their favorite electronic devices to entertain them between thrills - or when the attractions are too tame.)

Whitewater rafting

This will be "the best whitewater rafting season we've seen in a while," says David Costlow, executive director of the Colorado River Outfitters Association. And teenagers love it.

"We get scout groups and youth groups all the time," Costlow says of his 50 or so member outfitters. And with families, teens probably make up anywhere from about 20 percent to 40 percent of the passengers, he estimates.

"Teens see this as high adventure," he says "They always have a good time; sometimes they have a lot more fun than their parents!"

Zip lines

There are a number of them popping up all over the state. One of the best might be Soaring Tree Top Adventures in the San Juan Mountains near Durango. It claims to be the largest in the world, with 27 zip-line spans, 36 tree-top platforms and 1+ miles of cable.

It's an all-day adventure that starts with a ride on the Durango and Silverton Narrow-Gauge Railroad (the only way to get there), which drops you off in the morning and picks you up later in the afternoon. The sky rangers will harness you up with the right gear, give you instructions and assist you at each eco-friendly platform for takeoffs and landings.

You'll sail through old-growth ponderosa pines, aspen groves, over the Animas River (a number of times) and at different heights and speeds. The "race course" is especially popular, as well as the "Fourteener" - a 1,400-foot span.

Cave of the Winds

If you're doing a staycation or having teenagers as visitors this summer, they might (or might not) turn up their noses at the cave tours themselves, but they're going to love the Bat-a-Pult - where they get launched into a 1,200-foot round-trip "flight" across Williams Canyon. The ride hits speeds of 40 mph, but don't worry, Mom, they're securely strapped into their seats.

Teens also love the Wind Walker Challenge Course, a three-story obstacle course balanced on the rim of a 600-foot drop into Williams Canyon. Each participant wears a full-body harness, securely attached using an overhead tracking system, while they navigate a challenging maze of steel beams, swinging ropes and ladders. The truly brave at heart can climb out over the cliffs of Williams Canyon.

A Glenwood getaway

Who doesn't love a giant water slide? And Glenwood Springs has one at its spacious, world-famous outdoor hot springs pool. But there's more to the town than swimming.

Up at the Glenwood Caverns and Adventure Park, there's a cave tour but also a series of wild rides just geared to make any teen scream. The Alpine Coaster, the first of its kind in the U.S., races you down 3,400 feet until you gradually come to a gentle stop, then pulls you back up to the starting point. The Cliffhanger Roller Coaster is their newest thrill ride. It's a full-size roller coaster with wild curves and drops, plus panoramic views from the top of Iron Mountain. Situated at 7,100 feet, it claims to be the highest elevation roller coaster in North America. And from the top of the coaster, you're looking down at the Colorado River, 1,450 feet below.

Not scary enough? Try the Giant Canyon Swing. Think of an enormous swing that launches you out 1,300 feet above the river. You'll hit speeds of up to 50 mph. It's been featured on the Travel Channel as one of the world's scariest rides.

"The Giant Swing is probably our most popular ride with teens," says Eric Brotherson, business development manager for the operation. "But they love all the thrill rides. And they even like the tamer stuff, like the cave tours."

Hot air balloons

Not everyone is up for this adventure, but teens tend to love it. Drift up from the earth, untethered, and enjoy panoramic views of some of Colorado's better scenery - plus the thrill of floating hundreds of feet above the ground. The most adventurous part can be the landing.

Consider attending the Steamboat Springs Hot Air Balloon Rodeo July 13-14 and arrange a ride with one of the participating balloonists. Or, check out the hot air balloon companies in Keystone or Vail, if you're headed to Summit County. If you miss all those, the state's largest hot air balloon festival is right here, with the Colorado Balloon Classic over Labor Day weekend.

A Denver adventure

Just an hour or so from Colorado Springs, Denver makes a great family summer getaway. Katie Converse of Visit Denver has the following suggestions to please the teens in your group:

- Hike Dinosaur Ridge and see where a fascinating cache of dinosaur bones were discovered.

- Ride the roller coasters and waves at Elitch Gardens.

- Walk over and under Asian elephants at Toyota Elephant Passage at the Denver Zoo.

- Take a paddleboat ride in Washington Park.

- Stare eyeball to eyeball with a shark at the Downtown Aquarium.

- Climb up the 40-foot rock climbing wall at REI.

Because it's so close, you can do any of these things on a given day trip throughout the summer - or plan a few days in the Mile High City to incorporate several of them.

Most of these adventures require parents to sign waivers, for insurance purposes. But don't worry, Mom and Dad, there are very few accidents if everyone follows the rules. Have fun, and don't forget the video camera.

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