Growing up I spent many summers driving through Colorado, on our way home to Utah to visit family, and always loved exploring this beautiful state. This summer we decided to set off on an adventure with our own kids and planned 5 Days in Denver the ultimate family-friendly itinerary.
Colorado is filled with beautiful mountains, charming small towns, hiking trails and landmarks that are the perfect place for families to enjoy and explore on summer vacation. Since we were going to be in Denver for a wedding we decided to spend a few extra days exploring the area. I had the privilege of teaming up with Chevrolet and driving the 2019 Traverse Premier during our trip and it was the ultimate way for us to take in the scenic views!
The 2018 Chevrolet Traverse is completely redesigned and built with style and purpose in mind. It has lots of convenience features like ample cup holders (a must for road trips), 4G LTE Wi-Fi, Android Auto, maximum cargo space and hidden storage compartments. To learn more about the Traverse and more of our favorite features be sure to check out this post about our trip to the Frio last summer.
Day 1 Denver Itinerary
Our first day started with an early flight into Denver. Once we were settled in we loaded up in the Traverse to explore the Downtown Denver area. We started by wandering around downtown and found our way to Larimer Square, which is known as the block where Denver began. Explore downtown history while also sampling some of the best dining, shopping and nightlife Denver has to offer.
When you’ve worked up an appetite head to Marco’s Coal-Fired pizza for lunch. Make sure you order the Limoncello Chicken Wings to start, they were insanely delicious! Known for their Pizza Napoletana I settled on the Del Re and was not disappointed, it’s easy to see why this is one of Denver’s top spots to grab a slice.
Once you’ve fueled up head to one of the many parks in the Denver area to let the kids run around and play. I suggest finding your way to Confluence Park, a cool urban park with views of downtown and a river that people spend their afternoons kayaking on.
Since you are in the area head over to Little Man Ice Cream for a scoop. Famous for their super creamy ice cream and fun location, this is definitely a must stop spot in Denver. The lines can get super long at this popular spot, but you can grab one of the many popular flavors from the “Express Cart” that is on the sidewalk to the left of the shop. I had the Salted Carmel PB Cup and my husband had the 16th Street Chocolate, which was amazing! This was the perfect way to end our first day in Denver.
Day 2 Denver Itinerary
On Day 2 we set out for the Georgetown Loop Railroad. The Georgetown Devil’s Gate station is located on I-70 about 45 miles west of Denver. The Georgetown Loop Railroad and Mining Park was one of Colorado’s first tourist attractions. It was completed in 1884 and was originally used to transport folks among mountain mining towns. In 1975 it became the Georgetown Loop and has been a tourist attraction ever since. This trip did not disappoint and was perfect for our large group of young and old.
The views from the train were incredible and I got a big kick out of the kids exclaiming with excitement at every corner. They were equally entertained by the characters, the conductor, the sheriff and robbers roaming the train and their silly antics.
We also did the Lebanon Mine tour, which is a fascinating and educational experience. If you have the time I would recommend adding this to your train ticket. Be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes and take a jacket with you, it gets a little chilly in the mine.
After our adventure on the Georgetown Loop Railroad, we headed back to Denver to grab dinner. We made our way to My Brother’s Bar to try what Food Network as deemed the best burger in Denver. For more than 40 years, this decades-old tavern has been calling to locals and travelers with its mouthwatering burgers and casual atmosphere. We sat on the patio, which was tucked away in the back and the perfect stop to unwind for the day. The Johnny Burger with its double layers of thin patties blanketed with melted swiss cheese, a coating of cream cheese and topped with grilled onions stood up to all the hype, it was delicious!
We stopped at the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center so the kids could get their Junior Ranger books and to map out our day. We learned that the Alpine Visitor Center and Old Fall River Road area were closed due to snow, which we later found out was still covering much of the park as well (we were there in June and it was crazy how much snow was still on the ground!)
We headed up to the Bear Lake trailhead to hike the Emerald Lake Trail (3.2 miles, 620 ft elevation gain), which starts at Bear Lake and passes Nymph and Dream Lakes before ending at Emerald Lake. This trailhead was covered in snow (you can get an idea of how much in the picture with the trail sign) and took us much longer to hike than expected, but it was still breathtaking. The lakes were still covered in a thick layer of ice and it was kind of a dreary day, but I can see why this hike is one of the most popular in the park.
A few other hikes worth exploring are the Lumpy Ridge Trailhead to Gem Lake (3.1 miles, 990 ft elevation gain), which is a relatively short hike with great views of the mountain and Estes Park. The hike from Bear Lake to Alberta Falls and Mills Lake (5.4 miles, 938 ft elevation gain) was a lot less busy than the Emerald Lake hike and the views were spectacular! But, honestly no matter where you go in the park there are treasures and beauty all around.
Head back to Estes Park for a bite to eat at Penelope’s World Famous Burgers, it’s like stepping back in time for an old-fashioned burger and fries. After hiking all day you deserve a treat, walk on down to the Danish Cone to grab a sweet treat. Try their ice cream or fill up a bag with taffy from their sister store the Purple Mountain Taffy Company, or heck why not get both, after all, you hiked over 8.5 miles!
Day 4 Denver Itinerary
Day 4 was an action-packed adventure white water rafting down Clear Creek with RaftMasters. I remember going white water rafting in Colorado as a kid and it was one of my favorite experiences and I wanted my kids to experience the same thing so I booked a trip down the river with RaftMasters. Due to our kid’s ages, we booked the Clear Creek Classic raft tour which was a 2 hour trip down Class II and Class III rapids on the Clear Creek river.
Our tour guide Maddy was so much fun and kept us entertained while we navigated rapids and floated down the river. Since it was still early in the season and the area had seen so much snow the river was higher than normal and FREEZING! Fortunately, the company provides you with complimentary use of wetsuits, splash jackets, and river shoes. Helmets and life jackets are also required and provided. You will want to be sure you bring a towel and a dry change of clothes for after your trip.
After all that adventure we’d worked up and appetite and headed to TommyKnocker Brewery & Pub for lunch. We had learned about the legend of the Tommyknockers while we were on our Georgetown Loop mine tour so this was a fun little spot for lunch. The kids loved the craft soda they served and we enjoyed one of the many craft beers on tap.
Before we headed back to Denver we decided to drive the Mount Evans Scenic Byway which is just 60 miles west of Denver and the highest paved road in North America. Since we were already so close we decided to take the winding journey that snakes and climbs nearly 9,000 feet in elevation gain to the 14,264-foot summit of Mount Evans. Admission is $15 per car and you should plan for about 2 hours to drive and explore this scenic byway. It does get cooler as you go so be sure to have a jacket handy when you get out at the viewing areas to take in the majestic mountain views. Also, be sure to take LOTS of water, altitude sickness is real as we discovered with our oldest who spent a good portion of this trip feeling miserable.
Day 5 Denver Itinerary
On our final day in the Denver area, we headed out early to make our way to Meeker Park for horseback riding at Meeker Park Lodge. This was probably our families favorite activity on our trip! The entire experience was incredible, the views were spectacular and we had the privilege of seeing not one, but two moose up close in one of the fields we rode through.
Meeker Park Lodge is located just east of Rocky Mountain National Park on the scenic Peak to Peak Highway and offers an environment where quiet prevails. Owned and operated by the Dever family since 1922 the stables are just down the road from the lodge. Nick and Patty were so welcoming and absolutely wonderful. They got our family paired up with horses and then we set out on a trail ride that offered incredible views of the mountains and wildlife.
My kids could have done this all day long, they were so sad when we had to say goodbye to the horses. We had originally planned to head back to the main entrance of Rocky Mountain National park, but one of the ranchhands suggested we go to Wild Basin Area Trails, which would be less crowded and closer. This was one of the best hikes we took, we started at the Wild Basin Trailhead and hiked up to Ouzel Falls (5.3 miles, 954 ft elevation gain) Along the way we viewed the Copeland Falls, Calypso Cascades, spotted a young moose in a clearing, and enjoyed lots of fresh air.
After a full day of nature, we headed back to Denver via Boulder where we stopped to take a stroll on Pearl Street Mall. This tree-lined street is super cute, albeit a bit touristy at times, but certainly worth a visit. A friend recommended we eat dinner at Red Agave so we headed over there to try it out. I’ll admit being from Texas we were a bit skeptical about eating Mexican food in Colorado, but this establishment did not disappoint. Everything from the spicy tableside guacamole to the Trio de Carnes was so good! With full bellies, we headed back to Denver to pack and head home from our incredible Colorado vacation.
Thanks to the Chevy Traverse, we were able to navigate the winding mountains with ease and confidence, while taking in all the beauty colorful Colorado has to offer. The Chevy Traverse flexes and fits your lifestyle and needs, whether you are driving through scenic mountain byways, headed down south to the Frio River or loading up crafts from a Girl’s Day out, the Traverse makes sure you can #findnewroads and enjoy every adventure!