Colorado Vacations 
Family Travel Colorado 
Your Guide to Visiting Colorado with the Kids
Recommended Trip: Peak to Peak Highway, Colorado
Families traveling in Colorado can find all the natural beauty and outdoor recreation they want along the Peak to Peak Highway.

Some of the best Colorado camping, fishing, hiking, peak climbing, wildflower sniffing, bird-watching, and stargazing lies within an hour or two of Denver.

See Colorado's National Parks with the Kids!

Our nation's National Parks have been called the
crown jewels of America. 

Colorado is the proud home of four National Parks: 

  • Rocky Mountain 
  • Mesa Verde 
  • Great Sand Dunes 
  • Black Canyon of the Gunnison 

Plan your great Colorado family vacation with our
series on Colorado's National Parks - 45 pages of information and inspiration

Start with the National Parks Directory at

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Did You Know?

Established in 1918, the Peak to Peak Highway is the oldest Historic and Scenic Byway in Colorado.

Colorado River in Rocky Mountain National Park
Photo: The Colorado River finds its headwaters on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park.

On the north, the Peak to Peak Highway leads to the town of Estes Park, just outside Rocky Mountain National Park.

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articles about
Rocky Mountain
National Park

Estes Park, Colorado is one of the state's most popular destinations for families on vacation. 

It is the main gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. It also lies on the northern end of the Peak to Peak Highway. 

The crest of America, the continental divide, parts the nation’s waters to the east and west as it crosses the land. In Colorado, it soars to over 14,000 feet above sea level. Its Indian Peaks (Paiute, Pawnee, Shoshoni, Arikaree, and North and South Arapaho) are clearly visible over 120 miles away, on the state’s eastern prairies. They reflect the Great Plains sunrise like a jagged crown.

At the base of this range is a road rich with history and recreational opportunities. The Peak to Peak Highway brags 11 campgrounds, 6 picnic areas, scores of lakes and streams, hiking and mountain biking trails, ghost towns, and views to take your breath away. Close to Denver, it is also one of the most popular drives in the state. But with planning and creativity, travelers can find solitude just off the road.


Sultry summertime is perfect for visiting Colorado’s high country. In spite of chilly nights, wildflowers dance in July breezes. Only the shadiest forest pockets keep their snow in August. This is when Colorado’s oldest scenic byway is at its best.

The 55-mile route connects Central City on the south with Estes Park on the north. Paved and well maintained year round, the road winds nearly continuously, with occasional hairpin curves thrown in for good measure. Yet the bends create surprise views of peaks looming over the road and prairies stretching off to the east.


The route travels through the Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest, passing Golden Gate Canyon State Park, and bordering Rocky Mountain National Park as it proceeds north. Their campgrounds offer sleeping options in some of the most scenic areas in Colorado. The Longs Peak campground in Rocky Mountain National Park is wooded, quiet, and open to tents only. On the other extreme, the Reverend’s Ridge campground in Golden Gate Canyon State Park offers laundry and shower facilities and cabins in addition to electrical hook-ups for RV’s.

“Because it is the farthest from Rocky Mountain National Park, Kelly Dahl campground is the last to fill up on busy weekends,” said Maribeth Pecotte, Information Assistant for the Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest. “But it has a pond right across the road and a playground, plus really nice views of the continental divide.

“But be prepared for Colorado weather conditions,” she adds. “The nights get cold here – some of our campgrounds are over 10,000 feet. And please remember to clean up your campsite when you leave, using the garbage cans provided or packing it out if you are in a site where there is no trash service.”


A network of well-maintained trails twists its way through groves and glens, over ridges, past waterfalls, and to the top of several 13,000-foot peaks. All are easily accessible from the highway. This is a hiker’s paradise.

Most trails to the west of the highway are steep, at least in places, as the terrain rises from the road to the Great Divide. Yet these offer the promise of dramatic vistas. Easier hikes are abundant, and offer their own attractions of lakeside picnic sites, wildlife viewing, and trout filled streams.

One of my favorite treks is in the Wild Basin complex in Rocky Mountain National Park, just north of the tiny town of Allens Park. The Thunder Lake trail follows Cony Creek through a fairly easy stretch of lodgepole pine forest. Within 1500 feet hikers pass Copeland Falls, the first of many photogenic spots along the creek. Crossing streams and traversing giant boulders, the trail climbs steadily to Calypso Cascades, a frothy cold torrent, pouring through a rocky, log-strewn thicket of evergreens.

Further on, the trail reaches Ouzel Falls, named for chubby water ouzels, or dipper birds, which bob up and down on rocks at the water’s edge on their little stick legs. Suddenly, the birds will dive directly into the stream. They “fly” through the water with their wings to catch bugs in the current, only to jump right back up onto their rock as if nothing had happened! All the while, the mist from the pounding falls chills hikers and birdwatchers in the piney shade.

Another popular hub for hikers is the Brainard Lake Recreation area. Although users pay an entrance fee of $6 (good for 5 days), the parking lots fill up early. Once you are there, it is easy to see why. Dozens of trails dive into the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area past alpine lakes reflecting fierce summits. This is the centerpiece of the Peak to Peak Highway.


This scenic and historic byway is woven tightly into the fabric of Colorado history. Central City’s weathered cemeteries, bony mine buildings on rusty tailings, and the elegant lodges of Estes Park all wrap travelers in the quilt of yesteryear.

Some ghost towns are mostly intact and still partially occupied, as in Ward, while others are little more than a listing cabin or splintery piles of lumber as at Hessie, Lump, or Gilpin. Where narrow gauge railroads once hauled supplies to mining camps, now only rocky paths run through the trees, as on the Switzerland trail. (Bring your mountain bike.) These lonely places haunt visitors long after they’ve returned home.


Access the Peak to Peak Highway from Denver by driving west on US 6 into Clear Creek Canyon. At the junction with Colorado State Route 119, go north. The Peak to Peak is Colorado 119 until the town of Nederland, where it follows State Highway 72 north. Near Raymond, the Peak to Peak Highway continues north along State Highway 7 until it reaches Estes Park. A few villages offer services along the route, but the best grocery shopping is in Estes Park.

Most recreational opportunities lie above 9,000 feet. It occasionally snows in July, yet sunny days are warm enough to work up a sweat when exercising. Dress in layers to adjust to changing conditions and apply sunscreen often to protect against high altitude sun exposure.

To help avoid altitude sickness, drink two quarts of water a day or more, and avoid alcohol – it makes altitude sickness worse. (Filter or treat water in the lakes and streams before drinking it.) Eat plenty of high-energy food when exercising, take it easy, and rest frequently.

Lightning is a danger on the trails above timberline. Plan to be off summits and exposed ridges before the summer storms roll in, usually just after noon. Turn back to lower, more sheltered areas if you see storms building.

Forest Service camping fees range between $11 and $15 per day. Contact the Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest, Boulder Ranger District at 303/541-2500 or The Longs Peak campground in Rocky Mountain National Park (970/586-1206 or is $12 per night. Campsites in Golden Gate Canyon State Park range from $12 to $18 per night. Contact them at 303/582-3707 or

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