Things to Do in Colorado in the Summer: From Urban Adventures to Mountain Towns

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Driving through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is one of the best things to do in Colorado in the summer.
A road trip through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is rewarded with some of the steepest cliffs, oldest rock, and craggiest spires in North America. Photo credit: Diana Rowe

Colorado locals say: “Come for the winter, stay for the summer.” That’s because they know the secret to Colorado fun: the many things to do in the summer. From the exhilarating — racing down a mountain on a bike — to the serene — floating down river on a tube — here are the best things to do in Colorado in the summer.

While the winter is a haven for skiers at Colorado mountain ski resorts, for locals, such as me, and frequent visitors to the Rocky Mountain state, there is a long list of things to do in Colorado in the summer for families.

Your Colorado summer vacation can be filled with outdoor activities such as hiking, mountain biking and whitewater rafting, or adventures such as train rides, theme parks and museums. And places to visit vary as much as the weather, from urban adventures to exploring mountain towns and the state’s four national parks.

Ready to get started? Read on for our amazing suggestions for your next family friendly summer getaway to Colorado.

Looking for Colorado family fun vacation ideas in Denver? Here's why we love the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, and recommend it for all ages.
Amazing prehistoric creatures on display at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Photo credit: Tami Mittan

Denver Fun

Denver got its start as an Old West mining town in 1858, but quickly grew into today’s sprawling western urban metropolis with sweeping Rocky Mountain vistas and casual hospitality. While it embraces its Western heritage, Denver is no Cowtown with its high-tech economy, legendary chefs and love for the outdoors.

This year-round vacation destination sits at a cool 5,280 feet above sea level, thus its Mile High City moniker. As a gateway to the Rocky Mountains, Denver is the perfect start for your Colorado summer activities.

Here are some of the top things to do in Denver:

  • Take advantage of Denver’s cool mornings or evenings with a bike rental available at multiple shops throughout downtown.
  • Take a walk (or the free shuttle) to explore the 16th Street Mall, Denver’s mile-long pedestrian walkway. People watch, shop and dine along the way.
  • Detour to the Colorado State Capitol and take the stairs to the “One Mile Above Sea Level” step. Book a free guided tour.
  • Animal lovers shouldn’t miss a visit to the Denver Zoo, located 5 minutes from downtown Denver in the historic City Park area. More than 3,000 animals live in this 84-acre urban zoo with natural habitats including the Toyota Elephant Passage, Giraffe Encounter and Tropical Discovery. One of the newer exhibits is the Pinnacol African Penguin Point; it’s hard not to smile when you watch the penguins waddle in groups.
  • Also in the City Park area is the interactive Denver Museum of Nature & Science with exhibits ranging from dinosaurs to the Discovery Zone.
  • Have a picnic in the 330-acre City Park with its dozens of trees offering shade, bike trails, playgrounds and a lake. Pack a cooler or purchase your lunch at the zoo or museum restaurants. If you’re feeling ambitious, bikes, kayaks, pedal boats and stand-up paddleboats are available for rent.
  • And one of the most iconic things to do in Denver is to take the family to a Colorado Rockies baseball game at the 76-acre Coors Field in the lower downtown Ballpark neighborhood. Visit the Interactive area behind section 120 with video batting cage, pitching and speed gun.

SheBuysTravel Tip: We always include a visit to Elitch Gardens Theme and Water Park, with 54 rides, attractions and summer fun. My younger grandchildren loved the rides in Kiddie Land, and there’s even a family-friendly roller coaster, the Blazin’ Buckaroo. The teens prefer the adrenalin rides of the Brain Drain, Tower of Doom, Mind Eraser and Sidewinder. Cool off in the afternoon with a plunge on Shipwreck Falls or visit to the Island Kingdom Water Park. Want to save money? Purchase a Denver CityPASS and save on up to 40 attractions including Elitch Gardens!

Top 10 things you didn't know about Denver -- the city is all about their professional sports!
Top 10 things you didn’t know about Denver: The city is all about professional sports! Photo credit: Diana Rowe

Check out more kid-friendly museums and these family-friendly free things to do in Denver.

Don’t forget to reward the adults with a refreshing cold beer. The downtown Denver breweries, such as Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery and Wynkoop, are kid-friendly. Or book a guided brewery walking tour.

View of the 16th Street Mall, one of the best things to do in Colorado in the summer
The grandkids enjoying the view of the 16th Street Mall at the Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel. Photo credit: Diana Rowe

Where to Stay in Downtown Denver?

My recent downtown stay with the grandkids was at the Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel. We stayed in a corner suite, with a living room. It included a pull-out sofa bed and 2 queen beds with a view of downtown.

We loved the convenience of walking out of the hotel and being in the middle of the 16th Street Mall. I scored with the grandkids with the rooftop pool.

Golden Colorado welcome sign
The small town of Golden welcomes visitors with a “Howdy Folks” on a sign stretched across their Main Street. Photo credit: Visit Golden

Wild West Charm of Golden, Colorado

Say “howdy” to the small town of Golden, 15 miles west of Denver and part of the Front Range Urban Corridor. Golden offers a wide range of activities for all ages. These include hiking trails, biking trails, shopping, cultural attractions and breweries.

  • Clear Creek runs through this beautiful town, where you can enjoy whitewater rafting, kayaking, fly fishing and tubing. Take a self-guided walking tour in Golden and discover its public art, with more than 30 statues and murals.
  • On the outskirts of Golden is the Colorado Railroad Museum, a worthwhile detour for train fans.
  • Drive the short scenic byway to Lookout Mountain to see Buffalo Bill’s Grave or to the renowned Red Rocks Park & Amphitheater. Unique to the area, the Red Rocks sandstone formations are more than 250 million years old and 300 feet high. An early morning moderate 1.4-mile trail hike rewards visitors with the best views. At night, this venue hosts concerts and events.
  • End your evening on the rooftop patio of The Golden Mill – complete with misters to cool off. Choose from five local food concepts and beverages from a self-pour wall that boasts more than 50 taps of home-grown brews, wines, and house-made cocktails.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Treat the kids to New Zealand style ice cream at the Golden Mill, a delicious mix of fresh sweet cream ice cream and a scoop of fruit.

Your Colorado Springs family vacation will be even better by adding Garden of the Gods Horseback riding experience. Photo credit: Diana Rowe

Summertime in Colorado Springs

Just 90 minutes south of Denver is the always popular Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak region with its own set of must-see attractions.

Things to do in Colorado Springs include:

  • Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, the highest altitude zoo featuring (our favorite) getting up close with the giraffes. It’s one of the best zoos in the country.
  • Hiking or horseback riding in the Garden of the Gods with always free admission. This National Natural Landmark features towering 300-foot sandstone rock formations and 15 miles of trails. Stop by the visitor center for free 30-minute guided walks including information about Colorado’s wildflowers.
  • Ride the rails on the world’s highest cog train, the Broadmoor Manitou & Pikes Peak Railway. Climbing 14,115 feet up Pikes Peak year-round, the views at the top will leave you speechless!
Family rafting on the Arkansas River, one of the best things to do in Colorado in the summer
Family float raft adventure on the Arkansas River with my 4-year-old granddaughter and friends. Photo credit: Echo Canon River Expeditions

Adventures in Cañon City, Colorado

Less than 30 minutes away in the Pikes Peak Region another must-visit Colorado town is Cañon City (pronounced Canyon), just 2 hours south of Denver. From whitewater rafting to riding the rails, it’s an easy weekend road trip.

Attractions in Cañon City include:

  • The 360-acre Royal Gorge Bridge & Park, a theme park featuring the highest suspension bridge in America at an amazing 12,700 feet long and 18 feet wide. Ride the scenic Aerial Gondola or zipline 956 feet above the wild Arkansas River. If you dare, soar over the edge on the World’s Scariest Skycoaster.
  • Another opportunity to ride the rails on the Royal Gorge Route Railroad in downtown Cañon City.
  • Whitewater rafting with Echo Canyon River Expeditions on the Arkansas River. This outfitter can accommodate all skill levels.

SheBuysTravel Tip: For beginners, I highly recommend booking a family float on a less challenging 5-mile part of the river. My 4-year-old granddaughter had so much fun, belly giggling as we bumped along on some of the rapids.

College Town of Boulder, Colorado

Located just 30 miles from Denver, this is the perfect getaway for a day trip. Home to Colorado University, Boulder boasts its own personality, with a fun downtown, street performers, unique shopping at Pearl Street Mall (kids, don’t miss the candy store Rocket Fizz!) and other activities.

Enjoy dozens of hiking trails and biking trails within and just outside of the city limits including at Chautauqua Park, dating back to 1898, with close trail access to the Flatirons.

This city park also features a children’s playground, tennis courts and picnic areas. Start at the Ranger Cottage for a lay of the land, free maps, brochures, hiking suggestions, and a visit to the nature center.

lake estes
View of Lake Estes. Photo: Visit Estes Park/ Megan Maitland

Cool Off in Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park

Be prepared for breathtakingly majestic views of the Rockies, national forests and state parks when traveling to Colorado mountain towns such as Estes Park.

In 1872, Isabella Bird, an adventure traveler to Colorado said it best: “The Rocky Mountains realize – nay, exceed – the dream of my childhood. It is magnificent, and the air is life-giving.”

Beat the heat of summer and head west to Estes Park and the Rocky Mountain National Park, an approximately 90-minute scenic drive northwest of Denver. This mountain town with access to America’s favorite national park won’t disappoint.

From the historic haunted Stanley Hotel to its gorgeous downtown to dramatic mountain views from the Estes Park Aerial Tramway, Estes Park will wow you from the moment you arrive.

  • Go fishing at the Lake Estes Marina, or rent stand up paddle boards or kayaks.
  • For a rewarding mountain road trip, take the Peak to Peak scenic byway, one of the most beautiful road trips in Colorado, beginning in Estes Park, passing through the mining towns of Blackhawk and Central City and ending at Clear Creek Canyon and I-70.

Ready for more road trips? Here are the 12 best Colorado road trips.

Railroad heritage is a big part of Colorado history, and the Georgetown Loop Railroad was actually one of Colorado’s first visitor attractions in 1884.
Railroad heritage is a big part of Colorado history, and the Georgetown Loop Railroad was actually one of Colorado’s first visitor attractions in 1884. Photo credit: Diana Rowe

Head West to Georgetown, Colorado

All aboard an Old West train ride in the historic mining town of Georgetown, Colorado, less than one hour’s drive from Denver via I-70.

Arrive early for brunch at Happy Cooker Restaurant with its inviting patio. Then get ready to board the Georgetown Loop Railroad. Add mining tours to your adventure, where the kids can “mine” for gold.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Stop at the wildlife viewing area beside Georgetown Lake for bighorn sheep sightings, also often seen near the Georgetown Visitors Center.

Grand Lake Lodge pool
Grand Lake Lodge pool with a sunset view of the town of Grand Lake and its lakes. Photo credit: Diana Rowe

Scenic Grand Lake, Colorado

Another summer fun day trip from Denver is the mountain town of Grand Lake, located two hours west of Denver.

Grand Lake is known as the “Western Gateway” to Rocky Mountain National Park. It has something for everyone with miles of lakes and rivers, so many hiking trails and abundant wildlife.

  • Walk its historic boardwalk. Browse its more than 60 shops, restaurants and galleries
  • The mighty Colorado River flows into Grand Lake, the largest natural lake. Rent a pontoon, kayak or stand up paddleboard. Fish from the lakefront or just walk around and enjoy the amazing views. You can even relax on its sandy beach.
  • Drive into Rocky Mountain National Park for scenic views and wildlife sightings.
  • Take a swing at Grand Lake Golf Club, a mountain golf course with magnificent views of snow-capped mountains and the Rocky Mountain National Park. This course also offers some incredible wildlife sightings; when I was playing golf there with my grandson, an elk walked across the fairway.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Book a family-friendly and pet-friendly stay in a cabin at Grand Lake Lodge, located near the Rocky Mountain National Park entrance and overlooking the beautiful mountain town. We loved the convenience to the town and the park – and bonus: a pool with a view.

Read More:  Fun Things to Do in Grand Lake

arial view of glenwood hot springs and sopris splash zone
Photo courtesy of Glenwood Hot Springs Resort

More Colorado Mountain Summer Adventures

There are so many more Colorado mountain towns to visit including:

  • Glenwood Springs. Located in the rugged Rocky Mountains, this Old West town is surrounded by the vast White River National Forest. It’s famous for hot springs, but there are plenty of summer adventures. Ride the gondola up to the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park. Take a hike to Hanging Lake and two waterfalls. Plus, there are some fun free things to do in Glenwood Springs.
  • Steamboat Springs. Say hello to Ski Town USA with its 98 winter Olympians, more than any other North American town. A 3-hour scenic road trip from Denver, Steamboat Springs is much more than a ski town. It serves up an array of four-season activities. Get outdoors in the summer and enjoy everything from biking to hiking to fishing, because these mountain towns are all about the great outdoors. Plan a visit to the nearby Strawberry Hot Springs.
Aboard the Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad with amazing and scary Colorado train travel views!
Aboard the Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad with amazing and scary views! Photo credit: Diana Rowe

Family-Friendly Western Slope of Colorado

For a slower pace, consider southwest Colorado with a visit to Durango, and a train ride aboard the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.

Then embark on a road trip to Ouray, the Switzerland of America, via a nail-biting canyon-clinging road trip on the Million Dollar Highway.

Explore the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Road trip detour worthy is a visit to Montrose, located in western Colorado, in the Uncompahgre Valley, and home to another Colorado national park, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

Rising higher than the Empire State Building and the Great Pyramids of Egypt at 2,700 feet deep and 48 miles long, this national park might not rival the mighty Grand Canyon’s dimensions. Yet here in Colorado, we like to call this our “mini Grand Canyon” with its dramatic sheer cliffs.

Smaller than most parks at less than 50 square miles, drive through 12 miles of the most dramatic scenery. In addition to the scenic drive, things to do here include fishing, hiking, rock climbing, and more.

For camping families, choose from one of three Black Canyon campgrounds near the South Rim and North Rim, in addition to East Portal at the bottom of the canyon.

SheBuysTravel Tip:  Make reservations early as Colorado campgrounds sell out quickly!

For more than 20 years, Denver-based freelance writer Diana Rowe has specialized in travel, family, and multigenerational family travel — and rightly so, with 10 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren. She writes for multiple publications including SheBuysTravel.com and PrimeWomen.com, and her own blogs: TravelingInHeels.com & WineLoversVillage.com.
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