Think you can't afford a family trip to Vail or Aspen? We've got some good news for you...
Colorado mountain resort towns offer great escapes for skiers and snowboarders, but allow me to let you in on a local secret: visiting these idyllic places outside of ski season can be much more affordable – and much less crowded. Contrary to popular belief, mountain resort towns aren’t just skiing destinations; there are also plenty of things to do in the warmer months to cater to a wide variety of interests, from hiking to festivals and live music.
Here are five great family-friendly (and surprisingly affordable!) spots to check out this summer or fall.
This small resort town got its start as a mining town, and the Main Street has Victorian-style buildings that house shops and restaurants and a small playground. The Blue River flows near downtown, and you can bike or walk on paths along it. Kids can also find spots to dip their toes in the water or feed some healthy-sized trout from machines stocked with fish food.
In the summer, Breckenridge’s gondola is free to ride, giving you spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and a chance to spot some wildlife meandering below. Once back in town, you can try some easy hikes or let the kids burn off energy at the at the train-themed park High Line Railroad Park. There are also plenty of family-friendly eateries in town, like Downstairs at Eric’s, a casual restaurant with an attached arcade.
Vail is known for its excellent skiing, but summer and fall also offer plenty of activities. Walk, bike, or hop on a free bus to explore the cobblestone streets of the small villages located at the base of the ski resort. You can also enjoy the art that influences many of the public spaces in town – from playground components to public art pieces like the recently installed Hodgepodge, a large structure made from bending and weaving willow branches.
In Ford Park, kids can climb and slide in a playground, check out seasonally blooming plants in the Betty Ford Alpine Garden, and visit the Vail Nature Center to learn about plants in the area or take a beaver pond tour. Families wanting to get up into the high country can ride the gondola to the Epic Discovery area for ropes courses and mini golf or book a tour with Paragon Guides – which offers hikes with llamas.
3. Steamboat Springs
Colorado isn’t known for its beaches, but Steamboat Springs in Northwestern Colorado lets visitors cool off at one of the beaches at Burgess Creek in the warmer months. Steamboat, which got its start as a summer resort before opening its ski resort, also offers tubing and rafting along the Yampa River and the Old Town Hot Springs and Strawberry Park Hot Springs are a great way to warm up on cool fall nights.
Families can also take a scenic gondola ride up Mount Werner and then explore some of the hiking trails or grab a bite to eat. In the summer and fall, there are free concerts, outdoor movies and festivals like the Wild West Air Fest air show.
The Aspen Skiing Company opened in 1946, and Aspen Snowmass has now expanded to include four mountains that stretch across Aspen and nearby Snowmass Village. The resort founders were interested in establishing the area as a summertime cultural destination, and they succeeded in creating a welcoming place for families.
This summer, the Lost Forest recreation area opened in Snowmass, offering activities like a climbing wall, alpine coaster, and fishing ponds. Hiking and taking in mountain views are also fun (and free!) activities that can be particularly stunning in the fall as the aspen leaves turn yellow and gold. In the summer, you also grab a picnic lunch and head to the free Thursday night concert series in Snowmass and let kids splash in the dancing fountain. Or take the little ones to learn about ice age fossils discovered in the area at the Ice Age Discovery Center.
5. Winter Park
Colorado’s longest alpine slide winds its way down the slopes of Winter Park’s ski resort during the warmer months. Riders take a ski lift up the mountain and then zoom down a track on a sled (that is luckily equipped with a brake to help you control the speed). Once at the base of the resort, kids can enjoy mini golf or a bounce house.
The Village at Winter Park Resort is dotted with giant chess and Connect Four sets and plenty of family-friendly restaurants. During the summer months, visitors can also enjoy free live music some afternoons and outdoor movies at dusk on Fridays. Head to nearby Fraser for swimming and indoor rock climbing at the rec center, or Snow Mountain Ranch for summer tubing.