Colorado Summer Vacation Tips and Ideas

Colorado is a mountain lover’s dream, with some of the tallest peaks in the continental United States and 58 “fourteeners” — mountains exceeding 14,000 feet in height. With towns world famous for their slopes, winter sports and fireplace-laden resorts, Colorado is often thought of as a winter paradise.

But summer in Colorado provides a different kind of experience altogether. This beautiful, adventure-filled season presents travelers myriad opportunities to explore without bundling up. Whether you prefer mountain treks, music festivals, ancient dwellings, historic mining towns or scenic drives, a visit to Colorado in summer has it all.

 

Plan a Summer Vacation in Colorado’s Front Range and Its Peak to Peak Highway

 

Getting There

Drive about 45 miles north and west of Denver International Airport to the Front Range’s eastern border.

What to See and Do

The high peaks along the eastern edge of the Colorado Rockies, also known as the Front Range, are a wonder to behold during any Colorado summer vacation. Make your first Front Range stop in Boulder. This small college town is known for the distinctive Flatirons rock formations, its quaint Pearl Street Mall and amazing restaurants, where travelers can try local specialties like a bison burger at Mountain Sun Pub & Brewery.

Boulder is also a gateway via state Route 119 to the scenic byway known as the Peak to Peak Highway. Hop on 119 south for an easy and picturesque drive to the top of Boulder Canyon. If you keep driving west, you’ll also discover Nederland. Once a mill site for silver and tungsten ore, this charming mountaintop town offers travelers a vibrant music scene and a variety of eateries and shops. Try The Train Cars Coffee and Yogurt Company for a boost of caffeine or a cool sweet treat, then head next door to ride the Carousel of Happiness, a restored 1910 Looff carousel that features 56 hand-carved animals and belts out tunes from a 1913 Wurlitzer band organ.

Drive 20 miles south on the Peak to Peak Highway to Central City, a mining town founded during the Pike’s Peak gold rush in 1859 and later considered the “richest square mile on earth.” Today, Central City is a festive casino town offering travelers the chance to soak in its wealth of history or try their hands at a slot machine or two. Or head north on the Peak-to-Peak via state Highway 72 to Ward, where you can grab a bite alongside locals, passing bikers and maybe the resident ghost named Carl at the Millsite Inn, a family-friendly mountaintop bar and restaurant.

After satisfying your appetite, drive about 30 miles north via state Highway 72W and 7W to Estes Park, a small, kitschy town at the doorstep of Rocky Mountain National Park that is home to the world-famous Stanley Hotel. Stephen King’s one-night stay at the hotel in 1973 inspired his depiction of the Overlook Hotel in The Shining. Finish your day with a majestic drive through Rocky Mountain National Park along Trail Ridge Road, which is only open during summer in Colorado. Alternatively, head to the Continental Divide, located inside the park and also accessible via Trail Ridge Road, it is the highest continuous paved road in North America, reaching 12,183 feet at its peak elevation.

 

Plan a Summer Colorado Vacation to Breckenridge

 

Getting There

Drive about 105 miles southwest of Denver International Airport.

What to See and Do

Nestled between sky-high peaks, Breckenridge is one of the prettiest towns in the country and is a mecca for both winter and summer outdoor adventure. Open June through September, the Summer Fun Park is a favorite destination for families visiting the area, offering guided hikes, 4x4 tours, zip lining and a day camp that teaches children outdoor skills while immersing them in science, nature and the arts. Take the alpine slide to the bottom of the mountain, where you can pan for gemstones, ride the GoldRunner Coaster or enjoy a friendly game of mini golf.

If you’re visiting Colorado in summer and want to soak in an aerial view of the Rockies, take a hot air balloon ride above the peaks mid-May through early October with Colorado Hot Air Balloon Rides. Or if traditional outdoor sports are more your speed, the Breckenridge area offers endless fishing, rafting and horseback riding. Bring the family to Breckenridge Stables for a trail ride, followed by fondue at Swiss Haven Restaurant. After a full day, rest in cabin-style rooms in the heart of town at The Lodge at Breckenridge, which offers views of Boreas Pass, Breckenridge Ski Resort and the Tenmile Range from 10,200 feet. The Lodge’s $20 daily resort fee also covers amenities like on-site parking and breakfast.

Breckenridge: Colorado Summer Vacation Destination Discover the Rockies by swapping your skis for hiking boots during a summer vacation in Breckenridge.

 

Plan a Summer Vacation in Colorado Springs

 

Getting There

Drive about 10 miles northwest of Colorado Springs Airport or 85 miles south of Denver International Airport.

What to See and Do

Less than 100 miles south of Denver lies a completely different mountain landscape filled with wild rock formations showcasing shades of red and orange more often found in deserts. The Colorado Springs area is also home to Pikes Peak, one of the country’s most famous fourteeners that is said to be the second most visited mountain in the world. Drive to the top via the Pikes Peak Highway. At the top, stop at the Pikes Peak Summit House, home to the only doughnuts made above 14,000 feet. Tip: Eat your treats atop the mountain, as their texture will change with a decline in altitude.

Take one day during your Colorado Springs summer vacation to drive to the postcard-worthy Garden of the Gods in West Colorado Springs. With its dramatic red sandstone formations towering as tall as 300 feet, this National Natural Landmark provides a wonderful backdrop for family photos while exploring.

Later, drive about 5 miles southwest to Manitou Springs, where you can visit the cliff dwellings of the ancient Anasazi or soak in the naturally carbonated mineral spring fountains long sought for their healing properties. In Manitou Springs, travelers can stay at The Cliff House at Pikes Peak, which has cozy, well-situated rooms with easy access to all the nearby areas of interest, including the Springs Orleans, a local go-to for authentic Cajun food.

Summer Vacation in Colorado: Explore the Garden of the Gods’ Explore the Garden of Gods’ 1,367 acres and 19 giant red and orange sandstone rock formations in Colorado Springs.

 

Plan a Colorado Summer Vacation to Crested Butte

 

Getting There

Drive about 200 miles west of Colorado Springs Airport.

What to See and Do

Drive to southwest Colorado to discover Crested Butte, named for the 12,162-foot-tall Mount Crested Butte. Mountain bikers can ride Crested Butte’s 401 trail loop past alpine lakes, mountain overlooks and aspen groves. Alternatively, strap on your boots and hike one of more than 30 trails over Mount Crested Butte. During summer in Colorado, wildflowers are in bloom on many of these trails, like the easy 2.8-mile Woods Walk, where families can take in views of Mount Crested Butte and Gothic Mountain.

For music lovers, the Crested Butte Music Festival is a summerlong, family-friendly festival bringing music to the town, beginning in late July and continuing through selected weeks in September and October. Featuring everything from symphonies to bluegrass jams, the festival is a decadeslong tradition celebrated by locals and travelers.

After a day of biking, hiking or festival fun, grab a slice at the Secret Stash, the town’s favorite pizza joint. Then rest your head at one of the many well-maintained campgrounds in the area, like Gothic Campground. If camping isn’t your thing, relax in historic downtown at Elk Mountain Lodge.

The Centennial State’s serene mountain views and bounty of outdoor activities make summer in Colorado a perfect vacation destination for travelers seeking adventure, or simply a relaxing escape.

 

Colorado Summer Vacation: Hike through Crested Butte and see the wildflowers Stop and smell the wildflowers while hiking through Crested Butte, which is surrounded by about 2 million acres of national forest.
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About the Author

Ashley M. Halligan is a copywriter, editor and journalist, with a background in travel and technology. She's been published by a number of outlets including Reuters and Irish Examiner. She recently founded Pilgrim Magazine, a narrative-focused travel publication launching this summer. She has a special relationship with Colorado, often visiting for Telluride Blues and Brews and for wintry weekends on the Front Range. You can follow her travels on Instagram: @contemporarypilgrim + @pilgrimmagazine.