recommendations for vacation in Colorado in August
April 4, 2019 4:08 PM   Subscribe

I’m looking for recommendations as to where to spend time in Colorado in August. Specifically: things to do in/around Denver (including day trips) and a separate place to make a base camp for about a week (though not a literal camping site).

We’re trying to plan a roughly 2-week trip to Colorado in August. There will be 6 of us: myself, my partner, and our 4 kids (1 tween and 3 teenagers). Originally we had planned to fly from the East Coast to Denver and do a road trip down to the Grand Canyon and back through Moab to Denver, but it now seems like it’s going to be really expensive and probably pretty ambitious in terms of driving and energy (spent driving). So I’m thinking we need to scale down to make it work.

I have family in the Denver area, so we’ll probably bracket the trip with a few days spent at their house. We haven’t really explored the Denver area, so I am thinking it might be good to take advantage of free housing and spend time around Denver (including day trips).

Then we’d like to find a place to make our base for about a week or so. Ideally we’d like to find a location where we can also make some day trips (including Moab if possible) but also just hang out. We’d like a place with some restaurants, basic shops, also local activities, and natural beauty--so we can spend some days just relaxing, being outside, reading, etc. I’d love to be near some water as well (lake, river). We do not want to camp but a well-equipped cabin would be OK. I'd prefer a rental though.

We not super outdoorsy but outdoorsy enough to do basic hikes, kayaking, biking. The activities also have to be easy enough for our 11 year old to handle.

I was thinking of Glenwood Springs; we've already been there but it was nice. It also seems to be not so far away from Moab and some other places we've never been (Dinosaur Monument).

My family was pushing for Crested Butte, but I can’t tell if that’s going to be so central, and I also don’t know what the town is like.

Any other suggestions? Apart from our “base” sight, I’m also looking for day trip recommendations around Denver.
posted by sound_of_silver to Travel & Transportation around Colorado (16 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Crested Butte is fantastic. It's stunningly beautiful, there's a lot of good food, and there's endless hiking/biking opportunities. You can rent mountain bikes in town and ride right from town: there's a bunch of relatively easy stuff nearby. There's also fishing, and a number of really nice parks, and free music, and all sorts of stuff. It's really lovely.

It's also driving distance to the Grand Canyon of the Gunnison, if you want to check that out.
posted by suelac at 4:32 PM on April 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

Durango is a solid town and I’d prefer staying there over the ‘Interstate town’ of Glenwood Springs. Not to say that Glenwood isn’t a good place, but based on what you’ve said, I’d recommend Durango.
posted by u2604ab at 5:06 PM on April 4, 2019

Best answer: I adore Crested Butte, and would actually move there in a second if I could for all the reasons and more from what suelac listed. But heads up if you're looking for "central" - Crested Butte may look central, but it isn't because it's totally surrounded by mountains. It's 35 minutes just to Gunnison and that's on a highway - to drive to, say, Paonia or Montrose is going to be a 2 hour trip on a highway, and about 2 hours on what on a map says is about 50 miles via back road but is actually super twisty windy gravel road. It's about 3 hours to Aspen, even though as the crow flies you can hike to Aspen if you wanted to (and people do!) And while Crested Butte does have some restaurants, etc., some of them quite lovely, it's still a pretty small town - there isn't any fast food chains, for example. Which may be exactly as you want it! But I'm thinking of your teenagers. If you decide that's what you want, there's a great reservoir at Taylor Park not far away, which is set in this fantastic little valley that's just gorgeous. It's definitely a quieter little mountain town.

And just a heads up, if you decide to drive there from Denver via Cottonwood Pass (from Buena Vista) there were be serious road construction related delays this summer.

(Something else to consider - do you want to be in Moab in August?)

If you want a really fun but slightly bigger town with lots going on that you haven't been to before- and with easy access to some southwest exploring - have you been to Durango? You could spend one to two days at Mesa Verde National Park easily enough. There's also Canyon of the Ancients. There's a splendid mountain drive to Telluride and Silverton areas. There's also the Silverton train! Also all the hiking, rafting (though not so much in August), and biking you can get your hands on - in sheer variety of activities it definitely beats Crested Butte, although what Crested Butte lacks it does make up for in setting. It offers many of the same things that Crested Butte does but in a bigger, more accessible area. There's a gold mine tour not far from Silverton that we've really enjoyed. If you want to rent bikes, I highly recommend 2nd Ave Sports.I love Durango, too, and when I stay there I like to stay in one of the hotels near the Animas River kind of in the 9th street area, because then you have access to all the walking/bike paths right on the river as well everything downtown.

There's also numerous little small "settlements" around the town that may not be in the town proper but offer small. more cabin like settings if you want them, like around Hermosa. And if you have your heart set on Moab, it's about the same time to get there as you would need from Glenwood Springs.

Other mountain towns that aren't as close to Moab but would definitely fit your needs you might want to consider are Buena Vista and Steamboat Springs (which is somewhat isolated similar to Crested Butte). Grand Lake might also work - it's literally on a lake (two of 'em, actually) and is minutes away from the western entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park. Pagosa Springs has a similar feel to Glenwood Springs and is even a hot spring destination, but is about an hour away from Durango (towards the east).

I'd recommend Telluride but it can be $$$$.
posted by barchan at 5:19 PM on April 4, 2019 [4 favorites]

I spent a week in Breckenridge a few years ago and really enjoyed it. There was SO MUCH to do within a short drive (not to mention, several different ecosystems/geographies): hiking, rafting, historic towns, lakes, hot springs, etc etc etc. The town itself is really nice too, with lots of good restaurants, etc.

Here's a link to the question I asked about it, where I got lots of good suggestions. I especially enjoyed the hot springs at Mt Princeton - my only complaint was that it was really family-oriented, which I imagine would be a plus for you.
posted by lunasol at 6:17 PM on April 4, 2019

Strawberry Springs in Steamboat springs was really lovely, ~3 hoursish from denver, and there is a funny old timey tourist railway up the mountain that is pretty rad. Good restaurants too.
posted by wowenthusiast at 6:48 PM on April 4, 2019

Crested Butte is gorgeous, but getting there is a hassle. It is literally not close to much of anything - you have to drive 40 minutes to Gunnison to get on a road that can take you to other places.

I like Salida for this kind of thing - it’s a nice, relaxing town right on the Arkansas. It’s probably a little far from Moab for a day trip, though. Palisade is possibly tinier than you want, but it is a super cute town and there are a lot of activities close by (and it’s nearer to Moab).
posted by heurtebise at 6:51 PM on April 4, 2019

I was at Garden of the Gods recently with family and it was both approachable and lovely.
posted by bunderful at 8:07 PM on April 4, 2019

Red Rocks is a nice day trip from Denver, world famous views and neat hiking / easy bouldering. Also Estes Park is worth a visit!

Seconding Garden of the Gods and Strawberry Hotsprings.
posted by ananci at 9:11 PM on April 4, 2019

Crested Butte, Durango, Steamboat Springs, Grand Lake, and Salida are all good suggestions. Which do you like most: scenic hiking, mountain biking, hot springs, white water rafting, cute town to explore, scenic railway, mountain views, mountain wildflowers, archeological sites, dinosaur fossils, dramatic canyons?

What size of a town is too big/small?

One idea to consider: do an Amtrak ride for part of the trip. The ride from Denver to Glenwood Springs is spectacular. Half of you ride on the way out while the others drive, switch on the return trip.

Moab is hot in August. Miserably hot. Unless you live somewhere hot and enjoy hiking in hundred degree weather, you would likely spend most of the time in the car in horrible traffic. I would skip it. Dinosaur monument also is hot that time of year.

For Denver, can you give us an idea what kind of city stuff you like to do? Denver has a nice art museum if you are into that.
posted by medusa at 10:51 PM on April 4, 2019

A nice side trip from Denver is Boulder, which has the National Center for Atmospheric Science which was a big hit with my tweens and geeky parents. It has a short walk with stunning view oof the Flatirons with an engaging mini science center inside, if the weather is harsh. We did a tour of Celestial Seasonings which has lovely gardens. We missed the cafe, having eaten in town.

Colorado Springs has a lot of fun spots. Garden of the Gods is a wonderful morning or evening walk at that time of year. Midday is best for the visitor center and it’s free. Drive the carload to the top of Pikes Peak if the cog railway renovation isn’t complete yet. Explore Manitou Springs. Stop by the America the Beautiful foundation and let the kids get wet. Pat the giraffes at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, and take the carload to Shrine of the Sun for a little history and a great view. If you have rock hounds, the mining museum is a good tour, and driving along....Gold Camp Road? Will take you through tunnels and nice views. Helen Hunt Falls is a beautiful space as well. Red Rock Canyon has many, many trails and interesting formations. The region is also well known for hail, just so it does not surprise you. We’re there two weeks at a time in the summer and have had no issue.

In Denver - the Art Museum is great, even if you just wander around what they have outside. Touring the Mint is a bit nutty with ticket retrieval in person at the crack of dawn. Philadelphia had a better system for that for our family.

Can you tell we’re there often? Enjoy CO!
posted by childofTethys at 7:45 AM on April 5, 2019

Doing a walking tour of the murals in the RiNo district in Denver would be pretty cool for the whole family. The Denver Museum of Nature and Science is a great quality museum. I think going to local baseball games is a great way to get a feel for a city, and Coors Field has the added bonus of the purple row of seats in the upper deck that are exactly a mile high. Confluence Park is a pretty fun way to spend some time playing in a river and having a picnic or the neighborhood around there has some fun restaurants. If your kids are still young enough to get a kick out of epic playgrounds, Paco Sanchez park has an amazing play structure.
posted by shornco at 8:45 AM on April 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

You might consider going a little earlier - last third of July - and spending quality time in the San Juans (Durango at the southern end; Silverton, Ouray, and Ridgway going northward). The reason: peak wildflowers.

There are a number of ways to get down there, and Crested Butte is a good stopover point. It is also an oh-my-god wildflower mecca. (The roads in and out of CB are wonderful to explore as well.)

Here and here are photos from two trips I've taken in those areas, at that time of year.
posted by notsnot at 9:53 AM on April 5, 2019

I was gonna suggest Crested Butte before I read that that's what you were considering! It's beautiful and cute and...yeah, kind of a haul but I suppose it depends on the distances that you're used to driving. (I think a lot of the good stuff in Colorado is about the same distance away from Denver as CB. Then again, I don't have kids in the car with me).

For Denver:
I like the Denver Art Museum, Denver Museum of Nature and Science, and Museum of Contemporary Art. The public library has passes for the latter two for cardholders, so maybe see if your family can secure a pass for you (up to a month in advance, and they do have a limited number so it's a good idea to not wait til the last minute).

Red Rocks has some little hikes around the perimeter. St Mary's Glacier is an easy day trip.
posted by sugarbomb at 12:56 PM on April 5, 2019

Response by poster: Thanks for all the suggestions! It seems like Crested Butte might be the way to go. One question: any specific area to stay there? All rental sites seem to have places that are clustered around the ski areas, which won't really matter to us in the summer...
posted by sound_of_silver at 3:01 PM on April 5, 2019

Am noting some of the new to me recommendations for the next time I visit that area.

If you don't mind a slightly further drive from Denver, consider Mt. Evans. It's the closest 14,000 ft mountain to Denver (60 miles), and has a road (drivable with any regular car) that goes to within a few hundred yards of the top (I believe it's the highest paved road in the country). There is a shortish trail up to the very peak. If (like me) you aren't someone who does much climbing , it's probably the highest you'll ever get, and the view is amazing. There are also plenty of hiking trails with gorgeous scenery, and a nature center a bit lower down on the mountain. Marmots and mountain goats were also abundant both times I've been there.
posted by Dorothea Ladislaw at 8:34 PM on April 5, 2019

Seconding: Durango, Garden of the Gods - both in August but in different trips
If you want a short road trip to a definitely different world, Cheyenne and a side to Guernsy where you can see ruts of the Oregon Trail and Fort Laramie.
posted by TravellingCari at 12:02 PM on April 10, 2019

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