To live in Colorado is to thrive in the outdoors—in fact, Coloradans are rumored to be up earlier on weekends than they are on weekdays, just to get a jump on all the adventure this stunning state has to offer. But when you're planning adventures for the whole family, that incredible outdoor access can come with some real decision fatigue. Where should you go? What Colorado outdoor adventures should your family take on? How do you account for kids (and adults) of different ages and skill levels? What adventures are better suited for quick excursions and which should you plan a full weekend (or more) around?
The good news is, our many years of adventuring in Colorado with kids have made us experts at answering questions like these, and we're more than happy to share what we've learned. But before getting into the nitty-gritty of how to plan your outdoor family activities, here are a few reminders of the benefits of spending time outdoors (just in case you're tempted to scrap all that decision making and stay home instead):
- It's good for you: The experts agree. Outdoor time for kids isn't just helpful, it's necessary for growing up healthy. From better eyesight and lower blood pressure to improved overall physical, intellectual and emotional well being, the health benefits of outdoor time really can't be overstated.
- It's a refreshing alternative to screen time: We all know that limiting screen time for kids is important, but screens can be a tough habit to break—for kids and adults alike. Fortunately, the outdoors is an easy place to get started. Trying leaving the phones at home on your next adventure. The more you experience the natural world through your senses instead of your screens, the easier it will be make screen-free time a habit.
- It builds grittier, more responsible kids: Outdoor activity gives kids plenty of opportunities to build confidence and independence by taking positive risks. And as they learn to think critically about new challenges and intelligently push their boundaries, kids start to develop the grit and determination they need for success, both during family outdoor adventures and throughout their lives.
So getting outdoors is great for your family and you live in one of the best places in the world to do it. But how do you get the ball rolling on your family adventures? Here's where a bit of careful planning comes in (with help from our time-tested tips, tricks and other resources).
First, it never hurts to lay the groundwork for being outdoors in general. Talk to your kids before you go about why time outdoors is important and ask what they want to get out of the experience. Remind them that they'll have to be aware of their surroundings, both to keep themselves safe and to protect the world around them (this is a great opportunity to brush up on the Leave No Trace Seven Principles). You'll also want to do some good preparation for the specific trip you have in mind—from hiking in the summer to skiing in the winter, family adventures are always more fun when you think through the details in advance, from practicing skills and testing gear to careful packing and contingency planning.
As far as exactly where you should go, we have a lot of ideas on that front, too (more than 50 of 'em!). We love sharing the outdoor recreation areas in Colorado we take campers every summer, which are perfect destinations for families too. If you live along the Front Range, chances are you're not more than 20 minutes away from an awesome recreation spot. Here are some tips on a few of our favorites:
- Colorado Springs to the south has plenty to recommend it—we like Palmer Park and North Slope Recreation Area for a range of adventures, including hiking, biking, paddling and fishing. The terrain here tends to be drier and more desert-like, so make sure to bring sun protection and plenty of water.
- In the mid-Front Range, the greater Denver area has gorgeous spots for hiking, biking, watersports and much more. Depending on the day of the week and time of day, you may have to contend with heavy traffic on both roads and trails, so plan to do a bit of extra research to find a less-traveled recreation spot for your family adventure.
- Home of the striking Boulder Flatirons and surrounded by open space, Boulder to the north offers as many options for adventure as it has types of terrain. We especially love the range of hikes available in Boulder's Open Space & Mountain Parks, but have a whole host of recommendations for family recreation in and around Boulder and nearby Superior, Colorado.
Being active outdoors doesn't have to mean scaling the highest peak you can find or taking a weeks-long backpacking trip (although those kinds of adventures can be pretty fun, too)—it's simply about getting outside every day in any way you can. Whether it's an evening bike ride, time at your local park or a walk to the neighborhood store, outdoor adventure can be anything you want it to be.
But when you do carve out the time to visit local recreation areas for hikes, bike rides, climbs or paddling adventures with your family, remember that planning ahead is key—and it only gets easier each time you do it.
And finally, it's important to remember (and to teach your kids) that protecting the places we adventure and play is a responsibility we all share—from picking up trash along your hike route to volunteering for a local park crew to voicing your opinion with your local representatives, there's a lot each of us can do to give back to the natural places that give so much to us.