Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Tips to Taking a Rocky Mountains Family Vacation

Last summer I shared tips we learned about taking a family beach vacation.  So many have shared how much they appreciated the packing list, Road Trip Activity Pack, meal plan, and other ideas shared.

In this two-part series, we are going to journey away from sea-level and travel up into the mountains, beginning with those cascading over Colorado Springs, Colorado. 

Before we dive in let me remind you of our children’s ages – 5 to 12.  Keep this in mind for suggestions below.

Places to Stay

Just like last year's vacation we turned to the internet ( to find a home to stay.  Our search lead us to Woodland Park, CO.  We were in a quiet neighborhood that provided beautiful walks each night and Pikes Peak in our view.  Read more about where to stay and how long...


One of the perks about staying in a home vs a hotel is the full kitchen.  By preparing a few dishes prior and picking up a few ingredients at a local grocery store, we can save a lot of money.  If that sounds overwhelming, don’t worry!  I have created a meal and ingredient list just for you (pictured above).  Also included is a blank one to create your own.  BTW, since we were visiting attractions over lunch, we made sandwiches or ate at a restaurant instead of preparing a meal.  Click to read more information about meal planning, recipes, and creating an ingredient list

Places to Visit - Or not...

Since the mountains were the purpose of our trip, we traveled to Leadville on the first day.  The drive from Woodland Park was breath taking and provided several places to pull over and enjoy the view.  In Leadville we visited the Mining Museum.  It was filled with 100’s of rocks from all over the world.  There was a little electric train showing a mining town as well.  Unfortunately, unless you are really into rocks and mining, I would suggest skipping this museum.  Just being honest. But the drive made the whole day very worth it.  Oh...and we stopped by the Fish Hatchery (free) as well.  Not much more than several large tanks of fish, but its fun to see the fish swimming up close. 

Garden of the Gods is a must-do when in Colorado Springs.  The amazing rock formations can be enjoyed by drive-through and trails.  Plus it is free!  Be sure to stop at the Visitor Center to receive a map and suggestions of which trails to do.  The main section of the park contains a cement walking trail and the kids loved climbing on the rocks.  My suggestion is to arrive early as it gets incredibly busy.  Parking is a huge problem.  Also, don’t forget water as the altitude and summer heat can dehydrate you quickly.  Guided hikes are available but we didn’t take advantage of these.  Some picnic tables were available in the park but the ones we saw were not shaded. 

USA Olympic Training Center (tickets required for tours) was especially meaningful with the Olympics next month.  While we didn’t see many Olympians trainees, the tour personalized for our family what the athletes do to prepare for the coming Olympics.  We saw where some of the Olympic and Paralympic athletes train for swimming, shooting, wrestling, cyling, among other sports.  While this tour previously was free, the cost now goes to support the athletes.  A good cause, I felt.  Be warned that the jumbo Trons sharing video of past Olympics will build USA pride and bring tears to your eyes.  In a unique situation while on the tour, one of the cycling coaches came out and explained a training session that one of the gold-hopefuls was doing in the room beside us.  Since our family is very familiar with road cycling with Daddy being a cyclist, it was very relevant to our kids.  You can be assured that we will be cheering a little louder for the US cycling team and Taylor Phinney in a few months after watching him train.

Pikes Peak Cog Train (tickets required) was our big splurge of the trip as it is kind of pricey.  But it was a favorite for all and a wonderful way to travel to the top of Pikes Peak.  Beginning in Manitou Springs, the cog train travels up the mountain, often times at crazy, steep inclines.  The views are amazing.  The kids experienced what “tree line” means once we got almost to the top.  Then on Pikes Peak, we had 45 minutes to enjoy the view.  A few tips…you can take water and snacks on the train.  It is cold and windy at the top so I suggest jeans and tshirts and then take sweatshirts and jackets to put on as you travel up.  It takes 1 ½ hours to travel each way so this can be a long time for little ones as you are not able to move about.  Also, there are no bathrooms on the cog train so the lines at the top are pretty long.  Not an issue with our kids but you might want to consider this points before taking toddlers and preschoolers.  One more thing…tickets sell out quickly so order online or by phone in advance.

Focus on the Family (FREE) was a huge hit with the kids because of their love of Adventure in Odyssey - a Radio Drama.  The basement of the Visitor’s Center contains Whit’s End, Camp What-a-Nut, and lots of hands-on activities for children.  The kids also loved the 3-story slide (open limited times) and the scavenger hunts.  We took a free tour of the administration building, but that was more for the adults than kids.  Our favorite part of the visit was when the kids got to be on KYDS Radio and make an Adventures in Odyssey CD.  Little Man and Bubs read parts, and Sweet Pea and Peanut were “Foley” and did the sound effects.  We now have an Adventure in Odyssey CD where the kids are the speaking parts along with Whit and Connie.  Super cool.  If you are interested, half hour slots fill up fast so be sure to call ahead.  Also, the speaking parts require a 3rd grade reading level. 

Just up the road from Focus on the Family is the Air Force Academy (FREE).  Due to the nature of the place, probably not a spot of interest with young children but our elementary-aged children enjoyed learning about those attending the academy and the expectations that they have.  The kids decided that I was very lenient once they heard the expectations of the cadets’ bedrooms.  We happened to see the freshman learning how to march.  Very cool.  And, the Air Force Chapel is beautiful (pictured above).

Almost everywhere you turn is a trail.  Be sure to check out options for your family.  Just don't forget the water and camera long the way!

Our plan was to visit Royal Gorge as well.  Sadly an uncontained wildfire kept us from doing that. 

There's a synopsis of our trip to the Rocky Mountains.  What suggestions would you add?

Remember how I said this is a two-part series...Want to learn more about visiting the mountains?  Next blog post I will share tips for visiting the Great Smoky Mountains!

Have you printed your copy of the ABCJLM Road Trip Activity Workbook?


  1. We lived in Colorado Springs for only a year, and recently moved away for a new job, but are constantly praying about how to move back. Living there was awesome because of all the attractions you mentioned in your post. We loved being able to hike and explore God’s beautiful creation, for free most of the time. Here are a couple other things that are fun to do in that area.

    Cheyenne Mountain Zoo- As it says on their website,, “Visit America’s Only Mountain Zoo”. This is a really beautiful and large zoo. They have a Rocky Mountain Wild exhibit that features moose, mountain lions, Canada lynx, North American river otters, grizzly bears and bald eagles. The zoo is built into the mountain side, so it can be a little strenuous for some visitors. You walk up the mountain as you see some exhibits, and back down the mountain to see others.

    North Cheyenne Canyon Park- This area includes all sorts of hiking in Cheyenne Mountain. Many trails include waterfalls.

    Pike National Forest Fall Drive- This is a local secret! For even more adventure, you can drive through the mountains to view the trees changing color in late September. It’s a very bumpy dirt road and a 4wd vehicle is highly recommended. It’s about 25miles long. It takes 2-3hr, depending on how slow you have to drive and how many times you stop to take in the scenery. Follow Old Stage Road (Co Rd 368), from W Cheyenne Mountain Blvd, into the mountains. It will be paved at first, then turn to dirt. Old Stage Road, eventually turns into Gold Camp Road (Co Rd 8). Follow it all the way until Lazy S Ranch Rd (Co Rd 81), which is paved road again! If you travel north on Hwy 81 you’ll end up in Divide, which is a couple miles west of Woodland Park! It may sound a little wild, but worth it to see some beautiful forests in the Rocky Mountains!

    1. These are great additions! Thank you for sharing.


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