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Colorado Aspens in fall
Photo courtesy Lucy Beaugard

3 Fall Road Trips for Families in Colorado

Hit the road this fall to enjoy the crisp air and colorful leaves on one of these family-friendly trips.

With so many days still ahead of sunny, mild weather, crisp air and crunchy, colorful leaves, why should summer get to claim all the travel fun? Break up the new fall day-to-day routine just a bit with a short family road trip to one of these relaxing spots.

Itinerary 1: Silverthorne

More Than a Pit Stop

» Getting There: Drive the 70 miles from Denver to Silverthorne in just over one and a half hours, if you can avoid Friday afternoon and Sunday afternoon traffic.

Just about the time the kids start asking “Are we there yet?” you’ll say, “Yes!” on this relaxing fall road trip. Silverthorne, which celebrates its 50th birthday this year, isn’t just an I-70 pit stop to fill up on gas and McFlurrries on the way to ski resorts or Lake Dillon. This small town at the epicenter of Summit County boasts hiking trails, easy access to the county’s favorite recreation spots, and outlet shopping (all without an exhausting drive).

Make the comfortable, clean Hampton Inn & Suites your home base for the weekend. Hot breakfast in the dining area comes free with your stay, or pick up a free On The Run breakfast bag before starting your day. The Blue River is adjacent to the property and outlet stores and many restaurants are within easy walking distance. At the end of each day, the kids can jump in the heated indoor pool and mom and dad can relax in the hot tub.

The lazy way for the whole family to soak in the sights of the valley would be to board the Summit Stage shuttle bus, the county’s free public bus service, providing service to ski areas and the towns of Breckenridge, Dillon, Frisco, and Silverthorne. But this area is also full of hike and bike trails to get you out into nature. After the drive from the Front Range, stretch your legs with a bike ride or walk along the meandering Blue River Trail, a 3.5-mile paved path that follows the Blue River through town. This trail also connects to a number of other Summit County trails.

For a kid-friendly hike through groves of giant aspens in the Eagles Nest Wilderness, drive or ride the free Summit Stage shuttle bus to Lily Pad Lake Trail (from the Silverthorne Center, take the Wildernest Loop line). The trailhead for this moderate 3.3-mile, wildflower-bedecked hike is just 10 minutes from town center. There are many gorgeous hikes in the region, but Lily Pad Lake offers the reward of two lakes at its finale, one of which is filled with thousands of lily pads adorned with yellow blooms (weather dependent).

Grab lunch or finish out a day’s hike at The Mint restaurant where kids and adults enjoy grilling their own steak, seafood, or chicken on a giant hibachi, or visit Bakers’ Brewery, a microbrew pub with eclectic offerings and a fun, family-friendly vibe.

Before heading home, explore the Outlets at Silverthorne for deals on fall clothes or a jumpstart on holiday shopping. A free shuttle takes shoppers to the three shopping “villages,” or simply stroll from one to the other. Be sure to stop by the Colorado Welcome Center here to learn about current events and offerings.

» Selfie Spot: Stroll onto one of the bridges over the Blue River by the Outlets at Silverthorne, or stop on the Blue River bike trail behind Red Buffalo Coffee.

Itinerary 2: Paonia Delta County Delights

Orchards, Vineyards, and Sheep

» Getting There: From the Front Range take I-70 west to Glenwood Springs, take CO 82 E about 7 miles and turn right onto CO-133 S for about 60 miles to Paonia. CO-133 is part of the West Elk Loop Scenic Byway. Drive time for the approximately 230-mile journey from Denver to Paonia is four hours.

Paonia, and her two sister towns, Crawford and Hotchkiss, comprise the North Fork Valley in Delta County, an area filled with ranching, orchards, and farming, the three pillars of Colorado agriculture. This makes for a Disneyland of farm-to-table food and beverage, and come autumn, magic is alive in the fields with harvest, fresh cuisine, and impressive colors of fruit against the changing leaves of the surrounding aspens.

Tweens could be utterly bored on this trip; however, for ages 10 and younger, the freedom of enjoying orchards, wandering among farm animals, and sampling the sweetest, freshest juices of Colorado keeps them happily busy.

Paonia is home to the Living Farm, a small five-room bed and breakfast with a local market and farm-to-table restaurant. After settling in, take a drive to the real farm, greenhouses, and educational center a few miles outside of town. Tour the farm and pet the animals.

A number of other farms, ranches, and vineyards in the area are open to visitors. Pick a few and take your time exploring. Here are some to add to your itinerary: Launch your agro-tour at Big B’s Delicious Orchards in Hotchkiss, home to Big Bs’ juices and ciders. The fields, orchards, full-service café, wine and cider tasting bar, and campground have been drawing families since 1973, and they host a Ciderfest event at the end of October. Children can explore the u-pick-it orchards for peaches, apricots, sweet cherries, nectarines, pears, plums, raspberries, and grapes. (Call ahead to find out what is in season.)

Travel on to one of the family-focused wineries in the West Elks American Viticultural Area, some of the highest commercial elevation for wineries in North America. Visit Mesa Winds Farm to frolic amongst the Babydoll sheep that graze in the vineyards or Leroux Creek Winery to see their small pond and explore a refreshingly cool wine cellar with children.

For more time with the animals, head to Desert Weyr, a farm raising Black Welsh Mountain Sheep on the Garvin Mesa. Gander at the Black Welsh herd and learn more about the farm’s mission to conserve the rare breed using earth-friendly and humane farming practices. (Call ahead to be sure the farm will be open for visitors on the day you plan to visit.) To learn more about conservation methods in Colorado, visit the Hotchkiss National Fish Hatchery, which has a small visitor center, indoor and outdoor tanks, and earthen ponds dedicated to restoring native aquatic populations.

Top off your trip with an adventure. For children who are able to swim and weigh 50 or more pounds, Black Canyon Anglers, housed on Gunnison River Farms—lodge, cabin rentals, century-old orchards, organic farms, ancient petroglyphs—hosts Gorge rafting trips that depart 27 miles from the fishing lodge, with a 1.5-mile hike into the canyon. Experience an all-day, eight-hour, trip down one of the steepest and narrowest canyons in North America.

» Selfie Spot: Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park receives a quarter of a million visitors annually, the least of Colorado’s four National Parks. The north rim entrance of the Park is 11 miles south of Crawford. The Canyon’s name is derived from the dark canyon walls—some parts of the canyon only get 33 minutes of sun daily! From the top or the bottom, selfies here are iconic and impressive.

Itinerary 3: Steamboat Springs

Soak Up the Season

» Getting There: For the three hour drive from Denver, take I-70 west until you exit 205 in Silverthorne. From here, take CO-9, also known as the Blue River Parkway, through some of the prettiest open vistas in the high country. In Kremmling, turn left onto CO-40, which will take you over Rabbit Ears Pass and down into Ski Town, USA.

Sure, you’re too early for the champagne powder and too late for the summer rodeo, but that’s precisely the point: Steamboat in the fall has a quieter charm, ideal for families traveling with young children. Plus, seasonal deals make the town not only a winsome spot but also a reasonably priced one this time of year.

Steamboat’s mountain village is a short drive from the town’s main street, so you’ll have to choose between a ski-resort vibe or the cowboy-inspired downtown. If you choose the former, book a room at the Steamboat Grand, which runs specials that’ll save you up to 20 percent this time of year. The large hot tub and pool are easy kid-pleasers, and you’ll be close to the gondola and The Land Up, which features a mini golf course, mountain coaster, and a scenic chairlift ride. Downtown, opt for Hotel Bristol‘s handsome family rooms—two rooms that accommodate four people total and are connected by a full-size bathroom. The hotel’s location puts you within walking distance of a range of delicious, family-friendly restaurants, such as Mazzola’s (serving up some of the best pizza in town), Carl’s Tavern (where comfort food is king), and Creekside Café (for a hearty and satisfying breakfast or lunch overlooking Soda Creek).

Luckily, Steamboat is full of activities to help you and your littles work up an appetite. Dip into the 104-degree mineral springs at Strawberry Park Hot Springs just outside of town, but note that reservations are required and children aren’t allowed after dark; ride the gondola to the top of the mountain and hike the easy Vista Nature Trail, a one-mile loop; and catch beautiful vistas with the kids by riding the Panorama Bike Trail on Buffalo Pass. No matter what you choose, we’re betting you won’t even miss the powder.

» Selfie Spot: After you dismount the chairlift at the top of historic Howelsen Hill, snap a few photos with Steamboat’s colorful fall leaves in the background before you ride 2,400 feet down the hill on the Howler Alpine Slide.

Family Food

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