Fingers crossed — the year-long pandemic that kept us locked in our homes and separated from our families is releasing its grip on our travel lives. With better news on the horizon, most people are eager to wipe the dust off of their suitcases, pack up their traveling gear, and enjoy outdoor activities with their loved ones.
Colorado offers some of the most exciting spots for (summer) vacations in the country. The only challenge might be making a decision regarding which of these awesome towns to visit. You can hold a committee hearing and have your family vote on where to go, or perhaps you can make up for all the lost time during the pandemic by planning multiple trips over the summer.
But while you pick which great towns to visit for your fun trips, it can help to know the remarkable qualities that make the towns so ideal for vacations, and the special sites you should see and exciting activities you should enjoy during your trips to the given areas.
As you make your plans, know that every town we’ve included here is currently in step with state and CDC COVID safety guidance. At the same time, we’re hoping that as people keep wearing their masks and getting their vaccines, we can continue to reduce the restrictions and return to normalcy over the summer.
One of the most popular towns for Boulderites and Front Rangers to visit for summer vacations is Estes Park. The beautiful scenes of nature, the fun activities for families, and the wonderful downtown area make it a top spot for you to enjoy a memorable summer experience.
Sites | With over 3 million visitors each year, Rocky Mountain National Park is the most visited national park in the country, and Estes is the best base town to stay in to enjoy the park and the animals that inhabit the area. Warning: respect the wildlife. Don’t feed or try to pet (or take selfies with) wild animals.
With hundreds of animal species residing in the area, visitors typically appreciate the beauty, size, and variety of animal species they see during their trips. Or you might find yourself close – but not too close, these animals are dangerous – to regal elk, mule deer, or massive moose. If you’re really lucky, you could even see lynx, bobcats, and mountain lions… from a distance, or that luck could switch.
It’s far more common for visitors to encounter smaller animals scurrying beside their feet while hiking along the trails, including chipmunks, beavers, marmots, snakes, coyotes and porcupines. On top of that, having over 280 bird species flying through the woods and gliding in the sky makes Estes Park especially conducive for bird-watching. (See our Summer Pets article.)
Activities | You should definitely experience a hike during your summer vacations in Estes Park. The park has over 300 miles of hiking trails, the paths cut through various areas of the mountain landscape, and the wide range of trails can accommodate all skill levels so beginners or experts can find trails that are appropriate for their needs or preferences. Plan some extra time when you schedule your Estes Park hikes, because you’ll frequently be frozen in your tracks while pausing to admire the sights of diverse animals or the views of stunning scenery.
With all the protruding edges on the mountain cliffs and the many cracks on the craggy rocks, the park is renowned for optimal rock climbing conditions. Although professionals come to conquer its more advanced climbs, anyone can enjoy the thrill of rock climbing in Estes Park… even if you have never even scaled a chain-linked fence. Elite rock-climbing experts can take your family to some of the beginner climbs in the area, guide you through the entire experience, and operate the safety equipment to ensure that you are entirely safe while you ascend.
Downtown Estes Park is another special feature of the village. The downtown area features over 200 retailers, and the restrictions against chain companies means that every store you enter is independently owned. The rows of art shops, clothes stores, dive bars, and excellent restaurants make downtown Estes Park resemble a quaint outdoor mall surrounded by mountain peaks. Be sure to check out the bands playing on stages and the artists painting on canvases along the streets to further augment the pleasure you can derive while strolling through the downtown or relaxing on the picnic benches.
Lodging | There are plenty of lodging choices for Estes Park visitors. Estes Park’s Aspen Wind on Fall River is highly revered as an elite option due to the location of the hotel, the friendliness of the staff, and the comfort of the rooms. But you can also choose from the numerous condos that are scattered around the town or the many cabins that are positioned throughout the park. Or you can go full tourist and stay at the scary, sexy, spooky, world famous Stanley Hotel. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Grand Lake is an especially revered location for summer vacations. With the massive lakes, gorgeous landscapes and countless activities, the hardest part of Grand Lake trips is actually wanting to leave. You might as well just buy a home and move into town because you will immediately fall in love with Grand Lake and then be tempted to stay there forever.
Sites | Some people don’t realize that there’s not just one lake in Grand Lake, and all of the lakes collectively are known as the Great Lakes of Colorado, But, the namesake Grand Lake is positioned right in downtown and visitors cherish the massive size of the lake, the pristine shine of the water, the exceptional quality of the beaches, and the gorgeous views that encompass the scene. This is a glacial lake, and if you opt for the lake tour you’ll get to see the official headwaters of the Colorado River. It’s hard to think of a more perfect summer day than basking in the sun, playing in the sand, swimming in the water, and then walking up to town for refreshing drinks and delicious meals.
Activities | The clear water and clean conditions makes the lake ideal for swimming around and showing off the ol’ backstroke. Many people also enjoy the benefits of paddle-boarding on the lake. Paddle-boarding provides the adrenaline rush of soaring on top of the water at brisk speeds while exploring the different sections of the lake, but paddle-boarding is also easy enough for all adults and even young children to perform without any experience. However, you might also relish cruising around the lake on traditional kayaks, canoes, or sailboats.
Renting a motorboat in Grand Lake is another brilliant plan that will have your family praising your infinite wisdom. You can drift in the boat along the lake at a smooth pace while relaxing in the summer sun, or you can get crazy with it by going tubing, waterskiing, and wakeboarding as the boat races around the lake at rapid speeds and leaves behind streaks of blazing wakes.
The special events that Grand Lake hosts during the summer months also makes it a terrific vacation spot. Boat shows on the lake can be highly entertaining. These shows often entail experts parading their boats on the water while the spectators on the beach are dazzled by the creative designs, unique shapes, impressive features, and colorful patterns of the boats.
The 4th of July holiday and the town’s firework show is always a special event for Grand Lake. The setting itself is special. At night the crowd gathers on the beach to watch the fireworks explode over the lake, and the ability for the fireworks to illuminate the water down below and the mountains in the background lends itself to a majestic effect. The actual firework show is also an amazing spectacle. The comprehensive assembly of fireworks, the brilliant colors of the sparks, the artistic choreography of the production, and the epic climax of the display has the crowd on the beach roaring with applause throughout the captivating show.
Lodging | When you’re looking to stay in Grand Lake, the two most popular types of lodging include hotels in the town or campsites in the wilderness. While hotels can enhance the comfort of your vacation by allowing you to conveniently walk to the restaurants on the strip or the beaches by the lake, visitors who camp enjoy the authentic camping experience of pitching tents at the numerous campsites around the lake or in the woods. A fun aspect of camping in the Grand Lake woods is that deer and elk consistently stop by the campgrounds to say hello, join the party, and grab a beer. Ok, maybe not a beer, but they’ll definitely rummage through for snacks. A final, higher end option, is the glorious Grand Lake Lodge. You can stay in epic suites throughout the lodge or get private with a private cabin of various sizes.
Once you visit Aspen in the summer, you’ll instantly get how the town established such a prestigious reputation throughout the country as being a favorable location to take a vacation. With the gorgeous scenery, the enormous mountains and the excitement of the town, you might become addicted to the Aspen experience and develop an itch to keep returning as often as possible. That explains all the vacation homes in the area.
Sites | The Maroon Bells are the sacred holy grails of Aspen that people from around the globe come to worship. The good news is that these holy grails are not hidden very well and are easy for everyone to find. Renowned as one of the most gorgeous locations on the planet, the Maroon Bells refers to a series of mountain peaks that envelop the town of Aspen and that rise above that pinnacle 14,000-foot mark.
The Maroon Bells are photographed and featured in movies and pictures more than any other mountains in North America because of their superior features and the astounding beauty of the overall Aspen landscape. The rocks that construct the mountains boast jagged edges, craggy points, and compelling patterns that make the mountains look like masterpieces of art sculpted by the genius of nature.
During the summer, visitors gazing at the Maroon Bells are spellbound by the vibrant flowers, colorful plants, and huge trees that appear when the foliage flourishes into full bloom and the plants showcase their powerful splendor.
Activities | Hiking through the Maroon Bells is a favorite activity for most Aspen visitors. You can choose between six separate trails that have been carved to lead you up the gorgeous landscapes of the mountain slopes and around different areas of the Maroon Bells. You can also enjoy the physical exercise of riding bikes up the established bike trails while periodically pausing to catch your breath, have a picnic, and admire the views.
Relaxing at Maroon Lake at the foot of the trails is another popular activity that deserves a spot on your bucket list. With the Maroon Bells in the background and the clear water at your side, spending afternoons socializing with your family, playing in the water, or boating around the lake is a must-do experience.
The entertainment offered by the town of Aspen has also contributed to the eminent vacay reputation that the town has garnered throughout the nation. The elegant and exciting nightlife scene in the downtown area is an impressive and distinguishing characteristic of Aspen. The town provides intellectual stimulation and aesthetic pleasure with a vast range of art displays, musical performances, theatrical plays, museum exhibits, and festive events. Get ready to love everything.
Aspen also has a restaurant scene that will have you drooling on the pavement and loosening your belt. Restaurants often feature award-winning chefs, diverse menus, local ingredients, high-quality food, exceptional decor, comfortable ambiance, and delicious meals. Additionally, reserving an outdoor patio table in downtown Aspen just before sunset provides the striking impression of eating in the middle of a sci-fi movie. The Aspen sunset ignites a fire in the sky, throws brilliant colors around the town, and produces a mystical effect that will stun your table into momentary silence. Don’t forget to get a selfie.
Lodging | Aspen has both price extremes of lodging and everything in between. You can pitch tents at the many campsites within driving distance of the area. You can also rent humble cabins or enormous mansions that are isolated in the woods and around the town. However, Aspen also offers five-star hotels with luxurious suites for people looking to pamper their friends and families during the summer vacation.
If you ask anyone how their trip to Telluride went, you better clear your schedule for the rest of the day because they will bend your ear while raving about the amazing adventure they had on their vacation and all the wondrous things they admire about Telluride. Although many towns have certain sites or features that are unique, the entire town of Telluride is a unique experience that makes it a prime spot for a summer vacation.
Sites | Telluride is in a flat canyon cushioned right in the bosom of the 14,000-foot San Juan mountains that surround it on all sides and that boast some of the jaggiest peaks in the country. Telluride itself is a site to see. There are two major parts of the community, with Telluride down below at the bottom of the surrounding peaks, and then Mountain Village up on the mountain at an elevation of 9,500 feet.
Downtown Telluride is a small area that stretches just eight blocks wide and 12 blocks long, which imbues the town with an intimate sense of camaraderie among the commingling crowds of locals and tourists. When you scroll down the streets or drink at the bars, it can seem like every stranger you see is an old friend and everyone in the town is part of one large family.
You’ll also question whether it’s even legal for a downtown area to be so ridiculously attractive. The Victorian architecture of the buildings and the European layout of the streets offers a majestic charm and an enchanting atmosphere throughout the community. Then the array of independent shops condensed tightly together while the formidable mountains hover overhead like guardians makes shopping, walking, or eating in the town a bit of a surreal experience.
The gondola also adds to the unique quality of summer vacations in Telluride. Traveling around town has never been so fun, as this is literally the only place in the country that enables people to take gondola rides around like a public transit system. You can ride the gondola from downtown Telluride to the hiking trails at St. Sophia station, the Mountain Village community up above, and the town hall market center at Station Village. But when you ride the gondola during the summer, you’ll be especially entranced by the panoramic view of the lush landscapes and beautiful sceneries of the San Juan Mountains. Word is Boulder is planning on its own gondola system. We’ll be sure to let you know if that becomes a reality.
Activities | Tubing down the San Miguel River is a “don’t miss” experience. The tube ride takes you along the bends and curves of the river, cuts you right through downtown Telluride, and along the way features a few calm moments as you cruise through the peaceful environment with some exciting thrills as you rush through the exhilarating rapids.
Paragliding is another area activity to love. Guided by an expert who operates the equipment and directs the parachute, paragliding allows you to enjoy the liberating feeling of free-flying through the air, circling around the sky, and gazing at the world below while gradually descending to the ground.
The Adventure Center is highly conducive for families with kids. The Center offers a wide range of fun outdoor amusements, including trampoline games, spider jumps, and mining simulators. Additionally, the many art events and music festivals that Telluride hosts throughout the summer can also fill the photo album of your vacation with raucous nights and memorable moments.
Lodging | Visitors have three general options when you make your lodging decisions for your Telluride vacation. The downtown Telluride area features historic hotels and contemporary condos that are located by the action in town. Up above – in Mountain Village – you can stay at fancy modern suites and luxurious five-star hotels. But many people enjoy staying in tents at the campsites located in the San Juan Mountains or around Telluride.
Despite its humble size, the town of Steamboat Springs is accustomed to making room for the countless visitors who flood to their town every summer to learn why there is so much hype about Steamboat summers. Steamboat Springs is entrenched in the beautiful mountains that encompass the northwest region of Colorado, the town takes pride in retaining the Old West culture upon which the town was founded, and you can enjoy an endless list of activities that Steamboat offers to fill all summer vacations with endless excitement.
Sites | With several impressive lakes positioned around Steamboat Springs, many visitors enjoy alternating between them during their summer vacations. Pearl Lake is located just north of downtown. The lake derived its name because of the remarkable purity of the clear water, the glistening shine on the glassy surface, and the rich abundance of trails that branch out from all sides of the lake. The peaceful ambiance makes Pearl Lake a great option if you are looking to relax in the sun and picnic with your family on the pleasant shore of the shimmering water.
But if you’re looking for the lake with the party, Steamboat Lake brings the noise and raises the roof. The view around Steamboat Lake is breath-taking, with the rugged Hahn’s Peak standing proudly overhead and the lush wilderness encircling the entire scene. But once you arrive you immediately step into a fun summer party with the crowd playing beach games on the sandy shore, drinking and barbecuing with friends, blasting loud music, swimming through the refreshing water, and paddle-boarding across the enormous lake.
Additionally, Stagecoach State Park is your jam if you want a lake where you can rent or use a motorboat. The lake is located just south of Steamboat Springs, it has a huge marina for boats, and you can go all out on your summer vacation by renting a motorboat and enjoying the adrenaline rush of waterskiing, wakeboarding, and tubing.
Activities | You can choose from a diverse range of activities during your summer vacation in Steamboat Springs. The many lakes in the area — and the Yampa River that rushes through town — makes fishing a popular activity. The water in Steamboat Springs is replete with schools of fish, fishermen in the town have set records for catching the largest fish of various species, and relaxing with your family while reeling in the catches is a highly gratifying experience.
Horseback rides are also fun activities to fulfill in Steamboat Springs. In line with the Old West cowboy culture of Yampa Valley, Steamboat Springs has established numerous horseback riding paths and offers many expert ranchers that can lead your group as you explore the different areas of the valley and enjoy the thrilling motion of riding on a horse.
When the bright sun goes down for the night and a cool breeze throws a chill through the air, you should hit up the hot springs as the perfect way to culminate your evening. Old Town Hot Springs is located in downtown, the spot has eight hot pools filled by natural mineral water, and the hot springs experience is also augmented by two 230-foot water slides and a large aquatic rock climbing wall.
The Wild West theme is sustained throughout Steamboat by the rodeos that are held every Friday and Saturday night during the summer. These festive events enable the town to mingle over food and drinks, the authentic rodeos are led by real cowboys, and the performances and competitions are truly entertaining for people of all ages.
Lodging | Visitors have several options regarding your lodging decisions. Many areas surrounding the lakes are designated for camping with tents or RVs, including spots at Pearl and Steamboat Lakes. However, Steamboat Springs also has a vast amount of condos, townhomes, and bed-and-breakfast style hotels that reside in convenient locations around town.
Breckenridge is one of those locations that makes you proud of our planet. If aliens ever visit, taking them to Breck in the summer is the best way to show off what the Earth can do and impress the aliens with the amazing sights. The town offers an effective balance for a summer vacation, as it features the serene and tranquil environment of the lush mountain landscape, along with the lively and energetic atmosphere of the exciting downtown area. Thus, your summer vacation list does need to include a long trip to Breckenridge so you can be entranced by the landscape, stimulated by the town, and rejuvenated by the experience.
Sites | Located in Summit County, Breckenridge is encompassed by four massive mountains with slender curves, muscular rocks, and glorious peaks. These peaks are highly popular for skiers in the winter. But during the summer, you’ll be awestruck as the mountain landscapes boast the rich shades of green grass, the radiant splendor of colorful flowers, the brilliant luster of gorgeous plants, and the magnificent grandeur of gigantic trees.
The active downtown area of Breckenridge also elevates the experience of summer vacations. The action revolves along one long strip called Main Street. The rows of storefronts that stretch along Main Street feature creative architectural designs and vibrant color schemes that are aesthetically pleasing to the eyes. The abundance of diverse shops and appealing restaurants offer a wide array of entertainment for pedestrians strolling down the strip. The joyful crowds that are happy just to be in Breckenridge perpetuate a jubilant mood and a positive atmosphere throughout the entire town. Additionally, Main Street generally deters chain companies, which means that the stores, venues, and restaurants are all owned by local entrepreneurs and independent businesses.
Activities | Breckenridge is a top spot in Colorado for hiking through the mountains during the prime of summer. You’ll have such a great time while hiking through the trails that you might forget to check your watch and get back before the sky goes dark. The town features hundreds of hiking trails that slither through different areas of the lush landscapes. Some hiking trails lead you through a wilderness of gorgeous foliage, others along rivers and creeks that wind their way down the mountain slopes, and many trails periodically bring you to raging waterfalls that rapture the mind and overpower the senses. Also, the hiking trails offer options for all skill levels, from basic trails that cut through the mountains at modest inclines, to challenging trails that lead up the slopes of impressive summits.
Biking is another popular activity during vacations in Breckenridge. Similar to the hiking trails, the bike paths also offer variety regarding difficulty levels. Many families enjoy the calmer bike paths that are designed for beginners who desire a pleasant ride, while hardcore bikers from all over the world appreciate the advanced paths that are designed for experts who seek an extreme ride.
Additionally, other activities that can have you overflowing with excitement during summer vacations in Breck include white-water rafting, zip-lining, golfing, and swimming or boating at nearby Lake Dillon.
Main Street also offers an impressive multitude of entertaining activities. You might go to Breckenridge for the mountain hikes, but you’ll probably stay for this downtown atmosphere. The downtown strip is lined with blocks of stores so you can enjoy shopping for clothes, artworks, toys, memorabilia, and antiques. You can also enjoy treats from the snack shops, ice cream parlors, and fudge stores. The Blue River that runs adjacent to the strip is the perfect spot to enjoy these snacks as you relax on the benches while the kids play in the water. Additionally, Breckenridge has over 100 restaurants, bars, and breweries to satisfy the palates of your family and maximize the excitement of your vacation.
Lodging | Although you can stay in five-star hotels during your Breckenridge vacation, many visitors enjoy renting condos or townhomes. The condos or townhomes are often comfortable and spacious, and the flexible options should enable you to find the particular accommodations you desire and the ideal locations you prefer.