YMCA of the Rockies

When you think of the YMCA you probably think of a workout class or a pick up game of basketball. But did you know that the YMCA owns a stunning 800+ acre facility at the base of the Rocky Mountains. Let me introduce you to the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park, Colorado.

The YMCA of the Rockies is a facility that offers lodging along with daily activities and sporting amenities. I compare it to summer camp but for families!  During our weekend stay we were able to participate in classes teaching us about bears, wolves and how to start a fire without matches. We also played basketball, rollerskating, swimming, sledding, ice skating and archery.

There were so many activities that we were busy the whole weekend without any need to leave the facility grounds.

The activities are rotated throughout the seasons so every visit can be unique. We’re already thinking about coming back for axe throwing and horseback riding in the warmer months. 

Most activities are included with your stay but some activities like archery and the climbing wall are an additional $10 per person.

If all these activities aren’t for you, don’t worry. The lodge is also located right next to Rocky Mountain National Park. So you can spend your day hiking and taking in the views of this stunning park and rest your head at the YMCA in the evening. The town of Estes Park also offers a wide variety of shopping and entertainment, just watch out for those Elk 🙂 

Things to Know

There is a wide variety of lodging options on the property. There are hotel rooms, cabins and there are some areas set up for large family reunions or group lodging. Check out the website for all the details. 

If you don’t want to stay the night, the YMCA also offers day passes. You can spend the day participating in all the activities and using the amenities such as the pool. 

If staying in lodging, the activities signup will open up online 2 weeks before your stay. Most activities are free and have no participant limit. However, things like archery, the climbing wall, axe throwing, etc. do have a limit and a $10 fee per person. If you want to participate in these activities I would recommend signing up as soon as available.

The Y also provides lots of equipment rentals (typically for free). This includes kids life vests at the pool, hiking boots, ice skates, sleds, mobility strollers, hiking poles and much more. This makes it very convenient for people who are arriving via plane. You can pack light knowing that the rest will be provided there. 

Overall, we had a great experience. This is the perfect spot for families to spend quality time together while enjoying those stunning Rocky Mountain views. Happy Travels!

Woodland Aquatic Center

Finding an indoor pool in Southern Colorado can be a bit difficult. Unless you have a gym membership, your options are to fork out big money for Great Wolf or pay for a day pass at the YMCA. But don’t worry! I’m here to give you another option…. Woodland Aquatic Center.

Woodland Aquatic Center in Woodland Park is the perfect family-friendly indoor pool. It has a lovely zero entry portion with a small kids splash area.

It also has a lazy river, fountains, jetted seats, a large slide and a regular pool area. In addition to these features in the main pool, there is a second pool designated just for lap swimming. There is something for everyone. 

The center offers large family changing rooms and locker rooms. They even have a party room if you’re thinking about hosting a swim party but want to keep the cake and gifts dry. They offer extended hours during the school holidays so check out their Facebook page to get the latest updates. 

Since you have already made the drive up to Woodland Park, you can combine the aquatic center with a trip over to the Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Research Center and maybe grab a donut at the Donut Mill. The aquatic center also happens to be on the way to/from Rampart Reservoir, which boasts some great fishing and hiking. Make a day of it. Happy Swimming!

Skiing in Gunnison

Colorado is a top ski destination. Everyone knows of the big names like Breckenridge, Vail, Aspen, etc. But outside those big name resort towns there is still plenty of places around the state to strap in those boots and get out on the slopes. One of those places, which happens to be great for beginners, is Cranor Ski Hill in Gunnison, Colorado.

Cranor is pretty small with only 4 runs and only one Poma Platter Surface lift to get you where you need to go. But that also means, it isn’t typically crowded and you can feel free to take your time learning to ski.

The Hill is only open Saturdays and Sundays (10:30am-4pm) and Wednesdays (1-4pm) and that’s only IF there is enough snow. So make sure to check on that before heading out there. Wednesday afternoons are FREE for everyone. On the weekends you can expect to pay $13 for kids 5-16 and $22 for adults 17-64. Those under 5 and 65+ are FREE. That is a pretty sweet deal for skiing in Colorado. 

Our kiddo loved the laid back atmosphere of this hill. It seemed to take the pressure off of learning to ski. We highly recommend.

Jorgensen Ice Rink

While you are in Gunnison, you should also take the time to swing by the Jorgensen Ice Rink. There are 3 rinks here: an indoor rink (that costs extra), an outdoor hockey rink and a frozen pond. The outdoor rink and pond are FREE to use during open hours, which is typically 8am-10pm on weekends but check the schedule online. You can rent skates for $5 per person. 

What a great way to spend a winter day: laid back skiing and old school ice skating. Sign me up! Now get out and enjoy that winter weather!

Skyline Drive

What exactly am I looking at here?

Those bumps…they are…dinosaur tracks!!

A lot of dinosaur tracks!

According to the info board, these are the tracks of multiple different dinosaur types that walked across an ancient river delta. We are viewing the prints from below. Once you see the outlines you can’t unsee it. 

How do you find these tracks? Well these beauts are found on Skyline Drive on the outskirts of Cañon City, Colorado.

Skyline Drive is a stunning paved road that goes along the top of a ridge line. You must leave the town of Cañon City to start the drive (as it is one way) but you will finish in town. The road is very narrow but there are pull offs with stunning views.

The dinosaur tracks are located toward the beginning of the road and there is information boards posted at the pull off as your clue as where to stop. At the end of the drive you will come across the parking area for Hogback Open Space. There is a well maintained trail system here and there are more information boards along the trails about the different fossils and footprints. This is also worth a stop.

Skyline Drive is a quick but unique drive that can’t be missed when visiting Cañon City. It is accessible by all car types. Just remember to take it slow and enjoy the views!

Paint Mines Interpretive Park

Colorado Springs and the surrounding area has so many stunning parks, views, and hikes. Almost all of these places are close to Pikes Peak or the mountains in some way. However, there is a little hidden gem hiding just out east….Paint Mines Interpretive Park.

This unique open space is located in the middle of the prairies just outside of Calhan

It seems like nothing but grassland until suddenly you see it.

There are several trails throughout the open space that will lead you close to the formations. These formations are fragile so no climbing!

The layers of clay seem to shift colors in the light.

Such a unique find in an unexpected place. 

Tips for your trip:

There are multiple parking lots throughout the open space. The main parking lot is the first you will approach when following GPS directions. It has a restroom. However, I would suggest parking at the Overlook Parking lot, which is just a little farther down the road.

From the Overlook parking lot, you can do the short overlook trail and then also follow the trail down to the Geology Interpretive Site, which gets you up close to the formations. 

The trails are very well maintained gravel/dirt. They are not stroller friendly but are easy difficulty with only minimal grades. There are interpretive signs throughout. Another important thing to note is that NO PETS are allowed on the trails. Horses, bikes, and drones are also banned. Some areas are marked off as closed and again the formations are very fragile so no climbing

As mentioned above, this open space is located in the very open space of the prairies lands. Winds can be very strong here and you’ll notice the wind farm close by taking advantage of that very feature. It can also be extremely hot here in the summer. There are no shaded areas and no water available. So just check the weather before making the drive out and pack accordingly.

There are guided hikes available on certain Saturdays June – October. You must register ahead of time and there is a $3 per person fee. You can register for that here.

This is such a fun family-friendly hike and I hope you take advantage of seeing this unique spot on your next trip to the Colorado Springs area. Happy Travels!

Paint Mines Interpretive Park

29950 Paint Mines Road

Calhan, CO 80808

Chapel in the Hills

We had an amazing trip to Norway in 2019. You can see more info on that here. However, it was such a busy trip that we did miss out on some stops that I really wanted to see. One of those stops was Borgund Stave Church (Borgund Stavkirke). Well luck was on my side! I got a second chance in the most unlikely place….Rapid City, South Dakota.

Rapid City is the home to Chapel in the Hills. It is an exact replica of Borgund Stave.

The back story is kind of crazy. A Lutheran radio show host started the idea to build the church. They raised the funds and the Norwegian Department of Antiquities provided a set of blueprints of the original Borgund church. They built the church exactly the same and even brought in a Norwegian woodcarver to complete all the details. IN SOUTH DAKOTA.

Chapel in the Hills is tucked in a quiet neighborhood on the edge of Rapid City. There is a Stabbur (or store house) on site that is used as the visitor center and gift shop. There is also a log cabin museum. But the main attraction is the gorgeous Church.

Visiting the Chapel is free and open to visitors in the summer. Completely worth a stop on your South Dakota road trip!

Storybook Island

There is a little slice of kids paradise hiding in Rapid City. It is the most enchanting, with a little side of nostalgia, playground you can find. It is Storybook Island.

There are different areas set up around the 8.5 acre park. You’ll see some familiar characters from Princesses to Pooh. There are slides, swings and climbing areas but a lot of the sections are designed for children to engage in imaginative play. My kids absolutely loved it.

There is also a train and merry-go-round that are an additional fee but since this whole place is FREE it is worth it. 

Did you read that? FREE! This amazing place is FREE.

The kids loved this place so much that we went here twice.

Storybook Island is an actual dream and we recommend it to all of our friends who are traveling with kids through Rapid City in the summer. If you are in the area you have to stop by!

Devils Tower

Ok I know Devils Tower (Bears Lodge) is in Wyoming but it was actually a perfect addition to our South Dakota road trip. The monument is located in the Northeast corner of the state and it made sense to loop it in to our road trip. The Tower looms large over the flat plains that surround it.

Devils Tower was the first National Monument and it continues to maintain its popularity through all these years. We are talking celebrity status popularity. Despite the monument’s extreme popularity, the visitor center is actually rather small and the parking lot matches. I can not stress this enough that you have to get there early.

Once you are parked, you can walk toward the visitor center and you will find newspaper stands outside of the building. You can pick up a junior ranger booklet and the badge inside of these. Also the restroom entrance is located on the outside of the visitor center. So if you need either of these don’t bother going into the small building. To also reduce crowds in the visitor center there was a small covered gazebo like area just before the start of the Tower Trail. There were rangers stationed here answering questions for people before they started their hike.

We completed the Tower Trail, which is a paved loop trail around the monument. It is 1.3 miles long and once you ascend to the main loop then it is fairly flat though I would say not really wheelchair or stroller friendly. It was interesting to see the Tower from various angles and lighting.

The junior ranger book was excellent and it helped engage the kiddos during the walk. Something to note on your hike. There are prayer cloths throughout the trees that you will notice during the walk. You are not supposed to touch them or photograph them. 

After completing our hike, we started heading for the exit but there was one more place we needed to stop: The Wind Circle Statue or Sacred Circle of Smoke Statue.

This statue was created by the Japanese artist Junkyu Muto. It is one in a series of statues around the world to promote peace. It is supposed to represent the smoke that rises from a pipe when first lit and to acknowledge the multiple Native American tribes in the area that consider this place sacred. There is also signage here that describes the Lakota story of Pte-san win-an and it is worth the read. 

Surprisingly, this area of the park was absolutely empty (near the Belle Fourche Campground). We were the only ones there to see the sculpture and there was plenty of parking places. It was a beautiful and serene spot and I highly recommend stopping here. It is a nice way to complete your trip to the Tower. 

A couple of add ons for a loop trip from South Dakota

On the way back, we detoured so that we could see the “Geographic Center of the US” located in Belle Fourche, South Dakota. I’m just going to post the sign here because it was shocking to me that it would be located here so here is the explanation.

There was a nice visitor center here that was kid friendly and this giant marker.

It was cute but if you are in a hurry you can probably skip it 🙂

After this stop we headed to Spearfish, South Dakota. We were planning on spending our entire afternoon here. We arrived at the first waterfall, got a photo and then a massive rainstorm rolled in completely dashing our afternoon plans. Spearfish (the canyon and town) looked absolutely stunning. We will have to return on a sunnier day.

Don’t forget Devils Tower National Monument as an add on for your South Dakota road trip! Happy Travels!

Mt Rushmore

Mt Rushmore is one of those iconic stops. It is not the biggest or prettiest and it is not without its own controversy. However, it is just one of those road trip stops that has to be done. If you are in South Dakota, you need to go visit the Presidents and let me get you through the Mt Rushmore Checklist.

Step 1: Picture with the State Flag

Every state flag is displayed on the walkway up toward the viewing point. Find your flag and snap that picture. Come on! Everyone’s doing it.

Step 2: Picture with the Presidents

Self explanatory.

Step 3: Go to the Visitor Center/Museum

Ok this one is trickier than it sounds. When you first walk into the Memorial, you will find an information center located on the right. There are park rangers there and you can pick up the Jr Ranger booklet and brochures here. This space is small and is just a quick info stop. It is not the main visitor center and a lot of people are confused by this. To reach the actual Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center and the attached museum, you need to walk all the way down to the amphitheater. You then take the stairs (or elevator) down into the amphitheater area and the entrance to the visitor center is located there. Apparently, a lot of visitors miss the museum because it is not in an obvious location. We found the museum very interesting and there were some hands on activities for the kids. There is a Park Ranger desk as well and the kiddos were able to get their junior ranger badges at this location.

Step 4: Go for a hike 

There are a couple of trails available at the Memorial. The Presidential Trail is probably the most popular and it does a loop that goes closer to the mountain with view points. Warning: these trails can get very crowded but worth it for some better views.

Step 5: Get an ice cream

Ok but this isn’t just any ice cream. All of the little cafes and kiosks offer a vanilla ice cream that is made from a recipe that was recorded by Thomas Jefferson. I guess you could say the first American version of ice cream. The kids loved it and its a nice treat to finish your trip to Mt Rushmore. 

Other Info:

Just a reminder: Mt Rushmore doesn’t have an admission fee but the parking is NOT free. You have to pay for your parking ticket at one of the many kiosks located around the Memorial before heading back to your car.

Seeing the whole Memorial doesn’t take that long. We started our morning here and still had time to visit another stop (see below) before lunch. Add more time if you are going to stay and watch the film or other program that may be available. 

Mt Rushmore is famous world wide but unlike the bigger parks, there just isn’t a lot of space to spread out. So this place gets crazy busy. Just be aware as that can be daunting at times.

Cosmos Mystery Area

On our way to Rapid City from Mt Rushmore, we came across the Cosmos Mystery Area. This is a super fun roadside attraction. Our kids were absolutely amazed by this place and it made the detour worth it for us. I don’t want to give away too many secrets so here are just some pictures to convince you that this place is worth a Google. 

Happy Travels!

Steamboat Springs

Steamboat Springs is a popular ski destination in Colorado. People love to head there in the Winter but I argue that Fall may be the best time to head up to the Boat.

We ventured up to Steamboat the first week of October. The weather was gorgeous, the leaves were turning, and we were able to do so much. Here are some things we checked out with our kiddos in tow.

Fish Creek Falls

Fish Creek Falls is a very popular waterfall hike. There are several trail options from the parking lot. We started on the Overlook Trail that is rated easy and is considered wheelchair and stroller friendly.

From the Overlook Trail, you can connect to the short Picnic Trail that will lead you down to the Fish Creek National Recreation Trail. The Picnic Trail has several picnic areas with excellent shade and a restroom. The Fish Creek Trail will bring you down to the Creek and to the historic bridge. This part was again an easy hike but it is not paved and is not wheelchair or stroller friendly.

There are great views and fun creek access near the bridge. You can continue on the trail and up to the Upper Falls area, which is supposed to be stunning. This part of the trail is considered difficult with steep rocky areas so we stuck to the lower falls with the kids. 

There is a parking lot here. You must pay to park but it is free for National Park Annual Pass holders. Get to this trailhead early as the parking lot was full by the time we left. 

West Lincoln Park

West Lincoln Park is one of the many parks that line up against the Yampa River. This park is also home to the Sulfur Springs and the Soda Springs

This park also has a nice playground, a pond, and a rocky beach area that makes for excellent river access for the kids. Warning: the sulfur springs smell like….sulfur. So the whole area has a rotten egg kind of smell to it but come on! It’s an adventure.

Steamboat Creates is also located just across the river from this park. They have different classes and activities at their building so check them out.

Yampa River Botanic Park

Another hidden gem of Steamboat is the Yampa River Botanic Park. It is a really lovely and well maintained garden and is worth a stop. Did I mention it was free?

There is a small children’s garden and an activity book for kids that is available. 

The Botanic Park is located in Emerald Park. This park has a playground, open areas, soccer fields and a bathroom with water refill stations. Parking is free. 

Old Town Hot Springs

Strawberry Hot Springs gets all the attention in Steamboat but the Old Town Hot Springs is the place to go if you have kiddos in tow. These hot springs are located in town and are extremely kid friendly. There are pools with varying temperatures including a much cooler kids pool that is 2ft deep. There is a climbing wall, slides, and even lap pools along with the regular soaking pools. I strongly recommended the Old Town Hot Springs for families.

Other Places around Town

Quick rundown of some other places/things you might want to check out while you are in town:

The Steamboat Art Museum is free.

Off the Beaten Path Bookstore is a really lovely bookstore and great place to get a coffee.

Lightning the horse is just outside FM Light & Sons store. Kids can get on for a quick photo. It is kind of a tradition.

Buffalo Pass is just outside of town and has amazing mountain biking and hiking. This road does turn to dirt prior to the parking lot. It is also extremely popular so go early for a spot.

The entire river walk is gorgeous. You can spot steam popping up from different hot springs. Tubing down the river is very popular throughout the summer. It is a great place to spend some time relaxing and enjoying this beautiful area. 

Steamboat Springs has lots to offer no matter the season. Happy Travels!