Boulder is a family-friendly paradise, with tons of opens space and parks, rec centers that put most high-end gyms to shame and a regular line-up of festivals all year. There’s no need to leave Boulder to entertain your kids.
But in case you feel like breaking through the Boulder bubble, there are plenty of great destinations a short drive away.
Here are five of our favorite family-friendly day trips from Boulder. All are close enough that you can start in your Boulder hotel, head out for the day and return back to Boulder by nightfall.
1. The Butterfly Pavilion, Westminster
The Butterfly Pavilion is home to about 1,600 fluttering butterflies who live in a cheerful tropical rain forest room. Kids love to walk around the giant dome filled with colorful butterflies before exploring the rest of this unique insect zoo.
See more than 5,000 different critters, such as cockroaches and fish. Kids can dig through compost to find beetle grubs and monkey around on the indoor playground. Feeling brave? You can even hold Rosie the tarantula.
Best of all, the drive is less than a half-hour from Boulder, assuming the traffic on Highway 36 isn’t a disaster. (That’s a tall order, though.)
2. Rocky Mountain National Park
While Boulder isn’t the ideal place to stay if you want to spend some quality time in one of Colorado’s four national parks – the main entrance is about an hour drive – you can definitely plan a memorable day trip here if you get up early. The main entrance is just outside of Estes Park, though there are other entrances if you want a less-trafficked area and are up for the drive.
Rocky Mountain National Park is a Colorado must-do. Kids enjoy looking for wildlife through car windows or even on hikes, but be smart. Don’t let your kids approach any wildlife or act foolishly to get a sweet selfie. Some of the easier hikes (like Bear Lake) can be pretty crowded in the summer, so if you want to venture a bit off the popular path but stay safe, sign up for a guided activity through the REI Basecamp, which is stationed out of the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park.
A drive up Trail Ridge Road is a bucket list item. It’s the highest paved through-road in North America, topping more than 12,000 feet above sea level.
3. Estes Park
Just under an hour from Boulder, Estes Park is great for families. The charming, old-fashioned downtown is lined with cute shops and a strange number of taffy and candy stores. Get an ice cream cone and stroll through downtown, before dining riverside. Before you leave, visit Fun City, with slides, go-carts and more. You can’t miss it; the giant rainbow slide will have your kids shouting as soon as you drive past.
A wonderful, family-friendly place to stay in Estes Park is the YMCA of the Rockies. This sprawling campus offers tons of activities for kids, from mini golf to roller skating to horseback riding.
4. Fort Collins
Another one of Colorado’s Front Range college towns, Fort Collins, also caters well to families. Grab a beer at the popular New Belgium Brewery, whose front lawn feels like a massive festival, with lawn games, kids playing and food trucks. Then head downtown to Nuance Chocolate, where you can try a flight of single-origin chocolates made just down the street.
As you wander around Old Town Fort Collins, keep in mind it was the real-life inspiration for Disneyland’s Main Street USA.
Kids love the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery, an educational and fun museum that even has a Digital Dome (like an Imax movie) that shows special features.
5. The Denver Zoo
Boulder is a straight shot to the Denver Zoo; you can usually get there in around 45 minutes. Explore 80 acres of animal exhibits, demos, shows and places to eat and shop. The zoo features more than 4,100 animals and more than 600 different species.
One highlight is the historic Bear Mountain, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. This was one of North America’s first natural-style zoo exhibits. See a variety of different types of bears here, even grizzly bears.
Other great places to bring your family in Denver are the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, the Downtown Aquarium, the Children’s Museum and Elitch Gardens amusement park.