3 places to visit for aquatic family fun | VailDaily.com

3 places to visit for aquatic family fun

Caramie Petrowsky
Special to the Daily

Two years ago, my cousins threw a big Pinterest-worthy, Mickey (and Minnie) Mouse-themed birthday party for their three littles who have birthdays close together. The twin boys were turning 2 and their daughter 4. The party was beautiful, down to the homemade cupcakes that looked as if a fancy-shmancy bakery had delivered them for gobs of money. A houseful of kids and their adults noshed on a decadent spread of themed food under a homemade banner. Kids ran around wearing mouse ears and shrieking.

It was tons of fun but I knew a lot of work had gone into it, which the "never-again" look in Kristy's eye confirmed.

The following year, they went camping.

It was bliss, Kristy admitted. Other brilliant moms I know have also boycotted big birthday party bonanzas in favor of smaller, family-only shindigs or a fun adventure — and they have yet to turn back.

Are you ready to do the same but not sure where to go? Here are three options perfect for water-loving families looking to splash around this summer:

Mount Princeton Hot Springs, Nathrop

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Just an hour-and-a-half drive from Vail, you'll find the historic Mount Princeton Hot Springs, located near Buena Vista and Salida in Nathrop. The odorless hot springs bubble out of Chalk Creek, which runs next to the resort. There are numerous natural creekside pools to play in, as well as the more traditional swimming pools (there are two options adjacent to the historic 1867 bathhouse, one that's 105 degrees and one in the 90s.)

Our 1-and-half-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter both loved scooping up the rocks and playing in the creekside pools. During the summer, families flock to the upper pools, which feature a 400-foot water slide. You can spend a day at the hot springs or make it into a weekend adventure by renting one of the lodge rooms or cabins (the hot springs are complimentary with an overnight stay).

Over spring break, we brought grandma and grandpa along for the weekend and stayed in a beautiful two-bedroom/one-loft cabin. As such, we were able to check out the adult-only pools. With a freshly juiced cocktail in hand from the Juice Bar, we lounged in the Japanese-style cascading pools and gazed at the brightly shining stars above, soaking in the quiet — a rare experience for us of late. It was heaven. (Visit mtprinceton.com.)

NEARBY: Take the whole family on a hike on Mount Princeton. Park at the Young Life camp, less than five minutes from the hot springs, and proceed up the road as far as you'd like. For more specific directions, ask the knowledgeable concierge at the hotel.

DINE: We very much enjoyed the food at the Princeton Club onsite where we ate the Nutty Goat vegetarian sandwich, stacked with local Jumpin' Good goat farm chevre, grilled zucchini, mushrooms and tomatoes. Head to Salida (a 25-minute drive) for some of the tastiest pizza and local beer around at Amicas Pizza Microbrew & More. In Buena Vista (a 15 minute drive), stop into the cozy Asian Palate for fresh sushi, sashimi and fantastic noodle, stir-fry and curry dishes, or Simple Eatery, located in The Trailhead, an outdoor gear store, serves up thoughtful, health-conscious soups, sandwiches and salads as well as self-serve fro-yo.

Great Wolf Lodge, Colorado Springs

Did you know Colorado Springs is home to the largest indoor water park in the state? Great Wolf Lodge opened in 2016 and apparently word spread fast among the younger set. My 4-year-old daughter heard about it in preschool and started begging to visit.

Access to the 50,000 square-foot water park is complimentary with a stay at the lodge (it's also the only way to experience it). The water park itself is expansive, with a water area complete with slides and more just for babies/toddlers and preschoolers; a wave pool; six additional slides for older children and adults; a multilevel tree house water fort; a water playground with basketball hoops and a poolside climbing wall and more.

Along with the water park, there are some complimentary fun activities such as story time, a Forest Friends show where characters in the lobby come to life for a musical show, and a nightly PJ party for kids. There is also a bowling alley with half-length lanes, a 9-hole miniature golf course, a mining adventure, a ropes course, climbing wall, an arcade and MagiQuest for older kids, available for an extra charge.

We checked in on a Friday afternoon and immediately donned swimming suits and headed for the water park. As my daughter fell asleep that night she was singing a made-up song: "Greater Wolf Lodge is just so great," she sang over and over, which sums up the experience nicely. (Visit http://www.greatwolf.com/colorado-springs.)

NEARBY: Be sure and visit the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. Once you visit, it's clear to see why it's called America's only mountain zoo and why it was named the sixth best zoo in the country. Its layout on the side of Cheyenne Mountain is truly unique, very interactive and offers breathtaking views of Colorado Springs. Our kids squealed with delight feeding the giraffes romaine lettuce and checking out the free-roaming wallabies in the Australian Walkabout. We can't wait to return.

DINE: There are lots of dining options inside Great Wolf Lodge, including a pizza spot called Hungry as a Wolf; a buffet option called the Loose Moose Family Kitchen; and Barnwood, a farm-to-fork option that's open for lunch and dinner. There's also a Dunkin' Donuts and a Ben & Jerry's, to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Bananas Fun Park, Grand Junction

If you're looking for a fun day-trip option sure to leave the kids snoozing soundly in the back seat on the drive home, then head west, to Grand Junction.

At the end of last summer, Bananas Fun Park in Grand Junction unveiled its new aqua play center. (Full disclosure: my uncle Chris and aunt Heather own the fun park.) Dubbed Coconut Cove, the multistory attraction features a 1,000-gallon tipping bucket of water, more than 50 water features, 100 jet features and 12 spinning trays and bubbler jets perfect for younger kids. The plethora of water slides, water guns and more make this a favorite for the whole family. Kids younger than the age of 3 play for free at Coconut Cove with a purchasing adult.

Pair an afternoon at Coconut Cove with Bananas other popular attractions — laser tag, bumper boats, mini-golf, go-karts, an inflatable playland and a constantly changing arcade. Bananas offers Family Fun Fridays, where you buy one unlimited or limited pass and get the second one for half price. (Visit bananasfunpark.com.)

DINE: The cafe at Bananas serves up fresh-cooked pizzas, tasty sandwiches and more, which is super convenient for families camped out at the park for the day. Our favorite lunch spot in Grand Junction is Cafe Sol. This spot on Main Street serves up healthy, tasty sandwiches, soups and salads and more made using local, sustainable ingredients. And those who have dietary restrictions will rejoice — there are lots of yummy gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian options. For dinner, the Mexican food and margs at WW Peppers Restaurant & Bar is hands-down our favorite. This chef-owned establishment has been around for nearly 35 years and remains a beloved institution.

Former Vail Daily Arts & Entertainment editor Caramie Petrowsky now lives in Denver along with her family. But nothing keeps them from weekend adventures in the mountains.