Family fun in all directions |

Family fun in all directions

John LaConte
Daily Correspondent
Vail, CO, Colorado

Why would anyone ever want to leave Vail?

It’s a great question, and there’s only one acceptable answer: because you’ve soaked in so much of the fun here it’s time to see what else is out there.

Colorado is a big state, with a lot to see. And when families visit Colorado they go to more destinations than just the ski slopes and mountain bike trails.

Now that school is out, gather the kids, pack a cooler, hop in the car and check out colorful Colorado. Heading any direction, there are great things to experience within a few hours by car. Here are some suggestions:

if you’re headed east, then you’re headed toward the largest city in a 600-mile radius. Denver is not only the biggest metropolitan area in Colorado, it’s also larger than any city in our neighboring states: Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma. It’s the capital of Colorado, which means it’s the center of political activity in the state, but there’s also a large presence from the federal government in Denver due to the fact that one of only four currently maintained U.S. Mints is located there, and it’s one of only two that actually makes the coins you hold in your hands. But if politics bore you, we’d recommend checking out a water park as there’s a couple good ones worth traveling to.

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Here are some places to take the family while you tour the Mile High City:

State Capitol tour

Tours of the Colorado State Capitol are free and offered on the hour Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. For groups of 10 or less, no reservation is required. Historical tours begin on the first floor and consist of early Colorado history, Capitol construction, several stained glass windows, Women’s Gold Tapestry, presidential portraits, and a stop outside the Senate and House of Representatives chambers. New within the last year, the House and Senate galleries are now open to the public from mid-May through mid-January. Gallery guides are available to provide House and Senate chambers information and explain the legislative process Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The Capitol Tour Desk is located 200 E. Colfax Ave. in Denver. For more information, call 303-866-2604.

Water World

Water World, which claims to be America’s biggest water park, is currently enjoying its first week of operations for the 2012 summer season. Since opening in 1979, Water World has been rated as one of America’s top 10 water parks by the Travel Channel, and now has more than 46 water adventures from Wally World for the tots to Voyage to the Center of the Earth, the ultimate family water adventure. Water World claims to have more family tube rides than any other park in America, and also has thrill rides in abundance, like the Red Line speed slide. Two new attractions debuted this year, including Colorado’s only magnetic water coaster, the Mile High Flyer. Water World is located at 88th and Pecos in Denver. For more information, call 303-427-7873.

Elitch Gardens

The Elitch Gardens water park just opened for 2012 last week, and there are several new attractions to check out this year. Most notable is “Tube Top,” which was recently voted Best New Water Park ride by the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions. Riding in cloverleaf-shaped tubes, passengers on Tube Top will be drenched by 12,000 gallons of water as they spiral, twist and twirl through the action-packed enclosed slide that features a double-spiral, zero-gravity funnel and vortex turn.

“Tube Top is one of three new rides to open at Elitch Gardens this year,” said Tracy Durham, the park’s director of marketing. “The new rides, along with our new interactive live shows and overall park improvements are part of management’s ongoing commitment to create memories worth repeating for our guests.”

All rides and shows, plus eight concerts and three new rides, are free with park admission. Elitch Gardens is located at 2000 Elitch Circle in Denver. For more information call 303-595-3486 or visit

U.S. Mint

In 1858, when gold was discovered in Colorado, hundreds of merchants, miners and settlers moved in for their stake. A year later, the city of Denver was founded; and in 1863, the U.S. government established a mint facility there. These days, if you’re holding a quarter, that quarter has either a D or a P molded next to George Washington’s beautiful face. If it’s a D, it was made in Denver. The mint offers free tours, but reservations must be made in advance at Tours cover both the present state of coin manufacturing as well as the history of the mint. Learn about the craftsmanship required at all stages of the minting process, from the original designs and sculptures to the actual striking of the coins. The U.S. Mint is located at 320 W. Colfax Ave.

National Mining Museum

Once in Leadville, check out the only federally chartered nonprofit national mining museum, a monument to the memory of the men and women who pioneered the discovery, development and processing of our nation’s natural resources. The museum features a remarkably realistic walk-through replica of an underground hard-rock mine, complete with mine-gauge track that visitors follow by foot. It includes actual winzes, ore cars and chutes. Along the way hammers, hand steels and early and modern mechanical drills trace the progress of mining technology. Located at 120 W. Ninth St. and open every day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Camp Hale Memorial

Living in the Vail Valley, we may take for granted the amazing opportunity to see the Rockies in the way the first visitors to the area had imagined. Starting in Minturn and heading south, U.S. Highway 24 has been designated one of America’s 150 National Scenic Byways by the U.S. Department of Transportation as a road that represents “the depth and breadth of scenery in America.” And it takes you to Leadville, home of the U.S. National Mining Museum, passing the Camp Hale Memorial, a U.S. National Historic Site. Those interested in history will enjoy not only the memorial itself, which lists the names of those who gave their lives by fighting with the 10th Mountain Division during World War II, but the whole site, which has served as an official training ground and prisoner-of-war camp.

Rocky Mountain National Park

National forest, national monument, national preserve, national historic site, what’s the difference, and which is the best to see on a limited time budget? These are questions Colorado resident Gerry Goshgarian has often pondered. As an interagency federal firefighter, Goshgarian has spent time in all of them.

“The national parks are pretty much the best of the best,” he said. “As a general rule, national parks are going to be more scenic, more unique, more accessible and more beautiful than the other agency areas.”

By heading north from Wolcott or Silverthorne, you can access the west entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park on Trail Ridge Road. Goshgarian says for Colorado residents, it’s not to be missed.

“In terms of national parks, Rocky Mountain holds its own with Grand Canyon and Yosemite,” he says. “It’s one of the best places in the country to see wildlife and do some backcountry swimming in the high alpine lakes. And you can easily drive up to 12,000 feet.”

To access the west entrance of the park, head north on Highway 9 from Silverthorne, or north on 131 from Wolcott. Follow the signs toward Kremmling or Granby and you’ll run right into it. For more information, visit

Glenwood Caverns Amusement Park

Heading west, a drive through Glenwood Canyon is an international attraction in itself. But what lies on the other side of the canyon is one of the best hot springs in Colorado and a town bustling with smaller attractions.

After flying down the mountain on Colorado’s only alpine coaster and gliding 2,000 feet above the Colorado River in a giant swing, the Glenwood Caverns Amusement Park makes your average Six Flags option look like a flatlander’s snooze fest. Just accessing the park is a thrill as you have to take a scenic gondola ride to the top of the mountain where the attractions lie.

But probably the most singular feature in the park is its stunning caverns and formations in Colorado’s largest show cave. Thrill-seekers and outdoor enthusiasts alike will have the time of their lives at Glenwood Caverns, located at 51000 Two Rivers Plaza Road in Glenwood Springs. For more information call 800-530-1635.

Museum of Western Colorado

Continue west and you’re headed into dinosaur country. Once in Grand Junction and Fruita, check out the Dinosaur Journey Museum of Western Colorado, which tells the story of the history of life in western Colorado and surrounding areas through real fossils, cast skeletons and robotic reconstructions of dinosaurs. The hands-on, interactive museum includes paleontology displays, a working laboratory where dinosaur bones are prepared for display, a collections room where scientists study dinosaurs and other animals, and a simulated earthquake ride. The Dinosaur Journey Museum is located at 550 Jurassic Court in Fruita. For more info, call 970-858-7287 or visit

Dinosaur National Monument

Closed for the past six years, the Dinosaur National Monument in northwestern Colorado reopened last fall and is once again hosting visitors. The park allows you to see where dinosaurs once roamed and has more than 10,000 fossils of dinosaurs including a nearly complete skull, lower jaws and first four neck vertebrae of an abydosaurus. And now’s the time to see it; in July 2006 the main quarry wall, which contains hundreds of dinosaur fossils, was closed due to structural problems resulting from the unstable clay underneath. Between 2009 and 2011 you helped pay for the park to be rebuilt at a cost of $13 million. To get to the Dinosaur National Monument from Interstate 70 in Grand Junction, head north on 139 toward Rangely for about an hour and follow the signs. For more information, visit

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