16 Best Things to Do in Colorado in Summer

White-water rafting

 Getty Images / Brian Bailey

For most family travelers, Colorado means Rocky Mountain ski resorts. Denverites and other Coloradans, however, know how much fun awaits in the summer months, and flock to the Roaring Fork Valley and other destinations for river and mountain experiences.

To join in, fly into Denver, rent a car, and you too can enjoy a bonanza of white water rafting, river kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, and zip lining, among other memorable activities throughout the Roaring Fork Valley, which includes Aspen, Snowmass Village, Basalt, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs, Mount Sopris, and the Roaring Fork River, a tributary of the mighty Colorado River. It's also possible to enjoy an affordable Aspen getaway, find family-friendly farm-to-table eateries, and get in on a cool Colorado trend—free river parks where surfing waves have been engineered. Here's how to make the most of your time here in summer.

01 of 16

Cheer at the Snowmass Rodeo

Snowmass Rodeo in Colorado

Snowmass Rodeo

2735 Brush Creek Rd, Snowmass Village, CO 81615, USA
Phone +1 970-923-8898

Each Wednesday night from late-June to late-August, the Snowmass Rodeo entertains with free family-friendly activities from 5 p.m. including roping lessons and a petting zoo, mechanical bull rides (for older kids), and cowboy-themed food (pulled pork, burgers, baked beans, and coleslaw), before the real rodeo action starts at 7 p.m. Shuttles are available to the rodeo grounds from most Snowmass hotels and resorts.

Come to see the area's best cowboys and cowgirls show off their bareback riding, team roping, saddle bronc riding, ribbon roping, barrel racing, and bull riding skills. Little ones can also sign up to try the calf scramble (kids must pick the ribbon off the calf's tail) and mutton busting (think bull riding, but with sheep) for their own eight seconds of rodeo glory.

02 of 16

Hit the Links

Breckenridge Golf Club

Breckenridge Golf Club

200 Clubhouse Dr, Breckenridge, CO 80424, USA
Phone +1 970-453-9104

There's no shortage of scenic golf courses in Colorado, so hit the links and enjoy all those beautiful mountain views—thanks to the altitude, the air is thinner up here, too, so your ball will go farther than it does at home.

Take on Jack Nicklaus Signature courses like the Bear, Beaver, and Elk at Breckenridge Golf Club, golf among otherworldly rock formations at Arrowhead Golf Course, spot triceratops footprints by the 12th hole at Fossil Trace Golf Club, or play a round at the highest-altitude golf course in North America at Mount Massive Golf Course. Either way, it's sure to be a memorable time.

03 of 16

Go Horseback Riding in the Mountains

National Park Gateway Stables

National Park Gateway Stables

4600 Fall River Rd, Estes Park, CO 80517, USA
Phone +1 970-586-5269

For an experience that'll bring you back into nature (and sort of make you feel like you're in the Old West for a while), try horseback riding. SK Horses, located in Estes Park, offers guided scenic trail rides for horse lovers of all ages through Rocky Mountain National Park from the National Park Gateway Stables.

Kids ages 2 through 7 can enjoy shorter 10–30 minute pony rides, while older children and adults can choose between two-, three-, four, five, six-, seven, and eight-hour rides through the national park (prices vary). There's also an option for a two-hour dinnertime ride that includes a 25% discount for dinner at the Trailhead Restaurant to use after your ride.

04 of 16

Take a Ride on a Scenic Train

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

1330 Greene St, Silverton, CO 81433, USA

Train enthusiasts, rejoice! Colorado is home to some of the best scenic train rides in the country, whether you're into the historical background of the route, the actual locomotives, or are just in it for the views. Keep an eye out for wildflowers, aspen and evergreen forests, gorgeous gorges, elk, deer, antelope, eagles, bears, foxes, and other Colorado wildlife as you go.

Popular scenic train rides include the Cumbres & Toltec, a 64-mile steam train and moving national historic landmark for rides through Rocky Mountain West; the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, which takes guests on a 9.5-hour round-trip journey (including a two-hour stop in Silverton) through Horseshoe Curve, High Bridge, the High Line, and Animas River Gorge—a shorter 5.25-hour ride called the Cascade Canyon Express is great, too, if you're short on time or attention spans; and the Leadville, Colorado & Southern Railroad, offering 2.5-hour rides through the Rockies.

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05 of 16

Soak in the Hot Springs at Avalanche Ranch

Hot Springs at Avalanche Ranch in Colorado

Avalanche Ranch Cabins & Antiques

12863 CO-133, Redstone Historic District, CO 81623, USA
Phone +1 970-963-2846

Outside Carbondale near the Redstone Historic District, visitors may see signs beside the road calling attention to nearby hot springs, and should know that clothing at such places may be optional. Families may prefer to visit the Avalanche Ranch, a picture-perfect rustic bed and breakfast that has built an attractive pool area around natural hot springs. It's a friendly, family-run establishment with several options for overnight lodging should you wish to stay longer—otherwise, day passes are available.

06 of 16

Spend Some Time in Historic Carbondale


TripSavvy / Lauren Breedlove

Carbondale, CO 81623, USA

Carbondale is a good spot to use as a home base for any day trip or outdoor recreation activities in the Roaring Fork Valley area—it's a nice small-town size and home to many historic buildings, galleries, eclectic gift shops, and excellent restaurants. Outdoorsy types can also take advantage of hiking, biking, camping, climbing, fishing, golf, hunting, horseback riding, and mountaineering activities nearby.

A family favorite for breakfast and lunch is the patio at the Village Smithy Restaurant. Don't miss the mile-high pies, which are always a big hit at breakfast. Carbondale also has a number of bed and breakfasts, while best bets for families are likely the Comfort Inn & Suites or the Days Inn, which also offers suites.

07 of 16

Give Whitewater Rafting a Try

Whitewater rafting in Colorado

joshschutz / Getty Images

555 E Durant Ave, Aspen, CO 81611, USA
Phone +1 970-923-4544

Whitewater rafting is an exciting activity for adults as well as teens—even kids as young as six can usually get in on the action. Most companies will offer a range of experiences, from easy floats to challenging rapids. Typically, guests team up in multi-person inflatable rafts with at least one guide per raft. Every crew member is expected to paddle as the guide instructs, and paddling is a big part of the fun. Blazing Adventures is one of several companies out of Aspen that offer half-day trips on the lower, middle, or upper Roaring Fork River.

Another cool Colorado trend: Several towns have engineered artificial waves on their rivers and created public river parks where locals and visitors can enjoy the whitewater. These artificial waves stay constant in their position on the river and are a popular place for water sports normally found at the beach, like surfing or stand up paddle boarding.

Glenwood Springs Whitewater Park is the first man-made feature on the Colorado River and is a fun place for boogie boarding, surfing, stand up paddle boarding, and kayaking. Because the standing "G-Wave" created here is constant, it's a great place to learn to surf since beginners don't need to exhaust themselves by paddling out to catch a wave. At calmer times of the year, even the little ones can enjoy boogie boarding in the man-made wave at this free river park.

08 of 16

Take a Crack at River Kayaking

River kayaking lesson

TripSavvy / Teresa Plowright

315 Oak Ln, Aspen, CO 81611-2184, USA
Phone +1 970-925-4433

River kayaks are sporty and fun—smaller, lighter, and rudderless compared to sea kayaks—and they turn on a dime. Taking a lesson or two in Colorado is an opportunity to try something new, and makes a great way to experience the mountain scenery.

Aspen Kayak & SUP offers half-day, full day, and multi-day lessons on the Roaring Fork River and Colorado River, as well as multi-day expeditions. Beginners will start on flat-water lakes or in a Class 1 beginner zone located in the Northstar Nature Preserve. No experience is necessary to take a lesson, which includes instruction in calm water and a chance to try out your new skills. Ages 12 and up can participate, though the ability to swim is a prerequisite.

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09 of 16

Do Some Stand Up Paddle Boarding

Stand up paddle boarding on a river in Colorado.

Aspen Kayak Academy

315 Oak Ln, Aspen, CO 81611-2184, USA
Phone +1 970-925-4433

From Oahu to Florida, the trendy new thing to try on a family vacation these days is Stand Up Paddleboarding, or SUP. Many people try this new water sport at the beach, but in Colorado, families can take lessons in a river setting with the Aspen Kayak & SUP.

Those who do an SUP class here can take pride in knowing that instructor Charlie MacArthur pioneered the sport in Colorado; there's even an SUP river board named after him. Kids ages 12 and up can give it a shot, as long as they already know how to swim. If you're looking for something different and cool to do with a teen, this could be it.

10 of 16

Zip Line Across the Colorado River

Zipline Across the Colorado River. Photo © Teresa Plowright.

TripSavvy / Teresa Plowright

1308 Co Rd 129, Glenwood Springs, CO 81601-9736, USA
Phone +1 800-958-6737

Another way to experience the mights rivers of Colorado: Ride a zip line 350 feet across it with Glenwood Canyon Zip Line Adventures. All you need is the nerve to step off the platform, and kids are welcome as long as they're at least 48 inches tall and accompanied by a participating adult. Glenwood Canyon Zip Line Adventures also offers a ropes course, dining overlooking the river, rafting outings, and cabins for rent.

11 of 16

Take On the Giant Canyon Swing

Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park - Giant Canyon Swing. Photo © Teresa Plowright.

Teresa Plowright.

51000 Two Rivers Plaza Road, Glenwood Springs, CO 81601, USA
Phone +1 970-945-4228

Visiting families to Glenwood Springs—located between Aspen and Vail about a 2.5-hour drive from Denver—will want to include Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park in their itineraries. Enjoy a full day of fun, starting with a 10-minute scenic gondola ride on the Iron Mountain Tramway. Attractions here include an alpine coaster, a 4D Ride Theatre, bungee jumping, a zip line, a climbing wall, and the seriously scary Giant Canyon Swing, pictured above, which swings out 1,300 feet above the Colorado River.

12 of 16

Ride the Alpine Coaster at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park

Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park: Alpine Coaster. Photo © Jack Affleck.

Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park

51000 Two Rivers Plaza Road, Glenwood Springs, CO 81601, USA
Phone +1 970-945-4228

This mountain coaster is a great ride for ages three and up at the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park. You'll race 3,400 feet down the mountainside, and each car has brakes so riders can control their speed. Kids must be 8 years old and taller than 56" to ride the coaster alone, while younger children can ride with an adult as long as the child is at least three years old.

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13 of 16

Tour Glenwood Caverns and the Historic Fairy Caves

Glenwood Caverns, at Glenwood Adventure Park. Photo © Norm Thompson.

TripSavvy / Norm Thompson

51000 Two Rivers Plaza Road, Glenwood Springs, CO 81601, USA
Phone +1 970-945-4228

This huge cave system was the original attraction that drew visitors to the top of Iron Mountain in Glenwood Springs over a century ago. Nowadays, the caves are part of the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park. Visitors should make time to go on a cave tour, which is the only way to venture into the tunnels of this impressive underground world.

Parts of the caverns were open to the public as far back as 1895. Victorian-era travelers visiting Glenwood's hot springs dressed up in their finest for a day outing to the Fairy Caves, ascending the mountain on horses, burros, or in horse-drawn carriages.

The caves, however, closed during World War I and stayed closed until 1999 when new owners took over. Today the 800-foot area of the historic Fairy Caves is part of Glenwood Caverns, which has 16,000 known feet.

14 of 16

Unwind at the Glenwood Hot Springs Pool

Photo courtesy of Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association.

Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association

401 N River St, Glenwood Springs, CO 81601, USA
Phone +1 970-947-2955

Long before the era of the family car trips that bring most people to Glenwood Springs today, travelers came by train to soak in the town's famous mineral-rich hot springs.

Back in the 1880's, therapeutic bathing in mineral spas was a popular practice, and by 1888, the town of Glenwood Springs had the world’s largest hot springs pool—its long stretch can be seen behind the waterslide in the photo above. Presidents, aristocrats, and celebrities were among the many guests who came to soak in the pool and stay in the deluxe Hotel Colorado. The poolside red sandstone bathhouse and lodge offered top amenities of the day, such as a ladies' parlor and Roman vapor baths.

Today the pool has a wading pool for kids and a giant water slide. The large pool is open year-round, with a constant temperature of 90°-93° F. A smaller therapy pool averages about 104° F. Three-and-a-half million gallons of hot mineral water rise daily from the spring.

15 of 16

Get Active in the Roaring Fork Valley

Bikes on Rio Grande Trail in Colorado, an easy ride. Photo Credit Jeremy Swanson.

TripSavvy / Jeremy Swanson

Rio Grande Trl, Aspen, CO 81611, USA

Visitors to the Roaring Fork Valley in summer should take a hike in the stupendous mountain scenery. Hiking here can be as easy as an hour's jaunt on a trail that departs from Snowmass Village and leads to stunning views—and vistas of alpine flowers, if the timing's right. Cycling can be as challenging as any adventurer could wish; local skiers and boarders turn into mountain bikers or racers during the summer months, though lesser mortals have options, too.

The 42-mile Rio Grande Trail is easy if you pick the right section to ride. Rent bikes in Glenwood Springs and take the Bike Express Bus to Aspen or Woody Creek. The ride back to Glenwood Springs from Aspen is generally flat or downhill except for an uphill stretch to Woody Creek and takes two to three hours, with plenty of opportunities to stop at restaurants along the way. The path is paved for 33 miles from Woody Creek to Glenwood Springs, while from Aspen to Woody Creek, it's a soft surface dirt trail.

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Enjoy Aspen in Summer

Hotel Jerome, in Aspen. Photo © Teresa Plowright.

TripSavvy / Teresa Plowright

Aspen, CO 81611, USA

Aspen is so synonymous with words like "rich", "famous", and "ski resort" that summer visitors may be happily surprised to find a welcoming, human-scale, and relaxed small town basking at the base of gorgeous mountain scenery.

No ostentatious resort palaces dominate the view; just stroll the quaint streets that date back to Aspen's origins as a mining town. The Hotel Jerome is a fine embodiment of the town's historic ambiance—step inside its doors and you'll be enveloped in full-blown Victorian-era decor.

Summer in Aspen means musical concerts at the Benedict Music Tent, walking tours, and gondola rides. The Silver Queen gondola departs from the middle of town; ride 2.5 miles to the top for splendid views, free guided nature tours and disc (Frisbee) golf.

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16 Best Things to Do in Colorado in Summer