Blog Takeover: Successfully Unplugging the Family in Denver

The Unapologetic Working Mom is taking over the Cinders Travels blog to take you on a relaxing family vacation in beautiful Colorado! 

First off, allow me to introduce myself!

My name is Sarah, I’m an Assistant News Director in Omaha, and a busy wife and mom of two.

I put in at least 50 hours a week at the station, and once I get home, the chaos doesn’t stop. I have a 6-year-old daughter, Annabelle, who is in school and does karate, and my son, Hayden is under two and heads off to daycare. My husband, Josh, is a mechanical engineer. That’s why it’s so important we use our vacations to actually relax, unwind, and reconnect. 

So for spring break, we piled everyone into our Chevy Traverse, including our two dogs! 

When you’re traveling as a family, the costs can quickly spiral out of control. 

Picking a Place to Stay

Photo credit: Airbnb owner

One thing I’ve learned at this juncture – road trips are our best option so we’re not shelling out airfare for everyone, and finding an Airbnb that’s pet-friendly is a game-changer in family travel. For one, you don’t have to pay a daily fee for a sitter. For two dogs that can run anywhere from $50 a day into the hundreds! Think of how much that adds onto a 5-day trip!

Photo credit: Airbnb owner

Finding the right Airbnb is important. I looked for weeks to make sure we found a good location, one that was pet-friendly (be sure to ask about pet fees). Here is the one that worked perfectly for us.

Also, when you’re looking for an Airbnb in the mountains, you need to make sure you’ll be able to access the roads to get there in the event of a blizzard or rockslide. Most owners who have questionable driveways will require you to have an AWD or 4WD vehicle in order to book. 

Make sure you read lots of reviews. Guests are usually honest and you can get a sense of what amenities you can expect. Some Airbnb owners go all out with stocked pantries and lots of linens and toiletries; others will require you to bring your own.

Photo credit: Airbnb owner

Our Airbnb was near Red Rocks Amphitheater in the Evergreen/Indian Hills/Morrison area.

Arrival Day

We arrived on St. Patrick’s Day. There was some snow on the ground. I was shocked at how warm 40 degrees feels in Colorado! It’s so mild! 

We brought a bunch of board games and LEGO sets with us. This trip was all about relaxing. A hotel room would never have worked. We had so much room to sprawl out, eat together, play together, and snuggle. We ordered a pizza and just spent the day indoors. 

Monday

Red Rocks Amphitheater, Golden, and Lookout Mountain 

Red Rocks Amphitheater includes a beautiful hiking area— and the best part for a family with small kids, you can still access great scenery with a stroller in tow! 

I bet watching a concert here would be incredible! It was fun to watch people run the steps, too, though! 
Be sure to bring sunglasses! There’s plenty of sun in Colorado and it will reflect off the snow and into your eyes!

Golden, Colorado

We took the short drive over to the town of Golden for lunch. 

It’s home to the MillerCoors factory and you can take a tour for a small fee that includes tasting and a glass: https://www.millercoors.com/breweries/coors-brewing-company/tours

However, because it’s not stroller-friendly, we didn’t do the tour. Instead, we had lunch at a local craft brewery, Barrels and Bottles, where we tried all sorts of appetizers and played board games. https://www.barrelsbottles.com/

Golden has great views of the Table Mountains – flat, like a table! 

Lookout Mountain and Buffalo Bill’s Grave 

The drive up Lookout Mountain is winding and beautiful. There are several pull-offs along the way up to stop and take photos and soak up the scenery. The thin mountain air will do wonders for your soul.

Notice neither of my men are wearing coats! It’s so temperate! I was blown away! Be sure to also pack the sunscreen. You’d be surprised how a day out in the snow and sun can leave you red! 

Once you get to the top, there is a large parking lot at the Buffalo Bill gravesite and museum. It’s also home to more amazing photo ops!

The museum does cost a fee, and the kids were getting worn out by this point, so we skipped out on that. We did, however, go into the gift shop and grab some hot cocoa before making our way over to the gravesite.

Tip: I used the Lariat Loop website to help plan out my stops. They have a variety of pre-planned trip routes or you can plan your own!

Lone Tree Mall

We finished out our day with dinner and a trip to the American Girl store in Lone Tree.

If you’re a shopaholic, the mall in Lone Tree is excellent! 

Tuesday

Dinosaur Ridge

We made a big breakfast, played with legos, and then got ready for a day at Dinosaur Ridge.

This place is great for adults and kids and is totally worth the money! Plus, it’s a non-profit, so the money goes toward preserving the fossils on-site.

You’ll take a guided bus tour along “dinosaur ridge” where you’ll make various stops. Check out those fossilized dinosaur footprints! 

Slapping high-five with a stegosaurus footprint.

Once the tour is done, you’ll have the option to ride the bus back or hike back. It’s not terribly far, but since we had the baby in tow, we rode the bus back.

There’s a gift shop and a mini-museum that my daughter enjoyed.

Outside, they have a large sandbox where you can “dig up” your own fossils. If you find a bunch, they will let you pick one to take home.

After that, we drove around the area some more just to take in the mountains.

That’s part of the reason this vacation was actually a vacation. We didn’t have to spend a ton of money for a big payoff. The views are free. Reconnecting with nature brings serenity, and the kids were shockingly peaceful. 

I’m not sure if it’s because we were more relaxed, or the lack of screen time, but they were satisfied just riding and looking out the window, even! 

Wednesday

Garden of the Gods 

Wednesday was the day my husband and I were most excited for! He was looking forward to Garden of the Gods and I was pumped to ride the Gondolas across the Royal Gorge.

We could not have asked for a better day! Incredible blue skies against the red rock, white snow, and green trees made more amazing pictures! 

Breathtaking! 

Speaking of breathtaking… the only time I experienced what I imagine was altitude sickness was here at Garden of the Gods. I got lightheaded, my lungs felt tighter, and I was even a little nauseous. 

TIP: Be sure to stay hydrated on trips into the mountains. I made sure the kids were downing water, Gatorade, and milk the entire trip. I must’ve gotten cocky by day 4 and drank too much coffee, instead! 

Garden of the Gods is especially stroller-friendly and handicap accessible. It was amazing all the flat and paved pathways that winded through the rocks.

Annabelle did whine a little bit about all the walking, but I think that was more because she was getting hangry. I didn’t want to give up the views though! 

Royal Gorge

From there we got back on the road and drove from Colorado Springs to Royal Gorge.

When I got there, I realized this wasn’t going to be as “fun” as I thought, considering I’m terrified of heights and I assume the worst is always going to happen. See that red dot? That’s the gondola we were about to ride. I was really nervous. 

1,250 feet down is much more terrifying than I expected. I spent the entire ride freaking out and barely opening my eyes. Hayden loved it though, and bonus, the gondola is stroller and wheelchair friendly as well!

Once you get to the other side, you have the option of just riding the gondola back or walking across the suspension bridge. 

Also on that side, you’ll find a variety of activities. In fact, I was shocked at the “amusement park” feel to this place. 

(Note: you do have to pay admission to get in and there are fees for different thrill attractions you may want to try.) 

We rode the carousel and played in the massive jungle gym.

Then we headed back over the bridge. I was once again terrified and power walked across that puppy. My heart was pounding, my knuckles were white as I pushed the stroller across. I was a sweaty mess by the end. 

We ended that day with dinner in Colorado Springs and headed back to the Airbnb. We were beat!

Thursday

Thursday was our final full day. Again, our main priority for this trip was reconnecting and unwinding. So Thursday, we slept in, ate breakfast and played board games.

That evening, we went to a mall in Lakewood and took the kids to the LEGO store and to Build-a-Bear. 

Then we went to Casa Bonita for dinner.

That was an experience that I could honestly probably have lived without. The line to get in was crazy long, it felt dirty, and you have to carry a tray to your table.

Annabelle loved the live shows though, and Josh loved the fact that it was featured on South Park. 

We ate dinner and called it a night.

Friday – Travel Day

One thing to remember when you stay in an Airbnb, it’s common courtesy to leave it as you found it. So you usually spend your final morning cleaning up. We packed up, checked out by locking up and sending a quick text message and set off for Nebraska.

My final travel tip is that when you’re driving with kids and pets, try to plan ahead. Have snacks and drinks, and remember that you don’t have to do an 8-hour trip in one day. We cut it in half both ways and got a pet-friendly hotel for the night in North Platte, Nebraska. 

It allowed us to savor the final moments of vacation, playing in the pool and eating pizza, instead of pushing everyone too hard to fit travel into one day. We made it home refreshed instead of feeling over-extended.

What I may be most proud of? I never checked my work email once in Colorado. I truly unplugged. That can be hard when you’re a manager in news, but it’s so important so you can prevent burnout. 

If you have any questions about traveling as a family on the road, or any questions about Colorado as a family destination, or even if you just want to chat about Parenthood or Airbnb, I invite you to give me a follow on Instagram @the.unapologetic.working.mom and come visit me on my blog at The Unapologetic Working Mom.

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