Fourth of July Family Vacation in Denver and Boulder
Our family of five headed out West to Colorado for a long 4th of July holiday. Our three daughters ages 9, 7, and 3 were excited to see a new city and experience what it was to be a mile high but still on the ground. We would do a few days in Denver and then 5 days up in Boulder.
While United operates a hub in both Denver and Chicago O’Hare (where we were coming from) we opted to go with American as the flight times and pricing worked out best for us. Southwest also has flights out of Midway airport where they operate a large focus city. Despite being one of the busiest travel weeks and surpassing even pre-COVID 2019 levels the airport was refreshingly calm when we arrived. We flew out the Monday before the 4th of July holiday and since the holiday was on a Tuesday it looked like most people opted to fly out over the weekend.
Upon arrival at the Denver international airport we picked up our rental car from Sixt that got us in a very large SUV which we needed given all the bags we needed for 2 adults and 3 kids. We stayed down in the lovely Cherry Creek neighborhood at the Halcyon Hotel which is in a nice little area with lots of shops and eateries that are walkable. Our hotel had a nice little rooftop pool and area to the side for drinks and dining. I think at night it’s probably quite the scene, but we are usually tucked away by 10pm on our vacations these days. We chose to stay here vs downtown as we’d heard from local friends that there isn’t much happening downtown unless you’re going to a Rockies’ game (they were out of town) or had business to attend to.
Cool little local shops lines the streets near our hotel. A big mall lurks nearby if you really forgot anything or need a Pretzel. After trying to get energized at Soul Cycle one morning, I had a nice coffee from Aviano Coffee; the place had a nice relaxing vibe with a mix of indoor and outdoor seating. Located right next to our hotel was a nice Mexican dinner option called Sol Cocina, which I thought would be a good choice because I’ve heard good things about Mexican cuisine in Colorado. I thought it was nice, but I think the kids would’ve preferred we eat next door at the popular burger spot, Cherry Cricket.
Over the next day or so in Denver we walked to nearby sights and visited the Denver Botanic Garden. DBG is a great attraction and has its own dedicated kids’ section for them to run around and explore. Our hotel was nearby (less than a mile walk or a quick drive) and a sponsor of the Garden so they surprised and delighted us with free tickets for all of us which would’ve normally cost over $60.
July 4th in Denver
The evening of the 4th of July itself was actually pretty rainy. Because it doesn’t get dark until well after 8pm in the summer we didn’t think the kids would want to brave that weather and be out that late. We tucked in for a movie in bed instead but got a treat just as we were about to turn in for the night. When the rain let up, we saw fireworks shooting nearby that we could see from our hotel window.
It was a perfect show and then the kids just rolled over and went to bed so that’s a solid win for everyone!
Our last dinner while in Denver was at Steuben’s near downtown where my wife used to frequent years ago when she was visiting her friend who lived nearby. It’s a nice little spot with American fare, but also a good kid’s menu which is a big selling point when travelling with kids.
The next morning, we were headed up to Boulder, but wanted to stop along the way to do a little hike and see some more outdoors. Living in Chicago we get the urban experience all the time and the first leg of the trip was mostly in the city, so we wanted to stretch our legs and see more of the Rocky Mountains. I will say that it’s actually good to give yourself a little time in Denver so you can acclimate a bit to the higher altitude. Drink lots of water and be mindful if you start to feel out of breath more easily after a brisk walk or climbing stairs. The altitude affects people in many different ways so it’s good to have a couple of mild activity days to make sure that everyone in your group has had a chance to adjust.
Red Rocks Area, Morrison Colorado
We headed up to the famous Red Rocks Amphitheater and while there was no show that day they still let people walk around the amphitheater itself so you can see what it looks like and can imagine how fun it would be to sit between those huge rocks and listen to some great music. There are also a handful of hikes you can access from the parking lot there that were fun and easy.
We did the Trading Post hike that leaves from, you guessed it, the Trading Post store ; the store has a little museum of music memorabilia, photos, and history about past concerts there. The hike is an easy 1.5-mile hike that’s good for kids and adults to get a sense of how the altitude is affecting them while seeing the unique features of the Red Rocks area.
After that we hit up Dinosaur Ridge nearby where you can take a short tour with a guide who will talk to you about the ancient riverbed with dinosaur tracks. You can take a walking tour yourself or get in a small shuttle bus with a guide. We found the guide’s explanations and stories very interesting and accessible to little kids too. They do a good job of explaining basic geology and history of the area.
A short drive from Red Rocks brings you up to Boulder where we’d be staying for about 5 days as we tour the area and attended a friend’s wedding in nearby Lyons. Boulder’s most tourist accessible area is near Pearl Street where you’ll find tons of shops and restaurants that are walkable. We stayed just a bit outside that area which was closer to CU Boulder. While in the Boulder we did a mix of activities that kept the kids active and engaged while also having some simple downtime.
In the Pearl street area I’d recommend hitting up Pasta Jay’s as it is very kid friendly and we had great service there. If your group is into different things, then the Avanti F & B food hall is a great central place to meet up. They have multiple levels with different gourmet level fast casual options and a good amount of seating. There’s also a rooftop area that has seating for those who prefer inside or outside depending on the weather conditions.
For those travelling with kids there is a nice walk along the Boulder creek and a great little playground by the library . We also saw this cool looking Junkyard Social Club which seemed to be a fun spot to hang out. There’s also a playground a bit north of boulder called Foothills Community Park that is nice and large, but also has great views of the hills and surrounding mountains. We actually saw a number of people doing paragliding from the top of hills in the morning which was cool as it was so close to us. Nearby there is also a great Mexican lunch spot called Santo.
Another great location south of downtown is Chautauqua Park which has a lot going on. It’s a very popular area for locals and tourists so expect it to be hard to find parking unless you get there early. There’s a nice little kids playground there as well as a restaurant, general store, and theater for shows. It was pretty bustling while we were there but made for a great morning. Another hike that’s pretty accessible for all ages is the Anne U. White trail just north of Boulder that crisscrosses streams and has a little incline. It’s also a popular trail with a small parking lot so get there early or be prepared to park down on the side of the road. I think it’s fun with a group, but if it’s just a couple of people you might be better off finding a less busy trail.
We also got out of Boulder where you can do some great drives around the twisty mountain roads where everything looks like a postcard. We trekked up to A & A Horseback near Idaho Springs to go for a little ride that was up as high as 9,500 feet. You go for about an hour around an old mine, but there are some amazing views from high up that really let you feel like you’re in a different part of the country. You can also get a experience with gold mining by visiting the Argo Gold Mill where your kids can do a little gold panning and learn some techniques and history of mining in Colorado. The tours do actually sellout so if you’re planning on going try to book it in advance.
By the end of the vacation we’d had a great time and were also happy to head back home for a bit more of a daily summer routine. The mountains get overlooked for vacation spots as people are more drawn to the coasts or big cities. Perhaps people just think of Colorado for the winter skiing, but Denver and the surrounding area have tons of sights and memories to offer and there’s actually more variety of things to do in the summer. Our friends who grew up and live in Colorado prefer the warmer months where there’s more to sightsee, hike, mountain bike, and swim.