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Things to do/see for 12 day (or 14 days) road trip from MN to Colorado


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We are planning a road trip for 12 days or 14 days if necessary in August going from Twin Cities in MN to Denver, Colorado. We would like to spend at least a week in Colorado exploring the mountains and scenic places. We would love to hear your recommendations. We can stop and see things on the way there, too. Thanks!

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We went to Mt. Rushmore and Badlands a few years ago. So we will take 35 to 80. I hear there is a good zoo in Omaha.

We will go to Denver to visit dh's aunt and then on to Longmont to visit a friend's family. From thre we will go to Estes Park and camp a few days at Rocky Mountain National Park. Are ther any other things we should do? Museums worth visiting? Restaurants to eat at?

We would love to bring our shih tzu with us. He loves hiking and camping. Without him, camping would be only 1/2 fun.

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I grew up just north of Boulder, in Longmont.  Haven't been back for quite a few years, but here are some ideas:

Estes Park is very fun, but very busy in summer.  Lots of cute shops.

Rocky Mountain National Park and Trail Ridge road up to the great divide. (Prepare yourself for a lack of oxygen!)

Celestial Seasonings tea factory tour in Boulder/Gunbarrel.  

Red Rocks amphitheater

Flagstaff mountain in Boulder- scary drive, but spectacular views at the top!

Casa Bonita in Denver is a cheesy but fun restaurant with cliff diving inside.  

Denver zoo is good.

Down in Colorado Springs there is the Air Force academy and Focus on the Family headquarters.  FOF has a great tour and you can visit Whit's End!  Also the Garden of the Gods is down there, but I've never been.

Pearl Street mall in Boulder is a very interesting cultural experience.  Probably don't want to do this with young children.  

 

Have fun!!

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Cafe de Pho Thai in Estes Park one of the best Thai restaurants I've ever been to. Not much from the outside, but if you like Thai, try to visit.  We did Casa Bonita too.  It's totally cheesy and the food stinks, but it's also like nothing you've ever experienced and our kids loved it.  We enjoyed Garden of the Gods very much.  We really wanted to do the Denver Mint on our trip, but you have to reserve weeks in advance and we couldn't get in.  RMNP is awesome!  Have a great trip!

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Breckinridge is another great mountain town to visit. It's a quaint little town with some great restaurants and shops. It's close to trails, rivers and lakes. Check their activity calendar, they have lots of free summer concerts and activities.

 

If you are looking to cool off in the Denver area without spending a fortune, the Broomfield Bay Aquatic Center is inexpensive and loads of fun. They have several water slides, interactive splash area, an areas just for toddlers and concession stand. It's only $8/adults and even less for kids. They have grassy areas that you can picnic on and it's rarely crowded.

 

One of our other favorite favorite places in Denver is the Tattered Cover. It's a multi-level bookstore that's a great place to grab a cup of coffee and enjoy the amazing book and magazine selection.

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I know you said "exploring the mountains", but we really enjoy the Denver Art Museum and it has a free day the first Sat of the month (I think). You do have to pay for the special exhibit, but it is usually the best. The Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception is beautiful and it has the most stained glass windows of any church in America. We live in the mountains of northern New Mexico, so we like Colorado for city stuff, which is kind of opposite of most people!

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I was almost done with planning but MiL strongly suggests that we go in Septermber when school starts so to avoid crowds. For those who live near Rocky Mountains and those who have traveled there in the summer, or more specifically, in lat August, is it crowded? Is it worth waiting till September to go there? I do like places to be less crowded so that we can enjoy things in less hurry.

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/note that Labor Day is a big traffic weekend to/from and in the mountains.  Avoid travelling west on I-70 on Friday afternoon/evening or Saturday morning and avoid travelling east on I-70 on Monday afternoon (it varies, but I'd want to be on the road heading east before, say, 10).  If you drive at off-peak times, you should be ok, barring the random traffic accident (which can happen and sometimes they shut down the whole highway temporarily and you sit).

For I-70, closer to the time you are travelling, check the weekend travel forecast at http://goi70.com/ and the traffic map at http://www.cotrip.org/speed.htm (should be similar to the traffic app on your phone, if you have one; there are certain spots on I-70 where service is spotty).  Also, the travel times posted on the lighted highway signs are *usually* quite accurate.

 

Eta, I think the pro bike race is in late August.  I would expect traffic associated with that, though it's in different places on different days.  Definitely try to avoid it - unless you're into cycling! Aug 18-24  http://www.usaprocyclingchallenge.com/

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September is one of my favorite time to be up in the mountains of Colorado.  It is much quieter!  Rocky Mountain National Park and the Estes Park area can be especially busy during the summer months. The weekends being the worst.  If you are heading up there during the summer, I'd suggest going on a weekday to avoid some of the crowds. 

 

If you happen to go later in September, the weather is usually beautiful and you might even catch some of the Aspen trees changing color.  If you are planning to go over Trail Ridge Road, be sure to bring a warm coat or sweatshirt no matter what time of year you visit.  It can be significantly colder as you reach the higher altitude.  We have been in Estes Park when it was sunny and warm, driven up Trail Ridge Road and it was lightly snowing!!!

 

The mountain areas do have lots of great summer festivals and events going on, so you might miss out on some of those if you wait.  However, in September, you will have an easier time finding lodging and it might be discounted from the summer rates.  Either way, I don't think you can go wrong.  Hope you have a great trip!  

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Wapiti and Tillmalo,

Thanks for your input. We generally travel in September to avoid summer crowds. We went to Bads Lands and Black Hills, Niagara Falls, and Yellowstone all in September. I guess I will listen to my wise mother-in-law's suggestion and go in Septermber. We will leave after our first homeschool co-op and camp 3 nights in RMNP September 9--11. Do our bodies need to acclimate to the high altitudes? When I went to Lhasa, Tibet in 1992, my heart suffered some irregular beats. I experienced my first culture shock there, too. Fond momery, though.

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My best high altitude tip: gatorade or other electrolyte supplement works magic when you start to get dizzy. Still it is not unusual for the heartrate to be a little higher than usual due to the altitude. Be sure you are not low on other minerals like iron and zinc.

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