Looking for a road trip vacation destination your toddler will enjoy? Consider Vail, Colorado!
How to get there:
With an approximately 13-hour drive from Cedar Rapids, this vacation can be easily split into two half day drives with a fun stop at Fort Cody in North Platte, Nebraska. Or, if 13 hours in the car seems too daunting, a short 2-hour flight takes you from Cedar Rapids to Denver and cuts your driving time down to under two hours.
What to do while in Vail:
Vail has essentially two “downtown” areas that each boast shopping, specialty vendors and a variety of excellent restaurants and cafés. Vail Village and Lionshead each have a big public parking structure with free daytime parking in the summer. From there it is an easy walk to get to the scenic shopping area.
To my knowledge there is no playground capital of the world but if there was, I am sure Vail would be a top contender! During our recent stay we found a variety of very nice playgrounds for toddlers and older kids to play, while the parents get to take in the stunning views of the snow-covered mountain tops and scenic tree covered mountain sides.
Exploring the downtown areas will take about two half days, but I recommend coming back to try out several different eateries.
Another favorite outing for families with toddlers is Ford Park and the Betty Ford Alpine Garden area. A short walk from Vail Village, the Alpine Gardens are beautifully manicured and a fun little stroll for kids and parents alike. Next to the Alpine Gardens is a large playground suited for children from 2-12 years of age. I found that most playgrounds in the area were rated for this age range.
Day trip vacation from Vail:
Frisco is about a half hour drive from Vail. A former mining town, Frisco now is a Ski destination and has a picturesque main street with many shops and restaurants. Many shorter hikes start near the downtown area, and again we found a fun playground at Walter Byron Park just one block from main street.
Glenwood Springs is about an hour drive from Vail and parents and kids alike get to relax in the hot springs. There are two commercialized options to enjoy the hot springs in town: Glenwood Hot Springs and Iron Mountain Hot Springs. We opted to visit Iron Mountain Hot Springs, a more modern facility that opened in 2015. Your entry fee admits you for 3 hours into the hot spring pools as well as a family pool and jetted pool. The views here cannot be beaten! Kids under 3 get in free and kids under five are allowed in the family pool and jetted pool. Several other hot springs with varying temperature degrees up to 108°F are a quiet area and parents can trade off taking a little time out away from the kids to refuel for more family fun!
Independence Pass opens in early June and was possibly the most impressive drive I had ever taken. From Vail I recommend driving towards Minturn, then Leadville and finally climbing up (in your car) to Independence Pass. Stunning views all around! The Pass has an elevation of 12,095 feet.
Aspen, world famous as an upscale ski destination, is an easy add-on to a drive to Independence Pass and it adds another hour to your drive. Here you can find ski shops, souvenir shops and many luxury brands. Maybe you will even spot a celebrity?
Where to stay:
We enjoyed our vacation stay at Vail Run Resort and opted for a one-bedroom apartment. The timeshare property is also available for single visit rentals on several booking websites. All common areas and our apartment were exceptionally clean, and the pool area was spacious and welcoming. A game room in the basement offers games for littles and an arcade for older kids. For our family of three it was perfect to have access to a full size kitchen so we could prepare meals without having to go out to eat for each meal.
I found that late spring and early summer are a great time to take a vacation with kids that are not yet school-aged as crowds and traffic tend to be minimal, yet most shops and restaurants have opened back up after their break after the busy ski season.
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