Colorado was our one family trip of 2020 and it did not disappoint. Obviously there were some closures and special precautions necessary to ensure safety during the pandemic, but we didn’t feel that these hindered our trip at all.
Road Trip and Stop Offs
With it being the middle of the pandemic and having all of the kiddos stuff we opted to drive rather than fly. (If you do fly into Denver you can easily rent a car and it’s only about an hour and a half drive to CO Springs. )
Dallas/Fort Worth to Colorado Springs is roughly a 10 1/2 hour drive +stops.
We committed hard and let the house before 5am. I definitely recommend doing this if you are road tripping with little ones. It was still dark outside when we left so they immediately fell back asleep and really didn’t wake up again until around 7:45am. That made the first 3 hours of driving FLY by.
After that we gave them breakfast and and basically let them have unlimited time on their Amazon tablets. I know some parents get a little anxious about letting the kids so much screen time, but it’s a long drive and sometimes it’s fun to break out of your normal routine.
Snacks, Snacks and More Snacks
One of my biggest recommendations when traveling with toddlers is to pack plenty of healthy snacks. We brought a whole bag of clementines, apples, Annie’s cheddar bunnies, fig bars and I made a large batch of fruit and veggie muffins plus sandwiches. The Flights were not going to go hungry! haha
Stopover Picnic at Palo Duro Canyon
We decided to pack a picnic lunch and stop along the way rather than getting fast food or going into a restaurant. I personally kind of hate eating fast food during a long road trip. You’re already sitting for so long and then fast food on top of that never feels great (at least in my opinion). But more importantly we wanted to give the kids the chance to run around a little and get their wiggles out.
Palo Duro Canyon is a great stop off option if you’re driving in from the east. It’s about 5 and a half hours from DFW, and about 30 minutes south west of Amarillo. It will add a little bit of time to your trip, about 45 minutes, but honestly I think it’s worth it. Especially for the chance to walk around some. There’s a great little picnic area with tables and a trail behind. Just be sure to bring some disinfecting wipes as the picnic tables definitely needed a bit of a wipe down.
The Big Texan
Another popular place to stop in Amarillo is The Big Texan Steak Ranch, famous for its 72 oz steak challenge. We did actually end up stopping here on the way back from Colorado. I won’t say the food was great, but it wasn’t terrible and the inside decor is definitely something to behold.
To be honest I think in non-COVID times, especially for non-Texans, this would make for a pretty interesting lunch (my Brit husband certainly thought so). I personally was a little turned off because in October of 2020 there seemed to be a LOT of servers wearing their masks under their chins. But the fried mushrooms were good (and who doesn’t love fried mushrooms?) and the kids loved that they got cowboy/girl hats with their kids meals so all in all not a bad experience.
Where We Stayed
AirBnb in Old Colorado City
We opted to get an AirBnb in Old Colorado City, a fun and lively neighborhood within Colorado Springs. I typically prefer getting an AirBnb as opposed to a hotel when traveling with the kids as it gives everyone the opportunity to spread out a little. And in the times of COVID I find an AirBnb makes it much easier to social distance and limit exposure.
A huge bonus to the place we stayed (linked below) is that it is quite literally a 5 minute walk to the Main Street in Old Colorado City. We were easily able to walk to restaurants and shops and even get takeout to bring back to the apartment. The AirBnb was clean and well maintained and the beds were comfortable. We will definitely stay there again on future trips to the area!
Things to Do With Toddlers Around Colorado Springs
Garden of the Gods – Colorado Springs
I love Garden of the Gods and have been several times over the years which made bringing my family here even more special.
The park itself has a variety of trails and climbs for different skill levels. If you are visiting with toddlers there are some great options for less intense hiking. Especially if you plan to use a stroller, I recommend spending the majority of your time on the paved areas. Garden of the Gods has a beautiful paved path that is surrounded by stunning rock formations. There are also some fun little trails you can veer off to get that real “hiking” feel.
The one area that can be a little tricky with Garden of the Gods is parking. The parking lots around the main entrance to the paved areas tend to fill up quite quickly. There is a larger lot nearer to the Garden of the Gods Visitor Center that usually has open spots and the walk up isn’t too bad and mostly paved.
There are also several smaller lots throughout the park that you can try for if you’re not in a rush or picky about where you get out.
- Website: https://www.gardenofgods.com
- Hours: Daily – 5am to 9pm
- Cost: Free
Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Research Center – Woodland Park, CO
Our kids are huge Dino buffs so the trip would not have been complete without a visit to the Dinosaur Research Center. There are life-size models of dinosaurs both inside and outside and a fun little fossil dig station for kids. It also has a great gift shop with loads of dinosaur and fossil related treasures. A big plus for us was that kids 4 and under get free entry, so we only had to pay for the adults.
Truth be told, while it was certainly interesting and a great quick trip, I personally found it to be a little…overhyped. My kids on the other hand loved it and still talk about it. For that reason alone I highly recommend it, especially if you’re traveling with young dinosaur enthusiasts.
- Website: https://www.rmdrc.com
- Monday – Saturday: 9am to 6pm
- Sunday: 10am to 5pm
- Seniors (65+): $10.50
- Adults: $11.50
- Children 5-12: $7.50
- Children 4 and under: Free
Cave of the Winds – Manitou Springs
Oh Cave of the Winds… As a cave self-proclaimed cave enthusiast the Cave of the Winds was on of my favorite memories from our family trips to Colorado Springs when I was a kid. And in all fairness, it is as cool as ever. They’ve really built out the surrounding areas and not only are there beautiful views, but some fair-sized rides, a ropes course, climbing wall, a great gift shop and restaurant with seating over looking the ravine.
But despite all of this I unfortunately cannot recommend Cave of the Winds for toddlers and young children.
My kids were super into the cave…for the first 5 minutes. After that it became a tedious game of keeping them quiet while the guide was speaking and preventing them from touching the cave walls, which is a very big NO NO.
Our guide was nice but she was definitely giving me the stink eye whenever our toddlers got a little too close to the wall. And I don’t blame her. I of course did not want to contribute to the deterioration of the cave’s structural integrity but it is very difficult to keep a 2 year and 4 year old from touching the pretty rocks in a tight, dark space for 45 minutes.
Needless to say it was a lesson learned. But I do look forward to bringing them back to Cave of the Winds when they are a little older and can really make the best of it.
- Website: https://caveofthewinds.com
- Summer Hours (Memorial Day to Labor Day): Daily – 9am to 9pm
- Winter Hours (Labor Day to Memorial Day): Daily – 10am to 5pm
- Adults: $23
- Children 4 to 12: $17
- Children 3 and under: Free
Here’s what I have to say about Pikes Peak. The views were great and I found the drive to be very stressful. The road is incredibly windy and the higher up you get the more certain you begin to feel that you are literally driving on the edge of a mountain (which you kind of are) . That plus the ever thinning air as you ascend can make the whole experience feel a bit…ominous. I am probably being a bit dramatic here, but hey, we feel how we feel.
There is a cog train that can take you up but it was unfortunately closed during our visit. That may be a better option for us in the future as I would theoretically be more likely to enjoy the lovely views without a constant feeling of impending death. Just saying.
Once you get to the top there really isn’t too much to do, other than ogle at the view. But to be honest, I felt like some of the best views were a little further down the mountain. However, there was a lot of construction happening at the top of Pike’s Peak when we were there, which makes me think it will a more interesting summit in the future.
Go during nap time.
If you have toddlers and you really want to go to the top of Pike’s Peak I HIGHLY recommend doing so during nap time. It’s always a challenge to maintain a nap routine when you’re traveling so I typically try to plan longer drives around the time the kids would normally be sleeping.
The entrance to Pike’s Peak is fairly easy to get to and is only about 20 minutes from Colorado Springs. The drive up to the summit however takes well over 2 hours (hence planning it around nap time), and a bit less coming down.
Altitude sickness is no joke and I honestly feel like our bout with it was made far worse by choosing to ascend Pike’s Peak too soon. I felt incredibly light headed at the summit and both Tom and myself felt absolutely horrible that night.
Coming from Arlington, which sits around 650 ft above sea level, and climbing to over 14,000 ft above sea level in a short period of time was, looking back at least, a horrible idea.
If you come from an area of significantly lower elevation I highly recommend waiting to drive up Pike’s Peak until you have had enough time to acclimate, ideally around the end of your trip. This will give your body time to adjust to lower oxygen levels and hopefully prevent the discomfort.
Skip the Donuts
Before we went to Pikes Peak several people told us not to miss getting the donuts at the top. Well I am here to tell you, go ahead and miss it. The best way to describe the Pikes Peak donuts is unsweetened, stale fry bread.
But despite my best judgement, that drive had me in a “damn it I’m having a damn donut” stage and I bought a whole bag of them (which was pre-packed sitting underneath a heat lamp). If I had known I would have planned ahead and brought a different treat to celebrate the ascent. But hey, my loss is your gain. So now you know!
- Website: https://www.pikes-peak.com/about-pikes-peak/
- Hours: 9am to 4pm
- Adults: $10
- Children 6-15: $5
- Children 5 and under: Free
- Carload: $35
Other things to do:
Day Trip to Cañon City
Cañon City is a small town in Colorado only about an hour and 15 minutes drive from Colorado Springs. If you have the time it is definitely worth visiting. We loved the Royal Gorge and there is also a fabulous dinosaur center that is not to be missed!
The Royal Gorge Bridge
The Royal Gorge Bridge spans the gorge and is one of the world’s highest suspension bridges. Built in 1929, it stretches 1,270 feet across and soars 956 feet above the Arkansas River. There are gondolas that can take you to the other side but they are often closed due to windspeed. We had hoped to take the ride but ended up having to cross by foot which was perfectly fine.
It is a little pricey at $23 per adult ticket but luckily kids under 5 are free. I do think it is worth it though not only for the cool bridge and beautiful views but because once you cross to the other side there is a truly magnificent playground, complete with a full size fort, carousel and some pretty fun “underground’ tunnels.
We grabbed a quick lunch at the Cliff side Patio. The views were stunning as it directly overlooked the gorge. The food was…meh. These had a decent hot dog that our kids enjoyed but the offerings were very basic. Tom and I had a pulled pork sandwich and it was just okay. But if you’re looking for a cold drink and a place to sit and enjoy the gorge it’s certainly not a bad option.
The view is absolutely spectacular. However, if you are somewhat squeamish about heights you may want to think twice about crossing the bridge. It is perfectly safe but on a windy day it does sway a little. My sister-in-law, who was with us on this part of the trip, had some serious anxiety getting across. But if you can stomach it, I highly recommend.
- Website: https://royalgorgebridge.com
- Hours: Daily – 10am to 4pm
- Adult: $23
- Children 6-12: $18
- Children 5 and under: Free
The Royal Gorge Dinosaur Experience
The Royal Gorge Dinosaur Experience was such a welcome and fun surprise for our kiddos. To be honest I had mainly read about the Dinosaur center closer to Colorado Springs, but I personally thought the Dinosaur Experience in Canon City was a much better time.
The indoor displays are nice, if not somewhat limited, but it’s the outdoor space that really shines. There’s a fantastic Dino dig area that our kids and niece absolutely loved. They spent at least half an hour just doing that. Then there are some fun dinosaurs and dinosaurs eggs you can climb on a in. For an extra cost there is a great walk around the dinosaur park where you can get up close to the life-size dinosaur models. There’s also a fun little kid sized rope course that would have been great had our littles been a little older.
There’s a small cafe with a limited selection of snacks and drinks and a really good gift shop. All in all if you are in Canon City with kids I highly recommend making a stop!
- Website: https://dinoxp.com
- Thursday to Saturday: 10am – 5pm
- Sunday: 12pm – 5pm
- Adults: $12
- Children 4-12: $8
- Children 3 and under: free
- Dinosaur Walk Add On: Adults – $10 and Children 4-12 – $6
Where to Eat
The food scene in Colorado Springs is certainly decent but I wouldn’t call it a “foodie” town. Of course eating out was always going to be a little tricky during the 2020 pandemic. That being said, we did find a few places we really liked (and some we didn’t). The great thing about being in the AirBnb was that we cook some of our meals there which worked out great for the kids.
Uncle Sam’s Pancake House – Manitou Springs
We loved Uncle Sam’s Pancake House! A cute little breakfast place in Manitou Springs with good food and great atmosphere. The servers were especially sweet to our little ones and, in the time of COVID, were very respectful about wearing masks and enforcing social distancing.
I always say you can judge a pancake place by the type of syrup they serve, ie: real maple syrup or “Pancake syrup”. The same goes for real butter over margarine, and this place passed the test!
They also had super cute and delicious Mickey shaped pancakes topped with fresh strawberries which our kids absolutely devoured.
Tom and I both got the classic breakfast burrito smothered in a homemade green chili sauce and cheddar cheese. I am not ashamed to say that I ate every bite. Perfect fuel for our hike through Garden of the Gods!
- Website: https://www.facebook.com/UncleSamsManitou/
- Hours: Daily – 7am to 3pm
Pizzeria Rustica – Colorado Springs (Old Colorado City)
Pizza Rustica is a great little restaurant on the Main Street of Old Colorado City in Colorado Springs. If your kids are anything like ours they will eat pizza anytime, anywhere. After such a long drive we wanted to get something we knew they would love. Luckily for us Pizza Rustica was only a 6 minute walk from our AirBnB.
Pizza Rustica serves a variety of delicious wood fired pizzas along with salads, pasta and other classic Italian dishes. They have a pretty large outdoor space which was great for us especially during COVID.
The service was fantastic and our waiter was super sweet to the kids. Our kids love the classic pepperoni pizza and Tom and I split a Pizza Rustica. We also got a Caesar salad which was a big hit!
- Website: http://pizzeriarustica.com/
- Friday & Monday: 5pm to 8pm
- Saturday & Sunday: 12pm to 8pm
- Tuesday – Thursday: Closed
The Great British Food Company – Colorado Springs
When my British husband read there was a recently opened British restaurant in Colorado Springs we just had to check it out. And to be honest, I’m glad we did!
When you arrive at The Great British Food Company it’s obvious that the new owners bought the location from a chain that must have gone out of business. It’s just off the highway and there’s no where else you can really walk to from the restaurant.
That being said, the food was pretty darn good. And most importantly for my husband, they had soccer playing on almost every TV.
I got a Winston patty melt which was very tasty and Tom had a Cornish pasty and Chips with dips (aka: French fries with curry sauce, gravy and mustard sauce). Arlo and Lila ate almost every bite of their kids Sausage and Chips and loved sitting in the booth. They also have a really good selection of British beers on tap and some fun themed cocktails.
All in all, if you’re a fan of British food, sports and culture I general I’d definitely check it out!
- Website: https://greatbritish.net
- Monday: 11am to 8pm
- Tuesday – Friday: 10am to 8pm
- Saturday – Sunday: 9am to 8pm