The Lariat Loop offers 40 miles of Western adventure and is a scenic circular route in the foothills west of Denver, connecting Golden, Morrison, Lookout Mountain, and Evergreen communities together. You do the loop by vehicle and can pick up a map en route (or online) that highlights over a dozen historical attractions, art and craft centers, view-sites, coffee shops and restaurants. Some of the highlights include the Lookout Mountain Nature Centre, Colorado Railroad Museum, Botcher Mansion, Mother Cabrini Shrine, Centre for the Arts, Lariat Lodge Brewing and the Morrison Natural History Museum. The Fort Restaurant is a firm favorite for lunch breaks but you are spoiled for choice along the way. Plan your trip, especially if you have young kids in the car, so you can have regular breaks and scenic stops. You can easily spend a full day doing the loop which includes the Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave and Red Rocks Park.
Prepare to go high! Take a warm jacket, even in peak summer, and a good pair of shoes just in case you land up walking in the snow. Start off at the National Forest Information Centre and pick up a map and general guidelines. The Mount Evans Scenic Byway is the highest paved road in North America, going all the way to the top of the mountain, up to 14260 feet. The road closes in mid winter so check the website as you don’t want to get there when it’s closed. There are several stops and viewpoints along the way. As you drive up you will see the M. Walter Pesman Trail where you should definitely do a short hike to see the wildflowers. The bristlecone pines here are over 1500 years old and you won’t see them anywhere else. In spring the wildflowers are unbelievable and there are some incredibly rare species. In peak season there are rangers on the trail who will tell you about the trees and flowers. Once at the top the view is absolutely magnificent, taking in the entire Front Range. It is $10 to go on the road and your ‘road pass’ is valid for 3 days. Do it slowly, especially if you’re staying in the area, and explore the different viewpoints and trails.
This is an outing that will change your life. It’s just 30 miles out of Denver but get there early because it takes at least four hours to get through the whole sanctuary. The people who run the Wild Animal Sanctuary are extraordinary. There are over 450 rescued lions, tigers, bears, wolves and other carnivores and predators, all living in habitats as close as possible to what they would be living in the wild. There are specially designed cages for newly rescued animals and teams of workers who help rehabilitate the animals and then introduce them to the animals they can interact with. You can join a guided tour where you will learn about the work the volunteers do and get to meet some of the animals. Otherwise, wear a good pair of shoes and be prepared to be amazed. Stop en route at the Lion’s Den for a snack, the Ice Cream parlor for another snack and you can either bring a picnic lunch or eat in the sanctuary restaurant. The Mile Into The Wild Walkway is extraordinary and you will get to see wild animals without any fences between you and them. $30 per adults, $15 per child, free under 3 yrs and it is worth every penny! Donations are welcome too.
Georgetown is a charming old Victorian village that nestles in a spectacular mountain valley, just to the west of Denver. Park your car in the center of town (free parking) and then spend an hour or two exploring the old homes that are now antique stores or vintage markets. The buildings date back to the 1870s and have mostly been restored and renovated. Georgetown is a photographers delight and you may want to take pics as you explore the village in a horse and cart. The views are pretty gorgeous too. Take your time, enjoy a meal and coffee in one of the many restaurants, and in summer you can buy a ticket on the train for the Georgetown Loop Railroad, a great way to see the surrounding areas and stunning views. Don’t do it if you’re terrified of heights! There’s a firefighters museum, fishing, a few different museums, art galleries and in winter, ice fishing, ice skating, and ice racing.
Science is super cool which means a visit to the NCAR is even better than a visit to the movies or the mall. If you want to learn about climate change – a HOT topic right now – this is the place to be. There are a wide array of exhibits, many interactive for kids and teens, audio tours, guided tours, video footage, talks, lectures and special interest exhibits. The center is nestled amongst the mountains, you can learn about solar and wind energy, see models or build models, and hopefully leave with a new appreciation for our world, earth, and resources. If this all sounds terribly educational, it IS, but it is loads of fun also. Go once and your kids will beg you to take them back, again and again.