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Pellman Family Favorite Colorado Road Trips: South Central Colorado

Summer is here, gas prices remain relatively low. It’s the perfect time to plan a Colorado road trip!

The itinerary for this trip is based on one of our favorite family vacations, way back when our kids were little in 1999. For fun, we dug out some old family photos to prove we were there. But don’t think this itinerary is just for kids, it’s easily adaptable for any age range.

Round trip from Boulder this itinerary will add 598 miles to your odometer. It’s an easy 5-6 day trip that allows you time to explore and can easily be expanded or shortened. The longest driving day is the haul down to the Sand Dunes, about 4-5 hours without stops.

Destination: Great Sand Dunes National Park

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Gregory and Melissa floating in Medano Creek, 1999.

June is the perfect time to visit the sand dunes, before it gets too hot and while Medano Creek is in full-flow. Even long-time Colorado residents may not know about the rare surge flow of this creek. As it swells from the spring run-off the water rolls over the sand sheet creating the sounds of waves.

Happily for our readers, 5280 Magazine just published an excellent, in-depth article about Great Sand Dunes National Park. It’s chuck full of excellent tips, restaurant and lodging suggestions and does a great job of explaining the geology of the lower San Luis basin.

Destination: Colorado Gators Reptile Park

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Melissa and Gregory are getting to touch a baby alligator, with a little help from their Dad.

Young and old alike will get a kick out of  Colorado Gators which features not only alligators, but other exotic snakes, turtles, geckos and more. Youngsters can take a class to become a junior reptile handler and oldsters can learn how to wrestle a gator.

The reptile park is only 25 miles from the Sand Dunes making it an easy morning diversion from a few days camping at the Dunes or a stop as you head north towards Salida and Buena Vista.

Other Stops To Consider As You Head North

  • Curious about Colorado’s first green certified cemetery? You’ll find it in Crestone. It feels like a visit to the wild, wild west.
  • Like horseback riding and spectacular views? Granite Mountain Outfitters, located at the top of Poncha Pass, has beautiful guided trail rides giving you views of the San Luis valley to the south and South Park to the north.
  • Lunch in one of several friendly restaurants along the Arkansas River in downtown Salida. There’s also a lush, shady park for picnics and playtime.

Destination: Mt. Princeton Hot Springs Resort

Located 15 miles south of Buena Vista, in Nathrop, CO, is Mt. Princeton Hot Springs, a non I-70 alternative to Glenwood Springs with lovely accommodations and five non-sulfur geothermal pools. As a side trip, if you haven’t been into Buena Vista lately you should go. Downtown features brewpubs, interesting shops, good local coffee and more.

 

Destination: Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument and Cripple Creek

Florissant is home to one of the richest and diverse fossil deposits in the world (over 1700 species of animals and plants.) Learn what creatures lived in Colorado 34 million years ago. A visit to Florissant fossil beds is a day activity. There are no lodging/camping/restaurants in the park (stay in nearby Cripple Creek.) Visit the Florissant Fossil Beds website to get the most from your visit.

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You can’t be a true Colorado kid without a ride on one of our state’s old narrow gauge mining trains.

Twenty-five miles down the road is historic Cripple Creek, known for it’s role in the Gold Rush, for mining and gambling. There’s lots of Cripple Creek Events,with plenty of places to stay and eat, along with gambling for the “of age” crowd. Take of tour of the Molly Kathleen Gold Mine ride the Cripple Creek and Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad, and see the Cripple Creek donkey herd wander through town, direct descendants of the areas mining herds.

 

Destination: Garden Of The Gods

Wrap up your south central Colorado getaway at Garden Of the Gods, a National Natural Landmark, forty-five miles northeast from Cripple Creek, that is not to be missed. The park offers a wide variety of guided and self-guided nature walks, an interactive museum, and numerous other events each day. Spend a leisurely half day at the Garden and still be home in time for dinner.