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help in decision making....where to go

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help in decision making....where to go

we will be traveling from illinois to colorado on a family vacation. we are in the planning stages. i am in dire need of help in deciding which area to visit. we will have one week to be there. this is what our family likes/dislikes hopefully someone can assist me. i'm at my wits end.

we are a family of 5: 10 yr old twin boys and a 15 yr old girl. we like nature, exploring, treasure hunting, possibly searching around old mines or towns. scenery. obviously from illinois i am used to FLAT so we are definitely excited about the mountains. we are planning on staying in a cabin that we will rent from the vrbo unless other cabins are suggested. we like to be private . want to try white water rafting, atving, maybe hot air balloon . we don't like touristy areas, waterparks, amusement parks. will be eating most meals at the cabin.

i appreciate any and all advice /suggestions you all have to give. any places in particular etc. we were thinking of the royal gorge area, then sand dunes area, then southwest. we have thought of all over. we are afraid that estes park may be a bit touristy for us.

thanks in advance. hopefully you can help me to save my sanity.

Pagosa Springs...
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for Durango, Pagosa Springs
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1. Re: help in decision making....where to go

A few questions - are you flying to CO or driving? It is about 15 hours from the Chicago area to Denver by car (13 hours from Springfield area). Also, when are you planning to visit? Whitewater rafting options dwindle by late summer - with Buena Vista area offering the best water. Buena Vista / Leadville area offers cabins options and a small town feel. Centrally located to many of the activities you mentioned.

I love RMNP, but Estes Park is very touristy. And, personally, I find Royal Gorge Bridge to be somewhat of a tourist trap - but you could white water raft under the bridge. Very neat way to see the gorge and bridge, without the fees to walk across the bridge.

Sand Dunes are great - and very unique.

Creede / Lake City area offers mining tours, Bachelor's Loop driving tour and gold panning. Ghost towns in the area too.

In the southwest Colorado, the Pagosa Springs vicinity might fit your tastes. The area is nice and spread out (perhaps I'm biased, but I moved here because it didn't seem overly crowded). We've got 2.5 million acres of wilderness surrounding the town, so there's plenty to explore without seeing crowds. Staying a few miles outside of town in any direction will make you feel like you've gotten away from it all.

One more option to consider - you might look on vrbo at cabins in Silverton / Ouray / Ridgeway area too. Great mining area and beautiful scenery.

It all depends on when you are planning to travel - even the busiest of the "tourist" towns have off seasons that may capture the feeling of what you are looking for too...

Good luck!

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2. Re: help in decision making....where to go

wow! what a answer. thanks. we actually live a couple of hours south of chicago and we are going to be driving and will be going next (2011) summer.

Ouray, Colorado
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3. Re: help in decision making....where to go

I would put in my 2 cents and vote for SW Colorado too. Being that Ouray is about 6 hours from Denver, you miss some of that traffic that RMNP gets since it is a super easy day trip from Denver.

I always like base camps ... someplace where you can call home, but not too far away from other stuff...

Ouray is a nice basecamp. Telluride is 1 hour, Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP is 1 hour, Silverton is 1 hour, Durango is 2 hours... Pagosa Spgs is 3 hours.

One thing that might be nice is to spend 3-4 nights in Ouray and 3-4 nights in Pagosa... that way you could see more without the nightly moving.

On the map, Ouray and Lake City don't look too far away from each other; it is true as the crow flies, but not as the road drives... Be careful when you plan your trip as some towns look close together and yet it might not be the case. The paved roads take 2.5 hours between Lake City and Ouray and the Alpine loop is easily 4 hours.

In Ouray, horseback riding, mine tours, hiking, jeep tours will be a blast. Ouray is tiny but mighty.


Other regional resources:





Keep in mind that Silverton, Ouray, and Lake City are tiny. No franchises, no McDonalds, no Chili's or that type of thing... You wouldn't even recognize the name of the grocery stores.... so this is appealing to many yet a deterrent to many too.

Ask more questions and we can help point you in the right directions...

Edited: 03 August 2010, 21:28
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for Wisconsin, Colorado Springs
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4. Re: help in decision making....where to go

the ultimate CO experience is the SW corner of the state Durango, Ouray, Silverton and to Mesa Verde from what I've heard. You'll get the mountain experience "Little Switzerland" and as mentioned there's a mine in Lake City which is nice (closest we've been to that corner of the state) It's nice too as it's on the Alpine Loop, very scenic! We long to get to that corner of the state and think it'll be more than worth it. If I were to concentrate one week on a particular area this would be it. We've been around through much of the state here and there between visiting family. Someday we hope to get to this area.


There's hot springs down there to visit too.

Geocaching would be abundant and fun here too.

You'll have no problem finding white water rafting

Edited: 03 August 2010, 23:27
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5. Re: help in decision making....where to go

This is so great to get so many responses . it looks like the southwest it is. I think my husband said that will add one more driving day, putting us a two driving days-ick, but it sounds like it will be worth it. i think i will start looking at the vrbo in the southwest region. as far as tiny towns i understand. the one we live in here in illinois is under 6000 people if that's even the right count. we can leave our doors and windows unlocked and my purse stays in my car in the drive all the time. we just want to feel like we've escaped. so now i have a good amt of time to plan and a place to plan about.

thanks again. and if you think of others let me know please. any advice is needed.

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for Breckenridge
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6. Re: help in decision making....where to go

Another option outside of SW Colorado might be

Grand Lake- backside of Rocky Mtn. National Park, not nearly as busy as Estes Park side

or what popped to mind 1st which is worth considering

Buena Vista- Arkansas River, St. Elmo ghost town, 14teeners nearby, hot springs, 1 hr. to Breckenridge if you want a touristy day. Can shoot down to Great Sand Dunes NP for a day trip. Should have a lot of cabin options in the area. Can also day trip to Aspen via Independence Pass or Vail. Lots of options from Buena Vista.



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for Colorado
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7. Re: help in decision making....where to go

One spot your family might like is the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. Depending on the route you take, it could easily be included, and the fossil "treasures" there would make a fun stop for a family that likes nature and exploring. http://www.nps.gov/flfo/index.htm

For more treasure hunting, here are some websites to get you started on rockhounding possibilities and where to go/who to talk to.




In the area you're looking at, there's hot air ballooning in Ridgway and Pagosa Springs that I know of.



Denver, CO
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8. Re: help in decision making....where to go

My vote would be stay a night in Buena Vista or Salida and go rafting from there. The best rafting is late June to early July. From there, go to the SW portion of the state: Durango, Telluride, Ouray. Take the train from Durango to Silverton one day, go to Mesa Verde one or two days, and consider staying in Crested Butte/Gunnison one day for a drive and hikes through Black Canyon National Park.

Columbia, MD
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9. Re: help in decision making....where to go

Just did a road trip that took in SW CO - family of 4, 2 adults, 2 teen boys.

If you're willing to split where you stay between 2 places, here's a recommendation.

Buena Vista is good for rafting. We didn't raft but we stayed there overnight in a cute cabin at the Vista Court Cabins. Very nice accomodations. If you stay in Buena Vista, eat at Quincy's one night. The menu is only filet mignon or prime rib, baked potato, salad with house dressing - about $1 per ounce. While there, take a drive up over Cottonwood Pass, route 306 - about a 2 hours round trip to the continental divide and back. Google Cottonwood Pass. There are also hot springs in the area.

2 very scenic routes to get to Buena Vista from Denver - take US 285 or take I70 to US 6 (Loveland Pass), the views are tremendous going over Loveland Pass (continental divide), back onto I70 to CO 91 toward Leadville (crossing continental divide again at Climax). Leadville is almost 2 miles high and is surounded by 14k foot high mountains. From Leadville, US 24 to Buena Vista.

Then on to Durango. Base here for the rest of your time. If you like to be away from it all, google "the Nugget Cabin Durango". It's about 20 miles north of Durango and will centrally locate you. Another option is condos in Durango. While in Durango, take the train trip to Silverton - you will see scenery on this trip you cannot see any other way. On another day take a 4 wheel drive adventure into the mountains around Silverton to see old mines, ghost towns, and mountain vistas. Mesa Verde is a "must see" while in this area. Do the Bar D Chuckwagon Supper 1 night or take in the Durango Melodrama. (maybe these 2 things might be too touristy for you). If you're into adventure, google the "Soaring Tree Top adventure". The only way to get to it is by the train. It is a day long ropes course adventure. There is also rafting in the Durango area on the Animas River. Lots of scenic hiking available.

There are 2 ways to get to Durango from Buena Vista. Take US 285 S to US 50 W, to US 550 S. Warning - the million dollar highway part of US 550 S between Ouray and Silverton has some very white knuckle driving. The road is carved out of the side of the mountain. Literally, mountain on one side, cliff on the other, no shoulders, no guardrail. Nothing between you and the cliff when driving south. Google "Million dollar highway". I opted not to do that. We went US 285 S to US 160 W over Wolf Creek Pass (continental divide again).

You will thoroughly enjoy this trip. The scenery will blow you away. We didn't do all this stuff, as time and budget would not permit, but it is stuff we looked into. We did The Durango & Silverton RR and Mesa Verde in our 3 days there.

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10. Re: help in decision making....where to go

these are all such great ideas. I have everything printed out so far so that my husband can read them. i definitely want to take a couple of different jeep tours as I'm sure this is the best (and only) way that we will get to see some really cool areas. its so hard to tell how far apart things are but maybe my husband can figure that out on his map. i think we have decided to extend the time of our trip and make it about 5 days longer. that will give us some more time to see more things. i am so excited. i hope that i can wait that long. gives me time to save money!!!