Cliff Palace and Balcony House are ancient cliff dwellings that the ancestral Pueblo Indians inhabited in the 12th and 13th centuries. Located in Mesa Verde National Park, both are World Heritage Sites and National Monuments. Balcony House had forty-five rooms and two kivas (ovens), and it can only be accessed on ranger-guided tours. Tour participants must climb a thirty-two foot ladder and then crawl through a twelve-foot tunnel to access Balcony House.
William F. Cody, aka “Buffalo Bill,” was a skilled bison hunter, a scout for the U.S. Army during the Indian Wars, and a world-famous showman who performed Wild West shows across the United States, in Europe, and in front of Queen Victoria, who was fascinated by him. The small museum outside of Golden, Colorado looks at Buffalo Bill’s life from its beginning in Iowa Territory in 1846.
Bent’s Old Fort had an important secondary role as the only permanent settlement on the Santa Fe Trail, and it was a godsend for travelers and soldiers who could stop for repairs, replenish their supplies, and enjoy good food, water, and company. Disaster and disease closed the fort in 1849; reconstruction began in 1876, and guided tours of the fort are a must for families and history buffs.
Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre provides a unique natural landscape in which to listen to live music. Surrounded by and created from the incredible red sandstone monoliths from which it gets its name, the park offers a world-class line-up of musicians during concert season, from late spring to fall, the Film on the Rocks program and yoga sessions. You can walk around the stage and explore trails throughout the park.
It is a place of wonder, especially considering that Jim Bishop himself has laid every stone and worked every piece of wrought iron. Bishop Castle is open every day, and admission is always free, although there is a donation box if you wish to contribute. Construction is ongoing and not sealed off; parents are advised to keep a close eye on their youngsters while at the castle.
Its original dwellers would have climbed the rock face using narrow toeholds; its limited accessibility made it easy to defend against intruders. Cliff Palace was constructed in the cliff face with sandstone blocks, mortar, and wooden beams. It once had over 150 rooms and 25 kivas and was probably used for ceremonial purposes. As with Balcony House, Cliff Palace is only accessible on a ranger-guided tour.
While its Denver counterpart might be more popular, the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs is the most interesting Colorado zoo experience you’ll find. It sits about 6,800ft (2,073m) above sea level and features exhibits built into the mountainside. You can also feed the giraffes, ride an open chairlift over the zoo, walk through an aviary of free-flying birds and expect plenty of animal encounters.
A registered National Natural Landmark just outside Colorado Springs, the Garden of the Gods Park is open year-round and offers stunning views of its 300ft (91m) sandstone rock formations, along with hiking, horseback riding and camping. The Visitor and Nature Center has all kinds of interactive exhibits. If you’re looking for souvenirs, the Trading Post, which lies on the edge of the park, features artwork by local artists. Admission to the park is free.
The Rocky Mountains are the birthplace of the Arkansas River, the most popular river in the United States. It is also perfect for white water rafting, whether you want to go for a half day, or turn it into a multi-day trip extravaganza. There are many different rafting routes depending on your level of expertise, from family-friendly to expert Class IV.