Three Days in Tucson, Arizona

When I told people that I was heading to Tucson, Arizona, I got many a blank stare.  It was often followed up with a comment about how I should go to Phoenix or Scottsdale instead.  The main reason we were headed to Tucson over spring break was to visit with my grandparents.  Living in Denver has put us a little bit closer to them (though it is still a 12 hours drive) and a visit was overdue.

We spent much of our time with my grandparents but we were able to do some exploring.  This three day itinerary is a laid back version of what we would have done had the main reason for the visit not been about family.  At the end, I am going to include some more attraction ideas to get you started on your own itinerary.  We are looking forward to returning to Tucson to do some more exploring.

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Day One – Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and Mineral Collecting

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is more zoo and botanical garden than it is museum.  You could easily spend all day wandering around the museum.  We spent a few hours before we were run off by the lightening and threatening skies.  Our favorite spot here was the Earth Sciences Center with the minerals gallery.  We also really enjoyed the Hummingbird Aviary.

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After the Arizona – Sonora Desert Museum, be sure to stop at the Tucson Mineral and Gem World.  It is a small building that doesn’t look like much from the front but it is packed to the brim with all kinds of gems and minerals from the local area and across the oceans.  We had a lot of fun looking at the turquoise, different types of quartz and more.  My son spent much of his vacation money here.

Day Two – Saguaro National Park

On our second day, we visited Saguaro National Park.  This is another spot that you can spend all day in but you can also make a quick trip if necessary.  We entered the East section of the park, also known as the Rincon Mountain District.

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The Cactus Forest Loop Drive is a perfect way to see this part of the park.  There are pull-offs for your car and short hiking trails throughout.  It was amazing to see the gigantic Saguaro cacti popping up from the land.

Day Three – Day Trip South

While a drive into Mexico wasn’t on the agenda (though I wish it had been!), my grandparents took us on a little day trip south to show us a few of the small towns and sites near Tucson.  Our first stop was at San Xavier del Bac Mission, also known as the White Dove of the Desert.  Construction of the church was finished in 1797.  We wandered through the small museum and spoke to the gal working the counter.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t view the inside of the building because there was a service in session.

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From there, we headed to Tubac, Arizona, where we wandered in and out of the little shops.  We saw beautiful pottery, jewelry, clothing and more.  After that, we headed even farther south to Tumacacori, Arizona where we stopped at this little spice shop and picked up tasty spices and salsas.

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Unfortunately, we didn’t get to do half of what we had researched for this trip so we are just going to have to make a trip back.  Some of the activities still on our list include the Pima Air and Space Museum and the plane boneyard, Bookman’s (a huge used bookstore), the Tucson Botanical Gardens, Tombstone, and more.

What is your favorite activity in Tucson, Arizona?

Civil War Reenactment at Endview Plantation

Did you know there were only two major battles fought in the North during the Civil War?

That is the question my 12 year-old-asked me while we were driving to Endview Plantation in Newport News, Virginia last weekend.

My answer: No, I didn’t.  At least I don’t think I did.

His response: Yep, the Battle of Antietam and the Battle of Gettysburg.

Yay for the Virginia Public School System!

I do have very vivid memories of driving through battlefields as a child listening to George Winston instrumental soundtracks playing in the cassette player of my mother’s car.  Considering there were only two major battles fought in the north, I find it odd that in my 15 plus years of living in the deep south I have never attended a Civil War reenactment…until last weekend.

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This year marks the 150th Anniversary of the Siege of Petersburg, Virginia.  Over 70,000 lives were lost during those 9 months of battle south of Richmond, Virginia.  There will be several activities this summer at the National Battlefield Petersburg that honor that battle and those who lost their lives, but we got started a little early in Hampton Roads.

I am so sorry it took me that long to go. Have you ever seen Sweet Home Alabama? The movie about the southern transplant returning home to divorce her first husband? Her father is an AVID re-enactor and they show a scene where he is in character, dying on the battlefield. THIS WAS JUST LIKE THAT!

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My family and I took advantage of the Civil War Reenactment at Endview Plantation in Newport News (cost was $7 per person over 7 years old) this past weekend and we had a terrific time!  There were Boy Scouts selling food and reenactment vendors selling their mostly handmade goods.  I couldn’t resist buying a bag full of pewter and bone buttons for my knitting habit!

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We slowly meandered through some of the soldier encampments where we found out what life could be like for men on the road during the war.  It was great for the kids to check out the different types of tents and living situations.  The authenticity was amazing from the cooking, to the clothing, to the way the horses were outfitted.

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We only had time to wander into one of the several encampments that filled the tree line before we decided to head down and grab a seat before the show.  And what a show it was!

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The actors hooted and hollered.  The cannons LOUDLY rang.  The gun shots were almost nonstop.  The reenactment itself lasted about 30 minutes.  The men and women did a terrific job depicting a battle of the Siege of Petersburg.  The Union troops advanced slowly across the field and continually pushed the confederates back, trash talking and goading each other all the while.  Men fell dead right and left and several crawled away injured, fighting their way to safety.  I was presented with several opportunities to answer important questions my children had.

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While we sat on our blanket and ate lunch (much like crowds would do on the sidelines during the war) the kids learned why the men were marching and basically standing in line to die.  My daughter wanted to know why it was taking them so long to fire their weapons between shots.  I even learned how to tell when the cannons were about to blow (“the cannon handlers cover their ears, hon,” my husband pointed out).

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I may possibly have had the best time in our group.  It was such a unique experience and I was so thrilled I pulled the family along to check it out with me.  We were there a total of about three hours, and we could have easily spent more time exploring.

Plantation House

I don’t know if Endview Plantation has reenactments on a regular basis, but the Plantation is a permanent historical site where you can tour the house and grounds.  You can check them out on their Facebook page or visit their website for information about their tours and summer camps for children.

And if you have the opportunity to attend a reenactment, jump on it!  You won’t be sorry!  You can find a list of battlefields in your area here on the National Park Service page.  Just click on search “by topic” and select Battlefield/Military park.

Sandia Peak Tramway in Albuquerque, New Mexico

Albuquerque was one of those cities that surprised us.  We found so many different activities to check out while we were there.  I wish that we could have stayed another day or two.  By far, my children’s favorite activity was taking the Sandia Peak Tramway, courtesy of Visit Albuquerque .  This tram isn’t for the faint of heart though.  You start your journey at 6559 feet.

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You hop on the tram during your assigned time and begin to ascend 2.7 miles into the sky.

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The views were worth the butterflies in my stomach.

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During your journey, you will pass the second tram going the opposite direction.

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When you reach the top of the peak, you will be at 10,378.

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After a little exploring or perhaps a meal in the mountaintop restaurant, it will be time to take the fifteen minute ride back down.

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We have so much to share about this adventure and the rest of our Albuquerque visit, but for today I am sharing these picture postcards with Walking On Travels Friday Postcards so that I can enjoy the last day of spring break with my family.

Would you take the Sandia Peak Tramway?

Cliff Walk in Newport, Rhode Island

Along the coast of Newport is a rambling walk where the waters of the Atlantic ocean break against the cliffs of Aquidneck Island.  Cliff Walk is rated as one of the top things to do in this summer resort town in New England.  There is good reason.

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There are no fancy restaurants or special attractions along the walk.  Just you, the seagulls, several famous mansions, and the coastline.  Of course, in the summer time you will also likely have your fair share of tourists sharing the walk with you.  I, however, was thankful to be visiting Newport in the beginning of March.  The weather was consistently cold and windy and we even had a snow storm during the five days I was there.  But none of that could have, nor did it, stop me from enjoying this tranquil part of town.

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Newport, Rhode Island, is well known as a summer resort town full of opportunities to sail, shop, congregate at the beaches, and tour remarkable mansions from the Gilded Age of New England.  Several of these attractions are not open year round.  Or, as with the mansions, they are open on a limited basis.  I cherished my quiet time spent meandering around the city.  Traveling with no kids (what a rarity that is!!!) I had more than enough time to take in the scenery.  Though several areas are closed and weather can affect outdoor adventures, the city of Newport does not shut down in the winter as other resort cities do.  There is enough of a local and military population to keep restaurants, shops, and attractions open.  However, traveling in the winter meant the streets were not full of traffic or crowds gathering at the popular spots.  I didn’t have to wait even a minute to get into The Breakers, the mansion I chose to tour.

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Which also happens to be right on the cliff walk.  Here’s the view from the walk:

 

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Cliff Walk was the same.  Other than the occasional bundled up family out to get some fresh air, or adorable couples out walking their dogs, it was incredibly silent and serene.  Silent for all but the waves breaking on the coastline and the water running down the rocks.

While out walking, I sent many pictures and videos to my friends and family boasting of my moments of peace and tranquility.  I walked up and down the open section of Cliff Walk (parts were washed away due to hurricane Sandy, but they are hoping to have those open by this June) several times during my five day stay.  I relished, many times in the fact that I was visiting Newport in the winter and I was able to partake in a different tour of the city than the average summer traveler does.

Here are a few things you should know before traveling to Cliff Walk:
  • Parking is at a premium, not because it is expensive, but because there just isn’t any.  There are only a few areas to park and only a handful of spaces.  There is parking at the beaches at the beginning and at the end of the walk, but I am sure those also fill up quickly.
  • Bonus about Newport: you can walk to parts of Cliff Walk from almost anywhere in the city.  I think the longest you’ll walk to get to some point of the walk is about 15 minutes.
  • newport2The north end of Cliff Walk is the part of the walk that is paved and easiest to maneuver.  There are three separate sets of stairs, but only 5 – 8 steps at each stairway.  I easily could have picked up the stroller by myself and made it up or down if I had one with me.
  • The south end of Cliff Walk is more like scrambling over rocks and such, though I was not able to experience this due to the closed area.  The last entrance you can currently begin (or end) at is Sheppard Avenue.  The walk is inaccessible at Ruggles Avenue and south.  That should change in June of 2014.  My walks still gave me several miles of walking between all the days I visited Cliff Walk.
  • The website states you can walk the entire length of the walk in about 2.5 hours if you are in good shape and moving at a decent pace.
  • Much of Cliff Walk is lined by private property which means there is not unlimited road access to the walk.  The main entrances I saw were at the beach on the North end, Narragansett Avenue, Webster and Sheppard Avenue.  I drove along the south end roads of Cliff Walk and did not see any obvious entrances except for at the beach down there but that could have just been me.
  • The website states that the best area to view with limited time is from Narragansett to Ruggles Avenue and I would assume that is because it is the best view of the rocks down by the water and the waves crashing, but I don’t know if I agree.  I really enjoyed walking north of Narragansett to Eastons Beach because of the view out across the water of Middletown, the neighboring city.

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I cannot wait to return to Newport.  My family and I are moving there this summer from south east Virginia…I know, BIG CHANGE!  The Cliff Walk played a fairly big role in helping me decide where I wanted to live.  We will be close enough to hop onto the walk whenever we would like to for an afternoon stroll or evening run.  I am looking forward to all the adventures we can cram into the year we will be living there and I will share as many with you on Two Kids and a Map as possible!

Oh, and you just have to love the caution signs all over the place.

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-Marissa

A Southwestern Road Trip through New Mexico and Arizona

Spring break is upon us and I am ready to get the heck out of dodge.

We were just going to stick close to home but my husband is stuck at work and my kids have a two week spring break so I started planning a trip immediately.  I wanted somewhere warmer than Colorado (though that is all subjective now that we are in the month of March) and I wanted to go somewhere that I could drive.

Our trip will begin with a 6 hour drive south across the New Mexico border. I have driven through New Mexico before but my children have never been. They are thrilled to be able to check (two!) more states off of their list. Once we cross the border we will head to Albuquerque, were Visit Albuquerque is graciously hosting us for a few days.

From Albuquerque, we are heading even further south to Tucson, Arizona. We have family in Tucson, so part of the trip will be spent visiting with them and then we are also going to do some exploring.

These are two cities in which we haven’t spent much time at all. I am excited to explore with the kids and step out of our comfort zones a little bit. I have stacks of travel guides from the library and we have been researching the web for ideas. Feeling a little bit overwhelmed, I turned to my favorite group of travel writers and bloggers for their advice. I can tell already that we won’t even cover half of what we want to see during the trip!

Tucson, Arizona

When we tell somebody that we are headed to Tucson, they inevitably say that we must see the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum. Karen Heffren from Desert Chica Ramblings suggests that we pick up a stamp book for $1 at the entrance so that the kids can collect stamps along the way.

Jodi Grundig, Family Travel Magazine, recommends visiting Trail Dust Town.  I think my kids might dig the stunt show.

The only thing that we really have on our list so far is to visit Saguaro National Park while we are in Tucson.  My kids are always on the lookout for cacti and I know they will flip out when they see the size of the saguaro cactus!  Mary, from The World is a Book, shares tips for a quick visit to the national park if you are short on time.

Stephanie, from TucsonTopia, shares tons of activities in Tucson but what caught my eye were the tips on what to do if you see a rattlesnake. I will definitely keep this post handy for our trip and our outings around Denver.

Albuquerque, New Mexico

While in Albuquerque, we are undecided about taking the drive up to Taos but Lance’s review of his visit on Trips by Lance might just convince us to go.  I really enjoyed his reflections on his trip where he visited Albuquerque, Taos, and Santa Fe.

Jessica shares a fun stop (and a great photo essay) at Tinkertown on Suitcases and Sippycups. This place looks like a fabulous place for a scavenger hunt checklist.

While in Albuquerque, Jessie with Wandering Educators suggests that we visit the Pueblo Cultural Center to learn about the culture, architecture and more.

Sheri, from Kidsumers, shared her pictures from their ABQ trip and the colors…oh, the brilliant colors we are going to see in the art and textiles. It looks like she had an incredible trip!

Vero, from All Over the Map, offers five things to do in Albuquerque and I was glad to see Petroglyph National Monument listed. This is something that we would like to see. There are also some restaurant recommendations.

What else do you think we should see or do while on our road trip?

Four Reasons to Love Denver Museum of Nature and Science

The Denver Museum of Nature and Science (DMNS) has rooms and rooms full of adventure for the whole family. Even if your family members don’t dig science, they will have a great time here.  In fact, our family loved our first visit to the DMNS so much that we upgraded our tickets to an annual pass.

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Spend an entire day there.

When we made plans for our first visit there, we thought that we would spend a few hours and see all there was to see.  After four hours of visiting the exhibits, we hadn’t even gotten to half of what we wanted to see.  This was before the expansion opened.  We have since been back a few more times and each time we only see a few exhibits.  You could truly spend an entire day in the museum without even realizing it.  In fact, we had so much fun that they only pictures I have from our visits are the two horrible ones above!

Free Parking and Reasonably Priced Admission

When we first moved to Denver, one of the hardest things for me to get used to was remembering to include paying for parking into our budget for the day.  Parking can run upwards of $20 depending on where you are and how long you will be there.  Parking at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science is free.  It can be difficult to find parking if you are there during a busy time so you might not get to park right at the entrance, but all of the parking we have found there is free.

The admission prices are fairly reasonable.   Adult tickets start at $13 and children’s tickets start at 8.  You can create a ticket that works for you by adding an IMAX movie, planetarium show, or special exhibit.  You can also decide to put your admission tickets towards the price of an annual pass, which is what we did.

Something for Everyone

The Denver Museum of Nature and Science truly has something for every science lover.  My son’s favorite exhibit was the Gems and Minerals.  Every time we return to the museum, that is the first spot we visit.  He loves looking at the different gems and minerals to see if he can name them without looking at the signs.  My daughter’s favorite? The rooms after rooms of wildlife habitat scenes.  There are rooms about space, the human body, prehistoric times, Egyptian mummies, other cultures and more.

A Great Gift Shop

Normally, the gift shop is something we skip.  If we are forced through the gift shop because it is the only way out of the building, we rush through it as I am saying no, no, no to my children.  For some reason, we decided to stop in the gift shop on our way out and we were pleasantly surprised.  There were some great gift ideas, fun things for kids and lots of reasonably priced items.  I actually picked up some Christmas gifts during our last visit.  The gold dipped aspen leaf jewelry was my favorite gift of the year!

Although we love the gift shop, we weren’t impressed with the counter service restaurant.  It is a bit pricey and it was so crowded that the wait in the food lines exceed twenty minutes before we finally gave up.

Denver with Kids: A Travel Guide

For the past year, we have been exploring Denver and all that it has to offer families.  I am fairly certain that we could live in the Mile High City for ten years and not hit everything that I want to do.  As we share some of our favorite things (and we have a lot more to share!), we will continuously update this page.

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Itineraries

3 Days in Downtown Denver

Museums, Tours and More

Butterfly Pavilion

Coors Factory Tour

Denver Museum of Nature and Science

Denver Zoo

Dinosaur Ridge

Holiday Activities

Denver Botanic Gardens Blossoms of Light (Winter)

Day Trips and Overnighters from Denver

Celestial Seasonings Factory Tour in Boulder, Colorado

Echo Canyon River Expeditions in Canon City, Colorado

Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, Colorado

Great Sand Dunes in Mosca, Colorado

Ski Destinations Near Denver

Keystone

Breckenridge

Loveland

Winter Park

Dinosaurs in Denver: Exploring Dinosaur Ridge

Dinosaur Ridge, located about 25 minutes southwest of downtown Denver, will captivate the dino lovers in your household.  When we first moved here, everyone kept telling us to head to Dinosaur Ridge.  The kids will love it, they claimed, but we just never got around to it.

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My sister and her family were visiting for a week and we needed to get all five of the kids (and the adults!) out of the house.  Unfortunately the weather wasn’t really conducive to a winter hike because many of the trails were still iced over or too muddy.  It was kind of windy and a bit cold so we wanted something short.  We knew that Dinosaur Ridge would be perfect.

Because we had never been to Dinosaur Ridge, we started our adventure at the gift shop.  This is where we learned how to get to the Dinosaur Ridge trail.  There is a small indoor exhibit hall, the Trek through Time. Because it was late in the day, we decided to skip this and just walk the trail.  The exhibit hall can be visited for $2 a person.

Dinosaur Ridge can be explored on guided or self-guided tours.  If you aren’t up for walking, there is a shuttle bus available on a first come, first served basis.  The fee for the shuttle is $5 per person ages 4 and older.  If you choose to walk the trail, it ends up being about two miles round trip.  This walk/hike is not a loop but is a semi-circle.  You will be walking uphill for about half of the trip and then downhill.  On the way back, you will do the same.  The path is paved.

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Along the trail, you will spot the dinosaur track site.  The track site was discovered accidentally while they were constructing the West Alameda Parkway in 1937.  Over 300 tracks have been identified and they are colored in with charcoal so that they are easier to identify from the trail.

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Once you make it to the top of the hill,  you will see the hogbacks, which are long hills or mountains with steep sides.  Some of the hogbacks can be hiked.

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You can also see the Red Rocks Amphitheater as you head down the other side towards the Dinosaur Ridge Bone Quarry.

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This site is where the world’s first stegosaurus was discovered.  When you reach the bone quarry, it is time to turn around and make the walk back to your car.

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All of the kids were a little underwhelmed by the site.  It was interesting and they really liked seeing what they did but both of the older kids thought there would be more dinosaur bones and tracks.  We skipped the exhibit hall so this might have helped them think they got a lot out of the trip.  

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The adults really enjoyed the walk because it offered some great views and got everybody out of the house.

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Things to Know Before You Go:

Keep your eyes open and be aware of your surroundings.  This path is used by bikers, the shuttle, and walkers.  Be sure to stay on the correct side and pay attention to the traffic around you.

The parking lot at the exhibit hall and gift shop is locked at closing.  We arrived later in the afternoon so although you can walk to the trail from the exhibit hall, we decided to move our car so we didn’t feel rushed to get back to the parking lot before the gate was locked.

Bring a bottle of water with you or have one waiting in the car.

Be prepared for the weather.  The weather was not terrible when we left the house but the sun was setting and the wind had picked up by the time we were finishing up.  Even if it is summertime, throw a lightweight jacket in the car because the weather can change in an instant.

Hot Cocoa Sleigh Ride at Snow Mountain Ranch

When I think of the Christmas holidays in the snowy wintertime, I think of hot chocolate and sleigh rides.  This holiday, we spent a week in Fraser, Colorado near Winter Park.  It was a snowy winter wonderland and we skied, tubed and just enjoyed family time.  When my daughter and I wanted a break from skiing, we decided to take a sleigh ride.

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There are a number of sleigh rides available in the Fraser and Winter Park area.  After researching some reviews and asking around, we settled on a sleigh ride out of the YMCA Snow Mountain Ranch.  Snow Mountain Ranch is about a 15-20 minute drive from Fraser.  Once you are on the YMCA grounds, follow the signs to the stable.

The check-in process is easy.  After you sign your waiver, you can wander around and visit with the horses until it is time to go.  Once you take off, it is a leisurely ride to the area where you can get hot cocoa and roast a couple of marshmallows by the fire.  After that, the ride back doesn’t take too long and you can visit with the horses again before saying your goodbyes.

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Things To Know Before You Go

Wear your ski clothing to help keep you warm.  The weather on the day of our ride was miserably cold and windy.  I was glad that we wore our ski pants, gloves and hats.  There were a couple of people putting their ski pants on over their jeans in the parking lot when they realized how cold it was.

Wear sunglasses.  The wind was whipping around and my daughter wouldn’t stop complaining about how she couldn’t see.  I wish I had thrown her ski goggles or sunglasses into my car before we left.

There is nowhere to sit indoors while you wait.  The stables recommend that you arrive early to check in but there is nowhere to wait indoors.  We met the horses and then we spent some time hanging out in the car because it was just too cold to wait outside.

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At the time of this posting, Groupon is offering a deal for $55 (not an affiliate link) for this hot cocoa sleigh ride.

4 Things To Know about Winter Park Ski Resort, Colorado

Winter Park Resort in Winter Park, Colorado pleasantly surprised me.  We stayed a week in Fraser, Colorado and it wasn’t my first choice to be honest with you.  I had hoped to book accommodations in one of our other favorite spots but it didn’t work out and we ended up in Fraser.  We loved everything about it.  We had so much fun exploring Winter Park and we can’t wait to continue skiing there.

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Parking

The best parking lot is free.  Unless you are staying at the resort and have a parking space with your room, we found the easiest parking lot is the Vintage Parking Lot near the Vintage Hotel.  The Village Cabriolet lift will take you to the edge of the village where you can load your family’s ski gear into a wagon and take the short walk to the slopes.  Downside to parking here:  The walk to the slopes is short but might not be if your little ones aren’t used to walking in ski boots.  You might want to consider renting a locker to store regular boots so that you don’t have to walk in your ski boots.

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Off-slope Activities

Going to a ski resort does not mean that you have to love skiing.  This is one of the things that I didn’t understand when we first started visiting the ski resorts around Colorado.  I thought that a ski resort meant skiing.  Boy, was I wrong.  Ski resorts also mean things like snow tubing, snowshoeing and more.  Winter Park offers a number of off the slope activities that we participated in on the days that we weren’t excited about skiing.  Our favorite off the slope activity was tubing on the Coca-Cola tubing run.  Next time we go to Winter Park, I look forward to taking the snowcat tour and the snowshoe tour that are both available.

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Great for Beginners

I was so worried that I would find Winter Park difficult as a beginner after skiing some of the other mountain resorts.  Winter Park is a wonderful place to learn how to ski or practice your new-found skills.  Stick close to the Gemini Express and it will take you up to Discovery Park where there are several easy green runs and a couple of lifts that will take you to some more challenging territory if you wish to stretch your skills a bit.

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Don’t miss the crepes.

Winter Park Resort has a lot of great restaurants but don’t be surprised by the prices.  Everything is a bit pricier than you would expect but the prices are not absurd.  Well, a lot of the kid’s menu items are absurd.  Expect to pay upwards of 10 dollars for every kid’s meal you order.  That being said, if you need an indulgent snack you will want to visit Goodys Mountain Creperie.  The creperie has a number of items on the menu but the sweet and savory crepes will hit the spot after a morning of skiing.  We tried several and our favorite is the S’mores Crepe.  Delicious!