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A Colorado family vacation has fun things to do for everyone. That’s why Grand Lake and Grand County top the list of favorite Colorado destinations. This four-season destination, just two hours from Denver, offers year-round scenic hikes, affordable winter sports, family-friendly restaurants and places to hang out together as a family – and yes, even grandparents love it. Got your attention? Read on for these 17 family-friendly things to do in Grand Lake, Colorado.
All or part of this trip was provided free or at a reduced cost by Grand Lake, Grand County and Granby Ranch, but opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.
This Grandma knows there is nothing better than traveling with extended multigenerational family, and with 5 adult kids and 8 grandchildren (ages 1 year to 16 years), our family vacations can be noisy — and complicated. And that’s why we take our family vacation to Grand Lake, Colorado. It’s close to Denver and easier to coordinate most of our families’ schedules.
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Whether traveling with friends or my multigenerational family, Grand Lake area and Grand County consistently top our favorite Colorado getaways. And there are plenty of reasons why, as this area offers so many things to do, no matter the season, and for all ages from babies to grandparents.
As a four-season destination just two hours from Denver, Grand Lake offers year-round scenic hikes, affordable winter sports, family-friendly restaurants and places to hang out together as a family – and yes, even grandparents love it. Got your attention?
From skiing and snowboarding in the winter at Granby Ranch to kayaking and boat tours on Grand Lake, to taking in the scenery at Rocky Mountain National Park, get ready for an amazing line-up with these 17 family-friendly things to do in Grand Lake.
Read on for these family-friendly things to do in Grand Lake, Colorado.
Where is Grand Lake, Colorado?
Grand Lake is the perfect family road trip from Denver, but where is it? Just two hours west of the Mile High City, arrive at this beautiful mountain town and the western entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park.
Known as the “Western Gateway” to the Rocky Mountain National Park, the lakeside Grand Lake has something for everyone. Walk its historic boardwalk. Browse its more than 60 shops, restaurants and galleries…and of course, don’t miss a visit to Grand Lake, Colorado’s largest natural lake. Your family can even enjoy a show at the Rocky Mountain Repertory Theatre. Year-round entertainment is available within its town limits or nearby in Grand County.
And although we refer to winter and summer activities, winter basically eases into spring as well as the activities including skiing, and summer eases into fall with the amazing opportunity to view the autumn colors of the Colorado Rockies.
Ready to get started?
Explore Rocky Mountain National Park
Grand Lake is minutes from the 415 square miles, 265,000-acre Rocky Mountain National Park. with stunning waterfalls and 350 miles of trails.
You need to make a timed reservation to visit the park between 9am and 3pm. If you can rouse the family early, get there by 8:30 and you don’t need a reservation.
You do need a parking pass, which you have to display in your windshield if the parking lot is unmanned, as the lots nearest Grand Lakes are. If you have planed your trip well in advance, print this out before you leave home.
1. Road Trip Trail Ridge Road
Families can take a day and explore its peaks stretching over 12,000 feet, and of course, road trip through the park (weather permitting) on Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous road in the United States, and you can also continue to explore Estes Park, the park’s eastern gateway.
Go ahead and take your time. Stop along the way. Enjoy the view and watch for wildlife. The elk herd numbers between 600 to 800 in the winter, around 350 bighorn sheep, dozens of mule deer and so many moose. We spotted moose near the Historic Holzwarth Site on the Grand Lake side of RMNP.
And you might even see moose walking down the street in Grand Lake.
TravelingMom Tip: Always check the weather before heading out — even in the summer! Bring layers of clothing and rain gear. Temps can be close to freezing with snow in July at Rocky Mountain National Park and late in the day in summer, thunder and rain are frequent.
2. Stop at Kawuneeche Visitor Center
Located just outside of Grand Lake is the Kawuneeche Visitor Center. Inside? Brilliant Rangers, informational displays, and a light-up map of Rocky Mountain National Park.
So, head on in, check out the Continental Divide and see which places you have visited, where you have visited and where you still want to go.
3. More Things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park
Besides road-tripping and enjoying the view, your family will find an abundance of things to do here. Hike its many trails (weather permitting) or in the winter strap on your snowshoes and experience Rocky Mountain in the snow. There’s also fly fishing, wildlife viewing and attend a ranger-led program.
TravelingMom Tip: Pack a picnic. The park offers so many places to stop and enjoy Mother Nature.
4. Get your Park Junior Ranger Badge!
Whether you are 5 or 50, fill out a Junior Ranger book, attend a Ranger program and get sworn in!
Things to Do in Grand Lake, Colorado, in the Winter
Winter is what Colorado is all about, and no one does it better than Grand Lake, where your family will have a grand time!
5. Skiing & Snowboarding in Grand County, Colorado
Close to Grand Lake is what has now become one of our top Colorado ski resorts: Granby Ranch. A less than 30-minute drive from Grand Lake, our first family visit to Granby Ranch quickly turned my multigenerational family into fans for life.
Why? Because Granby Ranch is Colorado skiing without the crowds. The kids rarely waited for more than a few minutes in line, and thus were able to put in more time on the slope (rather than in the lines).
A family-owned ski resort, the moment you step out onto the ski area, you’ll realize that Granby Ranch was designed considering families. The two mountains cater to different abilities. While the East offers families mostly green and blue terrain, the West offers more challenges for advanced family members searching for blues and blacks. Since all trails lead back to the same base area, families can easily find each other. (BONUS: And children under 5 ski free, and the ski passes are all reasonably priced.)
While our 4-year-old granddaughter took her first ski lesson, the other two grandkids (ages 12 and 14) grabbed their snowboards and shredded the mountain with their uncle and aunt. Papa and I hung out with our other adult kids and the toddler at the restaurant overlooking the ski area. We were able to watch the young’un enjoy her ski lesson and then periodically watched the others come down the mountain.
The finale was when all the grandkids (along with their aunt and uncle) skied and snowboarded down the mountain together!
Another favorite Grand County resort is Winter Park Ski Resort, about one hour drive from Grand Lake.
Grand Lake is known as the “Snowmobiling Capital of Colorado.” This winter wonderland is guaranteed to bring a smile to your family. From December through April, wind in and out of forests and play in the powder on the more than 300 miles of snowmobiling trails, including 150 miles of groomed trails.
Bring your own or rent one – and yes, this is fun for the entire family, although passengers must be at least 4 years old. Tours are available for beginner to advance.
7. Snowshoeing, Cross-Country Skiing, Nordic Skiing and Tubing
Not into winter power sports? No problem. You can also enjoy miles and miles of trails for snowshoeing and Nordic skiing. The Grand Lake Nordic Center is conveniently located in the town of Grand Lake offering groomed trails for cross-country skiing, Nordic skiing and snowshoeing. And bonus – the tubing hill is free!
A short drive away at the YMCA Snow Mountain Ranch in Granby, purchase a day pass for tubing, ice skating and other winter activities, ranging from dog sledding presentations to guided snowshoe hikes.
8. Ice Fishing
Grand Lake offers some of the biggest lake trout in the area – and ice fishing is one you don’t want to miss. This is fun for all ages.
While Papa has all the ice fishing gear (including huts and heaters), if you don’t own the gear, I’d recommend hiring one of the many ice fishing guides in the area.
Grand Lake is also home to an annual ice fishing contest in January.
9. Winter Adventures on Grand Lake
In the winter, Grand Lake is more than ice fishing. It is the perfect place for ice skating, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing.
10. Walk the Streets of Grand Lake
Sure it’s winter, but don’t let the cold and snow prevent you from exploring this beautiful mountain town. See below for things to do in Grand Lake.
Things to Do in Grand Lake in the Summer
Locals have a saying here in Colorado: “Come for the winters; stay for the summers.” And truly summer in Colorado is spectacular.
11. Go Fish!
If you love fishing, then you’ve arrived at the mecca for trout and salmon – and so many others lurking in the Colorado waters. Grand County offers so many thousands of miles of streams, mountain lakes and reservoirs, including Grand Lake. Pack a picnic, your fishing pools and head to Grand Lake.
For more information on the fishing in the area and local vendors, go to the Grand Lake Chamber of Commerce.
12. Take a Hike in Grand Lake
An easy 1-mile hike is Adams Falls, which takes you to one of the waterfalls that feed into Grand Lake. Even toddlers will enjoy this hike. It’s easy to find and close to town. Access the East Inlet Trailhead at the end of the West Portal Road on the east end of Grand Lake.
For those more adventurous hikers, head to Rocky Mountain National Park or refer to this travel guide to hiking in Grand County.
13. Summer Water Adventures on Grand Lake
Grand Lake is the deepest of Colorado’s natural lakes at 400 feet taking up 500 acres, surrounded on three sides by Rocky Mountain National Park and fed by the Colorado River headwaters. All you have to do is walk down to Grand Lake Marina to get in on all the water adventures and boat rentals.
In the summer, rent a pontoon, kayak or SUP. Fish from the lakefront or just walk around and enjoy the amazing views. You can even relax on its sandy beach.
14. Take a FREE Walking Tour of Grand Lake
The town of Grand Lake is worth taking a few minutes to walk on its historical wooden sidewalks. Browse its more than 60 shops and restaurants.
You can even take a free walking tour, courtesy of the Grand Lake Historical Society which includes a visit to Kauffman House museum.
15. Visit Winding River Resort
Looking for a unique western experience? Be sure to visit Winding River Resort, located close to Grand Lake. This resort not only offers places to stay, but also a slew of things to do with the family. Start with an Old West chuckwagon breakfast or dinner.
Add in horseback riding, hiking, disc golf, ATV rentals, snowmobiling, square dancing, hayrides, sleigh rides – and so much more.
You can even add a unique experience to your Colorado family vacation by booking a stay in their unique covered wagons
16. Family-Friendly Restaurants in Grand Lake
Sagebrush BBQ & Grill has an extensive menu with options for gluten free eaters and vegetarians. Make a reservation; they get crowded. Grand Pizza has tons of veggie and meat toppings, plus gluten free crust if needed. And there are large, hearty salads. Rockies has burgers, kids meals and a dog friendly patio.
Leave room for the homemade ice cream at Miyauchi’s Snack Bar located on the lakefront.
For breakfast or lunch, try Blue Water Bakery. Breakfast bagels and wraps are a great way to fuel up on your way to an early morning hike.
17. Family-Friendly Places to Stay in Grand Lake
One of the most difficult obstacles when traveling with our multigenerational family is finding accommodations to host us all. Sure, we can book multiple hotel rooms and meet somewhere in the middle, but there’s nothing like accommodations that we can come together as a family. Grand Lake and Grand County are about as family-friendly as Colorado gets.
The Overlook at Grand Lake
The Overlook at Grand Lake is a mountain home escape, and for larger families, you’ll need to look no further. Sleeping up to 22, our large multigenerational family stayed all together. With awe-inspiring views of Grand Lake and the Rocky Mountains, the entire home is just that – a warm and welcoming home. And it’s minutes from everything Grand Lake has to offer.
The main house features four bedrooms with their own bath, so adults can have their private time. There is also a loft (sleeps four) and media room with a fold-out bed. Walk down (literally) a long hallway and stairs to visit the Gathering Place, part spa, great hall and also more places to sleep.
As a family, we hung out mostly in the main house with a massive living room, TV, lots of seating – and then, of course, the kitchen. We will continue to count this as our top multigenerational family travel accommodation.
Western Riviera Lakeside Lodging, Grand Lake
If your family isn’t as large, other excellent family-friendly accommodations are nearby as well. We’ve also stayed at the Western Riviera lakeside lodging. Accommodations range from their 2 bedroom Tree House to the Lake House sleeping up to 8.
TravelingMom Judy Antell stayed here on a recent trip to Grand Lake and was impressed with the friendly service. She had forgotten to print out her parking pass for Rocky Mountain Park and they printed it our for her.
The Western Riviera has mini fridges and coffee makers in all rooms. And there is a grill on the lakefront patio in case you feel like cooking.
YMCA Snow Mountain Ranch, Granby, Colorado
If you’re up for a drive, the cabins at the YMCA Snow Mountain Ranch are also a great option. During the summer, we’ve also loved the adventure of staying at the yurts with our son, daughter and granddaughter.
What are your favorite things to do in or near the town of Grand Lake, Colorado? Share with us in the comments below.