Beaver Creek: Tour de Colorado’s Best Front-Range Destination for Families

I chose my family’s final Tour de Colorado destination carefully. We had spent the summer visiting the very best that Colorado has to offer and I wanted to go out with a bang.

Rest assured we had a bang-up vacation at Beaver Creek, my choice for best front-range destination for families. Competition in this category is steep with worthy competitors like Breckenridge and Copper Mountain. In the end, Beaver Creek’s intimate alpine village tucked away near Vail prevailed because it offered ice skating, miniature golf, a climbing wall and a bungee trampoline, not to mention some fantastic freebies.

And with a tagline like “Not exactly roughing it” there were more than a few indulgences along the way.

Beaver Creek Hiking Center

I grew up hiking the Canadian Rockies and never once did I go on a guided hike.

Well, with the exception of trailing my bird-loving, binocular-toting father with his black dress socks and shorts.

Beaver Creek’s hiking guide Alex was a breath of fresh air…and information. Our family met him at the Beaver Creek Hiking Center where he loaded us up with Hike-ology notebooks, hike descriptions and maps. We got the lowdown on their many hiking programs that vary from guided nature hikes for all ages and abilities, to private hikes that cover an 80-mile radius. The free Spruce Saddle Loop is one of their most popular and meets daily at the top of the Centennial Express lift.

We opted for the Family Fun Hike, a 2-hour guided hike around the Spruce Saddle Loop. I was a little bit wary of the 2-hour duration with my young children but that time span took into account the chairlift ride, hike, delicious BBQ lunch atop the mountain, the Big Dig archeological site (a sandbox with fossils), free field games for rent and a few tantrums along the way.

The views of the Gore Range and profusion of wildflowers stun. We saw marmots sunning themselves on granite boulders and a buck with glistening velvet on his horns. We heard pine squirrels (or chickerees), read Hike-ology interpretive signs, identified trees and ecosystems, and played in the ski school’s wooden villages. I don’t know how Beaver Creek did it but we even had our very own mule deer shadow us the entire time.

Talk about the ultimate guided hike.

Beano’s Cabin

Mention that you went to Beano’s Cabin and you’re sure to impress. The recipient of DiRoNa Awards and consistently top-ranked in the Zagat Survey, Beano’s is the most memorable and expensive culinary experience I have ever had (our tab came to $421 for five people, something I won’t forget anytime soon). This hand-hewn log cabin nestled against Grouse Mountain is only accessible via a tractor-pulled wagon or shuttle and a sleigh ride in the winter.

In preparation, we schooled our children on how to “eat like a little prince and princess,” after which 3-year-old Bode dubiously looked at us before proclaiming, “I don’t tink so.”

My fears of a non-kid-friendly atmosphere were put to rest in the shuttle—there were an equal number of children and adults. Once at the cabin, we settled in beside the crackling fire and live music. The adults ordered off a five-course prix-fixe menu while the kids gorged on their own fresh and healthy three-course menu.

Between courses, we played in the adjacent wildflower-laced meadow, watched the dancing clouds, spotted a black bear and deer on the mountain, posed for pictures and twirled to the reverberating melodies.

A porcupine personally escorted (OK, rushed us) out the door to the shuttle at the end of the evening. My 5-year-old daughter, completely entranced by this whimsical world of animals, food, and stars, sighed: “I was totally underdressed for that.”

Next time: tiaras.

Sleeping in the Clouds

Here’s a little hint: if The Ritz-Calton is your neighbor, you are in very good company. We stayed in a 3-bedroom condo at adjacent Snow Cloud Lodge, which occupies the premier Bachelor Gulch location. This exclusive community is just a stone’s throw away from the Bachelor Gulch Express lift and you can literally walk out your door to conquer a network of hiking trails during the summer months.

While the kids were perfectly delighted with their simple bunk bed, I declared our condo the most gorgeous I have ever seen with granite slab countertops, jetted tubs, French limestone floors, a Moss rock and stone fireplace, and handcrafted everything. As an added bonus, guests are given free access to the The Ritz-Carlton’s pool and their fitness center for an additional fee.

For less expensive lodging options, checkout the Comfort Inn in nearby Avon.

Fantastic Freebies

Sure, Beaver Creek’s prices may not be for the faint of heart (or for the cheapskates) but there are plenty of freebies to go around. Our first evening, we attended Fridays at the Park (Hyatt), a lively evening with music, pony rides and gondola rides for the whole family, not to mention a gourmet s’moregasbord at the open fire pit.

We also played to our heart’s content at the free Children’s Museum located next to the Beaver Creek Hiking Center in the village. The Children’s Theater Company in Beaver Creek Village holds impromptu performance and recreational-Mecca Nottingham Park in nearby Avon has free outdoor movies for the family once a week during the summer months.

Sad you missed this fantastic line-up of activities? Mark your calendars for 2010 but don’t forget Beaver Creek in the fall. There is a good reason they call their aspen-laced splendor “The Gold Rush.”


Additional food for thought:

8100 Mountainside Bar & Grill—Located slopeside in the Park Hyatt at (you guessed it) an elevation of 8100 feet, this live action bar and grill specializes in local, natural and organic dishes featuring Colorado’s best microbrews, wines and spirits. 8100 has an extensive kid menu but if you want to ditch the kids like we did (thanks to babysitter Aunt Lisa), you will be promised a romantic evening with such delights as their Filet Mignon with to-die-for Béarnaise Sauce, Creamed Corn with local-aged Goat Cheese and Warm Beignets with a Trio of Sauces for dessert.

The Osprey—Our very first experience at Beaver Creek (with the exception of when I got us lost) was lunch at the The Osprey. This boutique hotel just underwent a $7 million transformation and has the distinction of being the closest hotel to a chairlift in North America. It features an ever-evolving tapas-style menu with signature dishes and a hand-picked wine list in a casually elegant atmosphere. The food was divine and the children’s platter was among the tastiest I’ve ever had. Nevermind they were the ones who were supposed to be eating it.

At Beaver Creek, even the children’s meals taste good.

Note: This article was originally published at Mile High Mamas on August 31, 2009. Most services were complimentary or discounted.

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