From hikes and races built for little legs to raising cultural and culinary adventurers, here are 36 ways to enjoy the best of our state with your kid.

Suit Up

Pro-style biking gear for your smallest cyclist.

In Colorado, cycling is serious business. Just because your little pedal-pusher’s destination is the playground doesn’t mean her duds shouldn’t be on par with the pros. Enter Spindaroos, the Denver-based company that’s been bringing high-tech cycling gear—from infant skin suits ($36) to tween-size jerseys ($37)—to the Centennial State’s next generation of USA Pro Challenge winners since 2009. “Kids are getting into outdoor activities earlier, and we want to make sure what they wear is of the same quality as what Mom and Dad have,” says founder Michele Lucas, who started Spindaroos with her husband (and former amateur racer), Mark. The Lucases
created their first prototype—a onesie—back in 1993 when their then-toddler daughter clamored for cycling clothes to match Daddy’s. Sixteen years later, Michele got into apparel design, and the pair produced their first professional-grade skin suit. Within three years, Spindaroos went from eight products to a line of more than 60. The Spindaroos collection is available locally at Littleton’s Pedal Bike Shop, Schwab Cycles in Lakewood, and on Spindaroos’ website. —LRM

Tour de Denver

A mile-by-mile guide to one of Denver’s classic (and kid-friendly) rides.

Glory Days

Four races built for shorter legs.

Bannock Criterium | August 3

Presented by the Front Rangers Cycling Club, whose mission for the past 21 years has been “getting kids on bikes,” the Bannock Criterium (“criterium” is cycling speak for a mile or shorter urban course) is free to juniors. That’s right, free. If your little one develops a need for speed at this race, which starts and finishes at 10th and Bannock (number of laps vary by division), consider signing her up for next May’s Mini Classic. The three-day Tour de France–style ride starts in Silt and is Colorado’s only stage race for juniors.

Mini Splash Mash Dash Triathlon | August 9
This Highlands Ranch triathlon ($50) lets pint-size athletes as young as four experience the exhilaration that comes from a three-sport event—without the exhaustion (four- to six-year-olds tackle a 25-yard swim in Northridge Recreation Center’s outdoor pool, a 0.85-mile ride, and a quarter-mile run; distances increase for older kids). Parents can get their own endorphin buzz in the adult race ($80), which includes a 500-yard swim, 12-mile ride, and 3.5-mile run.

BRAC Junior Cross Camp | End of September
OK, it may not technically be a race, but Bicycle Racing Association of Colorado’s three-day introduction to cyclocross ($75) in Empire preps young bikers gunning to get dirty for race season with group rides, skills sessions, and, yes, contact drills. Don’t worry: It’s all done under the watchful eye of a certified USA Cycling coach and a team of experienced instructors. Besides, it’s not all mud and games: The weekend includes seminars on safety, bike maintenance, and nutrition.

Pumpkin Pie 5K/10K | November 15
If the opportunity to run (or walk) beneath City Park’s stunning fall foliage isn’t enough to
motivate you for this family 5K (or 10K for more ambitious clans)—the preliminary run to the Colorado Winter Series races—the piece of pumpkin pie at the end surely will. And if your brood includes members who aren’t quite big enough to tie their own Nikes, no worries: There’s a free quarter-mile fun run for them before the starting gun for the longer races goes off.

Stadium Stampede | Late June 2015
Unless you’ve got some serious connections, this might be one of the few chances your little John Elway has to feel the sideline turf beneath his sneaks at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. A fund-raiser for the Saint Joseph Hospital Foundation, the Stadium Stampede features several race distances, from a 10K ($35–$45) to a half-mile fun run ($25–$35) inside the stadium. They’ve all got one thing in common, though: your face flashing across the ThunderVision screen as you enter the stadium. —Kasey Cordell

Clean Your Plate

Renowned Denver chef, restaurateur, cookbook author, and meal-maker for two young boys Frank Bonanno suggests seven tips for raising adventurous eaters. —Jerilyn Forsythe

Make one meal for the family, not two. “They eat what we eat at home,” Bonanno says of his 10- and 11-year-olds—whether it’s fish, steak, or tuna niçoise salad. Prepping separate meals isn’t only time-consuming; it also encourages kids to continue to be picky eaters. The same goes for dining out: Bonanno never lets his boys order off a kids menu.

Start young. While tastes and preferences evolve with age, introducing a youngster to diverse foods—like seafood when they’re first experimenting with solid food—will help curb the “ewww” factor when it comes to things like escargot and foie gras later on.

Try everything once. There’s a big difference between your toddler refusing broccoli because he doesn’t like it and refusing all vegetables, all of the time. “I think you’ve done your job as a parent by getting them to try it,” Bonanno says.

Have a salad with every meal. In Bonanno’s house, mixed greens are routine: If his kids don’t like what’s being served, they still finish their greens. If they’re hungry after that, Bonanno directs them to the always-filled fruit bowl.

Make time for family cooking. Helping out in the culinary process introduces kids to an important life skill and also eliminates fear of the unknown.

Don’t hide or disguise foods. Being honest about what’s in a meal helps kids process what they actually like and don’t like and will make them more likely to trust you when it comes to trying new and exotic foods. “If you have to sneak it in, you’re probably not properly explaining what it is,” Bonanno says.

Find out what they like, and get creative with it. “My kids could eat fish every day,” Bonanno says. “Now blackened catfish is one of our go-to meals.”

Snack, Packed

A kid can only eat so many PB&Js in a week. 5280 food editor Amanda M. Faison tackles the lunch doldrums with snack recipes for every summer occasion.

Cherry Creek Bike Path Pick-Me-Up: Apple and almond butter “sandwiches.” Rather than coring apples, slice them on a mandoline, take two similarly sized pieces, and spread each with almond butter. Add raisins and place apple slices together to make a sandwich.

Chatfield Reservoir Replenisher: Black beans and rice. Mix cooked and cooled brown rice with black beans and corn kernels. Add a side of mild salsa and either a tortilla or tortilla chips.

Confluence Park Picnic: Mini caprese salad. Buy miniature fresh mozzarella balls from an area grocer, such as Whole Foods or Sprouts; mix with freshly torn basil and sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil. Season with salt and pepper. (You can also serve this inside a pita pocket.)

Green Mountain Gorp: Trail mix. Combine roasted almonds, shelled pistachios, dried cherries (or any dried fruit), and cacao nibs.
portable Zoo Snack: Mini cupcakes. Bake a batch and store them in the freezer in zip-top bags. Take a few out before you head to visit the lions, tigers, and bears, and they’ll be thawed by the time you’ve wandered though the polar bear exhibit. Remember, only feed the monkeys you brought with you. Exclusive: What TAG chef and owner Troy Guard makes for his daughter’s back-to-school snack—and how you can make it, too.

Once school starts again, TAG’s chef and owner Troy Guard and his daughter make granola for a wholesome, yummy treat. Together, they bake a combination of oats, honey, almonds, coconut, pumpkin seeds, and wheat germ at 300° for 45 minutes, or until golden brown. Once cooled, the Guards add raisins and chopped dried apricots. That’s what we call (delicious) brain food.

What To Do When…

…You dine out with the littlest patrons

Unmask Fine Dining: If kids don’t venture outside of the fast-casual experience by the time they’re tweens, how will they know how to act? “Children can only learn behavior that they are exposed to,” says Alex Seidel, chef and owner of Fruition. “So many of my friends have issues taking their kids to nicer restaurants because they haven’t ever exposed their five- or even seven-year-olds to the experience.”

Pick the Right Place: Know which restaurants are kid-friendly, such as Ace Eat Serve (our Top of the Town pick for best kids restaurant). Chef and owner Nelson Perkins of Colt & Gray says to work your child up the ladder of restaurants as they become more familiar and confident with dining-out behavior. Respecting the dining room and its other patrons is part of the learning process.

The Timeline: Perkins also suggests that dining earlier in the evening helps families (and staff) as the dining rooms are less crowded. A pre–rush hour reservation may also avert the combination of kids being over-hungry and over-tired.

Acting the Part: Practice dining-out behaviors—from basic table and conversation manners to patiently waiting for others to finish their meals—at home, says Delores Tunco, owner of Work & Class. By the time kids get to a restaurant, the only surprise will be the delicious options on the menu (and that no one has to do the dishes).

Order of Operations: Don’t order your kids’ food to arrive before yours. If they eat early, they’ll be done early and start the chorus of “Can we go now?”

The Tipping Point: Little kids can make an unintentional mess, but somebody will have to clean it up. Says chef Paul C. Reilly from Beast & Bottle, “It helps to tip a little extra when they (servers) will most likely be sweeping and cleaning after your kids have trashed the joint.” —LRM

…Your little one calls it quits early on a hike

Hiking with kids can be blissful. The little sprouts wander up the trail, stopping to look at rocks and splash in the stream, while you get to point out birds and bugs (the bees part will come later). The whole crew enjoys the fresh air and one another—right up until the “How much farther?” questions landslide into “I’m done!” proclamations. When you find yourself a couple of miles between the car and, say, the summit of Pikes Peak with an unhappy hiker who doesn’t have the will to go on, what direction do you head?

Beyond the basics (having plenty of water and snacks like trail mix, granola bars, and fruit to answer any tummy grumbles), Molly Daley*, the youth education program manager for the Colorado Mountain Club, says setting reachable (and seeable) goals helps kids move beyond the fussiness both physically and mentally. Pick out an interesting tree or rock formation as a short-term destination, or note that the end of the trail is over the next hill, through the valley, and up the cliff (if that’s true). If you’ve been on the hike before and know the landmarks, you can plot out the most interesting points ahead of time and create a scavenger hunt. Check out the trail features pre-trip and make a notecard or two with different animals, plants, and other things that can be found along the way. At Deer Creek Canyon, for example, explorers can look for mule deer, elk, wild turkeys, and grouse.

For the diaper set, sometimes the surest meltdown antidote is a nap—one best facilitated by the rhythmic swaying of a kid-carrying backpack, says Eric Schmidt, general manager at Boulder’s Neptune Mountaineering and father of three. For older kids, treat them like the adults they’re about to become: Set the scene for a swim in Summit Lake in the shadow of Mt. Evans or a scenic picnic to motivate them past the fatigue. After all, the promise of Denver-based Ritual Chocolate’s Nib Bars and a dip in Lake Dorothy at 12,061 feet help us slog out the Fourth of July Trail’s final steep mile, too. —LRM

*Correction 9/4/14: A previous version of this story misspelled Molly Daley’s name. We regret the error. 

…You’ve punched the zoo, Children’s Museum, and Cherry Creek bike path tickets too many times already this summer and need a quick and easy at-home craft.

Paper Leaf Garland from Craftsy
Five and up
Estimated time: 45 minutes
You need:
• colorful scrapbook paper (seven sheets for a three-foot garland)
• scissors
• 16-gauge jewelry wire (length depends on how long you want the garland)
• hot glue
Make it:
1. Freehand your own leaf design or trace a leaf found in the backyard multiple times until one piece of paper is full. Stack the scrapbook paper and cut out the designs.
2. Gather all the leaf cutouts and gently bend them in the middle for dimension.
3. Start at one end of the wire and glue each leaf, slightly overlapping the previous one. Vary color and placement for a bright, full effect. Repeat until the garland reaches desired length.

Magical Mushroom Needle Felting  from Fancy Tiger Crafts
Ages: Eight and up
Estimated time: One hour
You need:
• red wool roving (a bundle of combed out wool)
• white wool roving
• a foam block (used as a work surface to protect fingers)
• a felting needle
• a wood skewer (a toothpick or chopstick will do)

Make it:
1. For the mushroom top: Pull off a four- to eight-inch piece of red roving. Roll it into a ball and place it on the foam block. Poke the felting needle about ¼-inch deep into the ball repeatedly (this is called needle felting) until the roving is condensed into a smooth dome.
2. For the spots: Take a pinch of white roving and roll it into a ball the size of a peppercorn. Place it on the mushroom top and repeatedly poke it with the needle until it stays in place. Repeat until the top is polka-dotted.
3. For the stem: Pull off a one-inch-by-five-inch piece of white roving and tightly wrap the strip around the wooden skewer. Pull the roving off the skewer, place it on the foam block, and needle felt it until it is a smooth and even stem. Attach the mushroom top by poking one end of the stem into the underside of the mushroom and use the needle to felt the two pieces together.

Boho Fringe T-Shirt Bag from Upstairs Circus
Ages: 12 and up
Estimated time: 30 minutes
You need:
• men’s XL T-shirt
• a package of pony beads
• scissors
• a pen
• a ruler
Make it:
1. Turn the T-shirt inside out and lay it on a flat surface. Cut off the bottom seam, sleeves, and neckline.
2. Measure 10 inches down from both armpits and make a mark on each side. With the ruler as a guide, draw a line connecting the marks.
3. Cut ¾-inch vertical strips across the bottom of the shirt until you get to the marked line—this is the fringe. Double-knot at the top of the vertical slits matching front and back fringe pieces.
4. Cut the shoulder pieces apart across the seam. Pull together the front shoulder pieces and tie into a small knot. Repeat with the back shoulder pieces.
5. Cut the bottoms of each fringe piece into a point. String a pony bead onto the fringe and tie a knot below the bead to secure. Repeat for each piece of fringe.

Urbane Babes

How to make the most out of Denver’s top cultural institutions as a family.

Denver Art Museum

Many adults are intimidated by art, never mind little ones whose creative experiences don’t extend much beyond arts and crafts class. The Denver Art Museum eases the introduction (for both of you) with free backpacks full of crafts, games, and puzzles that connect to specific pieces in different collections. For example, the “Life in 18th-Century England” bag includes a quiz game, classical tunes, and a fashion sketching project that correspond to the paintings in the European & American Art gallery. Also not to be missed this summer: Mixed media sculptor Jason Rogenes’ “V3H1CL3” installation in the Precourt Discovery Hall displays reclaimed packing materials, such as cardboard and Styrofoam. Take the family to the sculpture studio (one floor beneath)to build asteroids just like the artist does.

Colorado Symphony

On occasional Sunday afternoons, the symphony sheds long concertos and stiff outfits for family-friendly melodies and laid-back performances. The matinees ($10–$25) combine a concert—often a narrator is included, so children learn about the pieces before they hear them—with engaging programming. May’s nature-themed performance showcased zookeeper Jack Hanna and his live animals, for example, and every Halloween, musicians dress in costumes for their Halloween Spooktacular! show. Call ahead to find out if the conductor or musicians are available for a preshow meet-and-greet with your tykes. Plus, you don’t have to worry about your child being a model of decorum. They won’t be shushed for humming along, and they’re encouraged to hop up and dance in the aisles—with or without grown-up accompaniment.

Red Rocks

This natural wonder has something for everyone, whether it’s an easy ramble on the 1.4-mile Trading Post Trail, a kid-focused Zumba class (part of the Red Rocks Fitness Challenge), or a family movie night under the stars (Who Framed Roger Rabbit on August 25). While most concerts’ late finishes make them a no-go for younger kids, you can introduce smaller family members to the Red Rocks experience by listening to music clips and seeing “best of” footage from past concerts in the visitor center from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on nonconcert days (before 2 p.m. when there is a show). On non-event days, if you ask nicely you likely can even schedule a backstage tour.

Denver Center for the Performing Arts

If your mini-me is old enough to enjoy a movie, he’s old enough to love live theater, too. To encourage the affection, DCPA provides some extra incentives. Family Days, like the September 28 afternoon showing of Lord of the Flies (appropriate for children age 13 and older), include fun elements before the curtain rises—in this case, survivor stations where kids can test their first aid and campfire building skills. Select Broadway productions offer Kids Night on Broadway where children 6–18 get a free ticket with a paying adult and enjoy preshow activities (tours, cast autographs, and more). Before hitting “buy,” though, consult the website’s Family Guide to gauge age-appropriateness and peruse the Study Guides, which help you explain the show to your kiddos. If a star has been born (to you), get tickets to a show, then call the box office and set up a free backstage tour with the whole crew.

Colorado Ballet

When the Colorado Ballet moved to its new location in the Santa Fe art district in July, it created room for more classes at the academy. So now tiny dancers can do more than just see the ballet—they can become part of it with weekly drop-in lessons for both beginners and advanced dancers ($15 per class). Or share in the pirouetting yourself at Saturday parent-tot sessions ($175 for a 17-week program, beginning August 25). A few visits here will give your little ones a lot more appreciation for productions such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream (opening September 26), which features academy members in the cast and live singing by the Colorado Children’s Chorale. Coming soon: open rehearsals—ideal for kids who aren’t quite ready to sit through an entire performance. —Daliah Singer

Scaling up

Swallow Hill Music looks to grow bigger by turning to its youngest demographic. —Jessica Farmwald

For 35 years, Swallow Hill Music has helped cure adults scarred by overly stern piano teachers, talent show snafus, and hours of plodding through scales inside on beautiful summer days. “We joke that we’re therapy for people who had traumatic childhood music experiences,” says Chris McGarry, the children’s program director at Swallow Hill, which helps adults relearn to love making music through classes and concerts. Now, the nonprofit is amping up its programming dedicated to developing that passion in little ones in the first place.

In addition to expanding kids classes at its original East Yale Avenue location, Swallow Hill launched a satellite campus in the growing Lowry neighborhood in March. Whether it’s a “Little Mozarts” class with four-year-olds pounding on pint-size red pianos, grade schoolers strumming ukuleles, or teens looking to up their ensemble cred in a “House of Rock” group lesson, the goal is the same, says McGarry: “The first night, you’re playing a song. Where some approaches to music are learn your scales, practice chords, this and that, and then you can finally play something—we do the opposite.” For the tiniest composers (starting with “mom and me” classes for six-month-olds), lessons often incorporate marching, singing, and dancing.

Those grooving skills are put to good use at Swallow Hill’s new concert series, cheekily dubbed the Station Wagon Sessions. The premise: affordable shows featuring age-appropriate music that won’t drive parents crazy—complete with a dance floor for kids to show off their moves. Past performers include kids’ pop sensation Justin Roberts and country crooners Bonnie and the Clydes. (Catch Elvis doppelganger Jonny Barber in an outdoor show at the Jewish Community Center on August 24.) By the time your little music makers leave the show, they’ll be begging to get back home to practice.