Ice cream has long been used as a special treat—OK, a bribe—to reward my kids once they’ve completed a long hike or a taxing (or unpopular) activity. Now they’ve turned the tables and compiled a list of what they consider truly fun activities, and paired these with some of their favorite local sweet shops. Take a cue from the kids and plan a special summer day the whole family will want to repeat all year long:

Sweet Cow Ice Cream & Tilt! Pinball, Louisville: With this duo, located just a few doors apart, it’s hard to know where to start. Tilt! has dozens of kid-pleasing games, from air hockey to video games to Star Trek pinball. Pair that with Sweet Cow’s super-friendly staff, outdoor hangout area, and fun flavors like E.T. Phone Home—crumbled peanut butter cups folded into creamy peanut butter ice cream— for an out-of-this-world experience.

Liks Ice Cream & Ferril Lake pedal boats or surreys, Denver: Let your kids pedal their hearts out around Ferril Lake in Denver’s City Park, then walk or drive a few blocks southwest to enjoy a thick shake or generous scoop at Liks, a neighborhood ice cream parlor with inspired flavors like Candy Lane, Cheesman Cheesecake, and Coconut Peanut Brittle.

The Cow Eatery & High-Speed Go-Karting, Morrison: If your kids are starting to drive you crazy, let them take the wheel. At Action Karting, kids ages 8+ can (with a signed waiver) rent high-speed Go Karts that cruise up to 55 miles per hour around a Bandimere Speedway track. Monday through Thursday, kids ages 5 to 7 can also learn how to drive (with a parent) in a pint-sized version with a top speed of 18 miles per hour. But—according to my kids—driving parents crazy is hard work, so your speed demons will need to top their tanks off with a float or a gooey banana split at The Cow Eatery.

(Check out old-school places to have vintage family fun)

Smart Cow Yogurt Bar & Castlewood Canyon State Park, Castle Rock: Follow up a mellow hike—and just a little splashing—along gurgling Cherry Creek with a stop at the Smart Cow self-service yogurt bar. Little ones will enjoy the chalk tables and a beanbag “corn toss,” and kids of all ages will love the 16 self-serve flavors (including at least one non-dairy option), rotating canisters of toppings, and marshmallow, hut fudge, or caramel sauce to top off their creations.

Miner Decadence Chocolate & panning for gold, Idaho Springs: Your kids are sure to develop a fever panning for gold, but even if they don’t strike it rich, be sure to reward them (and yourself) with velvety chocolate fudge, a chocolate-dipped caramel marshmallow, or a scoop (or two) of owner Connie’s all-natural Oh-My-God Rocky Road gelato. Tours of the Phoenix Gold Mine end with a streamside panning lesson, or you can stop by the Visitor Center to buy your own equipment and get directions to the perfect panning—and picnic—spot.

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Terri Cook
Terri Cook
Terri Cook is an award-winning freelance writer based in Boulder. More of her work can be found at