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Old 04-02-2013, 01:55 PM
 
Location: Monument,CO
352 posts, read 289,351 times
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We live in the Denver area, and I've been waiting for winter to end so that we can see some of CO and the surrounding states, but with summer's heat around the corner, there's a short window of opportunity. The places I'd like to drive to are:

SD: Rapid City, Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, the Black Hills: I was thinking of Memorial Day weekend, before it's too hot up there.
Great Sand Dunes National Park: We have a 5 year old who can dig in the sand for days at a time
Santa Fe, NM: I have family there, but I haven't been there in decades. My wife and daughter are heavily into art
Utah national parks: We've been to Zion, Arches, Bryce Canyon, but my wife wants to go back. It was oppressively hot when we last visited on Memorial Day years ago.
Dinosaur National Monument (we probably won't get here this year): My daughter, like all kids, is fascinated by dinosaurs. We've been to Dinosaur Ridge, but I hear that this is really something to see.

I have the usual Memorial Day/July 4/Labor Day weekends available, and I have some PTO saved up, so we could do a trip in April/May before it gets too hot. These would all be 3-4 day trips.

Is there a specific time that you'd recommend for each destination? Did I miss anyplace? I'm sure that I did, but this sounds like enough for the year.

Thanks for your input.

JB
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Old 04-02-2013, 02:06 PM
 
Location: Cole neighborhood, Denver, CO
1,123 posts, read 2,447,278 times
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Black Hills during Independence Day. It may be hot but nothing like Utah.

Utah is best in March/April so you may have to bump that to next year.

Santa Fe is great in September, I've been there twice and only in September.

Sand Dunes is really only a 1-day thing. You'll want to combine it with some camping in the Arkansas Valley or in the San Juans. Again you can do this in mid-summer.

I've never been to Dinosaur, but again there probably isn't much to do in more than one day. So you're best combining with a stay in either Steamboat or Meeker.

All of these destinations are far from Denver. Might I suggest breaking up the 'big trips' over a few years, and spend more time exploring the areas within 4 hours from Denver. There is quite a lot to see closer to home.
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Old 04-02-2013, 02:59 PM
 
Location: Aurora, CO
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Here are my 2 cents on the places I've personally been to.

The Black Hills
A mad house from Memorial Day through Labor Day. It's even worse during the Sturgis Rally. I actually prefer to go there after Labor Day when the crowds die down. Granted you may miss some of the seasonal stuff but you won't be elbow-to-elbow with 250,000 other people (and lodging is MUCH cheaper).

Some other places to see up there - Devil's Tower (an hour or so west of Sturgis), Jewel Cave, Wind Cave, Deadwood.

I personally would skip the Crazy Horse tour. It's neat but they gouge the daylights out of you and they haven't made a whole heck of a lot of progress in the last 25 years.

Dinosaur Nat. Monument
I grew up about 100 miles east of there in Craig. It's definitely cool but it's beyond BFE and unless you've got a whole hiking/camping/rafting/fishing expedition planned there's not much to do there.

A possible alternative that's much closer by would be the Florissant Fossil Beds west of Colorado Springs. Granted it's plants and insects, but they're fossils nonetheless.

Great Sand Dunes NP
Late spring is the neatest time to go because Medano Creek is at its highest and the kids can play in the water and/or the dunes. By the time summer rolls around, the creek becomes a trickle. I haven't done it myself, but there's camping available in the park itself.

------
If you make the trek to Utah, check out the Moki Dugway in the southeastern part of the state. That's a road trip on my bucket list.
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Old 04-02-2013, 03:29 PM
 
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Wink When as much sought

If understanding national holidays are often the only time when one can reasonably put together a block of time towards vacation, they are also about the worst time to travel. Unless liking crowded roads and the same congestion found wherever one ends up. So this.

Nevertheless, if this is the plan, then at least use those times to angle towards the more out of the way places. Dinosaur National Monument, the Great Sand Dunes National Park, and Santa Fe, NM all come to mind. Santa Fe isn't off the beaten path, but perhaps some of its residents may have traveled elsewhere to help even out the tourists arriving. Not sure, aside from recommending September—and well after Labor Day—as the best time to visit if possible. Ideally, probably later September into October. One advantage of Santa Fe, and this could be done in conjunction with the Great Sand Dunes, is that the drive down from Denver through the mountains can still be somewhat pleasant on, say, Memorial Day weekend. Either side of that long weekend would naturally be preferable, and getting out of Denver a pain, but, even with the heavier traffic, by South Park, and certainly the San Luis Valley, the traffic will have thinned out some. Versus, oh, I don't know, I-70 into Summit County, which ought to be lots of fun.

Dinosaur National Monument is so out in the middle of nowhere, and frankly not having the draw of a Mesa Verde or Rocky Mountain NP, that the 4th of July or one of those major holidays might be a good time to visit. Particularly, if basically bypassing I-70 in getting there; the trip on a route north of that interstate could prove pleasantly memorable in itself, with those roads never heavily travelled, once past the Front Range Mountains.

I'm not sure about South Dakota, if thinking the weather will naturally be most pleasant during the summer at higher elevations. But Mount Rushmore on a holiday? That requires some fortitude. Before Memorial Day in May could prove a good time for such a visit.

Utah should be simple enough. Unless preferring blazing heat and crowded venues, then use the opportunity of a vacation in April or May to visit.

One could as well opt for something off the main menu if whim or circumstance so dictate in the moment. A place such as Hovenweep National Monument, in far southwestern Colorado, could qualify. But I mention it principally to make a point. Mesa Verde NP is justly renowned (and I understand not on your list), but the Anasazi were nearly as busy at Hovenweep. And while both are worth seeing, the question would be exactly when. If in the midst of summer, then it would be all the harder at Mesa Verde to not end up in a conga line of tourists. Versus at Hovenweep, where with a little hiking it could be quite possible to examine one of these intricately built ruins entirely on one's own (with family in tow, as case may be). That can be a spectral experience, imbuing one with some sense of the mystery and power of such places. But requiring not only the blue skies overhead, a whiff of warm breeze, the faint smell of sage, but the peace and silence to realize it.

If as much sought at times, they do not come with crowds.
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Old 04-02-2013, 04:09 PM
 
Location: Bend, OR
3,296 posts, read 8,425,154 times
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I agree with the other posters so far. My favorite time to visit Utah and those parks is before the summer heat kicks in. Like right now! Otherwise, I'd wait until October. I used to live in Grand Junction, and went to Moab frequently. It's downright hot anytime between June-September.

I just visited Santa Fe for the second time last September. It was an absolutely perfect time to go, IMO. We went right after Labor Day weekend and avoided all the crowds. I wish we could have pushed the trip back a few more weeks, into late September to see the aspens changing. Luckily, we were heading back up north to Colorado and managed to catch the aspen changing in Ouray, Gunnison and Buena Vista the following week.

The only time I went to the Black Hills was in June or July I believe. It was a long time ago, but the weather was very pleasant. We drove through the Badlands and it was really hot there, but chose to spend the majority of our time in the BH. If you are wanting to do your vacationing over the major holiday weekends, this one might be good for either Memorial Day or the 4th. While it will probably be a nuthouse, the weather should be good.

The Sand Dunes might be good over Memorial Day Weekend. It shouldn't be too hot and maybe not super busy because it's pretty far from Denver and other major cities. Same goes for Dinosaur, although I've never been to either.
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Old 04-02-2013, 04:14 PM
 
Location: Aurora, CO
6,530 posts, read 10,204,520 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by delta07 View Post
The only time I went to the Black Hills was in June or July I believe. It was a long time ago, but the weather was very pleasant. We drove through the Badlands and it was really hot there, but chose to spend the majority of our time in the BH. If you are wanting to do your vacationing over the major holiday weekends, this one might be good for either Memorial Day or the 4th. While it will probably be a nuthouse, the weather should be good.
Crap. I get a couple demerits for forgetting the Badlands. If you head out there you may as well stop and enjoy the epitome of South Dakota kitsch - Wall Drug.
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Old 04-02-2013, 08:43 PM
 
863 posts, read 1,310,651 times
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Agreed about the Sand Dunes... go early summer and enjoy the creek. Bring stuff you'd bring to the beach- when we went, we went expecting camping, but it's a very festive atmosphere. Totally fun for kids!! Make sure you bring shoes to walk on the sand- I have never experienced sand that hot before!
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Old 04-02-2013, 11:19 PM
 
Location: We_tside PNW (Columbia Gorge) / CO / SA TX / Thailand
22,407 posts, read 39,741,140 times
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Do Sante Fe late Sept (Aspen colors) Take the steam train in Chama, and venture on down to ABQ for Balloon Fiesta (Oct 5-13 2013)

SD I would do BEFORE Memorial Day, be sure to see Car Henge and Wind Caves and Needles Highway
UT April

Consider doing the winter Park to Encampment / Saratoga, WY (hot springs) and back over Snowy Range into Centennial, and home through Laramie.

Veedauwo (Sherman Pass, / Buford, Wy) is where you want to be for the Meteor showers !!
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Old 04-03-2013, 07:25 AM
 
Location: Littleton, CO
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As others have mentioned, the major holidays are not a really good time to visit a national park, and, quite frankly, neither is any weekend during the summer. You will not be the only one trying to get out of the city for a 3-day weekend.

With the construction on I-70 by Idaho Springs (April - Dec. 2013), any foray west into the mountains using I-70 will be an adventure.

Also remember that any of the trips into the mountains can be affected by expected forest fires or smoke from forest fires in other parts of the region.

Maybe a trip up to the Black Hills can be combined with a day trip to Cheyenne Frontier Days, which takes place this year from July 19 - 28. There is a rodeo (the slack rodeo events at 8 am are free), carnival midway, parades (July 20, 23, 25, 27), the USAF Thunderbirds perform (July 24), Pancake breakfasts, concerts, etc.
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Old 04-03-2013, 08:27 AM
 
129 posts, read 216,506 times
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UT can be a great trip even in late February. I've been backpacking in the Needles district twice. This year we went just a couple of weeks ago. It was great weather! Check the weather before hand. We didn't decide to go until the Thursday before hand, just in case weather moved through.

Try to avoid major Spring Breaks, though if you are doing day trips into the park it still won't be a problem.

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