This post is also available as a podcast in which I read the post. Search for "rising shining" on most podcast platforms to listen.
For the boys' fall break we took a family adventure to Colorado Springs and had a great time! Unfortunately the trip wasn't with the whole family as we had planned. Two days before we left, Maeve came down with RSV and a double ear infection, poor gal! So Chris stayed home with her so that I could go enjoy the trip I had spent so much time planning. After the initial disappointment of not having Chris and Maeve with us eased, I leaned into fully enjoying the trip with my two boys. I appreciated not having to plan activities around nap time as I had been expecting and took time for myself while the boys had screen time.
We picked Colorado Springs for a fall break destination because we knew we'd want to get out of the heat and I told Chris the plane ride had to be two hours or less since we had expected to be traveling with a toddler. Colorado Springs fit the bill! The trip was a great mix of enjoying the outdoors, checking out the city, and relaxing together. I'd love to share more about what we did.
We rented a great Airbnb house in northeast Colorado Springs. While we were a 20-ish minute drive from downtown I didn't find the location inconvenient. Plus the amenities of the house more than made up for not being more centrally located. The house was comfortable and great for families. It had a finished basement with a video game arcade system, a giant television and comfy couch, and a ping pong table. I introduced the boys to my 90s childhood favorite Super Mario Bros. and they loved it! We became obsessed with trying to get to the next level and I impressed them with my memory of where secret mushrooms are hidden. Cedric especially became obsessed with ping pong and during our trip we got really good – it was so fun! We also enjoyed sitting in the hot tub before bedtime and I loved having my coffee and reading with a view of the mountains in the mornings. I'm making a mental note for future house rentals to find homes with fun built-in activities.
To get around we used Turo for the first time, have you heard of it? Turo is like Airbnb but for cars. We had a great experience! Our minivan was waiting for us at the airport and it was fun having a bigger car to use during our trip. The person who rented us the car was very friendly and met us at the airport departure terminal to take the car. I would definitely use this service again. My boys' favorite podcast is the story podcast Circle Round and so any time before we would be in the car I downloaded several episodes and queued them up. It was lovely to drive around beautiful Colorado Springs and into the mountains listening to stories with two very quietly engaged boys.
A great rhythm for our first two days was to have slow mornings, then have an adventure with two or three stops, and end up back at the house by 3 or 4. That gave us plenty of time to relax at the house (me: reading, boys: screen time) before I made dinner. On our first day we enjoyed hiking along the Seven Bridges Trail which takes you into the forest, along a beautiful creek, and across foot bridges. The next day we explored Garden of the Gods which has beautiful views and paved walking paths but also opportunities for climbing up on big rocks. Perfect for mountain goat little boys. There was a fair amount of complaining to start both of our hikes. If I stayed positive and mostly ignored the complaining it eventually subsided and then the boys really enjoyed themselves. Also: bring all the snacks.
After our Seven Bridges hike we followed my sister-in-law's recommendation to visit the very unique Magic Town in Old Colorado City. Magic Town is a 3,000 square foot miniature world created by a sculptor artist and his son. You can look in windows and down alleyways to see vignettes with incredible detail. We paid extra to do scavenger hunts and it was a fun way to experience the exhibit with the boys. The next day, following our Garden of the Gods hike, we explored downtown Colorado Springs. Besides getting some treats (details below) we spent time in a book store, walked across the big grassy downtown park, and over ice cream I taught the boys to play the dice game farkel which they loved!
On our third day in Colorado Springs we visited the zoo in the afternoon. We spent the morning on screens, reading, and playing ping pong (Cedric wanted to play constantly!). We went out to lunch and then drove to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. I was so impressed with the zoo and loved our visit. We fed giraffes which we all loved, took a chairlift to the top of the zoo (oh my gosh, being high up with no seat belts on the boys felt terrifying!), and visited so many animals. The zoo is built into the side of the mountain with animal exhibits tucked everywhere which made the zoo feel smaller while still being impressive. The setting also meant amazing views looking down over zoo exhibits and across all of Colorado Springs. I would highly recommend the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo!
We had an evening flight on Thursday so we made the most of the day. We enjoyed the morning at the house and I went through all the check-out tasks. Then I took the boys to America the Beautiful Park which had great climbing structures and beautiful mountain views. The boys made friends and I timed how fast they could navigate the entire climbing structure. For lunch we had picnic in the grass with food I brought – more on that in a minute. Next we found donuts and because they only had take-away we ended up at nearby Swing High park. Again the boys made friends and ran around and swung until we had to go. We stopped by Target to buy plane snacks and use the bathroom. Target is a great place to stop for bathrooms by the way. Then we filled the minivan up with gas, got a car wash, and went to the airport.
I spent quite a bit of time before our trip planning each of our days and must say I think my efforts paid off! Each day had the right mix of adventures around town, a treat the boys could look forward to, and downtime at the house.
After getting into town and unpacking at the house we headed to Trader Joe's – are you surprised? When I travel with Chris or alone I love to check out new restaurants. When traveling with my selective eater kids I prefer to mostly cook simple meals at home and bring packed lunches. I also love that this lets us eat healthier and is much more affordable than eating out. What was great to have on hand from Trader Joe's: a 6-pack of eggs, shredded cheese, tortillas, refried beans, cereal, milk, individual yogurts, snack crackers, bread, peanut butter, jam, ice cream, and a few meals for me (frozen riced cauliflower bowl, peanut stay noodles, southwest chopped salad kit).
My exception to preferring to cook at home is that I love getting pizza from a local place on our first night somewhere new. Our Airbnb host suggested nearby Joey's Pizza and it was great. We got big portions but those stretched out to a few dinners for us all which was great to have.
A few other great food stops we made that I would recommend are: La Baguette in Old Colorado City for French onion soup and pastries, Story Coffee downtown, Josh and John's Ice Cream downtown (oatmeal cookie and salted peanut butter cup flavors for me, the boys loved eating and saying "moose on the loose"), the Burrowing Owl for a vegan lunch that I loved and the boys were so-so on, and Amy's Donuts for over-the-top donuts.
For lunch most days we had sandwiches that I made from the trunk of the car. I was very proud of my car picnic situation. The weather was cool enough that I didn't need a cooler so before we left for the day I packed a Trader Joe's paper bag with our loaf of bread, peanut butter, jam, snacks, plastic plates, paper towels, and a butter knife. I loved being able to whip up lunch where ever we found ourselves at lunch time.
On being a "vacation mom"
In my day to day as a mom I am very attentive to routines and limits whether that's screen time or bedtime or not usually having dessert on the weekdays. I think that I enforce rules and boundaries lovingly and my kids thrive in that situation (as do I). However, it's also nice to take a break from the mental load of keeping everyone on time and saying no again to a request for more screen time or sweets. (Don't worry, they definitely get plenty of screen time and sweets!) Being on vacation gives me permission to ease up on all of that and I love being in vacation mom mode. My usual Trader Joe's shopping list does not include ice cream, cheese puffs, or brookies (a brownie-cookie creation that is the best thing ever). On vacation I say yes to it all. And to going to an ice cream shop even though we had donuts earlier. I've realized that I enjoy planning to have fun. I like the planning part, the anticipation, and then the actual fun. I wouldn't necessarily call myself a fun mom but I can be one if I plan to (haha) and I'm okay with that!
Since Chris and Maeve missed out on our trip we are eager to plan another family trip. Do you have any recommendations for destinations that are great for young families and within a 2-ish hour plane ride from Phoenix? We love getting out in nature and getting to explore new cities.