We are having an epic snow season in Colorado this year with seemingly never-ending dumps of massive proportions. So even though spring is right around the corner, there will be plenty of time before the winter sports season is actually done. If you’re heading up to the Colorado High Country along the Front Range, then Dillon makes a great base for a family friendly vacation. Recently I headed up to this cool town just off I-70 that is only 15 miles from Breckenridge with my husband TJ and our toddler son Everett. Here’s what to experience and where to eat and sleep.
Things to Do:
1. Ice Castles
One of the top winter attractions in Dillon is the Ice Castles experience. The frozen attraction is set in six cities across North America, including Dillon, and the castles are made from hundreds of thousands of icicles that have been placed by hand. The castles are a great attraction for tots as there are plenty of hands-on exploring options. Everett had a great time climbing through the ice-carved tunnels and down the ice slide as well as sitting on a frozen throne. The entire experience is also lit by impressive LED lighting. If you visit on Friday or Saturday night between 7 pm and 10 pm make sure to check out the fire shows where dancers breathe and spin with fire.
2. Sledding at Dillon Nature Preserve
Traveling with kids can be expensive, so I’m always looking for fun experiences that are also free. One such adventure was sledding at the Dillon Nature Preserve. It was totally DIY where you hike up a hill by the parking lot at the preserve and just ride on down. TJ and I took turns taking Everett down at first, but he was a little scared, so we also alternated solo runs — the hill is steep enough to be fun for adults. Another great thing about the nature preserve is the views. They are phenomenal and occur from all angles.
3. Hiking Sapphire Point
Even in winter you can take a hike in the mountains around Dillon. And if you have a little one with you then try the short half mile loop to Sapphire Point. It is Dillon’s marquee overlook and sits at 9,500 feet with absolutely stunning views of Lake Dillon and the surrounding mountains. The loop is totally flat, so it is easy for kids and Everett had a blast and burned some energy in the process.
4. Everything Colorado
After a hike we promised Everett a sweet treat — okay who are we kidding, TJ promised me a sweet treat! — so we paid a visit to Dillon’s coolest new boutique shop Everything Colorado, which is locally owned and operated by two sisters who grew up in Summit County. The onsite gelateria is perfect for a post-hike pick-me-up and we made sure to try a number of different flavors. All were cold, creamy and delicious. It’s also fun to wander around the shop, which features an extensive collection of made in Colorado products for kids and adults. Everett had fun checking out toys and trying on sunglasses, while I coveted some locally made bracelets.
5. Marina Park
It’s always fun to explore new parks with little ones, so we took Everett to Dillon’s Marina Park next, which is a great year-round destination for children (and adults) with sweeping views across the Ten Mile and Gore Mountain Ranges. We took a walk down to Lake Dillon and Everett was fascinated by the sound the water made underneath the frozen ice. You can also watch the ice fisherman working their lines. There is also a children’s playground with a slide and swing and Everett was stoked to play at a newly discovered spot. In summer this area is super popular for boating and outdoor activities.
Where to Eat:
Pug Ryan’s Brewing Company
Dining with kids can always be a little tricky. You want to go somewhere you won’t feel embarrassed if they cause a scene and that is also open to their presence in the first place. Pug Ryan’s Brewing Company is both kid-friendly and super comfortable, so the moment we stepped in the front door TJ and I knew it was our style of restaurant.
It is also a Summit County institution having originally opened in 1975 and then in 2012 expanding to their current size. The craft brewery focuses on seasonal beers as well as some award-winning upscale pub grub that includes steaks and seafood. TJ ordered a Downhill Deluxe Burger with bacon, cheddar and Dunkel BBQ and I went for the Pugweiser Beer Can Chicken, which is a house favorite, and is half a braised chicken served with mashed potatoes, gravy and southwest succotash. I didn’t put my fork down until I’d finished every last bite, it was that good! We also tried some beers of course and I went with The Never Say Never Berliner Weisse and the Sour Outage, A Sour Dunkel. Both are part of the brewery’s “Reluctant Sour Project” and are brewed in the traditional sour style, which means you only get the sour taste at the end of your sip rather than throughout the entire body.
Run by a mother and daughter duo named Alma and Isol who greet guests personally with smiles, White Boots is another kid-friendly favorite in Dillon if you’re craving authentic Mexican food. It is tucked away in a shopping center in an unassuming spot but is worth going out of your way to find.
When it came time to order I tried the Mixed Fajitas (combination of chicken and steak, red and green bell peppers and onion that is served with rice, beans, and avocado slices) and TJ got the Barbacoa, which also comes with rice, beans, lettuce, tomato, onion and avocado slices. They have a self serve salsa bar, and it was fun to try the different flavors. I also liked that they have a kid’s menu that isn’t Mexican focused. Everett ordered Mac and Cheese, which he thought was delicious and ate by the handful. For dessert, we ordered fried ice cream, which of course we gave Everett the cherry on top form. It was a fun dessert that we all enjoyed.
The Arapahoe Cafe (also known as A Cafe) is another local staple and an affordable spot for breakfast, lunch or dinner. It is owned and operated by a father and daughter team (dad Doug is the chef and daughter Bonnie is the General Manager) in an original building that dates back to the 1800s. The cafe actually has quite a cool backstory in that it was originally located at what is now the bottom of Lake Dillon but was moved to its current location before the lake was created by releasing dam waters in the 1950s.
We went for a late breakfast and I was excited to try the Huevos Rancheros because the chili sauce is made in house. The dish was the perfect combination of eggs, refried beans, and melted cheese over a tortilla and the sauce was just the right amount of spice. TJ went for the Road House Hash, which is a local favorite and made with slow-cooked corned beef brisket, potatoes, onions, and two eggs and comes with either toast or a biscuit. Both dishes were excellent and Everett enjoyed trying bites of everything.
Where to Stay:
We enjoyed our stay at the Hampton Inn Silverthorne, which had comfortable and modern rooms where we could wind down after an activity-filled day and spend some downtime reading books to Everett. The location is really central and I liked how breakfast was included in the mornings. The indoor swimming pool was a huge selling point as Everett loves to swim and it gave us something to do at night. The hotel is also dog-friendly so we were able to bring our pup Titan along on this trip too.