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Colorado in the Summer

Go take a bike -- or a hike. Raft down a river or race down a mountain slide. Practice that golf swing or tennis serve. Learn to fly-fish or horseback ride. Count the constellations from your sleeping bag. There's so much to do even the most finicky kids won't complain they're bored on this trip.

Parents, either. They'll be able to take the kids' advice and "chill" amid the wildflowers and Aspen trees, especially when they realize what a vacation bargain they've bought this year. There probably will be enough to splurge on a chichi dinner in Aspen or Vail one night. Or at least a round of margaritas, as we did after an all-day hike in Rocky Mountain National Park.

How can you do so much for so little? Welcome to summertime Colorado, one of the best family vacation deals going. An added plus: There's plenty of room left for those who haven't booked months ahead. "You can wait until the last minute and get what you want," promises Kelly Ladyga, spokesman for Colorado Summer Country USA. (Call 800-COLORADO for a summer tourism guide.) "Colorado is never too crowded in the summer." Or too expensive, either.

Condos and hotels are typically discounted 50 percent and more from prime winter rates. It's possible to rent a roomy condo for under $100 a night in ski towns that are just as picturesque in the summer as in winter. Many cottages and cabins cost less, and campsites are even cheaper. (Call 800-886-9343 to order the newly revised "Colorado Cabins, Cottages & Lodges." It's $17.95 from Rocky Mountain Vacation Publishing and packed with some 275 scenic and mostly inexpensive places to stay. For specific camping information, call the Colorado Association for Campgrounds, Cabins and Lodges at 303-499-9343.)

Vacationing in Colorado in winter, no matter how careful I am, we always spend more than I'd planned. In summer, when we stayed near Estes Park, I was pleased to find it easy to stick to the budget. A big reason -- most of the activities the kids wanted to try were relatively inexpensive or even free: mountain biking or miniature golfing; fishing or climbing rocks. The weather was so good they were happy to spend hours swimming or playing ball. Even horseback riding wasn't too pricey for a special treat, in the neighborhood of $15 an hour, less for pony rides. (Consider thrilling the older gang with a day at a cattle drive or a combination whitewater and trail-ride adventure. Check with the local chamber of commerce for a nearby outfitter.)

You can treat yourselves to day off from parenting, too. Keystone, Telluride and Beaver Creek are among the areas that offer day care for young children as well as adventure camps for older ones.

For the grade-school crowd, there's a lot more than baby-sitting, too. The kids can sleep in a teepee in Beaver Creek or try their hand at a construction project at the Outdoor Construction Museum. They can pan for gold at Kamp Keystone, cook dinner over an open fire in Vail, river raft at Camp Snowmass Extreme or mountain bike at the Steamboat Kids' Adventure Club.

For those who are physically challenged, the National Sports Center for the Disabled at Winter Park offers everything from accessible hiking and camping to raft trips and rock climbing for the visually impaired. Call 970-726-1540.

There are places for hanging out, too. Aspen Youth Center, for one, offers everything from rollerblade hockey games to kayaking clinics to "Hike and Bike of the Week" trips for those 10 to 18. Kids may also drop in at the center to play Ping-Pong or watch a movie. (Call 970-925-7091.)

Besides all of these organized activities and outdoor adventures, there are festivals galore all summer long, many geared to families. For example:

-- Fat Tire Bike Week in Crested Butte, June 24-30, where organized mountain biking started 20 years ago. There's an obstacle course designed especially for kids. (Call Crested Butte Vacations at 800-544-8448.)

-- Winter Park Family Hike and Bike Festival, June 22, includes everything from guided hiking and biking tours to clinics on mountain biking and contests for kids. Try Colorado's longest Alpine Slide -- it's a half-mile and has 26 turns -- or play mountainside Mini Golf. Call 800-977-2754.

-- Steamboat Springs' 93rd Annual Cowboy Roundup Days, July 4-7, feature a parade, picnic, fireworks and rodeo. (Ask about the three-night Family Getaway packages for summer that can be under $350 for a family of four, with lodging, a gondola ride up the mountain, admission to a pro rodeo and a day at the Kids' Adventure Club. Call Steamboat Central Reservations at 800-922-2722.)

-- Keystone Village's fifth annual Fiddle Contest, Aug. 10, invites fiddlers, age 6 and up, to participate. (Ask about Keystone's condos for $39 per adult a day. Kids are free. Call Keystone Resort 800-232-2705 and check out the free Western storytelling around a campfire every Tuesday night in the summer.)

-- Aspen's Music Festival and DanceAspen's Summer Festival continue all summer long as do Vail Valley Music Festival and the International Summer of Dance. It includes special workshops for dance students 11 to 14, June 24 through July 7. Hike to the top of Aspen Mountain (or ride the gondola) Saturday afternoons for a free Music on the Mountain concert: free concerts are held in Snowmass Village on Thursday. (Special culture packages are available for Aspen; call Aspen Central Reservations 800-262-7736. For Vail Valley information, call 800-525-3875.)

One last tip: Remember that the weather can change quickly in the mountains. Even when it's hot and sunny, keep rainwear and sweatshirts handy.

I wish we'd done that the day we went hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park. We wouldn't have gotten so soaked. But maybe that's why the kids still talk about that hike. Break in your hiking boots before you go.

(c) 1996, Eileen Ogintz. Dist. by Los Angeles Times Syndicate


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