Breckenridge Alpine Slide (Brent Clark)
Breckenridge Alpine Slide (Brent Clark)

By Eileen Ogintz

Tribune Content Agency

It was a day of firsts in Breckenridge, Colorado.

It was the first time 4-year-old twins from Minneapolis saw mountains. “Just that is exciting,” said their mom, Sarah Fessler.

The first time seeing a bear in the wild for 10-year-old Sadie Maraster from Dallas, who explained excitedly, “Near our cabin. That was an once-in-a-lifetime thing!”

First time on a long hike, Sadie’s cousins from Oklahoma City added. (There are more than 50 miles included in Breckenridge’s interconnected trail system.)

First time bungee jumping — at the top of a mountain no less. “You jump higher than on a trampoline,” explained Cooper Jenkins, 9, from Kansas. “And you stay up in the air longer.”

First time on a chair lift and a climbing wall at the top of a mountain. “It’s a challenge but a good challenge,” said Emiliano Betz, 11, from Austin, Texas.

This was a day of firsts for our dog Trooper, too — her first time on a gondola and at such high altitude (more than 10,000 feet above sea level). Both the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel Breckenridge where we stayed and the Beaver Run Resort across the road offer dog- and kid-friendly condos of varying sizes and free shuttles around town.

There has always been plenty to give families and their pets vacation bragging rights in Breckenridge, the historic mountain town and ski resort located about a 90-minute drive from Denver. But now, with Breckenridge Resort’s first full summer season of Epic Discovery, there is more to do than ever for all ages — everything from three zip lines, the Little Flyer coaster, designed for the littlest adventure-seekers, to the Goldrunner Coaster, Silver Summit Climbing Wall, Alpine Slide, Mineshaft Maze, Lil Climber Ropes Course and Tom’s Nugget Tubing at the top of the gondola at Peak 8.

For older and grown-up adventure-seekers, there is whitewater rafting, challenging hikes and bike rides and at the top of the mountain, the 40-foot-high Gold Summit Climbing Wall, an Alpiner Challenge Course with 15 different high alpine features and the half-day Expedition Zip Line Tour — over a mile on eight zip lines between 10 towers and a 200-foot-long aerial bridge walk. Gulp!

And with the exception of the Expedition Zip Line, the top of the mountain activities are considerably less than a winter lift ticket. (A Pioneer Pack offers three activities at $49 for those 54 inches and taller; $39 for those who are shorter.)

Lil Flyer zip line at Breckenridge CO (Andrew Maguire)
Lil Flyer zip line at Breckenridge CO (Andrew Maguire)

Even better, there are plenty of free activities — like hiking and biking. “I like to just explore,” said Amelia Kiedrowski, 11, from Michigan. She’s here with her cousins visiting her grandparents who were leading their gang on a hike through what’s known as the ever-changing “Fairy Forest Trail,” with fairy homes one after another. (Riding up the gondola to access that trail and others is free.)

Families gather in the middle of town at the Breckenridge River Walk Center where kids wade in the ankle-deep Blue River as adults soak their feet after hiking or shopping. “I love all the shops, especially looking for shoes because I really like shoes,” said Mary Kate Kennedy, 11, from Florida

It’s not only a lot cheaper—as much as half off but it’s also not nearly as crowded as in winter. “It isn’t a madhouse to go eat dinner,” offered Christina Klein, who typically comes with her family to ski, but opted this time for a first-time summer trip.

And then there is the weather, a big draw for those coming from the South. “We are escaping 100-degree weather,” explained Brian Betz, glad not to be in Texas right now. “I love it here!”

Coloradans used to say that people came here to ski and then discovered how wonderful summer can be, especially when you might be able to snare a room for a little more than $100 a night.)

But fall is equally glorious with sunny days and fall foliage that equals New England (and I know from personal experience). (Leave the kids behind or bring a sitter along and come to Breckenridge’s popular Craft Spirits Festival Oct 19 through 21.)

A tip from locals: Relax and save big time on restaurants with early Happy Hour menus. “We call it the Happiest Hour,” laughed one local, the mother to a one year old. (There are scores of eateries to choose from, everything from burgers and pizza to Mexican, French, Thai and Vietnamese, and there are two dozen new ones just this year. 

You’ll find kids welcome everywhere (and dogs many places). Even the popular Breckenridge Distillery, incidentally the highest distillery anywhere, welcomes kids on its tours and in its restaurant with plenty of mocktails and a new menu developed by “Top Chef” alum David Burke. (Gotta love the maple bacon served on a clothesline!) Outside, the patio is equipped with games like a ring toss, bocce ball and giant Connect Four and barbecue is served every afternoon from an onsite food truck.

Rocky Mountain Underground, a unique local ski manufacturer and hip bar, welcomes everybody to its free music offerings in its beer garden. And one of the newest restaurants in town, Sancho Tacos and Tequilas, not only promises that families can eat affordably but also that kids might be tempted to expand their palates with new-style taco recipes introduced by the restaurant’s Mexican chef. “A 10-year-old ordered a duck confit and pork belly taco the other day,” said manager Dallas Spencer.

Just be prepared for the strong sun and the effect of high altitude (drink lots of water. “Those are the perils, but definitely worth it,” said Christina Klein, a physician from Georgia. “This is such a great place to relax.”

Whether that means hanging out, hiking or biking till you drop.

Just remember the sunscreen!