If you’re looking for an alternative to the Colorado ski scene this winter, a fantastic family-friendly option is YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park. Located on 800 acres bordering Rocky Mountain National Park, this year-round retreat is perfect for outdoor enthusiasts of all ages. It’s also a great choice for budget travelers, since there are a ton of affordable accommodations, everything from camping to cozy cabins and multi-room vacation rentals.

It was recently named “Best Family Resort in America” by USA Today’s 10 Best Reader’s Choice Awards so, with that accreditation, I decided to check it out for myself with my own kiddos.

The little ones absolutely loved all the activities, from snowshoeing to horseback riding, yoga to zip lining, ice skating to roller skating, (not to mention archery and mini golf in the summer months). No matter the unpredictability of the Colorado weather, guests can enjoy their year-round indoor rock climbing and bouldering wall, as well as their heated Olympic sized pool.

One of the highlights of our trip was a visit to the Craft and Design Center where we painted ceramic piggy banks and made beaded jewelry. The facility is quite impressive with a ton of crafting materials to choose from, including oil paints, leather and wood. We had many crafting options, from glazing our ceramics to making tie dye t-shirts, but we decided to keep it simple and paint. Letting two rambunctious kids under five select from a wall of fragile and breakable ceramics is only for the brave of heart. My daughter decided on a cupcake, my son a shark and my husband and I worked on an octopus. Painting quietly, each of us enthralled by our own brush strokes, we turned the grey slate clay into technicolor masterpieces. Working independently but, yet together as a family, was one of my favorite moments from our trip.

Beyond the multitude of activities, the great outdoors is likely the biggest draw. Studies have shown that there are endless health benefits to spending time outdoors with your children. Getting out in nature, away from TV screens, and into green spaces is essential for a child’s health and development.

We followed one of the hiking trails and meandered into the woods. We looked for deer and elk, often seen in the area. We did find tracks but no actual animals, much to my daughter’s disappointment.  We did, however join a “nature detective” workshop. This hands-on demonstration had her petting elk pelts, examining antlers and identifying raccoon poo. Right up her alley.

For other educational opportunities, a particularly good weekend to visit YMCA of the Rockies is February 15-18, 2019 for their 4th annual  Mountaineering Weekend.This is the time to take the kids to some educational sessions on winter survival tips and mountaineering skills, plus you can take guided snowshoe hikes led by cool mountain guides. Overall, YMCA of the Rockies is ideal for families looking to enjoy the great outdoors in comfort.