A few years ago, I shared that one of my family’s goals is to visit all 50 states and capitals! If you go to the capitol buildings, you’ll receive a special dated stamp (usually at the visitor center) for your passport book. We were able to add three more to our kids’ books, bringing our total to 18 (we’re 36% of the way there!). These states have all been through the West (which often requires hours of driving!) and the South.
Just for fun, I thought I’d share a few highlights of what we saw and did on our nearly 2-week trip this August.
For this trip, we flew in and out of Denver (thanks to cheap Southwest Air flights I found!). From there, we rented a car. This is the way we’ve managed to see a bunch of new stuff on our road trips! Right away, we crossed off the Colorado State Capitol in Denver. We even managed to take the one-hour tour of the building which takes you up to the top of the rotunda for some pretty spectacular views.
Of course, no visit to Colorado would be complete without seeing the Rocky Mountain National Park! I’d never been and I’m always up for a National Park visit. Our kids were able to earn their Junior Ranger badges for this park easily enough on a single day. Since I’m talking National Parks, don’t forget – if you have a 4th grader this year like I do – they can receive a free annual Parks pass good for the family!
This Park was incredible scenic – and mountainous!
We managed to sneak in several small hikes. This is Bear Lake, the most popular lake in the Park. It was a very easy, flat 1/2 mile hike (er… walk?) around the lake.
We drove up to the Alpine Visitor Center and hiked up to 12,000 feet!
On another day, we drove down to Colorado Springs to visit Garden of the Gods. Guys, if you’re ever remotely in the area – you MUST visit this park! Several years ago, I was in Colorado Springs for a conference and spent the entire time at the hotel. I was severely disappointed that I didn’t make time to stop and see this natural wonder, so I was very glad to get a second chance. This park is FREE, which is awesome, but has so many cool rock structures you can walk around and on. My kids said this was easily one of their favorite spots from our trip!
We also made time out to visit the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. It was a bit spendy at $40 for our family of 4 to tour, but well worth it! We got to see the facilities that our Olympians train at, and it really sparked my kids’ imagination.
Can you believe on the SAME DAY we saw Garden of the Gods and the Olympic Training Facility, we also drove to the top of Pikes Peak? I was honestly a little nervous how this would go since you drive 20 miles up, up, up to 14,000+ feet. I believe this is the highest paved elevation in the U.S. you can drive to. (Don’t quote me on that!)
If you are a bit nervous of heights, you might want to skip this. There are portions of the road that are very windy and steep and NO GUARDRAILS! ACK! But if you make it to the top, you’ll be rewarded with some pretty amazing views! I would also add it’s good to have a tank full of gas before embarking on this journey as there are NO SERVICES once you start the road. It’s also worth mentioning that it was VERY expensive to drive – $40 for our family of 4! Finally, make sure you have a car in good order. It really does a number on the brakes driving down.
We drove up to Cheyenne, Wyoming for one of our vacation days to cross that capitol building off our list. The only problem: it was closed for construction! BOO! HISS! However, we were able to still get our kids’ passport stamp at the Wyoming State Museum near the capitol. Lesson learned: make sure to double check pertinent capitol information before making the trek.
Since Cheyenne wasn’t far from the Nebraska state border, we decided to pop in. It’s a state we’d never been to, so why not? The capitol building is on the other side of the state, so we didn’t make it that far. We had enough time to see some of the grasslands, the visitor center, and take a few photos before heading back to Colorado.
After spending a week in Colorado, we headed South for New Mexico. I was really excited about this portion of the trip because I’d never been to New Mexico and had no idea what to expect!
The landscape through the northern part of the state is just fantastic! Rocky crags, creeks, forests, valleys…. so very scenic.
It took us the better part of the day to make the drive from Boulder to Santa Fe. We instantly fell in love with Santa Fe – the style, the architecture, all of it. In fact, we decided to change up our itinerary a bit to extend our Santa Fe stay from 2 to 3 nights!
We have all decided that the capitol building in Santa Fe, New Mexico is our absolute FAVORITE we’ve visited thus far. (We’re up to 18 as of this post.) First, it’s got a very intriguing circular design which makes it so memorable. Second, it feels like an art museum inside! There are so many wonderful artists and cultures represented inside; they really did an excellent job.
Of the many cities and places we’ve had the pleasure of visiting over the years, Santa Fe is easily in the top list. I highly recommend you take the time to visit if you can!
My kids’ all-time favorite thing we did during our trip was this wild interactive art exhibit called Meow Wolf (Santa Fe, New Mexico). I found it thanks to Trip Advisor. While it was not cheap, it was absolutely worth every penny! The exhibit is housed in a converted bowling alley and you walk into a Victorian style house that has portals that lead to a strange alien world. There are multiple rooms, sections, and interactive portions. Think of Pee Wee’s playhouse, but more extraordinary! You would be seriously missing out if you did not see Meow Wolf when you’re in Santa Fe! (Check out their website to read more.)
On the way back to the Denver area, we decided to check out the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado. This place is pretty wild and unlike any other National Park we’ve been to! It’s the highest sand dunes in the U.S. and you can hike and even sled down the dunes! As an added bonus, my kids were able to pick up another Junior Ranger badge here.
One of the unexpected benefits of this 50 state quest? You see parts of the country you might not have chosen to see otherwise. It’s been a fantastic journey for our family and it’s made me feel like a kid again! If you’re interested to embark on a similar quest with your family, make sure to read my post about our 50 state capitols project.
For more posts on this topic, make sure to check out my Travel page.