We did it! We survived our first family vacation as a family of 5! And we actually enjoyed it! It’s a Christmas (in July) miracle!

Ahem! All that fresh, Rocky Mountain air has gone to my brain.

All that to say, we spent last week in the gorgeous, mountain town of Vail, Colorado and I practically had to be pushed on a plane to come back home. We did. not. want. to. go. Usually I leave vacation grateful for the experience but eager to return to some sort of routine. Spending time in Colorado though is a different story. If there’s one state I could truly see myself moving to at some point in the future (we’re talking retirement age, probably) it’s Colorado. The mountains make you feel so small in the most phenomenal way.

Some people are beach people, while others are city people. Although I’d never turn down a trip to The Keys or NYC, the mountains are my happy place – Vail in particular!

Ben, Lincoln, and I first visited Vail for my work three years ago exactly, and we’ve been plotting our return ever since. Ben and I have been coming to Colorado together at least once a year for the past decade and Vail sticks out in our mind not only as one of the most family friendly – the ski villages are peppered with parks, fountains, and play areas – but also as one of the most beautiful. That’s really saying something because every CO location we’ve been to is drop dead gorgeous. Nature, I love you.

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We don’t ski nor snowboard but to heck with snow – Vail in the summertime is almost too beautiful for words. What Spanish moss is to Savannah, an abundance of flowers is to Vail. The city is literally COVERED IN FLOWERS. Everywhere you turn! It’s one of their signatures.

Before I go on, a couple people on Instagram have asked where we stayed, which is the Lodge at Lionshead (not to be confused with Lion Square Lodge, which is 200 yards away.) It was a DREAM. Lincoln said it best as we explored our condo after checking in – “This place is incredible!

The property is managed like a hotel (front desk, pool, housekeeping, etc.) but the units are fully stocked condos. Ours had two bedrooms downstairs, each with a full bathroom plus a washer and dryer, while upstairs had a full kitchen, dining room, family room, and oversized balcony.

Which is where we spent every single night! The property is located right on Gore Creek/Trail (look behind the bikers on the path and you’ll see the rushing water) which is a huge reason why we picked it. It was so quiet and backed right up to the trail. One ski village was 200 yards down the path to the right, while another ski village was a 10 minute walk (if that) to the left.

Now, when you say “creek” in Iowa, we’re talking about a small, babbling brook where you go to catch crawfish as a 10 year old. Gore Creek, however, is ice cold rushing mountain water tumbling over rocks and boulders. It is the most beautiful sight and sound to relax to in the evenings, with the mountains and stars behind it. That said, if you stay at this property, do yourself a favor and book a creek-facing room.

We loved that the property came with all the modern amenities – Netflix enabled cable, free wifi, etc. – but they also had a big selection of paperbacks, VHS tapes (“Mom, what is this?” HA!) and board games. Ben taught Lincoln how to play Battleship on our balcony before bed each night. These are the unplugged, good old fashioned memories we love to make!

The thing I couldn’t stop geeking out about though, was the market located 25 yards from the condo. I put some water on the stove to boil for spaghetti one night then walked to the market for sauce and ground beef. The water had barely started to boil by the time I got back. SO AWESOME!! Even more awesome was the market has a huge selection of speciality foods for a wide variety of diets, which we greatly appreciated as a family who deals with multiple food allergies and Celiac Disease. I figured prices would be outrageous – which they were for some items – but I found many items were comparable in cost to our Whole Foods.

We cooked dinner in our condo and ate on the balcony or by the pool a couple nights to save money (eating out in Vail is NOT CHEAP) and I think those were actually my favorite nights. No worrying about our Koolaid Man Cam busting out of his chair at a restaurant or making sure Gwen had something safe to eat that didn’t contain eggs or dairy. I mean, a pool-side pizza party in Vail? These kids have it so good!

Especially because I felt like one of the stewardesses on Below Deck when they’re frantically trying to pack for a last minute beach picnic while setting said pizza party up. Luckily all the guests enjoyed. ;)

Anyway, Vail’s ski villages appear to be straight out of a Swiss mountain town with the most beautiful architecture and again, those flowers. I mean, why travel to Europe when you can hop an hour and a half flight from the Midwest and get the same vibe? JK, dying to go to the Swiss Alps. Just not with three kids, 5 and under. ;)

As I mentioned, the ski villages have many child-friendly fountains and nature playscapes to explore (no obnoxious, brightly-colored plastic playgrounds!) which we took full advantage of. Fun, and free.

Mama even put on her fun pants one evening and let the kids get gelato before dinner. Cam’s first cone – he wasn’t quite sure how to maneuver it. ;)

Speaking of food – let’s talk restaurants. Similar to our experience last time, there aren’t a ton of safe, gluten free options in Vail. And by that I mean there aren’t many restaurants that are truly knowledgeable about how to safely prepare gluten free food without the risk of cross contamination, vs simply offering a gluten “friendly” menu.

One restaurant that really does it right, is Bol. Not only does Bol have a killer menu with AMAZING gluten free options, but it’s right on a turf-lined rec area, which is a skating rink in the winter, so the kids could eat and play. We came here for lunch one day then returned the next day for dinner. Two thumbs way, way up for this spot!

No food photos because meals out with little kids is pure chaos, but I ordered the Scallops and Zoodles one day, and the Lobster Market Salad the next. Both were toooo diiiieee fooooorrr! NOTE: Bol has a couple of fried items listed as GF but they are prepared in a shared frier. Not sure why they keep these items listed as GF, but the chef was quick to alert us after our server put in my order.

What we really came to Vail for though, was the outdoors. Like I said – we just adore the mountains. Nature is so beautiful and humbling, and no photo can capture a mountain range’s scale. It felt so odd to look up and not see a snow-capped peak in the distance upon returning home!

Vail obviously has snow-related activities in the season that shall not be named, but they also have a ton of fun stuff to do in the summer. One day we took a ride up the gondolas in both ski villages to take in the views from the top.

The gondola in Lionshead Square, called Eagle Bahn Gondola, takes you up to the top of the mountain where there’s a kid zone with slides, trampolines, rope courses, etc., though we took the opportunity to simply take in the view…

Of Cameron’s rear end. He thought it was soo funny. (Ok, it was.)

You can also simply start hiking on one of the many trails that begin at the base of the mountain, which we also did one morning. Ben and I both agreed when/if we get the chance to take a quick getaway just the two of us, we are heading to Colorado to hike for three days straight. Working out doesn’t seem like work when you’re in a setting like this.

I strapped sis in our Ergobaby and she was asleep in minutes!

Lincoln has always been our little hiker – he crushed this same trail with Ben three years ago – though our little Cam isn’t a mountain man yet. Ben got in a serious workout with him on his hip nearly the entire time.

We refueled with water and candy from Fuzziwig’s on the banks of Gore Creek afterwards. Such a wonderful morning.

As most will tell you, traveling with children isn’t stress free, nor is it always fun, but we truly had a wonderful time. As I mentioned, this was our first trip as a party of five and I told Ben before we left that if we got through this, we could get through anything. And we did it! Honestly that’s as big of a highlight as all the others on this trip. These kids killed it (and thankfully not us)! Here are a few tips for traveling with little ones that we found helpful:

Tips for Traveling with Little Ones:

  • Lower your expectations. Now lower them some more. Don’t go to the beach with little kids and expect to be drinking pina coladas all day. Don’t go to the mountains and plan a 5 hour hike. You’re going to be disappointed. Enjoy the experience for what it is. Yes, vacationing with kids is a lot of watching them in a different location, but appreciate the fact that you’re in a different location!
  • Snacks, man. There is nothing worse then being away from home with hangry kids when you don’t have a car or home to go back to. Pack those dang snacks…then pack some more!
  • Consider non-traditional travel plans. Since flights from my town to Denver are direct and relatively inexpensive, what we’ve done since Lincoln was a baby is I fly with whoever is the baby at the time, while Ben drives out (sometimes a day early) with whatever child is road-trip ready, and they pick me and the baby up at the airport. 1-1/2 hours in an airplane > 10 hours in a car, plus you don’t have to hassle with renting a car that fits your needs. I feel the need to mention that Ben adores road trips, and I hate them, so this particular arrangement works really well for us.
  • VRBO! We looked at a ton of VRBO listings before ultimately selecting this condo, which is managed like a VRBO property. Let’s face it, sleeping in the same room as your children for even one night when they’re infants and/or toddlers can be a complete disaster. VRBO lets you stay in homes and condos for extremely reasonable prices, and you get the benefit of having multiple rooms/bedrooms and a fully stocked kitchen. This will also help you save money since you won’t be needing to eat out for every single meal.

If you’ve never been to Colorado, do yourself an enormous favor and get it, especially Vail, on your list ASAP. There is something for everyone, and for all ages too. Although our bucket list is long with locations to hit in Colorado (TELLURIDE, I AM COMING FOR YOU!) we will undoubtedly be back to Vail again, and again, and again. Until next time!