New Lone Tree Park

As a parent in Southwest Denver, I know that it can be tons of fun to take your kids to new playgrounds. Unfortunately, it can be hard to find them since they tend to be tucked away in neighborhoods where you wouldn’t normally drive by and see them.

Centennial Ridge Park

South Suburban Parks and Recreation recently completed a new playground in Centennial Ridge Park. The park has a brand new basketball court, and new playground equipment. According to SSPR, the playground also has a hop scotch (big whoop) and also a foursquare court.

Although both hopscotch and foursquare aren’t that hard to come by, new paint and uncracked pavement is always fun.

The district says that they will be adding picnic tables and a shad pavilion next spring. The park is just west of the Lone Tree Tennis Center on Lincoln Ave. The official address is 10022 Lone Tree Parkway, Lone Tree, Co, 80124.

The playground is one of the smaller structures the district puts in, but it has 3 slides on the big structure, a nice toddler structure, and a tiny playhouse as well as a small swing set. There is also a water fountain, and trails nearby.

All in all, if you need a new playground to stimulate your kiddos, this is a fun one with plenty of sunshine and not crowds… at least not yet.

You can find information on new parks and playgrounds that South Suburban Recreation District is working on at the website. It’s kind of fun to follow along, even if what they really need is a new tennis bubble so that the only one they have isn’t booked out months in advance with tennis classes that are impossible to get into unless you treat registration like concert tickets.

Happy parenting, enjoy the parks.

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Great Sand Dunes National Park Family Trip

Thinking about taking your family on a trip to the Great Sand Dunes National Park? I’ve only got one thing to say to you… Do it!

Is Great Sand Dunes National Park Good for Families With Kids?

I know how it is. You took your kids to see some of the greatest attractions in the world including U.S. National Parks. Some of them they really appreciated, others not so much. One of the big issues is that often National Parks can be pretty stuffy and delicate.

Yellowstone National Park is a wonder to behold, but you can’t step off of the paths near the geysers, and some of the pretty colored lakes will actually dissolve your flesh in acid! Plus the traffic can be awful.

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The Grand Canyon was awesome… for 10 minutes, then it’s just more rails to keep you from falling into a giant hole in the ground.

The drive up to Mount Rushmore was fine, thanks to iPads, but it doesn’t take long to see four faces carved into a rock. Thank goodness for the pool with waterslide in the nearby town.

Hope you were fortunate enough to reserve your ticket to climb to the crown of the Statue of Liberty six-months in advance.

And so on.

So, what if I told you, at Great Sand Dunes National Park, your kids can run WILD? They can go anywhere. They can step on anything.

Want to dig a hole in the dunes?

Go nuts!

Stomp on the tops?

Do you.

Sled down the face of a steep sandy hill?

Boo ya!

Sand Dunes Repair

Turns out that the same winds that built the sand dunes in the first place constantly blow shaping, and reshaping the sand dunes. All the “damage” that you can do on your trip will simply be blown away during the next night or two. You never have to say:

  • Don’t touch
  • Stay on the path
  • Leave the animals alone (you can’t catch the few that are there)
  • Be careful
  • Don’t run
  • Don’t put that in your mouth… well, maybe that one.

Sand Dunes Sledding

The most fun you can have on the Sand Dunes is sledding down them. There is a catch. A regular sled, or wax paper, or cardboard, or whatever you think of, will NOT work.

Suck it up and rent a sand sled, or sandboard, in Alamosa when you grab dinner or breakfast, or whatever. No they aren’t cheap, but if you cheap out on this, you’re going to be very disappointed.

  • Oasis Store (outside park entrance) rents equipment from spring through early fall, 719-378-2222
  • Kristi Mountain Sports in Alamosa (35 miles from the park on US 160), open year round, 719-589-9759
  • Sand Dunes Swimming Pool near Hooper (32 miles from the park on CO 17), open year round, 719-378-2807
  • Mountain View Motor Inn in Fort Garland (32 miles from the park on US 160), open year round, 719-379-2993

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Sand Dunes Family Tips

Your kids aren’t going to want to do it all day, so have some plans for the second half of the day based on whatever your family usually likes to do on vacation.

Go early. It can get stupid-hot out on the Sand Dunes and dragging a sled back up the hill in 100 degree heat is not fun.

sand dunes picture

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Denver

It would be a stretch to call the Sand Dunes a day trip from Denver. It’s a four-hour drive each way. You’ll really want to stay in a hotel somewhere either on the front or back end, and maybe both. We usually drive down, stay in a hotel that night, spend the next day on the dunes, stay in a hotel that night, and then head out the next day. The Sand Dunes are a great weekend trip from Denver, or if you’re doing some of the other Southwestern Colorado attractions like Mesa Verde, it can be a great add-on.

When it comes to hotels, there is only one hotel right near the national park. It’s called Great Sand Dunes Lodge. (I haven’t been in a few years, but after we go this fall I’ll post a review.) If you can’t stay there, you’ll be in a town a half-hour or more away. Be sure to pull out Google Maps before booking your stay.

The Sand Dunes makes a great fall trip thanks to lower heat, and the mosquitos all disappearing (not enough water). Later, you can go to Disneyland for Halloween.

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Current Happy Meal Toy Latest Update

Good parenting skills are key to avoiding things like temper tantrums, sulking, and most importantly of all, disappointed children which leads to disappointment for parents too. As a dad, good nutrition is important to me and my kids, primarily because I know how important getting the right foods helps kids stay healthy and grow strong.

On the other hand, having fun is very important to me too. And, as a fully grown adult who not only got an occasional McDonald’s meal when I was a kid, as well as one who ate there waaaayyyy to much in his twenties, I know that a Happy Meal here and there isn’t going to hurt my kids. When you way the fun of a trip to McDonald’s to get a Happy Meal against any nutritional detriments, fun comes out way ahead.

happy meal toy box

The catch to the whole thing is that the toy in a McDonald’s Happy Meal is an important part of the fun. Nothing puts disappointment on a little kid’s face like a crummy Happy Meal toy. That’s why I always like to know in advance what the current Happy Meal toy is.

Often the toys are tied to movies, but many of those won’t end up on the list of good movies for kids.

However, that does not necessarily mean that the current Happy Meal toy is no good.

Trick To Get Better Happy Meal Toy

If you have a younger child and the McDonald’s toy sucks when you go, there is a trick you can use to get a better Happy Meal toy free and easy.

The main Happy Meal toys are almost never “suitable” for children under 3. So, if you have a kid who is under, or even near 3-years old, just ask for the “under 3 toy”. This is a special Happy Meal toy that all McDonald’s restaurants keep on hand for parents who have young kids that don’t meet the official age requirements for the main Happy Meal toy. Don’t worry about making anyone grumpy, they have to have those toys anyway, and it is all the same to them, as long as you aren’t trying to be a weasel and get two toys out of your Happy Meal.

You can also find out the latest Happy Meal toys with the McDonald’s app. And, as an added bonus, if you’ve got more than one child, the app often has coupons Happy Meals, like a Buy One Happy Meal, Get One Free coupon that is on my app for this week.

However your lunch journey ends up going, have a fun day with your kids.

May 2021 Happy Meal Toys

It looks like the May 2021 Happy Meal toys will be either Hot Wheels cards, or Shopkins Happy Places. Remember, don’t say, “boys toy” or “girls toy” when talking about the Happy Meal toy choices.

Hot Wheels are obviously cars. The Shopkins things appear to be furniture turned into cuddly animals.

Like this, but only the furniture, no humans are available as McDonald’s Happy Meal Toys in May 2021.
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Free Library Perks for Child Entertainment and Education

We’ve been using the library since the first kiddo was born. Young kids love to read new books, and to have new books read to them. It just doesn’t make sense to drop $10 on a new board book, first reader children’s book, or other books every single time you finish reading a book. Even third and fourth grade books seems to come and go quickly.

While owning books is great (and I highly recommend buying their favorites so they can have their own library at home), the quick loan from the library offers plenty of new books.

Reading new books to your child also helps with brain development, and studies have shown that children who are read to during their early years development better vocabularies, writing abilities, and even intelligence. Some studies show that the number of different words spoken to a child during their developmental years can predict future intelligence.

But, there many more free perks from the library than you ever imagined.

Free Library Perks

Every library system is different, so check your local library website for the free perks your own library offers.

We have the good fortune of living near a county line in suburban Denver. That means, we can realistically access three different library systems, the Douglas County Libraries, the Arapahoe County Libraries, and the Denver Public Libraries.

Each has their own list of amazing free services and library benefits.

Free Douglas County Library Card Perks

Like hiking? The Douglas County Library offers backpacks that you can check out. The backpack comes with a parks pass good for any of the Colorado State Parks. Before you use your free parks pass, use the free pro upgrade to AllTrails Pro so that you can plan your hike with all of the cool AllTrails Pro map perks. (Be sure to enter the coupon code when you upgrade, but no billing information. That gives you a free 12 month membership. Otherwise, it might renew at $29.99 the following year.)


You can also borrow things like an Oculus Go headset, a Cricut Joy machine, cameras, telescopes, microscopes, and tons of other things. Most things have hefty wait lists, though, so take this as an opportunity to try some fun things out, not a way to get equipment when you need it.

Show your library card at certain businesses for discounts as well.

The best perk for us is the free passes to local attractions that we don’t already have memberships to like the Butterfly Pavilion and the Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum. You can reserve the passes up to 14 days in advance, so it helps to plan ahead.

Other huge library perks are free access to, which offers tons of software trainings, as well as business training and other how-tos. While I’ve never used Creativebug, it looks like it has tons of DIY classes.

My latest pleasure is Mango Languages. It lets you learn languages, and your library card gives you free access to brush up on your German, or Spanish, or to learn French.

If you’re doing research, most libraries offer free access to numerous online research databases with your library card number and password.

Multiple Libraries Perks

There are likely plenty of great free library perks at your local library, but if you can easily access more libraries, they often do not require you to live there to get a library card.

So ask! You could get even more free library perks.

Here in the Denver area, the Denver Public Library system dropped over privacy issues, but I still get free access from the Douglas County Library system, although it is now called LinkedIn Learning after Linked in bought Lynda.

Denver Libraries replaced Lynda with Udemy Learning, so I can get free online training from two premier technology training companies. And the Denver technology labs will 3D print items that you send to them for free.

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Free 5th Grade Ski Pass Colorado

Colorado Ski Country USA offers a neat program for 5th graders in Colorado. Basically, you can get a free ski pass for 5th graders in Colorado to several different ski resorts. It’s a bit different since my last kiddo was in 5th grade, so I suppose it’s time to dig back into the details. It should be easy. I just got the 2019-2020 5th Grade Passport Kids Ski Free brochure from the school. (Actually, I dug it out of his backpack while looking for something else.)

5th Graders Ski Free Pass

If I remember correctly, the older versions of the free 5th grade ski pass allowed actual free skiing as much as you wanted at the participating ski resorts. It doesn’t quite worth that way anymore, but it’s still a really great deal for skiing in Colorado.

free 5th grade colorado ski pass

Where Does the 5th Grade Fee Ski Pass Work?

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The 2019-2020 5th Grade Ski Pass lets you ski for 3 days each at 22 different ski areas throughout Colorado. As a Colorado parent, that has locals knowledge of the ski resorts, you are basically looking at the NOT VAIL owned ski resorts. In other words, the free 5th grader ski pass does is not accepted at:

  • Vail
  • Breckenridge
  • Keystone
  • Beaver Creek

The free ski pass for 5th graders also is not accepted at Crested Butte, although, I can’t blame that on Vail.

It does work at plenty of other popular and quality ski resorts including

  • Loveland
  • A-Basin
  • Copper
  • Winter Park
  • Steamboat
  • Aspen
  • Snowmass
  • Telluride
  • Eldora

If you’re the type that hits some of the lesser known / farther flung ski areas in Colorado, the 5th grade pass also is accepted at:

  • Powderhorn
  • Sunlight
  • Howelsen Hill
  • Grandby Ranch
  • Echo Mountain
  • Cooper
  • Monarch
  • Kendall Mountain
  • Wolf Creek
  • Purgatory
  • Hesperus

Other 5th Grade Passport Benefits

Obviously, the main reason you should get the 5th Grade Ski Passport if for the free skiing, but it does come with a couple of other benefits that you might be able to take advantage of depending upon your family ski situation

You can get ONE free junior rental from Christy Sports. Obviously, if you are going up enough to claim a few of these resorts, you should get a season ski rental, or have your own gear. Otherwise, free is still free, even if it’s only once.

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You can also get a Level One Beginner lesson, “for those who qualify.” That won’t be us, so I’ll let you go hit up the website to dig into details for that.

Colorado Gems 5th Grade Free Ski Passport

Potentially useful for some families is a parent benefit that you can buy along with getting the free 5th grade ski pass.

It costs $30 to add on a 2019-2020 Colorado Gems Card. The Colorado Gems card gets you EITHER 2-1 adult lift tickets (full-price adult lift tickets that is), or 30% off of adult tickets. You’ll need to do some math to determine which is the better deal.

This benefit is only good at some of the 22 ski resorts your 5th graders free ski pass works at. Also, you can only use your benefit TWICE per resort, unlike the 5th grade pass that works three times per resort. The Colorado Gems resorts are:

  • Arapahoe Basin
  • Loveland
  • Cooper (not Copper)
  • Monarch
  • Eldora
  • Echo Mountain
  • Grandby Ranch
  • Hesperus
  • Kendall Mountain
  • Powderhorn
  • Sunlight

How To Get a 5th Grade Ski Free Pass

The easiest way to get your free 2019-2020 5th Grade Passport is to get the brochure from your kids’ school. On the back of that brochure is a unique registration code that lets you skip all the different verification hoops to sign up for the free 5th graders ski pass. (If you have non-skiing friends and you get the brochures, and you have a kid that’s in 4th or 6th grade, I’m not saying you should cheat, I’m just saying you could cheat.)

To sign up for the 5th Grade Ski Free pass, you need to go online at You need a “digital image of your child” (a picture) and the unique registration code. This isn’t a passport, any relatively decent face picture will do.

Be sure to ask your kiddo to keep an eye out for the ski pass brochure, because if your child’s elementary school is anything like my child’s they bring home more than a few things that seem irrelevant to them that they forget all about while they get shoved further and further down into their backpack.

Also, remember they don’t mail you a fifth grade ski pass or anything. You get it picked up at the first resort you go to, so either plan ahead and arrive a bit early on your first ski day of the season, or drop by a lift ticket window ahead of time if you’re the type that is in the area.

When To Get the Free 5th Grade Colorado Ski Pass

According to the brochure it takes 5-7 business days for a child to get approved to get their pass, so you’ll need to plan ahead a bit. My kiddo’s brochure came home today, and right after I finish writing this up, I’m headed over to the website to sign up. While some people plan out their whole ski season, we don’t roll that way so I have no idea when our first ski day will be. Might as well have this whole 5th graders ski free thing sorted before it becomes any sort of issue.

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