The green beast has been staring me down all morning. I’ve watched countless thrill-seekers disappear down its watery chute. And my 11-year-old son is showing me up, completing laps down the waterslide and back up the five flights of stairs as I wait in line for a different slide. I know the moment of reckoning is coming. I can’t escape the Wolf Tail.
Finally there’s no line—no last chance to talk myself out of this lupine lunacy—so I step up to the launching chamber. It looks like some sort of submarine chamber, cheery bright green with wraparound plexiglass. I feel like I’m stepping into a drive-through banking tube, and I’m the deposit. The door closes, and the attendant gives me a thumbs-up. I nod my readiness and take deep breaths. I cross my arms and feet and close my eyes. There’s a final countdown, then whoosh! A trapdoor opens, and I plummet straight through the floor. The only sensation is aquatic speed. I’m free-falling downward, then speeding flat on my back around swooping turns. I’m completely disoriented. Water sprays around me. So this is what it feels like when the Millennium Falcon makes that jump into hyperspace, I think. In about 3.6 seconds, I’m at the bottom.
When we booked our reservation for a weekend getaway at the Great Wolf Lodge, my family suspected we would spend most of our time in the water. Swimming in a humid 80-some degrees on a cold Colorado weekend seemed like a no-brainer. But while the Wolf Tail, Howlin’ Tornado and rest of the 79,000-square-foot indoor water park did not disappoint, there’s much more to this northside family resort than just its impressive pools.
Our first clue comes as soon as we step through the front doors. “Here are your wolf ears,” says the friendly staff member, right before she joins in a group howl to mark an arriving child’s birthday. “We hope you have a howlin’ good time!” she tells us with enthusiasm.
Great Wolf Lodge takes a page out of the Disney playbook. Everything is designed to entertain the kids from dawn till dusk and keep things easy for families. A cast of cute Forest Friends sets the theme. The mascots roam the resort, and you can create a stuffed animal of your favorite in the Build-A-Bear Workshop. Large mechanically-animated versions perform singalongs and bedtime tales in the cavernous lobby, where young kids gather in wolf-themed footie pajamas.
Our Paw Passes are the keys to activity, and we explore the climbing wall and ropes course. They seem built to scale for the elementary school set, but my teen and tween still have fun. And no one’s too old for tenpin bowling—or joining a staff-led dance party.
Happy kids mean happy parents, but the adults aren’t an afterthought, especially when it comes to food and drinks. There’s a whole range of restaurant options, from snacks to poolside fast food to buffet. But Barnwood is the resort’s chef-driven standout, built around an open, rustic style and locally-sourced seasonal menus. It’s here we enjoy some small-plate starters and the likes of bourbon-braised short rib, as well as the sizable wine list and signature cocktail menu. If you go, just be sure to save room for Wine Down Service later: sweet or savory food and wine pairings delivered to your room with milk and cookies for the kids.
There’s a whirlwind of activity built into Great Wolf Lodge, but everybody needs a break sometime too. After the adrenaline of the Wolf Tail and a long waterslide session, we find ourselves drawn to our balcony on a sunny Saturday afternoon. The Air Force Academy and Front Range provide a sweeping view beneath brilliant blue skies. It’s satisfying to sit and savor the familiar backdrop without having to rush to meetings or appointments or practices. The radiating southern sun lulls us into a lazy catnap. While waterpark fun and family entertainment are the obvious draws to Great Wolf Lodge, sometimes the magic of a staycation lies in the ease of staying close to home to simply snooze in the sun.
Want to Go?
Find details and packages at greatwolflodge.com.
Howlin’ Good Highlights
Howlin’ Tornado: Hang on to your four-person raft on a halfpipe-like ride through a ginormous funnel. My favorite.
Mountain Edge Raceway: Grab a mat and race your whole pack on the timed side-by-side chutes.
Slap Tail Pond: Close your eyes and imagine you’re in the ocean when this wave pool churns.
Fort Mackenzie: A giant bucket regularly pours 350 gallons of water over the kids’ splash-fort.