Looking for a Winter Wonderland this season? Consider staying in Colorful Colorado! Known for its snow-capped peaks, fresh powder, and untamed beauty, this mountain state is sure to please all outdoor enthusiasts and culture connoisseurs in your family. Situated along the Rocky Mountains, this cup overfloweth with things to do during the winter months. From skiing to ice castles and everything in between, Colorado never runs dry with so many unique places to visit in the winter.
Whether you’re looking for a ski spot or a cozy country town to spend your winter vacation, this article’s got you covered. Here are the 7 best winter destinations in Colorado!
Guest Post by Jill Toth from out-spiration.com
1. Estes Park, Colorado
This little gateway town high above the state’s capital is the perfect destination for a weekend getaway in the winter.
Just a 90-minute drive from Denver, the Estes Valley offers plentiful outdoor pursuits, fascinating history, and tasty libations at 7,522 ft.
Go snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park
Estes Park is a gateway town to Rocky Mountain National Park, the nation’s third most-visited national park. This park encompasses 415 square miles of awe-inspiring views and 355 miles of hiking trails.
During the winter, trails and vistas are blanketed in snow and offer different recreation pursuits. Consider snowshoeing! Rent a pair of snowshoes at a local shop downtown Estes and head into the park for endless adventure.
Visit The Stanley Hotel
Infamously known as the setting for Stephen King’s The Shining, the Stanley Hotel and surrounding property is filled with lavish history and charm. Take a Day Tour through the hotel and meet Mr. F.O. Stanley, his wife Flora, and all others who have made this hotel legendary. For those looking to witness what goes bump in the night, consider taking the Night Tour and experience the folklore for yourself. Afterwards, grab a drink and a bite to eat at the Cascades Restaurant & Lounge located on the first floor of the hotel.
Explore Estes’ craft breweries
Tall snow-capped mountains in the winter make for crisp snow melt runoff come spring. The locals have taken advantage of this and created several local breweries throughout town. If your taste buds favor hops be sure to check out the following brews at these local Estes Valley Breweries.
Estes Park Brewery: Long’s Peak Raspberry Wheat Ale (4.6% ABV)
Rock Cut Brewing Company: Galactic Portal Hazy IPA (5.7% ABV)
Avante Garde Ale Works: Farmhouse Saison (8.0% ABV)
Lumpy Ridge Brewing Company: Rancho Deluxe Western American Lager (5.0% ABV)
With so much to see and do, Estes Park is definitely among the best places to visit in Colorado, especially in the winter.
2. Nederland is a top winter destination in Colorado
Known as one of Colorado’s quirkiest towns, Nederland ups the ante in Boulder County. Located a mere 16 miles above the city of Boulder and nestled along the banks of the Barker Reservoir, this tiny mountain town draws thousands every winter through festivals, recreation, and its distinctive culture.
Partake in ‘Frozen Dead Guy Days‘
This three day “Frosty Fiesta” pays homage to Bredo Morstoel (a.k.a. Grandpa), the man cryofrozen for over 110 years. Nederlandians celebrate this festival every March just before the snow begins to melt. But it’s more than just dancing around a frozen dead guy. These three days are filled with live music, local craft food and beverage vendors, and FREE viewing/participation in kooky events. Try your hand in a few, such as coffin racing, costumed polar plunging, and more for the whole family. These are definitely some of the most unique activities that you’ll encounter on a winter vacation in Colorado.
Ski at Eldora Mountain
If you want to hit the slopes and not break the bank, consider Eldora. This local ski area is owned and operated by Powdr Corporation and a partner on the Ikon Pass. Smaller and lesser known, this mountain offers its guests 680 acres of skiable terrain only 45-minutes from Denver. Eldora also boasts Colorado’s best snowmaking system with 100% coverage on groomed terrain. Save time and money, support local, and ski Eldora this winter season.
Experience the local culture
One of the most unique features of this mountain town is its culture. Originally founded as a trading post between Ute Idians and European settlers in the mid-1800’s, Nederland was formally incorporated in 1874. Mining culture ran rampant throughout the town when precious metals were discovered, but died down when materials were stripped from the land. It wasn’t until the late 1900’s that the new age of settlers arrived- hippies. Their laid back lifestyles and vibrant music suited the surrounding lands and they decided to settle in for good. From them came a fantastic music scene and food network still in tact today.
This hidden gem of a town is definitely among the coolest places to visit in Colorado in the winter.
3. Dillon, Colorado
This mountain city acts as a major hub for residents and visitors alike along the Ten Mile and Gore Mountains in Central Colorado. Nestled between the peaks and along I-70 gives visitors quick access to all things outdoors as well as arts and shopping.
Hit the slopes at one of the local ski resorts
Dillon is the epitome for easy access to several of Colorado’s best ski resorts, including Breckenridge, Keystone, Arapahoe Basin, Loveland, Copper Mountain, Vail (the list goes on and on). Create a basecamp and save money by staying outside of the resort towns.
Most of these resorts are partners on the Vail Epic Pass meaning you can buy a multi-day pass and shred a different mountain every day.
TIP: Most ski resorts require reservations for skiing this season due to COVID-19. Make sure to visit the resort’s website and check availability before making your travel plans.
Marvel at the ice castles
Most states have their own beloved Ice Castle Festival every winter season, but nothing compares to the award-winning castles seen in Dillon, Colorado. 25 million pounds of ice are carefully sculpted into giant buildings and tunnels that visitors can actually walk through. Light displays illuminate the structures and create a winter wonderland unlike anything else you’ve ever seen.
Shop at the Outlets of Silverthorne
Take a day off from exploring and get your shopping shoes on. The Outlets of Silverthorne are a short drive west from Dillon and offer incredible savings. Stores include Eddie Bauer, Columbia, and Levi’s, to name a few. When you’ve shopped until you’re ready to drop, head back to Dillon and take a load off at the Dillon Dam Brewery– the #1 largest brewpub in the Rockies.
4. Leadville, Colorado
Visit the small city with a big history. Surrounded by towering peaks and thousands of miles of national forests, it’s no wonder that Leadville’s natives are avid outdoor enthusiasts and down to earth. But don’t be fooled! While these people greet everyone with a smile, they have a type of grit reminiscent of their mining forefathers.
Ride the Continental Divide on a snowmobile
A different way to experience Colorado’s winters is via snowmobile. With thousands of miles of open land, Leadville offers a unique backcountry experience for powder hounds. From flat terrain perfect for beginners to deep powder made for experts, riders can experience the San Isabel National Forest to the fullest.
Experience the historic ghost towns
This city was once the mining capital of the world. Prospectors were beckoned by the call of silver and gold, making Leadville their home during the hunt. More people followed them to the mountains and eventually these mining camps became towns. When the silver and gold ran dry, the people ran too. Today, Colorado is home to more than 150 ghost towns, most of which are located near Leadville.
Tour the National Historic District
Leadville is one of Colorado’s most well-preserved towns. In its downtown district there are roughly 70 square blocks designated as a National Historic Landmark for Victorian Architecture. From Victorian homes with turrets to old saloons with bullet holes still in the walls, the late 1800’s are alive and well in Leadville. Go back in time and experience the silver mining boom days first hand on your very own walking tour. Pick up a map at the Visitor Center on Harrison Avenue in downtown Leadville.
5. Winter Park, CO – one of the best places to visit in Colorado in the winter
Venture out to Colorado this winter and experience this small, family-friendly mountain town west of Denver. With over 3,000 acres of skiable terrain, over 325 inches of fresh snow every season, and a base village filled with restaurants, shops, and entertainment, you’ll want to make sure Winter Park is on your radar this winter season.
Read next: 12 Coolest Airbnbs in Colorado
Ski at Colorado’s oldest ski resort
Winter Park Resort will be celebrating their 81st season this November. When the park opened back in 1940, lift tickets were only $1.00! Since then there have been many improvements and additions to the terrain and village. With over 3,000ft of vertical rise among the seven territories and 166 designated trails, it’s no wonder this resort has been named North America’s #1 Ski Resort by USA Today.
Drink a Mary Jane Ale
Boulder’s Upslope Brewing Co. took over the production of Winter Park’s famed Mary Jane Ale in 2014. Since then, the Brewery has crafted a one-of-a-kind ale to match Mary Jane’s infamous terrain. Big bumps and phenomenal tree skiing make this territory better with each coming season. Locals thank “the Lady” for her raw terrain and cheers her for allowing them to experience such a wild ride. After a long day on the slopes, you’ll want to enjoy an ale as you reflect on this amazing winter vacation in Colorado.
Visit YMCA of the Rockies Snow Mountain Ranch
Just a short drive north to Granby, CO, Snow Mountain Ranch is a basecamp for fun. This center offers ample activities and adventures for families at reasonable prices. Warm up inside at the craft shop and create something special, strap on some skates and take a lap around the skating rink, or bundle up and slide down the outdoor tubing hill.
6. Steamboat Springs, Colorado
Make the trek up to Steamboat Springs and you’ll see why it’s one of the best places to visit in Colorado in the winter.
Also known as Ski Town, U.S.A., this town is known for being a winter wonderland. Experience all things winter and see for yourself why it’s home to more Olympic skiers than any other town in North America.
Embrace Steamboat’s Western Heritage
Kids on skis being pulled behind horses down the middle of a snow-covered street, people soaring through the air off of giant jumps, and a light show unlike any other you’ve ever seen. Yep, welcome to Steamboat’s Winter Carnival. The upcoming 107th Annual Winter Carnival will be held February 3-7, 2021 (COVID-19 dependent). This beloved tradition dating back to 1914 began as a coping method for Colorado’s cold winters and has since turned into one of the most sought after events of the year. Strap on your chaps and break out the ski boots, it’s time to go buck wild.
Ski the Champagne Powder
Experience the same nose-tickling sensation early ranchers did from their first dance in the snow. Known as the “lightest, driest, fluffiest snow on earth”, Steamboat’s powder is like nothing you’ve ever skied before. This distinctive snow averages 6% water content in comparison to the 15% seen at other resorts in the area. If skiing powder is on your list this season, make sure you get to Steamboat Ski Resort.
Soak at Strawberry Hot Springs
After endless days of skiing in the streets and surfing through powder, take some time to relax in the local hot springs. Just a short drive from town, Strawberry Park resides near Routt National Forest. These therapeutic, thermal springs sit around 101-105 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. Be sure to bring your own towels and swimsuits in order to soothe your sore muscles.
7. Telluride, Colorado
Save travel time and fly direct to Telluride. This town sits among the San Juan Mountains in southern Colorado and prides itself on its lively western aesthetic. Natural beauty and Victorian charm create a ski town unlike any other. With plenty of things to do during the winter, this mountain town is sure to keep the whole family entertained. It’s one of the top winter vacation destinations in Colorado, and for good reason.
If you’re sick of waiting in lift lines or skiing around people on the slopes, consider Telluride Ski Resort. This destination is known for its uncrowded slopes and lack of lift lines. Boasting over 2,000 acres of skiable terrain, this resort offers trails for everyone in the family. From graceful groomers to lift-served backcountry, blissful solitude has a different meaning here.
Go for a sleigh ride or horseback riding in the old west
Take a break from man-powered sports and let the horses run. “Dashing through the snow” is different here in Telluride. The snowy backdrop elicits a unique experience among the jagged peaks of the San Juans. Stay warm under blankets on a sleigh ride with the family or get the blood pumping on horseback as you ride through Colorado’s old west.
Grab dinner in a Gondola and reflect on your amazing winter vacation in Colorado
Mighty hungry after a day spent exploring? Why not grab dinner in the town’s newest, COVID-19 friendly setting- a refurbished ski gondola. In order to increase restaurant seating capacities in Mountain Village (Telluride’s sister town), creatives found new ways to produce the après experience. The Gondola Shop, a gondola refurbishing company in Fruita, CO. This company is working to place lights, heating and ventilation systems, as well as seating into the old gondola cabs in hopes of comfortably hosting six people for après activities.
Best Places to Visit in Colorado during the Winter
Regardless of what you have going on this winter season, schedule some time away for yourself and the family. This year has been one for the books. We can all attest to the fact that we really have no idea what to expect anymore and that can definitely take a toll on our well-being. Travel, although somewhat restricted at the moment, is a great escape from our current situation. Unprecedented times call for unprecedented adventures. Seek out the winter wonderland vacation of your dreams this season in Colorful Colorado.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jill Toth is a freelance content creator specializing in travel and outdoor recreation. A Wisconsin native turned Colorado adventure guru, she is very passionate about the outdoors and connecting people with nature which is what she tends to focus on in her writing. Follow Jill’s adventures on her blog at out-spiration.com.
Looking to visit more cool destinations across the US? Check out these articles: