Colorado is magical in the winter. Some people say that winter is the best time of year to visit the Rocky Mountain State, and believe that Colorado is the best place in the entire United States to visit during the winter months.
But wait– you say; Isn’t Colorado cold in the winter? No duh.
The people who love Colorado during the winter must be outdoor enthusiasts looking for cold, outdoor fun, right?
In part, it’s true. Lots of people who love Colorado in the winter are, in fact, skiers, snowboarders, and snowmobilers. There are many people who adore being out in the cold participating in winter sports or simply just admiring the beauty.
But, those people aren’t the only ones who love Colorado in the winter.
There are so many things to see and do in this great state during the winter months – many of them indoors; there are plenty of things to do for everyone to enjoy. Colorado in the winter is exciting and it’s beautiful, and it’s not like anyplace else in the United States or in the world.
If you’re curious about the best places to visit in Colorado in the winter, read on. In this informative post, we’ll tell you about a vast number and variety of destinations all over the state. We’ll tell you where to stay, and what you do to fill your days.
Chances are, once you have your first Colorado winter adventure, you’ll be coming back year after year for more. You’re going to love every bit of it – so, after reading this, you’ll want to start planning your trip today – you just need to figure out where to go first.
Hopefully, our guide will help you to decide.
Table of Contents
- Best Places to Visit in Colorado in the Winter
- The Front Range
- 1. Denver
- 2. Boulder
- 3. Fort Collins
- 4. Colorado Springs & Manitou Springs
- The Mountains
- 5. Central City & Black Hawk
- 6. Breckenridge
- 7. Winter Park
- 8. Leadville
- 9. Buena Vista & Salida
- 10. Vail
- 11. Steamboat Springs
- 12. Pagosa Springs
- The Western Slope
- 13. Telluride
- 14. Durango
- 15. Glenwood Springs
Best Places to Visit in Colorado in the Winter
The Front Range
Colorado’s Front Range is its biggest population center; it’s where most of the state’s biggest cities – Denver, Boulder, Colorado Springs, and Fort Collins – are located. Most tourists visiting the state fly into Denver International Airport and begin the rest of their trip from there.
The Front Range is called that because suddenly, the mostly flat Eastern Plains region of the state comes to an abrupt stop where the Rocky Mountains begin; this area includes the “front” ranges of the Rockies.
At the base of those smallish-but-still-quite-large mountains are these cities, founded by settlers who didn’t want to go further after seeing the daunting task ahead of them a century and a half or so ago.
The Front Range is one of the best places to visit in Colorado in the winter.
It may be wise for you to plan a few extra days in the Front Range at the beginning or end of your trip to the mountains so you can enjoy this part of Colorado as well.
Denver is Colorado’s capital city and its largest and most populous city.
Although the population of the city is just over 700,000, the Denver-Aurora-Lakewood Metropolitan Statistical Area, which includes the city’s immediate suburbs but does not include Boulder to the north or Colorado Springs to the south, is currently approaching a population of three million.
This city on the edge of both the mountains and the plains has so much to offer, including world-class museums, four professional sports teams, beautiful parks, a fantastic music scene, an impressive food scene, an interesting history, and friendly, welcoming folks all around.
Things to Do in Denver
Winter visitors might enjoy visits to the Denver Art Museum, the Denver Museum of Contemporary Art, and Meow Wolf for three very different art experiences. You might enjoy taking in a hockey game at the Ball Arena alongside the ravenous local fans of the Colorado Avalanche.
A historical or food-based walking tour is a great way to spend a day and learn more about this intriguing city. Still others might enjoy a wintery hike at the world-famous Red Rocks Park on the outskirts of town or a free afternoon of ice skating at Skyline Park downtown.
Denver Tours & Accommodations
If you are seeking a tour of the area, you might consider this Rocky Mountain Half-Day Explorer Trip which will take you to Red Rocks Amphitheater, Evergreen, Lookout Mountain, and Buffalo Bill’s Grave.
Or, learn a bit about Denver’s spooky, historical downtown on a Haunted Walking Ghost Tour of the area.
The Source Hotel is a great option near downtown; if you’d rather be on the outskirts of Denver near the airport, try the Gaylord Rockies Resort & Convention Center, which is full of amenities you’ll love.
See Related: 10 Best Breweries in Denver to Visit Today
Boulder is Denver’s neighbor to the northwest, and while the two used to be completely separate cities with nearly thirty miles separating them, suburban creep has nearly connected the two in recent decades; they almost feel like one big city when one drives between them. But, even with that said, the two cities have very different personalities.
The college-town vibe of Boulder is charming. The campus is beautiful, the homes that surround it are beautiful, and the high-end-yet-hippie stores and restaurants that populate the city are designed to serve a very specific type of clientele.
Things to Do in Boulder
Boulder is a great place to visit. In the winter, there is much to do. The Pearl Street Mall is a pedestrian mall that includes many curious and spectacular shops. This is a city that encourages walking, so a walk around the Colorado University campus is easy and enjoyable; a walk around the Chautauqua Institution is great also.
If you’re feeling more adventurous, you might check out the Flatirons hiking trails or try sledding or snow tubing up there.
And, at the end, the best way to top off a day in Boulder is with a local craft beer.
Boulder Tours & Accommodations
Rocky Mountain National Park isn’t far away, it’s only thirty minutes to Estes Park, and you’ll see the best of it on this 8-Hour Private Tour.
If you want to stay closer to town, you might prefer a Boulder Hike & Beer with a Local Guide instead.
If you’re looking for a historic hotel in the middle of Boulder, book the Hotel Boulderado for an unforgettable experience.
3. Fort Collins
Fort Collins is another college town but it has a totally different vibe from Boulder. It’s pleasant and friendly but due to its proximity to Wyoming, it has more of a relaxed, Old West feel than an upscale, high-end one. With a population of 165,000, it feels small while still ranking as one of the largest cities in the state.
Things to Do in Fort Collins
In the winter, Fort Collins can be cold, but there are plenty of blue sky days to take the edge off the chill.
You might consider checking out local galleries and other businesses by participating in the First Friday Art Walk on the first Friday of each month.
You could and should check out the Fort Collins Winter Farmer’s Market on alternating Saturdays from November to April, and afterward take a tour of New Belgium Brewing Company, one of the state’s most important breweries.
If you want to get out into nature, you can walk the hiking trails around Horsetooth Reservoir or take a scenic drive through the Cache de Poudre River Canyon.
Fort Collins Accommodations
When it comes time to rest your head on a pillow, try The Armstrong Hotel; it provides free bikes for guests who wish to explore the town during their stay, and it has a nice little bar on site as well.
4. Colorado Springs & Manitou Springs
Colorado Springs is home to almost half a million people and is about an hour and a quarter south of Denver.
Its elevation is actually eight hundred feet higher than Denver, the Mile High City, but few seem to mention or notice this interesting fact.
The mountains here are much closer to the city than they are in Denver; the views from all over town are incredible. Pikes Peak is the most famous mountain nearby and looms over the city – its summit is 14,114 feet.
Things to Do in Colorado Springs & Manitou Springs
One of the most beautiful landmarks in the state is Colorado Springs’ own Garden of the Gods; red rock spires reach high into the sky and are even more breathtaking when covered with snow. You can see them on foot, by car, or up close and personal on a Jeep tour like this one: Foothills & Garden of the Gods Jeep Tour.
Visitors enjoy taking the Pikes Peak Cog Railway to the top of the mountain or climbing the Manitou Incline on foot before soaking in hot springs in the adorable village of Manitou Springs nearby.
Colorado Springs & Manitou Springs Accommodations
For those who enjoy a little elegance, a stay at the historic Broadmoor hotel is not to be missed – guests and visitors alike can view the frozen Broadmoor Seven Falls on the grounds. If a resort is more your style, the Cheyenne Mountain Resort offers everything you’ll want and need during your Colorado Springs visit.
Colorado is best known for its mountains – many visitors are surprised to learn that they don’t cover the entire state because they certainly get all of the attention.
Of course, that attention is with good reason. The Colorado Rockies are very special. It’s widely agreed that these snow-capped mountains are some of the most beautiful mountains in not only the lower forty-eight, but all of the United States, North America, and the world at large.
So, it’s no wonder that people come from everywhere to check them out, and everyone agrees that the mountain towns are some of the best places to visit in Colorado in the winter.
There are fifty-eight peaks in the Colorado Rockies that exceed 14,000 feet in height and some people even climb all of them. In the winter, it’s these mountains that are home to the state’s thirty-two ski resorts and dozens of mountain towns, each with its own unique character.
5. Central City & Black Hawk
Central City was once in the running for designation as the capital of Colorado.
It sure brought a lot of people to Colorado during the gold rush of 1859 and it was once known as “The Richest Square Mile on Earth.” Today, it still has that western charm; if you find yourself on an empty street in town, you could very easily be convinced that you stepped back in time.
Things to Do in Central City & Black Hawk
In the 1990s, Central City and its next-door neighbor, Black Hawk, voted to allow casinos, and a new and different era of gathering gold began. Both towns are known for their many casinos and locals and out-of-staters travel here to test their luck.
Winter visitors will enjoy resort amenities like spas and fine dining. History buffs will appreciate tours of both towns’ historic homes. Eldora Mountain ski area isn’t far, the Peak to Peak Byway offers a scenic drive, and Indian Hot Springs is just eleven miles away in the town of Idaho Springs, if you want a soak, too.
Central City & Black Hawk Accommodations
If you like large, Vegas-style casinos, you might want to stay at the Ameristar Casino Black Hawk, one of the biggest in town.
On the other hand, if you prefer to be further away from the action, then you will likely prefer this cozy home with deck and mountain views in Central City much more.
See Related: Warm Winter Backpacking Destinations to Visit
Breckenridge is a bustling ski town that has something for everyone. This mountain town was established in 1859, but it wasn’t until the ski resorts were cut into the mountains in 1961 that it really started to grow.
Today, many people live there year-round, but even more, visit Breckenridge during winter.
Things to Do in Breckenridge
Clearly, the primary reason people come to Breckenridge in the winter – or to other similar Colorado ski resorts towns like Aspen, Vail, Winter Park, and Steamboat Springs – is to ski or snowboard. But, there are plenty of other things to do as well. Breckenridge has a number of great restaurants and a plethora of national and local stores for shopping.
Historic Main Street is nostalgic, beautiful, and inviting. Go underground with a tour of a gold mine, or snowshoe up a mountain trail.
Take a short hike to visit Isak Heartstone, the Breckenridge troll, created from wood by Danish artist Thomas Dambo. Explore the Arts District, or visit one of Breckenridge’s many museums.
Breckenridge Tours and Accommodations
If you wish to get out into the mountains but are nervous about driving in winter weather, you might enjoy the Full-Day Breckenridge Explorer Trip. You’ll see Red Rocks Amphitheatre and the Continental Divide, and your guide will teach you all about the area.
It’s not impossible to visit Breck on a budget; The Biivi Hostel in town offers a number of affordable accommodations options.
For people who want to be closer to the lifts and slopes, Beaver Run Resort is the best spot on the mountain.
7. Winter Park
Winter Park is another ski resort-focused town, but it’s vastly different from Breckenridge. It’s one of the best places to visit in Colorado in the winter for outdoor fun.
First of all, getting to Winter Park is an adventure in itself. Visitors can either take scenic Amtrak’s Winter Park Express train from Denver’s Union Station, or they can opt to drive over the literally breathtaking Berthoud Pass by car. Either option offers views that you’ll never forget.
Things to Do in Winter Park
This mountain town was founded in 1978 specifically to support the Winter Park Resort ski area which includes three interconnected mountain peaks that share one lift ticket.
However, there are things to do there, too, besides ski. If skiing isn’t your thing, you can try out a ski bike, or take an evening snowcat tour to look at the stars.
You might enjoy Snowga, the resort’s oh-so-clever name for outdoor, winter yoga, which is offered for free on Fridays.
Or, you might enjoy taking your family sledding or tubing on a nearby hill – many places offer rentals, and some even provide ski lifts for tubers and sledders.
A short drive to the north will take you to the back entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park.
Winter Park Accommodations
There are thousands of rentable condos in the Winter Park Resort Village, or you can stay at any number of lodges around the resort.
Zephyr Mountain Lodge is one that is quite popular; it offers condos that include full kitchens.
Many people who work at Colorado’s Copper Mountain Resort live in Leadville, but that doesn’t make Leadville a ski resort town itself. Instead, this is a historic mining town, and you can feel the past shining through on every street in town.
This little town is a favorite of many and it simply oozes with charm. Also, Leadville has the claim to fame as the nation’s highest incorporated city at 10,200 feet elevation.
The Victorian-style homes in Leadville immediately draw visitors back into a time long ago. Once, this city was home to 30,000 residents; just 2,742 live there today. Back then, there were dozens of saloons, dance halls, and brothels to support and entertain the silver miners who lived there.
Things to Do in Leadville
Today, visitors can spend their winter days at one or more of Leadville’s eight museums, including the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum. Many stop in to have a drink at the historic Silver Dollar Saloon which has been in operation since 1879. If you’re an antique hunter, chances are that you’ll find something to bring home with you from Leadville, too.
There are several hotels in Leadville, but most visitors opt to stay in rental homes instead.
However, there are some unique properties in town that are worth checking out, like the Inn the Clouds Hostel & Inn – a cute little property with shared spaces and free storage for your ski and snowboard gear.
9. Buena Vista & Salida
Buena Vista and Salida are two separate towns almost thirty miles apart, but many locals think of them as a pair, and you likely will too.
Although Salida is more the old-style, traditional type of Colorado town that draws tourists, Buena Vista has a lot to offer as well.
Both of these towns are in an area known to some as Colorado’s Banana Belt. Although you can see the very high peaks of the Collegiate Range to the west, this valley gets far less snow in the winter than you’d expect.
That makes this area a great place for winter tourism. You’re in the middle of it all, while still feeling very away from it all, but you don’t have to worry much about getting snowed in.
Things to Do in Buena Vista & Salida
While in this area, be sure to check out Mt. Princeton Hot Springs for a good soak at a classy resort, and take the bumpy road down to St. Elmo “ghost town” where a number of people still reside.
If you want to have a true winter adventure with some of the best views of your life, you might try horseback riding on a winter trail, a snowmobile tour, or a dog sledding ride – all are offered by numerous outfitters nearby.
The Salida Inn and Hostel is a great option for accommodations in the southernmost of the two towns.
Vail is right off I-70 and as a result, it’s one of the most popular ski resort towns in the state. It’s easy to access, but at the same time, it’s deep in the mountains and features numerous high peaks. The town itself is classy but also welcoming to all, and there’s plenty to do in Vail, even if you don’t like snow sports and even if you’re not a movie star.
Things to Do in Vail
There’s not much that’s historic about Vail since it was established less than a hundred years ago in 1966.
But, if you’re someone who enjoys shopping, you’ll certainly find plenty of that. There are plenty of resort spas to relax in, numerous street art installations to view, and lots of restaurants with fireplaces indoors and fire pits outside to keep you warm on snowy days.
If you’re interested in learning more about the kings and queens of winter sports adventures, then you might check out the Colorado Snowsports Museum and Hall of Fame.
If you like the great outdoors, Vail Ski Resort is massive and is one of the best places for skiing and snowboarding in the world. Vail mountain is huge. As you might imagine, you can also snowmobile, snowshoe, ice skate, sled, tube, and ski-bike in this area as well.
Vail Tours & Accommodations
On your drive to Vail from Denver, you might enjoy this Smartphone Driving Tour Between Vail & Denver to keep you company and keep you informed along the way.
See Related: Best Travel Gifts
11. Steamboat Springs
Steamboat Springs is a down-to-earth ski town with a welcoming, friendly energy that people just love. It’s less fancy and more laid back than many of the other well-known ski towns in Colorado, and that’s a big draw for many.
Things to Do in Steamboat Springs
In Steamboat Springs, you can enjoy a cocktail or a beer with the locals after a long day on the slopes.
You can take your 4×4 vehicle up to Strawberry Park Hot Springs, which many consider the best natural springs in the state.
Or, you can take a winter hot air balloon ride and take in all the white from above. If you’re still itching for activity after all of that, you might head back to Steamboat Ski Resort for some night skiing as well.
The Steamboat Grand is a great accommodations option for people who wish to be close to the resort.
12. Pagosa Springs
If you’re coming to Colorado to experience hot springs, then one of the best choices that you can make is to visit the town of Pagosa Springs.
This small town of only 1,700 year-round residents is near the south-central border of the state; sixty percent of the homes in this town are owned by seasonal residents. The transitory nature of this place is a little strange, but it won’t affect your vacation at all.
Things To Do in Pagosa Springs
Pagosa is one of the best places to visit in Colorado in the winter for hot springs.
Although many of the springs here are more commercial than Strawberry Park Hot Springs in Steamboat Springs, they’re still great in every way. All you need to do here is to go soak in the springs, and your troubles will melt away. There are both free springs and admission-required springs in town. It’s worth trying them all.
Not far away is Monarch Mountain, a lesser-known but excellent ski mountain that both visitors and locals adore. You also might try cross country skiing and snowshoeing, snow tubing, dog sledding, or give ice fishing a try at Williams Creek Reservoir or Echo Reservoir nearby.
Pagosa Springs Accommodations
The Healing Waters Resort and Spa is an affordable option in Pagosa for those who want springs just steps from their door; if you don’t care much about that, then the Elktrace Bed & Breakfast is the perfect spot for a weekend getaway.
The Western Slope
The Western Slope is the term that people use for the part of Colorado that is west of the Rockies but depending on how one personally chooses to define it, it can really mean anything west of the Continental Divide.
With the latter definition in mind, some of the Western Slope is still in the Colorado mountains, but by either definition, most of it is in the portion of the state where the gradient gets flatter until it rolls right into Utah to the west.
The people and the general lifestyle of folks on the Western Slope differ vastly from that of people who live in the Front Range and The Mountains, but it’s still very Colorado out there in a very clear and embraceable way.
There’s plenty to do on the Western Slope, but it’s drier and quieter than you’ll experience elsewhere in the state, and many people like it out there for those very reasons.
It’s likely that you will, too. Some of the best places to visit in Colorado in the winter are on the western side of the state.
Telluride is still very much a mountain town and it, like many others on this list, is primarily known for its incredible mountain skiing.
It’s also a Victorian mining town. Located in a box canyon, there’s only one way in and one way out, but the views from town are perhaps the best in all of Colorado. The resorts are situated high above the town and are modern; the town itself, founded in 1878, is as colorful and historic, and picturesque as can be. You’ll fall in love with it immediately.
Things to Do in Telluride
There are lots of fun things to do in Telluride besides hitting the ski slopes. The Telluride Mountain Village Gondola acts as a free ferry from above to below and back up again to Telluride Ski Resort, and you could ride it all day if you wanted to.
Hikers will love the Bear Creek Trail which is kept clear most of the time in even the snowiest months. If you’re adventurous you might try ice climbing or dog sledding or fat biking; if you’d rather cozy up, a sleigh ride outdoors or sampling craft beer in a local brewery might be more up your alley.
Durango isn’t far from the New Mexico border and you’ll feel that when you visit; this small town of 18,000 has a southwestern vibe to it that you can’t find anywhere else in the state.
Further, after you visit Durango, you will forevermore be reminded of steam trains any time rail travel comes up.
This town was founded by the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad in 1881 as a stepping off point to reach nearby Silverton, which at the height of the Silver Rush needed trains to get all its recently discovered silver to market.
Things to Do in Durango
Today, trains still play a major part in life in this town. People come from all over to ride the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad in all seasons, and the Railroad Museum teaches visitors about the ways the railroad transformed the American West.
The five-day Snowdown Festival is a big draw in the winter; it features costumes and competitions and the highly-attended Parade of Lights.
Main Avenue is a pleasure for those who like to shop and dine – a stay at the General Palmer Hotel will round out your visit nicely – and several ski resorts are just half an hour away.
15. Glenwood Springs
The town of Glenwood Springs grew up around several hot springs discovered in the late 1800s and today it is conveniently located on highly-traveled I-70 which makes it easy for anyone to access, making it one of the best places to visit in Colorado in the winter.
Travel to Glenwood Springs from the east includes a journey through the incredible Glenwood Canyon and that alone makes a trip to this town worthwhile.
However, once you arrive, you’ll find that there’s plenty to do in town, too.
Things to Do in Glenwood Springs
Of course, the biggest activity here is a visit to the springs. There are several hot springs you can visit in Glenwood, but the most popular is the Glenwood Hot Springs Resort which is home to the largest geothermal pool in the world.
A gondola ride will take you to Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park which offers cave tours and amusement park rides year-round – including a mountain coaster.
If you like live entertainment, you might check out the Glenwood Vaudeville Review in the evening; it includes audience participation, magic, skits, jokes, and more.
At night, rest your head at the historic Hotel Colorado which has been in operation since 1873.
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