The options for winter fun in Colorado go far beyond the slopes. Here are a dozen possibilities to consider:
1. Take a scenic drive
Winter looks good on Colorado, FYI. And we can drink it all in from the seat of our heated vehicles. Thanks to the state’s hard-working plow drivers, several mountain passes remain open through the snowy months.
You’ll want to play it safe and go when the sun is out. Look to Monarch Pass, connecting Salida and San Juan country. There in the southwest, drive the Million Dollar Highway paradise between Ouray and Silverton.
Another stunning choice is Hoosier Pass between Breckenridge and the continent’s highest town of Alma. Or check to see if Pikes Peak Highway is cleared to the 14,115-foot summit.
Notice we didn’t mention dreaded Interstate 70, which often resembles a parking lot on winter weekends, or Rocky Mountain National Park’s Trail Ridge Road, which closes in the colder months.
2. View ‘The Shining’ scene
So you’re wanting to get a genuine, winter-bound glimpse of the place that inspired the snowy setting of Stephen King’s “The Shining.” Here’s your chance.
The Stanley Hotel is that white symbol of elegance perched on a hill overlooking Estes Park. For an overnight, it’s as pricey as it looks. But you don’t have to stay to enjoy.
In recent months, visitors have been free to roam the historic grounds, lobby areas and famous bar with the whiskeys of the world. Spots for historic tours have been limited, especially for spooky nights.
3. Dash through the snow
The mantelpiece photo is of you and your loved ones cuddled close with a blanket and hot chocolate, making your way through a winter wonderland in a horse-drawn, bell-jingling sleigh. Some of these rides even end with dinner by a fire.
You’ll find reputed outfitters in Grand and Summit counties as well as in Durango and Steamboat Springs.
4. Stroll 16th Street
Chicago has its Magnificent Mile, and Denver has this mile-long stretch in the heart of downtown.
One similarity? The Chicago pizza. Yes, if you didn’t hear, Giordano’s has joined 16th Street’s list of 40-plus eateries.
One difference? No motor traffic or honking taxis. Shuttle buses run up and down the otherwise pedestrian-only mall. Couples on romantic outings have been known to hop aboard horse-drawn carriages, which are especially romantic under a gentle snowfall and through the holiday lights.
5. Hunt trolls
Isak Heartstone caused quite the frenzy when he moved to Breckenridge in 2018. (He was actually built of wood there, complete with a heart-shaped rock in his chest). The troll immediately attracted hordes of human visitors and angered the human neighborhood near where he sat.
But since he moved closer to a downtown park last year, everyone seems to be happy. And now he’s not the only troll to see in Colorado.
Adding to the winter magic is Halvor Flowstone. He resides at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, which in the winter typically offers alpine coaster rides and cave tours.
6. Dine in style
Holding off on buying a ski pass this year? Then you’ve got some extra coin this winter. How about treating yourself and yours to something fancy?
Go ahead, spoil yourself with the worldly fare and atmospheric flair that is famous to this state’s mountain towns. From Aspen and Crested Butte to Telluride and Vail, you’re bound to find a one-of-a-kind culinary experience.
Be sure to make a reservation. And, for a night, ignore the prices on that cocktail menu.
7. Cut your own Christmas tree
‘Tis the season for making new traditions. Surely you made many in recent months with the whole family stuck at home. Here’s another idea that’ll have you channeling your inner Clark Griswold.
In Colorado Springs, folks are well familiar with fetching a conifer; they go just west to Teller County for the opportunity offered by the U.S. Forest Service along Rampart Range Road. Be on the lookout close to Thanksgiving when permits become available.
Denverites know of the Elk Creek cutting area west near Fraser or north in Red Feather Lakes. Trees usually can also be cut in White River National Forest, in areas near Dillon, Eagle and Carbondale.
8. Board a train
A steam locomotive moving through snow-draped dreamscapes is a classic scene of the holidays in Colorado. Although COVID-19 could change things, several of the state’s railroads were listing winter specials on their calendar.
In Golden, Colorado Railroad Museum planned its “Polar Express”-themed ride around the yard — inviting families to wear pajamas and enjoy hot chocolate and cookies while actors sing and dance. In Cañon City, Royal Gorge Railroad was booking holiday dinners and a tour through the stunning landmark, which becomes the North Pole in winter. That’s also the destination on the festive Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad that weaves the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado.
9. Shop and score
Look no further than the Outlets of Silverthorne for your Christmas shopping base. All of your favorite brands meet in one place — Nike, Columbia, J.Crew, Coach, you name it — and you can count on discounts.
If the holiday stress mounts, simply step outside for a creek-side bench and the views of Summit County’s rolling peaks. And, if by some chance you don’t find what you need here at the outlets, you can always skip over to the local shops of Frisco and Breckenridge.
For those desiring to stay on the Front Range, check out the Outlets at Castle Rock or Park Meadows in nearby Lone Tree.
10. Catch a thrill
As ski resorts everywhere invest more into year-round attractions, making base areas look more like amusement parks, these roller coaster-type rides have been a big focus. The mountain coaster revolution is in full swing in Colorado.
Families hop in carts equipped with levers that are pushed or pulled to control speed.
Steamboat Resort claims the longest track, zooming and dipping and curving for more than 6,000 linear feet. Other coasters swoosh through forests at Copper Mountain and Snowmass. Breckenridge also has a coaster, which, like the others, has been open in winter depending on weather.
11. Step back in time
Some 1,400 years ago, the Ancestral Puebloans scraped a living in what is now the Four Corners region of America. They dry farmed and built complex living quarters beneath the natural shelter of cliffs. And still today at Mesa Verde National Park, about 35 miles from Durango, those dwellings can be viewed.
While tours aren’t led in winter, the cliff dwellings can be viewed and admired from a distance, the snow a quiet reminder of this history surviving the test of time.
Be sure to drive the Mesa Top Loop, what the park calls “a step back in time.”
12. Skate away
It’s not clear which of Colorado’s typical ice skating venues will be available in the coming months. In non-pandemic years, the options have been plenty.
West of Denver, families have traditionally gathered at the Zamboni-groomed rink at Evergreen Lake, spacious at 8.5 acres and set against the town’s hilly backdrop. The rink usually has opened in December, same for rinks at several of the state’s other postcard-image mountain towns, including Estes Park, Lake City and Pagosa Springs.
Downtown ice skating is a seasonal staple in Denver and Colorado Springs. Several ski resorts have frozen ponds and rinks, including Keystone, Beaver Creek and Winter Park.
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