Plan an Epic Winter Vacation to the Rocky Mountains

Colorado has long been renowned for its breathtaking landscapes and year-round outdoor adventures, and during the holidays, it transforms into a winter wonderland. Colorado’s allure during this special season lies in its ability to seamlessly combine timeless traditions with thrilling new adventures. From annual events to celebrate the season and memorable winter activities to festive lodging packages and dining experiences, Colorado is the place to celebrate the most magical time of the year.

Snow, Christmas lights, and the tree during the day in Denver, Colorado by Colin Lloyd – Unsplash

Most trips begin with a flight into Denver, Colorado. Make sure to take in all the magical sights that the Mile High city has to offer this time of year. Stop by Denver’s Union Station for a glance at the 40-foot tall Christmas tree. Just south in the suburb of Littleton, visitors can see the Trail of Lights at Chatfield Farms (November 24 – January 1), a 1-mile path that is illuminated with thousands of Christmas lights and epic lighting displays synchronized to music, creating a magical atmosphere on the 1880s Hildebrand Ranch homestead. Then, on December 10th is the Cherry Creek Chanukah Celebration; an outdoor menorah is lit and attendees can enjoy festive treats, face painting and crafts. Also, through January 7th, the Denver Botanic Gardens hosts Blossoms of Light, an annual holiday light extravaganza that transforms the gardens into a shimmering wonderland with a 360-degree immersive light experience. Don’t miss The Colorado Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker, a cherished holiday tradition offering joy and merriment to visitors as they kick off the season.

Several holiday markets also pop up across the state during the holiday season. The Denver Christkindl Market (November 17 – December 23) transforms Civic Center Park into a miniature German village with live music, holiday shopping and food vendors serving traditional German Christmas market specialties such as gingerbread biscuits, grilled sausages and the beloved gluehwein.

Heading north from the city, be sure to stop at the Garden of Lights (December 8 – 23) in Fort Collins, one of Northern Colorado’s favorite holiday traditions featuring a half-mile loop of perennial flower beds, sculptures, a holiday village and other garden creatures—all crafted entirely from holiday lights. There’s also Loveland’s Winter Wonderlights (November 18 – January 1), a captivating free light show that enchants visitors with over 200,000 lights, live reindeer, ice sculpting, music and dance performances.

Over in Telluride, the Christmas Eve Torchlight Parade showcases ski resort employees gliding down the mountain with torches, making it a unique and unforgettable spectacle.

Telluride, Colorado turns into a winter wonderland in the snow by Thomas Kelley – Unsplash

For a touch of nostalgia, Colorado’s historic trains take travelers on a journey through winter wonderlands. The Leadville Railroad Holiday Express offers a magical ride through snowy mountains with scenic views. The Santa Express Train with the Royal Gorge Route Railroad leads passengers to the North Pole and back, complete with a visit from Santa. The Polar Express Train Rides at the Colorado Railroad Museum and the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, both offer unparalleled holiday experiences.

The Georgetown Loop Railroad’s Winter Holiday Trains are one of Colorado’s most authentic living history experiences and offer timeless adventures through scenic vistas decorated with more than 300,000 holiday lights.

For the second time, America’s highest suspension bridge will become a winter wonderland. In December, the Royal Gorge Bridge will transform into an interactive drive-thru holiday lights experience, The Bridge of Lights. Cookies and cocoa are also available for purchase as you enjoy the drive across the sparkling bridge.

A trail through Crested Butte, Colorado by Taylor Brandon – Unsplash

In Crested Butte, those seeking outdoor adventures can embark on a cross-country ski or snowshoe trip into the serene backcountry. The Magic Meadows Yurt, heated by a wood-burning stove, is accessible only on skis or snowshoes through a 1-mile groomed trail. Visitors can warm up with cocktails or enjoy local brews while savoring a Colorado-inspired meal and live music.

For equally festive accommodations that are less rugged, the C Lazy U Ranch transforms into a snowy paradise for the holidays offering a delightful combination of Rocky Mountain scenery and festive fun, including gingerbread house making, Christmas karaoke and a special visit from Santa via horse-drawn sleigh.

Indulge in a unique Snowcat Dinner at Aspen’s Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro, where a picturesque cabin in the Rockies serves exquisite dishes with breathtaking views. If you find yourself in Arapahoe Basin for New Year’s, try the New Year’s Eve Moonlight Dinner Series; it combines chairlift rides, chef-prepared global cuisine and mountain vistas for an unforgettable celebration. In Grand Junction, The Hotel Maverick’s restaurant, Devil’s Kitchen will transform its rooftop terrace into an amazing snow globe dining experience against panoramic views of the Grand Mesa and Colorado National Monument. Cozy up and enjoy a festive meal of regionally inspired dishes and specialty craft cocktails in private illuminated igloos and gondolas. There’s also Miracle on 7, Estes Park’s own Christmas-inspired pop-up cocktail bar that transforms Cousin Pat’s Pub & Grill into a festive atmosphere with kitschy holiday decorations, expertly crafted cocktails and more.

The Ramble Hotel in Denver will transform Death & Co’s intimate Suite 6A into an elegant holiday bar with floor-to-ceiling décor and a festive selection of specialty cocktails and bites only available in the pop-up ski lodge-inspired suite. Also in Denver, The Brown Palace is an iconic hotel renowned for its holiday offerings including a traditional holiday afternoon tea (November 13 – January 21) and special Christmas and New Year’s Eve dining events.

A cold winter evening in Glenwood Springs, Colorado by Nate Hughes – Unsplash

The historic Fort Restaurant in Morrison, designed to resemble an 1800s fur trading post, offers a unique holiday dining experience serving traditional dishes like bison and game meats. Also in Morrison, the Tesoro Cultural Center’s Las Posadas (December 24) is an annual Christmas Eve celebration that reenacts Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem, featuring children’s participation, traditional music, piñatas and complimentary treats like biscochito cookies and Mexican hot chocolate.

For a cozy and rustic adventure, 2 Below Zero in Frisco offers mule-team-driven sleigh rides with chuckwagon dinners and live music, while Steamboat Springs provides a Wild West touch with its Haymaker Sleigh Ride Dinner. In Glenwood Springs,Hotel Colorado provides an enchanting and classic Colorado Christmas experience, where visitors can immerse in the rich holiday tradition that dates back to 1893 featuring beautifully decorated fir trees, half a million holiday lights, an annual tree lighting ceremony, breakfasts with Santa and festive touches around each corner.

Celebrate the holiday season in Victor and Cripple Creek as the Gold Camps come alive with dazzling holiday lights adorning mine headframes (November 24 – December 31). Enjoy a festive self-guided tour, complete with holiday music and beautiful light displays in this historic mining region. Finally, experience the unique charm of the holiday season in Denver before 1924 by touring the beautifully decorated Center for Colorado Women’s History and enjoying a delightful tea service during their Holiday Tea special events (November 25 – December 16).

A herd fo elk in Estes Park, Colorado by Greyson & Thomas – Unsplash

Located in Granby, between Winter Park Ski Resort and Rocky Mountain National Park, true to its name, YMCA of the Rockies -Snow Mountain Ranch is the ultimate winter wonderland. The 5,100-acre property offers Nordic skiing and snowshoeing on 85K of groomed, world-class terrain, private and group cross country ski lessons and rentals, dog sled experiences, winter horse drawn sleigh rides, ice skating, indoor archery and rock climbing, indoor swimming, nostalgic roller skating, and much more. Accommodations include hotel-style lodge rooms starting at $104 per night and Nordic ski-in and ski-out, pet-friendly cabins starting at $199 for a 2 bedroom. There are several activities to participate in during the winter season:

  • New this year, the Snow Mountain Ranch Nordic Center will offer full moon ski and snowshoe experience, with lights on the trail and hot chocolate.. The full moon events will take place on Friday, January 26, 2024 and Friday, February, 23, 2024.
  • The Snow Mountain Ranch Nordic Center offers 85K of groomed, world-class country ski terrain meandering through pine forest, wide meadows and along a mountain creek.
  • An annual tradition for many families and friends is the Christmas Tree Cutting Experience. Purchase a tree-cutting ticket and head out on a winter adventure to find the perfect Christmas tree. Overnight guests can cut down a tree for free.
  • Meet the team, including the six new Snow Mountain Ranch dog sled puppies, and tour the beautiful property on a Snow Mountain Ranch dog sled adventure. Reservations are required for both the long and short sled dog rides.

There’s also the YMCA of the Rockies Estes Park Center (in Estes Park). Guests can enjoy a number of on-site, seasonal activities during the day – including sledding, snowshoeing, ice skating, roller skating, indoor swimming or rock climbing and more – and return to their cozy lodge room or private cabins at night. And the town of Estes Park itself is a must-visit winter destination – with its annual Catch the Glow holiday festival, local boutique shops, and charming restaurants.

  • Ice skating is a favorite winter tradition at the Estes Park Center. This year, guests can grab their free skate rentals and twirl, glide, and jump to their heart’s content. For a warm-up on select dates, they can stop by the new rink side Hot Cocoa Truck (the resort’s winter iteration of its popular summer ice cream truck).
  • The Mootz Family Craft and Design Center will feature seasonal crafts alongside their popular regular offerings. So, guests can make a holiday-scented candle, mosaic, or piece of jewelry for a gift that really comes from the heart. And, new this year, the craft center will offer gift wrapping.
  • YMCA of the Rockies is known for its guided hikes, included with a stay. Area experts will lead guests through the winter wonderland of Rocky Mountain National Park on snowshoe adventures that range from beginner to expert. At the end of the day, guests can relax and share stories of their day around a private bonfire with hot cocoa and s’mores.

— Colorado invites all to embrace the holiday spirit and create treasured memories in a snow globe setting. For more details, please visit www.colorado.com.

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