So you’re looking for what to do in Colorado in the winter. Well, the good news is that Colorado is just as action-packed during the winter as it is during the summer. As one of the premier destinations in the world for winter sports, the Centennial State—especially the more mountainous regions—comes alive when the temperature starts to drop and the snow starts to fall. When it comes to skiing, snowboarding, and other winter sports, Colorado has got you covered with 25 world-class resorts that attract athletes and vacationers from around the world, but if the slopes don’t appeal to you, or you’re looking to try something new, there’s also plenty of other winter activities and events just waiting to be discovered. Couples, solo adventurers, groups of friends, and families will all find a winter wonderland at their fingertips, and whether you’re a local or a visitor, you’ll fall in love with Colorado during the winter.
The Rocky Mountains mean that Colorado has a front-row seat to some of the most incredible nature in the country, and it is home to four beautiful National Parks: Rocky Mountain, Great Sand Dunes, Mesa Verde, and Black Canyon of the Gunnison. While some of these parks are more trafficked than others (Rocky Mountain in particular is one of the most popular national parks in the United States, while Black Canyon of the Gunnison is one of the least-visited), visiting them during the winter brings with it a few benefits, namely much smaller crowds.
A winter visit to Great Sand Dunes means climbing immense dunes topped with snow, and a lot of great sledding, and while a lot of popular attractions like Trail Ridge Road are closed during the winter in Rocky Mountain National Park, you won’t have to deal with the tour buses and caravans of cars that pull up to popular trailheads, and your chances of spotting wildlife like moose, elk, or bighorn sheep, are high. Your photos will be unrivaled and unblemished by tourists, and your hikes will be serene and tranquil. Just remember to do your research before you visit to check trail conditions, and depending on where you go, remember to bring your snowshoes or cross country skis.
If you’re looking for action or an adrenaline rush, you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you missed out on Colorado’s ski resorts. With over 40,000 acres of skiable terrain throughout the state, Colorado’s world-renowned resorts draw skiers and snowboarders from all over the world, and it won’t take long for you to see just why. There’s the big-name resorts like Aspen and Vail, of course, but other, smaller resorts in Colorado have a lot to offer as well, like Powderhorn, Silverton Mountain, and Wolf Creek. Many of these resorts have access to a ton of other great activities and resources as well, like terrain parks, tubing hills, Nordic trails, and other activities and events throughout the season. And if the main slopes don’t appeal to you, or you’re looking for a greater challenge, check out the snowcat skiing opportunities offered at some resorts, which gives you the chance to get out into the backcountry from some truly epic terrain.
Both on and off the resorts, there’s plenty of opportunity in Colorado for some heart-pumping and exhilarating fun. Snowmobile tours offer a great look at the Continental Divide or other scenic parts of the mountains that are difficult to access on foot. For a slower ride, try cross country skiing or snowshoeing—you can bring your own or rent a pair from one of the many outdoors supply companies in Colorado—to see the sights and get your workout along the more scenic route. If you're looking to escape the crowds and want to tour the backcountry, there are many huts available for rent where you stay a night or a week to recharge and get some of the best tracks in the state. Climbing enthusiasts don’t need to wait for the snow to melt to try out some of Colorado’s amazing technical climbing areas; they can try their hand at ice climbing instead, for a whole new facet of the sport. Popular destinations for ice climbing include Ouray (and the internationally famous Ouray Ice Park), Vail, Lake City, and Silverton, but options can be found all over the state.
For a more family friendly winter itinerary, Colorado has plenty of hills for sledding and tubing, which vary from gentle slopes to more exhilarating runs because, if you haven’t noticed, we’ve got some pretty great terrain for downhill sports out here in the Rockies. You can find designated hills just for sledding and tubing at most major ski resorts, but there are lots of other great hills all over Colorado.
Families and groups looking for a less physically demanding experience, or couples looking for romance, might enjoy seeing the sights from beneath a soft blanket on a horse-drawn sleigh ride, many of which are accompanied by a delicious dinner and hot drinks. Another really fun and unique way to explore Colorado is on a dog sled, pulled by a dozen huskies through the mountainous paths of the Rockies.
During the winter, towns, cities, and ski resorts around Colorado set up ice skating rinks, often in the center of town, so you can lace up and enjoy a few laps around the rink, hold hands with a loved one as you teach them how to move on the ice, or show off your wannabe Olympian skills. Many rinks are open late, especially at ski resorts, so you can enjoy them as an aprés ski activity. There are also many natural ice skating rinks around Colorado, like at Evergreen Lake, where you can skate surrounded by nature. Many other lakes in Colorado serve during the winter as excellent destinations for ice fishing, where you can sit back and tempt some fish out of the water while you enjoy a beer or a hot beverage with friends or in the solitary tranquility of your own company. Note that fishing in Colorado does require a license.
And speaking of that tranquility, winter is the perfect time of year to take advantage of some of the amazing stargazing opportunity that Colorado provides. Some of the best locations for this will be in the southern or eastern regions of the state, far from the big cities and their light pollution. Winter is traditionally best for stargazing, and at places like the UFO Watchtower in Hooper, CO, or Last Chance, CO out in the northeastern region of the state, you’ll see a mindblowing number of stars. Just remember to bundle up and bring a thermos of hot cocoa.
But perhaps the cold doesn’t really appeal to you, and you’re looking to warm up, relax, or have fun without the need to bundle up in a million layers. If that’s the case, you’re still in luck, because one of the benefits of Colorado’s diverse geological terrain is the abundance of natural hot springs. From the intimate rock pools of Strawberry Hot Springs near Steamboat to the Olympic sized swimming pool of hot, mineral spring-fed water in Glenwood Springs, you’ve got loads of choices when it comes to where you want to soak, and many of these springs are accompanied by an on-site spa, where you can indulge in a relaxing massage or other treatment to help rejuvenate you and make you feel your best. Other popular destinations for hot springs include Pagosa Hot Springs, Hot Sulphur Springs, Idaho Springs, Dunton Hot Springs, and Cottonwood Hot Springs.
You may also find a fun (and warmer!) experience waiting for you at some of the museums and art galleries across Colorado, which can be found virtually anywhere in the state. From the US Mint and the Denver Art Museum in the state’s capital to the Colorado Snowsports Museum and Hall of Fame in Vail, you’ll have no trouble finding indoor fun to keep you busy. Or if museum culture’s not your thing, you’ll still get a good taste of Colorado by visiting its many breweries, distilleries, and restaurants, which offer a fun and casual way to spend blustery winter days that are too cold to be spent outside.
No matter where you end up this winter, there’s bound to be some great local events happening in the area. December brings the lead-up to the holiday season, which means Christmas markets, tree lightings, meet and greets with the big man in red himself, and tons of fun festivals that feature food, drinks, and live music. At several big ski resorts in Colorado, Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve mean torchlight parades, in which hundreds of skiers and snowboarders race down the mountain with blazing torches in hand for a fun and beautiful show.
Cultural events also abound during the winter, like Breckenridge’s annual Ullr Fest to celebrate the Norse god of snow, or Nederland’s charming Frozen Dead Guy Days, which celebrates a unique story in their local history with events like coffin racing and frozen turkey bowling.
There are also plenty of events that celebrate winter itself, like the International Snow Sculpture Championship, which is held each year in Breckenridge and features competitors from all over the world who build massive and beautiful sculptures out of 25 ton blocks of snow. On a similar scale of beauty, there’s Dillon Ice Castles, an incredible yearly art installation that lets you explore icy tunnels and corridors, and climb through rooms bordered by the frozen towers of a man-made castle built entirely out of ice. At night, the castle is lit up in bright colors.
If you’re staying at a ski resort or you’re close by, keep an eye out for their annual calendar of events. There’s always something fun happening in Colorado ski resort towns, especially on weekends, from beer festivals to live music. Goofy competitions, like fat tire bike racing in the snow or pond skimming toward the end of the season offer a fun and exciting activity for both curious spectators and the daredevils who want to participate.
As one of the premier winter sport destinations in the country, Colorado is naturally home to some of the biggest events and competitions in winter sports, and if you’re around during the colder months, chances are you might run into a few.
First, there’s the X Games, one of the biggest events in the world that happens right in Aspen every January. Some of the top athletes in the world flock to Colorado for the X Games, and every event is free and open to the public, so if you’re in the area you can bundle up and watch some truly legendary skiers, snowboarders, and winter athletes show off their skills. Similarly, the Dew Tour happens every year in Breckenridge during December, and it’s also free to attend. Both events also feature live music performances from some A-list acts.
On a more niche level is the Ouray Ice Festival, which takes place every year during January. The Ouray Ice Festival draws thousands of ice climbers from near and far, who test their mettle as they climb the Uncompahgre Gorge, a one-mile long frozen winter ice park. Spectators can watch from the top of the gorge as climbers attempt this feat, and spend their evenings eating, drinking, and dancing at the party that follows.
If you’re looking for a whole different type of winter fun, try the National Western Stock Show and Rodeo, a huge annual event in Denver that features over 15,000 animals. You can watch horse and cattle shows, shop for a new pair of cowboy boots at the markets, or watch brave rodeo riders try to stay seated on a bucking bronco or in bull riding events. The National Western Stock Show and Rodeo is the largest stock show in the world, and it takes place every year in January with events tailored for everyone.
Whether you’re spending your winter in the mountains, along the Front Range, or on the Western Slope, you’ll have your pick of accommodations, from luxury resorts in world-class ski towns to a rugged cabin in the backwoods of the mountains, with a roaring fire, but wherever you end up, you’ll find no shortage of fun activities to keep you busy during your stay.