Break out of your urban rut with five destinations sure to make the most of Colorado's prettiest season.
If any state does winter right, it's Colorado. Abundant sunshine is augmented by snow, mountains, and vistas that would make any professional photographer stop and swoon. Positioned at the gateway to the Rockies, Denver has plenty of weekend getaway options, from skiing to hot springs to train rides. We've rounded up five of our favorites.
Skiers and snowboarders have no doubt sped past this mountain town an hour up I-70 from Denver on their way to Colorado's more famous (and more crowded) ski towns. But the Victorian-era gem of Georgetown is worth a stop, especially if you're not itching for ski-in/ski-out. Use the quaint Hotel Chateau Chamonix as your base to explore the eye-catching architecture and gorgeous alpine scenery. Families will love the Georgetown Loop Railroad that connects the town to the former mining camp of Silver Plume over four bridges and through picturesque mountains. Or opt for ice fishing on nearby Georgetown Lake before warming up with Victorian High Tea at the Dusty Rose Tea Room. Even though it's a tiny locale, you'll still find high quality, organic baked goods at Mountain Girl Bakery. For dinner, head to the Alpine Restaurant & Bar for casual pizza and beer that hits the spot after a day playing outside in the cold.
Even though it's only about three-and-a-half hours away from Denver, Aspen feels worlds apart from other Colorado destinations. If it's a ski-in/ski-out location you want, splurge and stay at The Little Nell, one of the best hotels around, located adjacent to Gondola Plaza at the base of Aspen Mountain. With topnotch service and excellent food options at the hotel's Ajax Tavern or Element 47, it's an easy choice. Another high-end option is the red-bricked St. Regis Aspen. Well-decorated rooms, an impressive pool and hot tub area, and access to the hotel's butler program make a stay at this downtown spot worth the money.
Budget conscious travelers should head to the Limelight Hotel (don't miss the excellent après ski specials on pizza and drinks), and fashion connoisseurs should make a stop at Pitkin County Dry Goods for a wide selection of gorgeous men and women's clothes. There's expert and intermediate skiing right from town at Aspen Mountain (also known as Ajax), but beginners will likely have a better time heading 20 minutes away to nearby Snowmass (many hotels offer shuttles during winter). Enroll the little ones in ski or snowboard lessons at the Treehouse Kids' Adventure Center at the base of Snowmass Village; the impressive facility is a kids' dream, a 24,000-square-foot base offering ski lessons, lunch, and a licensed childcare facility.
After skiing, locals and tourists alike head to downtown Aspen for meals at the well-priced White House Tavern (the chicken sandwich is a must). Crepes and fondue hit the spot at La Creperie Du Village, or throw down a bit more cash for seafood (trust us) at Aspen's hip Grey Lady, the Western outpost of the original restaurant from Manhattan's Lower East Side.
If skiing isn't the only thing you want to do this winter, consider heading to Salida, a small town a little more than two hours from Denver in Colorado's "banana belt." Temperatures are always a bit warmer in this part of the state, but you still get jaw-dropping views of the snow-covered Sangre de Cristo Mountains. There's not much for luxury lodging, but the Palace Hotel downtown is a historic, affordable option with rooms that include kitchens. Take a quick drive over to Mount Princeton Hot Springs, a gorgeous facility that boasts both a large family pool, spa, and creekside hot springs located among the rushing waters of Chalk Creek. Or venture a bit farther to Jumpin' Good Goat Dairy to buy an array of fresh goat cheeses and (if you're lucky) pet some goats. Back in Salida, grab healthy soups and sandwiches from Ploughboy in town, and for dinner, you can't go wrong with pizza and a pint from the area's hottest microbrewery, Amicas.
Even longtime Denver residents don't often venture south on vacation, and that's a shame. Only an hour's drive away, Colorado Springs has plenty of activities to fill a weekend. Stay at the recently renovated Broadmoor Hotel and enjoy both upscale lodging and an award winning spa. While crowds flock to the popular Garden of the Gods in summer, the area's red rock formations are especially stunning with a coating of white snow. If it's sunny, families should check out the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo (don't miss the train ride) and fitness fanatics will love the Manitou Incline.
A short 15-minute drive from Colorado Springs, the Incline is a one-mile climb of 2,744 steps made entirely of railroad ties that averages a leg-burning 41% incline and gains more than 2,000 feet in elevation. This one will challenge even the most fit athletes, and yes, people love to climb it even in winter (just wear shoes with excellent traction). For food in Colorado Springs, check out Broadmoor's Penrose Room for fine dining, or the Marigold Café for more casual fare.
Nestled between its much larger (and more famous) neighbors Vail and Beaver Creek, Minturn is a local's hideaway only two hours from Denver. Stay at the boutique Hotel Minturn in the center of town and you'll get well-appointed rooms, plenty of reclaimed wood, and comfortable beds. Sticky Fingers Café and Bakery offers decent pastries to go, and Kirby Cosmo's BBQ is a good choice for a casual dinner. Catch the bus over to Vail to make turns at the ski area's famous Blue Sky Basin, or opt for snowshoeing out of the Beaver Creek Nordic Center. After a day spent playing outside, head back to the Minturn Saloon for one of Colorado's most authentic après ski watering holes. Hang out in the bar, stare at the crowded walls adorned with ski posters and old-timey photos, grab a margarita, and revel in feeling like a local.