Colorado Family Travel: 20+ Best Winter Vacation Ideas
posted by: Julie Bielenberg
Sure, Colorado has world-class skiing but we’ve rounded up all kinds of Colorado’s best winter vacation ideas for families! Be sure to share your favorites with us as well. -AJ
Front Range Frosty Frolics & The Wild Side of Christmas in Colorado
I can’t begin to tell you how much this college community and town offers, and for most of us, it’s barely an hour’s drive. For day activities, the Museum of Discovery provides hands on learning, interactive exhibits and fun—please note the awesome picture of myself in the tornado tunnel! In the Otterbox Digital Dome there is a holiday themed film Let it Snow: A Holiday Musical Journey.
Each day, Old Town Square will be filled with the music of Santa’s concertina and harmonica, and in the quieter moments, kids of all ages can share their secret wishes with him in his cozy holiday workshop in Old Town Square. A professional photographer will be on site during regular hours in order to capture those cherished moments with Santa. Santa’s Workshop will be open Wednesdays through Sundays from 12pm-6pm now until December 24th. And, families can also enjoy Stories from Santa at 11:30am every Thursday and Friday at Clothes Pony & Dandelion Toys in Old Town Fort Collins!
Have a little extra fun while shopping. Take part in the Downtown Santas Shopping Quest where you will be able to explore shops while in search of “Santas” with a golden star. Between November 29th and December 15th, find the names of these Santas and turn in your list to the Downtown Business Association for a chance to win a Downtown Shopping Gift Cards.
Stroll through the Garden of Lights, a whimsically decorated and twinkling Gardens lit by thousands of LED lights. Visit the perennial flowerbeds and vegetable gardens in addition to a brilliant blue LED pond —all created entirely from holiday lights! During the weekends, visit with Santa (Saturday & Sunday only), listen to holiday music, see the Sugar Plum Hairies (canine troupe), and enjoy warm drinks at The Garden’s Visitor Center.
And, as always, I must point visitors to a couple of my favorite stops in town. The Colorado Room, their bison poutine, and lamb burgers are the Bielenberg gals’ favorite, we found the most amazing deals at Clothes Pony and Dandelion Stores on Main Street, and Dora had a blast at the New Belgium Tour. Visit Fort Fun this season. Visitftcollins.com
In compiling these lists each year, I must put my elf hat on for Colorado Springs; I think they offer the most Christmas Cheer of any town for multiple generations. Amber and I have both written Christmas pieces for The Broadmoor, because, we are hard pressed to come up with anyone else who can really do it better for families. And, if you don’t want to lick that gingerbread house when you see pictures, then just stop reading, because no one does Christmas like this iconic resort.
The Broadmoor has a classic, heart-warming holiday show; enjoy cocktails, dinner and an enchanting evening of entertainment available December 12, 13, 19, 20, 21 and 24, 2014; packages begin at $180 per person per night including dinner show tickets for all family members. The season also comes alive with a passport of unique, complimentary experiences for you to enjoy during your stay with rates starting as low as $105 per person per night. Families can fill their days with the resort’s passport full of fun family activities like wine and cooking classes, golf and tennis clinics, art and history tours, and more through March.
The Broadmoor also offers two distinct holiday packages, the Classic Broadmoor Christmas 2014, and the New Year’s Eve Gala Celebration. Both include complimentary access to special holiday activities, as well as additional savings. In addition, the Spectacular Winter Savings Package, offered through February 28, 2015, is perfect for families. With rates beginning at just $105.00 per person, based on double occupancy, the package includes complimentary dining for children, and discounts on select spa services, bowling at Play, and adult entry into Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.
My mother, myself, and the kids had the most lovely of getaways this year as summer waned into autumn at Cheyenne Mountain Resort. I have visited Cheyenne Mountain so often during the summer and fall months, I couldn’t help but wonder how they brought the spirit of the holidays to life at the resort. Question answered, they pull out all the stops. ‘Cheyenne Holidays’ enables families to affordably book a December getaway filled with seasonally-inspired perks, specials and activities to unwrap and experience during their stay. Starting on Friday, Dec. 5, Cheyenne Mountain Resort kicks off its seasonal program, a holiday guest experience that will run every weekend leading up to Christmas. Every Friday and Saturday guests can call Santa’s helpers at the front desk and pre-arrange a complimentary elf turndown for their kids at bedtime, which includes storytelling and milk and cookies. From 5-8 pm guests can relax in the hotel lobby and adjoining lounge and enjoy live holiday jazz and classical performances. From 6:30-9:30 pm, kids and kids at heart can enjoy two interactive treat bars. On Friday, guests will have fun building their own hot cocoa or hot toddies bar while on Saturday, guests can douse their caramel apple with their favorite toppings for the ultimate yummy treat. Program dates are December 5, 6, 12, 13, 19 and 20. The hot cocoa bar is $8 per mug or two for $15. The caramel apple bar is $8.00 per apple or two for $15. Rates start at $99 per night Reservations must be booked online at http://www.cheyennemountain.com.
For one more quite the off-the-beaten-path-type-idea, let me make a very cool recommendation. My parents, husband, kiddos and I stayed at The Outlook in the dead of winter. It’s a house, turned-Inn, and the upstairs has two bedrooms with a bunk bed in each room, with a TV that comes down for each bed and an additional master bedroom. This place is the ultimate family retreat in the hamlet of Green Mountain Falls, maybe 20 minutes at most from downtown Colorado Springs. Green Mountain Falls has a superb diner, pizza parlor, and small skating rink. It’s so special and so close, I’m curious while writing this why I haven’t been back? Outlookgmf.com
If you’re not staying the night, or just want some day offerings during the holidays, this is first on my list. For train lovers, this is it, the Royal Gorge Santa Express—a winter wonderland where children can wear their pajamas and enjoy complimentary hot cocoa and a cookie on the way to the North Pole. Visit the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s 23rd Annual Electric Safari with more than one million glittering lights and 40 animated light sculptures. Other holiday favorites include the Festival of Lights Downtown – Holiday Parade; holiday shopping in historic Manitou Springs, an assortment of shows and performances at the Pikes Peak Center and Santa’s Workshop at The North Pole, including Christmas shows, activities and rides all month long. Visitcos.com
Since the majority of us live in the Front Range, a drive to Estes Park isn’t going to take more than 90 minutes in most cases. Go! Go now! Don’t let the cold scare you away. Actually, I haven’t been to Estes without snow in years! It’s one of my favorite quick getaways. For families, the YMCA of the Rockies is phenomenal. Amber and I have blogged about this place oodles of times, and it’s for good reason. They’ve got winter cabins with wood burning fireplaces, snowshoeing, ice-skating, s’mores by the enormous fire pits, winter crafts, holiday events, and guided snow hikes into Rocky Mountain National Park. Rates for two-bedroom cabins start as low as $84.00 per night, or $64.00 per night for a lodge room. Visit www.YMCARockies.org for reservations, or call 888-613-9622. AND for Cyber Monday. . . For one day only, on December 1, the YMCA of the Rockies will offer $15.00 off per night in lodge rooms at both locations (Estes Park or Snow Mountain Ranch) when booked online. This offer is valid only for individual reservations, staying between December 2, 2014 through May 31, 2015. Not valid from December 20 – January 4, January 16-19, or February 14-17.
This year’s little secret is Estes Park Outfitters. A bit off the beaten path, Tim Resch, a true mountain man, can entertain your family (kids 12 and older) in his off-the-grid cabin with snowmobiling, wildlife sighting and an authentic winter dinner, fireside. Estesparkoutfitters.com
The rock climbing wall at the Estes Park Mountain Shop is great, and while you’re there you can pick up snowshoes for the entire family to explore RMNP—and cheap! Downtown has the ice rink or visit The Snowy Peaks Winery for a juice tasting with kids. You can also (ice) fish at Trout Haven Fishing Pond year-round. Visitestespark.com
I love Loveland. It’s not the “Valentine Day” motif of the town, or it’s younger sister status to Fort Collins, it’s just that this place is a surprisingly close drive with lots of hidden gems. If you’re going to spend the night, then do it at the #1 Embassy Suites in the World—YES—the world! Seriously, the Loveland Embassy Suites holds the crown for three consecutive years with this ranking. Obviously, this place rocks. From Nov. 28 – Dec. 26, the Embassy Suites Loveland is home to a life-size gingerbread house for the holidays, complete with fireplace, window box brimming with lollipops, and loads of ribbon candy.
Or, for a more rustic experience, visit Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch. One of the hardest impacted private businesses during the 2013 flood, my family and I visited this summer the weekend of their official dude ranch reopening (they officially reopened after the flood on June 1), and this place is back, and a wonderful winter getaway. “Warm cabins and guesthouses furnished with antiques in old west tradition and wood burning fireplaces are available in many units. Enjoy the new game room and add on horseback riding, wagon rides, campfires, hiking and more. One night stays at winter rate savings, start at $47.00 per person double occupancy. Add a truly memorable touch to your holiday festivities and join Sylvan Dale’s team of magnificent Belgian horses for a picturesque ride through Sylvan Dale Valley. $150.00 for up to 12 people. We did this in the heat of the summer, and even then it was AMAZING!
The Outlets at Loveland offer a chance at winning $25,000 when the stores open up for Moonlight Madness at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving night through 12 a.m. Look for the code in the newspaper, the Loveland Reporter Herald, and bring it to the event to see if you are the big winner. Centerra’s Santa Workshop at The Group is Dec. 6, 13 and 20. Complimentary photos with Santa, ornament decorating, fresh baked cookies, coloring, horse drawn wagon rides and story time with Mrs. Claus are all taking place. Breakfast with Santa at the Promenade Shops at Centerra is Dec. 6, 13 and 20. For $10 per person (2 and under are free), join the celebration and receive a 5×7 photo with Santa, a goody bag for the children, hot breakfast buffet and door prize giveaways. Also at the Promenade Shops is Santa’s Home for the Holidays, select weekdays and weekends, Nov. 28 through Dec. 24. Parents are invited to bring their own cameras and take photos of their children with Santa free of charge.
The Ice Rink is also a winter treasure at The Promenade Shops at Centerra, at the crossroads of I-25 and Highway 34 in Loveland, Colo. The ice rink is open daily from Nov. 7 through Feb. 22, 2015. Learn more online, or by calling 970-66-SKATE. There is also a free, family-friendly Christmas Tree lighting in Civic Center Park from 4:30 – 6:30 p.m., Dec. 3 that will have everything needed to get into the holiday spirit: carriage rides, photo booth, Santa Claus, food vendors, face painting, and music. Afterwards head over to the Rialto Theater Center for the 1938 classic film A Christmas Carol followed by the 1989 hit, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation—filmed in Breckenridge!
And, if you need to eat, Loveland is a lovely dining hub as well. Matt Lauer claimed that the burger at The Boot Grill was the best burger he had eaten in 5 years when he visited during the 2013 floods. The Bielenbergs do agree these are some might tasty burgers. I can’t express more love for Mo’ Betta Gumbo. We visited the day, it too, had reopened from a flood, and it was alive with energy and personality. This New Orleans staple in downtown has gumbo, drinks, Slap Yo Mama Loaf, Fried Green Tomatoes and Beignets. VisitLovelandCO.com.
The Wild Side of Jack Frost this Season in Colorado
Ouray + Ice Climbing
No one can pronounce it correctly, so don’t let that be and immediate scare. This tiny Switzerland-type mountain town is majestic, it doesn’t matter what season you visit. For most of us, this place is remote and not easily accessible for a winter weekend getaway. However, should you have plans to be in the area visiting family, or if you can escape for 3-4 nights, then Ouray – hurray, here you come.
Ouray is also known as one of the best and most accessible ice climbing venues in the world because you can walk from your hotel to the Ice Park and then park for a soak in the hot springs. The Ouray Ice Park is for children of ages and climbing abilities of all kinds. There is a group called the kids climbing college, that will suit up kids and up them on the ice wall, climbing up 40 feet in a matter of minutes, and lends itself to wonderful vacation photos. The Ice Park itself is over a mile long, is free and has over 100 routes to explore. Usually it is open from mid-December through mid-March, weather, of course, a factor. There are two great local guide services for beginners, San Juan Mountain Guides and Peak Mountain Guides.
Soak in the Season
And while in Ouray, that’s right, another hurray, take a soak, in sulpher-free hot springs! We’ve stayed at Box Canyon Lodge & Hot Springs which provides private guest-only free soaks in a multitude of tubs with phenomenal views. (website). Two other lodging facities with hot springs on site include The Twin Peaks Lodge & Hot Springs and The Wiesbaden Hot Springs Spa and Lodgings. (website) The Ouray Hot Springs Pool is the city-owned public facility featuring three different temperature sections. Ouraycolorado.com
Touted as Amber’s favorite resort town, if Crested Butte’s outer-world beauty of the surrounding peaks aren’t worth the drive, the family-friendly deals are. This season, kids 12 and under ski free at Crested Butte Mountain Resort until December 18, 2014. Also, the Crested Butte Nordic Center is offering free rentals AND skiing for kids 17 and under all season (the 55 kilometers of immaculately groomed trails that lead to the glorious Paradise Paradise Divide are stunning). Camp CB’s alpine ski school is one of the best in the state and the mountain has one base area so the ski-in ski-out hotels and condos make it extremely accessible for families. Grab a waffle at the new Waffle Cabin at the base or hang out at the whimsical Sweet Spot for candy, tacos, billiards or arcade games. If you have young non-skiers, the Trailhead Children’s Discovery Museum is a fantastic indoor alternative. Be sure to spend some quality time in quirky, multi-hued Crested Butte For breakfast, try Izzy’s breakfast burrito with Indian spices or the head-sized pancakes. For apres ski, grab a Creamsicle or Beach Bum mocktail with the kids in the ultra-hip Montanya Distillers The Secret Stash pizzeria redefines eclectic with decor showcasing the owner’s world travels and the Crack Fries are, indeed, addicting. Lower Loop Trail to cobalt-blue Peanut Lake, which has the glorious Paradise Divide mountain range as the backdrop.Lower Loop Trail to cobalt-blue Peanut Lake, which has the glorious Paradise Divide mountain range as the backdrop. http://www.skicb.com/ -AJ
Vail gets plenty of editorial for good reason, but don’t forget about the boutique town of Beaver Creek. It’s not just the epic snowfall and ski hill that draw families, it’s the actual mentality of the Beaver Creek Resort; it was built for kids! I’ve written about this place before my youngest could crawl, and it wins the most coveted hotel awards from prestigious outlets yearly, so it’s not leaving my list now that both my kids are on skis.
Wilder Side Ideas: Cross-country skiing in McCoy Park is a spectacular Nordic ski and snowshoe area atop the mountain accessed by the Strawberry Park Express chairlift. This place is absolutely stunning. Its appeal includes breath taking views, picturesque snowfall, and the fact that few people use this hidden gem. Additionally recommended is skiing and snowshoeing out to the Overlook. With a yurt near the destination, those venturing back into the trail system can stop by for a warm up break. It’s a ways back into the trail system, but there is a yurt nearby if you need a warm break. You can’t beat McCoy Park on a Colorado bluebird winter day.
For places to stay check out The Westin Riverfront. They have recently brought back their Colorado Residents Rate for the ski season, which means that Colorado Residents can always take 20% off the best available rate. Guest must show a valid CO drivers license. Families will also benefit from the Kids Club, which is open daily in the winter and offers drop off classes. http://www.westinriverfrontbeavercreek.com/westin-kids-club
If you want take your family on the ultimate splurge of the season, Ritz Carleton Bachelor Gulch. Is offering a “Hit the Slopes” package from November 27, 2014 through April 6, 2015. Rates start at $1,159 USD per night and include 3 Day Lift Tickets to Beaver Creek Mountain for 2 Adults. Explore a world of snow-blanketed slopes, starry skies and unparalleled ski-in, ski-out access to Beaver Creek Mountain. http://ww w.ritzcarlton.com/en/Properties/BachelorGulch/Reservations/Packages/Detail/Hit-the-Slopes-package.htm
Hot Springs in the Snow Season
Oh, we love ourselves a hot soak, doesn’t really matter the season. However, there are a couple springs that really do cater to winter activities. My favorite winter soak is at Mount Princeton Hot Springs. We’ve been there in every season, and winter somehow is just the most majestic.
Glenwood Springs: What’s Happening Winter 2014-15
Ski Swim Stay: A Winning Combo On and Off the Slopes
After nearly three decades, Glenwood Springs’ Ski Swim Stay package is still Colorado’s favorite winter recreation package. Ski Swim Stay packages bundle a lift ticket to Sunlight Mountain Resort, admission to the world-famous Glenwood Hot Springs Pool, and overnight accommodations at one of the participating lodges in Glenwood Springs. Incredibly, Ski Swim Stay packages are still offered for as low as $99! Best of all, for families with pre-teen children, kids 12 and younger ski free with a paying adult (some restrictions apply). Packages are available for reservations now; opening day at Sunlight Mountain Resort is Dec. 5. Sunlightmtn.com
The equivalent of 35 miles of lights has transformed the Park into a twinkly winter wonderland atop Iron Mountain. A giant lighted Christmas tree takes center stage with visits from Santa and carolers adding to the festive spirit. Also new: lighted thrill rides, the 4-D movie “Winter Wipeout,” fire pits for roasting s’mores and a fresh family-style menu at the Lookout Grille. Open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday – Sunday, with extended dates through the holidays. Get 50% off on your Winter Funday Pass by entering in the code MHMama14. http://glenwoodcaverns.com/park-tickets-hours.html; Glenwoodcaverns.com/winter-on-mountain.html
Restaurants Spice Up Dining Scene in Glenwood Springs
Glenwood Springs is a hub for gastronomic goings-on with a plethora of eateries opening, relocating and remodeling. For the freshest burgers in Glenwood Springs head to the new home of The Grind at 701 Grand Ave, located at the base of the bridge. It’s the place where grinding the burger for every single patty served is a point of pride. The new location will also have 20 taps serving wide selection of brews. Neighbor, The Lost Cajun adds southern charm to the Glenwood’s downtown dining. Louisiana specialties include red beans and rice, shrimp and lobster bisque, fried catfish, gumbo, and of course, beignets and authentic chicory café au lait. Right next door is Smoke Modern Barbeque, a casual yet hip place that offers both traditional and unusual BBQ specialties. The drink menu features an extensive list of bourbons and American whiskies. For those with a sweet tooth, plan a stop at Sweet ColoraDough where the iconic American doughnut rises to an art form. These extraordinary pastries are handmade fresh every day. Choose from glazed, old-fashioned, cake and raised doughnuts to fritters, cinnamon rolls, twists and bear claws. Located in the 700 block of Glenwood’s restaurant row, CO Ranch House Kitchen is set to open in the near future. The new eatery will feature wild Colorado game including duck wings, elk burgers and a trout BLT! Serving hungry guests since 1947, the Riviera Supper Club, Glenwood’s oldest, continuously operating dining establishment, just completed a major remodel. In addition to a completely refurbished interior, the restaurant’s newest attraction is a state-of-the-art, temperature-controlled wine bar that allows for dispensing by the glass and even “flights” of wine samples. Red and whites are served at exactly the right temperatures and even the most expensive wine is available by the glass! Enjoy surf and turf specialties, including Mabel’s Prime Rib, a favorite with diners since 1965.
Glenwood Vaudeville Revue Holiday Schedule
Count on the crew of the Glenwood Vaudeville Revue to tickle your funny bone! The cast of professional actors, singers and comedians is rolling out all new material for its Holiday 2014 show. The shows are always family-appropriate and include traditional Vaudeville slapstick, ridiculous gags, novelty song and dance numbers, a barbershop ensemble, audience participation and skits that reference pop culture and current events. The Holiday show runs Nov. 28 through Jan. 3, with additional shows between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Thurs. – Sat, 5:30 p.m. on Sundays with food and drinks served prior to the beginning of the show. The venue is also featuring a series of guest performances which have included acts ranging from standup comedy to musical artists. For a complete schedule of upcoming shows, visit gvrshow.com.
Merry & Bright: The Hotel Colorado
The Hotel Colorado’s annual lighting ceremony is one of the most highly anticipated events of the Glenwood Springs holiday season. On the Friday after Thanksgiving, to the delight of kids of all ages, the historic hotel flips the switch that illuminates approximately one million lights, one of the most extravagant lighting displays on the Western Slope of Colorado. The show culminates with a dazzling fireworks display. The magical moment also reveals Santa arriving on the balcony waving to the crowds in the courtyard below, much like President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt once did when he stayed at the hotel. This year’s event takes place on the evening of Friday, Nov. 28, from 6 – 7:30 p.m. Afterwards, visitors are invited to explore the hotel’s lobby where the halls and all the public spaces are decked out with holiday finery. Indoor displays include 76 holiday “sets,” many with moving parts. During the Thanksgiving holiday and concurrent with the lighting ceremony, the hotel hosts Christmas in the Rockies, a fine art, craft and gift show that runs from Nov. 27 through Nov. 29. Hotelcolorado.com
New Year’s Eve at Glenwood Hot Springs
Ring in the New Year with a splash at the Glenwood Hot Springs’ annual New Year’s Eve Celebration on Wednesday, December 31, 2014. On this one evening of the year, the world-famous hot springs pool stays open until 1 a.m.! The event is alcohol-free and ideal for families who want to celebrate together. Festivities include noisemakers while supplies last and a countdown to the New Year.
National Parks in the Winter
I have some statistics that state the some parks get almost 80% of their visitors in summer, and only 20% in winter. Think of the amazing wildlife and scenes you can view without the crowds! One of the most accessible if RMNP. Elk still abound in the snow, trails are still walkable and some trout don’t mind swimming in cold. Rockymountainnationalpark.com
Here’s a picture, pre-children, from a visit to Mesa Verde on New Year’s Day. It happen to be free that day, as it common (make sure to check) and we saw people on horseback, the famous cliff dwellings and deer. It was silent, just amazing. We returned there last summer and it was a very different experience with the masses. Winter is magic and especially mystic. Visitmesaverde.com
You would think that I go to a National Park every New Year’s Day, I might? I spent another January afternoon at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. It was free, yet again, and our group danced on the dunes with our pooches and watched the sun warm up the snow-covered mountains. Again, there was no one else around to even view our amazing show.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. You got me on this one, I’ve only visited during summer, but I can’t imagine a place so spectacular could ever disappoint, event blanketed in white with the river at a milder pace. The drive around the rim is jaw-dropping and can be done almost any time in December or January, roads are usually open.
What are your favorite winter getaways?