Denver, Colorado is a well known winter adventure destination full of snowy mountains, ski lifts, sunshine, adventurous people, and a wonderful craft beer scene. Browsing through social media will show countless examples of snowy adventures and adventurers with huge smiles on their faces. Although it does snow in Denver, the majority of days are sunny and surprisingly comfortable, even in the winter. When it does snow in Denver, it usually melts within a day or two, unlike the mountains whose snow will last through May and into June. This allows residents and visitors to experience a winter playground for much of the year. As someone who loves to experience all Denver has to offer, I will be giving you some suggestions about how to spend a long weekend in Denver during the winter season.
If you ski or snowboard this is probably the best day to hit the slopes. Although you won’t have the slopes or I-70 entirely to yourself, the crowds will be much smaller than Saturday or Sunday. For breakfast, starting your day at Snooze, a local breakfast institution, is a great way to get the energy you will need for the slopes. Once you have the energy it is time to head west and you have some wonderful options about where to go.
There are a number of ski areas/resorts within an hour or so drive of Denver that will provide opportunities for all levels of skiers and boarders. If you have yet to try skiing or snowboarding, no worries, most ski areas offer classes for beginners that will help you get out on the slopes the same day. If you prefer a bare bones experience, just snow and lifts, then Loveland, Eldora, or Arapaho Basin (A-Basin) are the places to go. If you prefer to have coffee shops, restaurants, and a small-town atmosphere, Winter Park, Keystone, and Breckenridge are the best options near Denver.
A drive west from Denver along I-70 in the winter has to be one of the most scenic sections of interstate in the country. However, if you want to head west but skiing is not your thing, they are a few adventures you might want to check out. Herman Gulch, Mount Sniktau, and McCullough Gulch are all good safe choices to experience winter in the mountains.
If you start back towards Denver and still have not eaten lunch, Tommyknocker, in Idaho Springs is an iconic and highly recommended for a good meal and a good beer (they brew their own wide selection of beers). If you have eaten lunch, continue back to Denver for dinner. For a tasty meal and delicious adult beverage, two local favorites include Hops and Pie and Colorado Plus. Hops and Pie is normally packed and rightfully so, it serves delicious and unique pizzas with a great beer menu. At Colorado Plus it is even possible to have a stout ice cream float (beer float) instead of a root beer float.
Now that you’ve had a little time to adjust to the altitude, heading up to Rocky Mountain National Park will give you plenty of winter beauty and adventure. Weather permitting, you may want to start the day off with a sunrise hike or snowshoe, of which Dream Lake should be the main destination. After the sunrise you could continue to Emerald Lake and enjoy a tour of several beautiful alpine lakes. Another good short/moderate winter destination in the park is Mills Lake. More ambitious winter goals could include Flattop Mountain or Chasm Lake. The snow will stay around these areas until May so plan accordingly. On the way into the park or on the way out (if you finish early) The Other Side restaurant in Estes Park, near the Beaver Meadows entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park, is a great place to get a delicious and filling meal.
After your winter wonderland adventure in Rocky, a very popular lunch destination is Oskar Blues in Lyons Colorado. Oskar Blues has seating inside and out depending on the weather and boasts a delicious menu and a great selection of their own beers (they usually have a few guest taps as well). On your way back to Denver, heading down Highway 93 south of Boulder will give you some of the best views of the famed flatirons as well as easy access to Cannon Ball Creek Brewing, a local favorite by those who have spent the day outdoors. For dinner, strongly consider The Ale House. It has a wide range of delicious food, a great beer menu (and numerous other drinks as well), and when the weather is nice, they open a great rooftop seating area looking over downtown. After a great meal at the Ale House, desert at Colt and Gray or Little Man Ice Cream is a real treat.
To start Sunday the right way, make sure to stop by Voodoo Doughnuts, one of the craziest and most popular eating locations in the city. After chowing down on some of the coolest donuts you’ve ever eaten, you may want to walk it off at lower elevation destinations like Matthews-Winters Park or across the road walking around the famed Red Rocks Park. At Red Rocks, there is a visitor center and you can walk around the amphitheater or just catch the view from the top. Other close adventures include Mount Falcon, Maxwell Falls (especially later in the spring), and South Table Mountain.
If the weather turns for the worse or you would just prefer an afternoon indoors, there are several options that will keep you entertained. For those in interested in climbing and mountaineering, the American Mountaineering Museum in Golden is a great experience. A joint venture from the American Alpine Club and the Colorado Mountain Club, it has information and resources from all over the globe. The REI Flagship Store in downtown Denver not only has more gear than you will know what to do with, it has a climbing wall...how many stores can you shop and climb in?
Photo: Eric Schuette
As you may have noticed by reading this far, Denver has one of the best craft beer scenes in the country. It is something that should be experienced, even if you’re not sure you will like it. The variety of beers is truly incredible and there is very likely to be one that will pleasantly surprise you. If you haven't already tried one, a few breweries you might want to consider before you leave our city are Jagged Mountain Brewery, Declaration Brewing, DeSteeg Brewing, and Great Divide Brewing. While you’re visiting one of the breweries, you may notice food trucks parked outside. Most breweries are not licensed for food, which eases some permits and restrictions. Instead, food trucks, a Denver staple, park and serve delicious food of all varieties.
Winter is truly an amazing time to be in and around Denver and I hope you will have a wonderful and memorable visit! As wonderful as the winter is, when the snow melts and summer comes to the high country, many of us celebrate all of the new adventures to be had. With that in mind, be sure to be on the lookout for a summer guide to Denver to help you decide which summer adventures to enjoy over a long weekend. Until then, I hope you all have a great experience in this beautiful and adventurous city!
Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.
Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More
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Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.
Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.