Colorado has some of the best alpine skiing in the world. If you’re heading to the Centennial State for a ski vacation, you may wonder what other snow experiences you should do when you take time off the slopes.
From driving your own dog sled to skiing to a gourmet lunch, this is my list of the best winter adventures in Colorado. Think of this as your winter bucket list.
This is my all-time favorite winter adventure in Colorado. I’m a huge dog lover and if you’re one too, this should be in the top spot on your list. At Good Times Adventures in Breckenridge, you get a chance to not only ride, but drive your own dog sled. Mushing a team of huskies through the Rockies is truly an unforgettable experience and something you won’t find in every ski town. Each tour can accommodate up to six people in a relay type tour. You’ll feel like you are part of the Iditarod, mushing a team of huskies winding through 6-miles of trail in the Swan River Valley. When you’re not driving the sled, you can soak in the scenery from the snowmobile sleigh driven by your guide or enjoy being the passenger on the dog sled. On a beautiful winter day, the snow will sparkle in the sunshine as you go through twists, turns, and straightaways through the forest and open meadows of the valley. Just like the dogs barking and howling with delight as they run, you’ll grin ear to ear with happiness mushing your team on the snowy trail.
Need for Speed
I’ll admit it. I’m an adrenaline junkie. So given the chance to get out and “get your motor running” and I’m there. Rev up your adventure and head to Grand Lake, the Snowmobile Capitol of Colorado. On the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park, it’s the only town in the state where you can cruise your snowmobile right down Main Street. You’ll spend most of your ride time in the Arapaho National Forest, but Grand Lake is also the only place where you can snowmobile in Rocky Mountain National Park along a two-mile stretch of breathtaking scenery. From beginner to expert drivers, the network of trails around Grand Lake has something for all skill levels. Grand Adventures has 2, 4 and 8 hour rentals available. Drivers have to be 18 years old, but kids can ride along with an adult. When I went on a tour with Snowmobile Steve, Grand Lake had gotten over two feet of new snow, so he let our group rip through a meadow. The giggles, hollers, and smiles runneth over as we glided through the powder. When you’re done for the day, cruise your sled over to Sagebrush BBQ & Grill. With western motif adorning the walls and original jail doors dating back to the 1880s (yes the building was the original jail in Grand Lake!), you’ll feel like you’re sauntering back in time as you walk in this historic place. Throw your peanut shells on the floor, kick back a cold one, and devour some really good comfort food after a snowmobile adventure.
Up, Up, and Away Then Giddy Up in the Boat
Soar high above the Yampa Valley with Wild West Hot Air Balloon Adventures in Steamboat Springs. Taking a 45-minute balloon ride in winter is even more spectacular than summer. As the balloon rises higher in the sky, you may notice it’s warmer than on the ground because of a temperature inversion. Floating several thousand feet above the snow-covered land is magical. You’ll get amazing view of Steamboat Ski Resort, Hahn’s Peak, and across the Yampa Valley. The flight is complete with a continental breakfast and the traditional post-flight champagne toast.
Cowgirl or cowboy up as you saddle up for a trail ride at Del’s Triangle 3 Ranch just outside of Steamboat Springs. As longtime ranch and former Olympian, Ray Heid is the character that symbolizes Steamboat – the cowboy skier. He also happens to be one of my favorite people I met in exploring the state. Ray have turned over most of the ranch duties to his son Perk and his family will take you on an unforgettable ride. Del’s Triangle Ranch has been family owned and operated since 1962. The family has lived in the valley for six generations and know the Mt. Zirkel Wilderness area of the Routt National Forest like the back of their hands. If you’ve never ridden a horse in snow, and even if you have, this is a must when in Steamboat. The surefooted horses will guide you through snow-covered aspens and pines as you take in the silence of winter’s simple beauty. As the snow sparkles in the sunshine, riding the trail is like riding on diamonds on the snow.
Pedal to the…Snow
Riding a bike on the snow – sounds crazy or unnatural, right? Well, fat bikes are all the rage even in winter. They’re the bikes with tires four to five inches wide. In Telluride you can cruise to brew on the Fat Bike and Brew Tour with Bootdoctors. If you’re wanting a hardcore biking experience, this isn’t it. If you want to ride, laugh, enjoy the view then enjoy some beverages, this tour is a must during a winter or spring stay in Telluride. This is an earn your drinks adventure as you ride to cocktails and beer. I did it at the end of ski season so the snow season was transitioning to the mud season and boy was it a blast! You start in the historic Telluride downtown district then ride along the valley floor taking in the incredible scenery of the box canyon walls rising high into the sky. As you ride into the Lawton Hill neighborhood, just a couple of miles east of Telluride, you can stop in at Telluride Distillery to sample their handcrafted vodka or Chairlift Warmer, America’s first craft Peppermint Schnapps, or just enjoy a cocktail with their spirits. After a cocktail, or two, walk your bike over to Telluride Brewing Company, where they’re brewing beer at 8,750’ high. The beer is made with snowmelt from the San Juan Mountains and they say the Rocky Mountain water is what makes the difference in their award-winning craft beer. Plus you have to love brews with names like Face Down Brown, Fishwater Project, Ski-In- Ski-Stout, and Tempter. You can imbibe without worry as they’ll shuttle you back in town. Of course, Bootdoctors offers non-alcoholic and kid friendly tours too.
Get Grooming in the Butte
A chance to get behind the wheel of a mac daddy monster truck on the snow? In! Get a crash course in operating heavy machinery by doing the Snowcat Driving Experience in Crested Butte. You’ve seen the snowcats combing the slopes at night, but in this adventure, you’ll get to hop behind the wheel of a Prinoth 275 Snowcat and test your driving and grooming skills. This is a one-of- a-kind snowcat driving experience. After learning the fundamentals and a safety lesson, you’ll get plenty of hands-on practice time on a closed course as you learn from a real groomer. During the one-on- one instruction, you’ll even learn how the create terrain parks and change up features. It’s a driving experience unlike anything else.
Hear the Snow Crunch
I became a huge fan of snowshoeing very quickly in Colorado. One of the best gifts I’ve ever received was a pair of snowshoes. If you can walk, you can snowshoe and you can find winter hiking across Colorado. Three areas in particular – Rocky Mountain National Park, Beaver Creek, and Snow Mountain Ranch – offer unique experiences to strap on snowshoes and walk into an adventure. Rocky Mountain National Park offers ranger led snowshoe adventures from iconic Bear Lake. If it’s solid enough, you even get to snowshoe out on the lake. For the intermediate snowshoers, on the west side of the park, the ranger led adventure to Adams Falls includes an elevation gain of 500 feet, which will get your heart pumping for sure! The ranger led programs are free but do require reservations. They are perfect for families with kids 8 or older. Beaver Creek is home to one of the only lift access Nordic centers in North America and one of the best kept secrets in Colorado. Ride the Strawberry Park express lift to snowshoe at over 10,000’ in elevation. The effort is worth it just for the views of three different mountain ranges. Snow Mountain Ranch near Winter Park is known for their Nordic network of trails. You can snowshoe to the Rowley Homestead for a little history with your workout or take the lesser traveled trail in winter to God’s Mailbox. Write your note to God and leave it in the silver mailbox at to the top of the mountain.
Sleigh Bells Ring
Bundling up in blankets with hot cocoa in hand on a sleigh ride is an iconic winter adventure, especially around the holidays. Head to one of Colorado’s most exclusive ranches for the ultimate sleigh ride. Devil’s Thumb Ranch is a picturesque setting and the perfect place for a sleigh ride. The Feed Sleigh Ride with Cabin Creek Stables is extra special. Throw off hay to a hungry herd of horses, mules, and donkeys then enjoy the ride on one of the ranch’s scenic trail. After the ride, s’mores around a roaring campfire, hot chocolate, and hot cider await you back at the barn. One hour and evening sleigh rides are also offered. I also highly recommend the sleigh rides at Snow Mountain Ranch, Keystone Ski Resort, and to Pine Creek Cookhouse near Aspen.
Soak in a Spring
Submerge yourself in one of Colorado’s 30 hot springs and let the flakes fly as you relax in the therapeutic mineral waters. It’s almost a surreal experience of sitting outside in your bathing suit while it snows. If you’re skiing Steamboat, take a dip and soothe your sore muscles at Strawberry Park Hot Springs. If you want to stay with you soak and stay at Pagosa Springs Hotel and Spa (in first two pictures), Avalanche Ranch near Carbondale, Dunton Hot Springs near Telluride, Mount Princeton Hot Springs near Buena Vista, or Glenwood Springs (third picture). Just imagine soaking in 100-degree plus mineral water as the snow gently falls and piles up on the forest around you.
This is a zany, wild, and fast adventure. Try snow tubing and I guarantee you’ll laugh and scream with delight the entire ride. Summit County has a couple of great options. The mult-lanes at Frisco Adventure Park can take you on a mild to wild ride. You can go solo and latch on to multiple riders at once. You’ll spin, fly, and catch air zooming down the runs. Day or under the lights at night, you can enjoy zipping down the hill at Keystone’s Snow Tubing at Adventure Point. While you’re at Keystone, don’t miss the Snow Fort on top of Dercum Mountain or try ski biking and cruise the slopes at Keystone on a bike with skis instead of pedals. It’s a different kind of downhill adventure.
From Ghost Town to Gourmet Meal
Ditch the downhill skis for their skinny cousins, classic skis, and work up a sweat on your way to a gourmet lunch. Pine Creek Cookhouse is only accessible by skis, snowshoes, or horse drawn sleigh in winter. You start at the ghost town of Ashcroft, a booming mining town in the late 1800s. If you take the road, it’s 1.5 miles to lunch. The River Run Trail is for cross country or skate skiing only. It follows the serene, picturesque, and peaceful Castle Creek. Along the creek the trail varies from flat to small hills. Then it opens up to some breathtaking views with 13 to 14,000 foot peaks in the Elk Mountain Range surrounding the Castle Creek Valley. Once you make it to Pine Creek Cookhouse, you can relax in the bar with antler chandeliers, dine on the patio if it’s a beautiful day, or dine inside the rustic log cabin. Chef Chris Keating serves up American alpine cuisine at its finest. Some things to try are the sinfully good ooey gooey brie cheese appetizer, smoked trout melt, wild game momos, or patty melt with meat from actor Kurt Russell’s ranch nearby. This truly is a unique dining experience near Aspen. Go ahead and indulge. You’ll work off some of the calories skiing back to Ashcroft.
Have fun crossing off things on your winter bucket list!