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When people dream up a winter getaway in Colorado, they probably picture a cozy ski chalet and a five-star dinner with world class slopes a mere stone’s throw away. Making turns through powder and mountain-side dining are both part of the Centennial State mystique during winter months, but there are a host of other cozy destinations that offer fresh ways to explore Colorado’s high country. Beyond the typical resort experience, here are five ideas for cold-weather road trips—each about or less than a two-hour drive from Denver.
Distance from Denver: 67 miles
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What to do: Sure, you’re just a short drive away from some of Colorado’s top ski areas—Keystone, Copper Mountain, Loveland, and A-Basin—but if you want to broaden your repertoire, try cross-country skiing or snowshoeing at the Raven at Three Peaks, which does not charge for using its expansive snowshoe terrain or its Nordic skiing trails (although you do have to bring your own equipment). The trails for classic and skate skiing are groomed five times a week and after every snowfall. Outdoor adventures not your thing? You can always go shopping at the Outlets, enjoy a show at the Silverthorne Performing Arts Center, or take part in the First Friday activities at Silverthorne Pavilion are a blink away.
Where to eat & drink: Angry James Brewery has great beer and ambiance, while the adjoining, closet-sized Cultivate Kitchen boasts tasty casual fare—from a Cuban sandwich stuffed with slow-cooked pulled pork to beet sliders. Grab tasty, thin-crust pizza at the cozy Sauce on the Blue, or hit Baker’s Brewery for scratch-made everything (beers included), plus live music every weekend.
Where to stay: More like a communal house, the Mountaineer offers five rooms, four of them private with shared baths. For more lodging options—from home rentals to hotel chains—check out Exit 205, an annual magazine and online resource to promote local businesses.
Distance from Denver: 127 miles
What to do: While known for its bounty of singletrack, Eagle’s open space trails are closed for wildlife mitigation through April 15. But the town’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) trails, including the iconic Boneyard and Haymaker, make for exhilarating winter exploration, whether on fat bikes or snowshoes. You likely won’t be golfing in the colder months, but Eagle Ranch Golf Course is open all winter for snowbound adventures, with some groomed trails designated for Nordic skiers. McKenzie Gulch makes for Zen-like snowshoeing and backcountry skiing, while the 1.5-mile loop around the nearby Sylvan Lake is a flatter, but beautiful option. Of course, Vail and Beaver Creek are right down the road if you looking to shred some fresh powder.
Where to eat & drink: The small town has a little something of anything you could want from a mountain getaway. Yeti’s Grind is your go-to place for coffee and breakfast burritos. The Dusty Boot is a long-standing mainstay for great burgers. Pazzo’s Pizza (you may know it from its outposts in Vail or Avon) serves customized slices and pies, and you can feast on legit Mexican at Casa Mexico. Plus, while you can find Bonfire Brewing’s cans and taps throughout Colorado, its newly renovated taproom is absolutely worth a visit for an après adventure beer (or two—as long as you’re not driving).
Where to stay: Hotels here are pretty basic, but you can land a clean, quiet room at Eagle River Lodge for around $120 a night, a bargain during ski season this close to Vail.
Distance from Denver: 33 miles
What to do: Don’t pass by this quaint town located just off I-70. While Idaho Springs is a convenient base camp for skiing at Loveland, it also offers prime snowshoeing options, including the 1.5-mile route up and around St. Mary’s Glacier. There’s also the small but affordable ski hill, Echo Mountain, which even offers night skiing. Once the sacred soaking grounds of the Ute and Arapahoe tribes, Indian Hot Springs includes a large greenhouse pool, outdoor jacuzzis, mud bath, and clothing-optional, gender-specific geo-thermal caves. A National Register of Historic Places and superfund site, Argo Mine offers a glimpse into the era of Colorado’s gold rush and has plans to expand under new ownership.
Where to eat & drink: A pioneer of Colorado craft beer, Tommyknocker’s brewpub serves addicting wings, fish tacos, and salads. Newer to town, Westbound & Down has gained traction for its delectable use of hops and creative comfort food. For delicious Mexican fare, hit Azteca, and for pizza, don’t miss a feast at the original Beau Jo’s Pizza.
Distance from Denver: 64 miles
What to Do: There is no lift-served slopes nearby, but that doesn’t stop backcountry enthusiasts from finding powder stashes at Hidden Valley, formerly Ski Estes Park, which closed lift operations in 1991. If you’re willing to hike—or skin, snowshoe, or Nordic ski—and are well versed in avalanche safety, head up Trail Ridge Road, which is unplowed in winter, to the the former ski area. (Tip: It’s also a hot spot for sledding). Rocky Mountain National Park’s Sprague Lake and Chasm Falls also make for fun cross-country ski excursions or easy snowshoe routes, while Deer Mountain or Odessa Lake are ideal for steeper, robust snowshoe hikes.
Where to eat & drink: For craft suds, Lumpy Ridge’s stout takes on a gravitational pull in the cold weather. For coffee, Inkwell & Brew is a cozy spot, while the Donut Haus is long-revered for its delicious fried dough. A 50-plus-year mainstay, the Dunraven Inn can’t be beat for a cozy, indulgent dinner. If you’re looking for a night out, head to the Rock Inn, which opened as a dance hall in 1937 and till gets rowdy with live music, even when the nights are frigid.
Where to stay: The obvious choice, as long as you’re sure the snowy surroundings won’t turn you into an ax-wielding murderer like Jack Nicholson in The Shining, is the Stanley Hotel. A stay here is quite reasonable in the winter, and the hotel hosts rock concerts and dining extravaganzas (check out the website for upcoming events). Looking for a less spooky option? Rent a cabin at the the swanky Rams Horn Village Resort.
Distance from Denver: 62 miles
What to do: Spanning nearly 10 miles, the Foothills Trail runs nearly the length of the city. En route, scenic detours can be found at Pineridge or Reservoir Ridge. Poudre Canyon is a wintry wonderland this time of year, and the short trails at Gateway (snowshoes or Yaktrax recommended) lead to great views of the city. The best type of exploring you can do in winter is the metropolitan variety, from brewery to brewery, many of which are conveniently located within a five-mile radius and close to Old Town. If there isn’t too much snow on the ground, use Pace, FoCo’s new bike share program, to grab a ride for $1 per half hour. Another testament to Old Town’s year-round allure, the Winter Farmers Market offers fresh local produce, cheese, baked goods, coffee, honey, artwork, and more from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Saturday. Lastly, soak up the local music scene with a show at the new and hugely improved Washington’s.
Where to eat & drink: For breakfast, check out long-standing local mainstays Avogadro’s and Silver Grill Café. The Exchange is an ever-growing collection of cool local businesses housed in shipping containers, including Fort Collins Donut Company and Vatos Tacos. Head to the Regional for a fresh and local take on comfort food, and the unique cafe-restaurant hybrid Ginger and Baker for all-day breakfast (don’t miss their homemade pie!). For more recommendations on where to eat and drink, check out this list from our expert food editors.
Where to stay: The new, hip Elizabeth Hotel is surprisingly affordable—anything comparable would cost around three times more in a ski town—and it offers a handful of fun weekend specials, including a brewery package. Each room is equipped with a record player and quirky vinyl selection. Also in Old Town, the iconic, 95-year-old Armstrong Hotel reopens April 1 with a fresh, vintage charm.