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Climb the Ice
The spectacular frozen waterfalls at Ouray’s Uncompahgre Gorge form the country’s finest place to learn to ice climb. And there’s never a better time to do so than at Ice Festival time. Come for climbs, clinics, costume parties, and a peek at the world’s best climbers scampering up the cascade at the Elite Mixed Climbing Competition. January 19 to 22; free admission; check the website for clinic times and rates
Ice Fish at the 3 Lakes
Anglers know frosty toes are a small price to pay for the chance to hook brag-worthy fish. With reliably thick coverage on Grand Lake, Lake Granby, and Shadow Mountain Reservoir, plus hungry trout that haven’t recently seen lures, early season ice fishing could be your new obsession. “January might not always be the best weather, but it’s great fishing,” says Dan Shannon, a guide for Granby-based Fishing with Bernie. “It’s a good time for trophy fish and numbers.” Feeling lucky? Compete for the biggest catch during the 3 Lakes Ice Fishing Contest, held January 27 to 29.
Race on a Frozen River
“It’s a novel thing for a river to freeze so solidly that you’re able to run on it,” says John Reesor, race director for Alamosa Parks and Recreation’s annual Rio Frio 5K on the ice-covered Rio Grande. “So why not do something fun with it?” Step into your Microspikes and join 150-some other runners for a laid-back trot: “No one’s trying to PR on this racecourse,” Reesor says. The 5K is the centerpiece of the Rio Frio Ice Fest, a three-day extravaganza (January 27 to 29) with ice sculpting, a pub crawl, and an icy bonfire. The race takes place on January 28; $25
Wander the Tropics
Had enough of ice? The equatorial climate in the Wings of the Tropics exhibit at Westminster’s Butterfly Pavilion means temps hover in the 80s, keeping its 1,600-plus butterflies happy as they flit freely among the greenhouse’s blooms. $14.50 per adult; $9.50 per child
Say “I (Still) Do”
Is there a better way to spend Valentine’s Day than joining in a mass wedding-slash-vow-renewal ceremony? We think not. This year, the annual event in Loveland takes place on the ice at Budweiser Events Center before the AHL’s Colorado Eagles take the ice. (Game tickets are included for all lovebirds, because nothing says “I love you” like hockey.) About 50 couples gather to say or renew their vows in this Sweetheart City nondenominational ceremony, and compared with courthouse nuptials, “it’s far more special, memorable, and unique,” says Christine Forster, owner of My Big Day Marketing and Events, which runs the show. February 14; $140 per couple
Ice Skate on a Frozen Lake
Who needs a rink when you can twirl among the peaks? Evergreen Park and Recreation District clears and grooms 8.5 acres of Evergreen Lake for hockey and figure skating once the ice is thick enough, creating what it boasts is the largest skating lake in Colorado. Go in early February for the best ice. $15 per person; $10 skate rental
Stop and Smell the Orchids
Transport yourself to fairer weather at the Denver Botanic Gardens Orchid Showcase. You’ll wander among thousands of delicate blooms chosen to highlight the vast diversity of orchid forms, colors, and shapes and get a peek at the gardens’ rarest species. Plus, “it really is magical to sit in a tropical environment and watch snow falling on the other side of the window,” says Nick Snakenberg, the gardens’ curator of tropical collections. January 12 to February 20; included with $15 adult admission to the gardens
Snowshoe to Fine Dining
One of Colorado’s most, ahem, elevated meals can be found just a one-mile snowshoe (or Nordic ski) away from Ski Cooper. Hike through a frosted evergreen forest to reach the Tennessee Pass Cookhouse at 10,800 feet. What looks like a garden-variety yurt on the outside holds an elegant restaurant within, serving four-course dinners starring the likes of braised elk rack and duck leg confit. In mid- to late March, you’ll make it in time to catch the sun set over the Sawatch Range before appetizers. Don’t want to go home? Snowshoe another 0.3 miles and snuggle down in one of the six cozy sleep yurts. Dinner is $102 per person and includes trail fee and rental gear; six-person yurts start at $215 per night
Spot Sandhill Cranes
If the sight of 20,000 four-foot-tall birds hopping, flapping, and loafing en masse sounds like your kind of show, head to the San Luis Valley’s Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge to catch the March migration. Every year, these graceful avians stop at the refuge to feast on grains as they make their way from their winter grounds in New Mexico to their northern summer ranges. You can scope the birds on your own for free or join the Monte Vista Crane Festival for guided tours (prices are TBD). March 10 to 12
(Read More: Where to Go Birding in Colorado)
Ski Maximum Powder
Christopher Steiner, of ski website zrankings.com, says it doesn’t get better than March for skiing Colorado’s snowiest resort, Wolf Creek. “The two things that matter in the spring are elevation and north-facing slopes,” he says. Wolf Creek’s base sits at a towering 10,300 feet, and 65 percent of its slopes face north. Translation: great snow, and lots of it. Wolf Creek averages 387 inches per year—20 inches more than runner-up Winter Park Resort. $85 to $95 for an adult lift ticket
Backpack Canyon Country
Early-bird campers know that the Western Slope desert is where it’s at for springtime nights under the stars. April’s typically mild temps and reliable water make it prime season to experience the Dominguez Canyon Wilderness’ red rock canyons, rock art panels, and waterfalls. Where exactly should you go? Try an out-and-back up Big Dominguez or Little Dominguez canyons (or both). “They’re the stars of the show for spectacular scenery and remote wilderness quality,” says Chris Herrman, executive director of the Colorado Canyons Association. Start from the Bridgeport trailhead and hike at least three miles into either of the roughly 15-mile-long canyons to reach the backpacking zone, then scout a campsite. Waste disposal bag required
Mountain Bike the Desert
The Grand Valley’s high-desert landscape hosts hundreds of miles of flowy, rolly, jumpy trails, many of which have scenic views of the Colorado River and surrounding red rock canyons—and by April, most of it is snow-free, with temps in the 60s and 70s. The best first-timer sampler platter starts at the mellow 18 Road trail network, says Kevin Sperle, chairman of the Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Trail Association’s Grand Valley Canyons chapter. For your second day, though, check out the Kokopelli trail system, an intermediate to advanced collection of pathways featuring “slickrock, slabs, and views for miles,” Sperle says. Finish at locals’ favorite Lunch Loop, a spiderweb of more technical trails.
Swirl and Sip in Vail
More than 50 wineries (plus dozens of Vail’s vaunted restaurants) gather in the mountains to offer tastings of their top-shelf Pinots, Chardonnays, and rosés at the Taste of Vail. Once your blood-alcohol content levels out, put on your planks for a late-season ski run or two. April 5 to 8; event admissions run from $85 to $225
Raft the Yampa River Through Dinosaur National Monument
Combine lighter crowds, more comfortable weather, and the start of peak water flows, and you have a May whitewater trip through this desert oasis spanning the Colorado-Utah border. “May really is the prime month for the Yampa through Dinosaur National Monument, which is an absolutely marvelous trip,” says Lynn Schuett of Durango-based Mild to Wild Rafting. The four- or five-day floats cruise on sections of Class III water that flow beneath rock walls of red and orange, where bighorn sheep and coyotes roam and eagles soar. Go with a guide, or secure a permit for a private trip through a lottery at recreation.gov through January 31
Fish the Arkansas River
In the Arkansas River Valley, Mother’s Day is less about brunch and much more about fly-fishing, thanks to the famous caddis hatch that generally lines up with May’s momfest. The peak of the hatch in the Salida area is usually mid-April through early May, says Braden Baker of outfitter and fly shop ArkAnglers. Warming water prompts the river’s caddisflies to pupate right around Tax Day, kicking off a trout feeding frenzy that anglers can exploit for “some of the best dry-fly fishing of our whole spring season,” Baker says. Tip: Puterbaugh’s black foam caddis fly is a classic for a reason.
Surf the South Platte
You’re still more likely to see rafts than surfboards on Colorado’s rivers—but that’s changing as more bicoastal transplants and newbie surfers take to river surfing. June’s higher flows make it the perfect time to learn. One of the best spots for beginners is Englewood’s River Run Park along the South Platte River, says Jake Vos, the man behind the online guide endlesswaves.net. “It’s easy to get to, and you’re not worried about big swims back [to the bank],” he says. “The features are particularly fast and powerful for their size, and that’s pretty darn fun.” Start with Chiclets, the most forgiving wave; progress upstream to Benihana and Six, water features controlled by hydraulic wave shapers that shift to maximize changing flows out of Chatfield Reservoir.
Celebrate Telluride Bluegrass Festival’s 50th Year
Don’t wait to snap up tickets to the show that helped popularize newgrass music and has hosted the likes of James Taylor, Bruce Hornsby, Johnny Cash, and Emmylou Harris. “[The festival] can sell out without even announcing who’s playing,” says G. Brown, executive director of the nonprofit Colorado Music Experience and author of Telluride Bluegrass Festival: The First Forty Years. FYI: Tickets went on sale on December 1. June 15 to 18
Boat Horsetooth Reservoir
With air temps in the 80s and the water warmed up to the 60s, June is when boating season really begins at Fort Collins’ Horsetooth Reservoir. The 6.5-mile-long lake lures both speedboat wakeboarders and cruise-y pontooners; head to the reservoir’s central waters for the former and pick a tucked-away cove for the latter. Brett McGraw, owner of boating guide company Buckhorn Ridge Outfitters, recommends Dixon Cove for quiet and Eltuck Cove, aka Party Cove, for some action. Boat rentals are available on-site. $20 daily entrance fee for vehicle and boat trailer
June marks the start of a summer’s worth of recurring shows, festivals, and special events across the state. Fill in the blank spots on your iCal with these top options.
Rodeo: Steamboat Springs Pro Rodeo; Fridays and Saturdays, late June to late August
Theater: Colorado Shakespeare Festival, Boulder; various dates, mid-June to mid-August
Medieval Frivolity: Colorado Renaissance Festival, Larkspur; Saturdays and Sundays, June 17 to August 6
Hike Among the Wildflowers
Come July, the high meadows of the Elk Mountains transform into a mosaic of yellow mule’s ears, rosy Indian paintbrush, and blue columbines. Crested Butte is ground zero for the bloom bonanza, thanks to the Mancos Shale that underlies the area. “Conifers don’t grow on it, as it’s usually too dry and always too salty,” says Amy Ellwein, who leads geobotany tours for the Crested Butte Wildflower Festival. “At 9,000 feet, if there’s a grassy meadow, it will be covered in wildflowers [due to] the absence of competition.” Flower-peep on your own on the Rustler Gulch or West Maroon trails or join the fest for guided hikes and photo workshops. Dates and prices TBD
Bikepack the Great Divide
The country’s premier bikepacking trail might just be the 3,087-mile Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, which yo-yos across the spine of the Rockies from Canada to the Mexican border. Colorado boasts some of its finest miles. High summer brings ideal temperatures and a (usually) snow-free path perfect for a multiday sampler ride. Carolyne Whelan, editor-in-chief of Adventure Cyclist magazine, recommends the 240 miles from Steamboat Springs to Salida: You’ll cruise through a historic mining town, earn bragging rights climbing 11,499-foot Boreas Pass, and hit an “incredible climb and descent coming into Salida,” she says, with primo camping spots along the way.
Catch an Opera
It’s all about Shakespeare at this year’s Central City Opera Festival, which features Romeo and Juliet, Kiss Me Kate, and Rossini’s Otello on the main stage. Shows take place six or seven times a week in the circa 1878 opera building. “There’s not a bad seat in the house,” says Gail Bransteitter, director of marketing and communications. June 24 to August 6; $30 to $108
Test Yourself in Leadville
Finishing the legendary Leadville Trail 100 Run, aka the Race Across the Sky, is a serious notch in any ultrarunner’s belt. With a minimum elevation of 9,219 feet, 15,744 feet of elevation gain, and easily 24 straight hours of running, this 100-miler will take you to your lowest lows—and highest highs. Mere mortals can race the Leadville 10K instead (August 13) or simply cheer on the superhumans at the finish line. August 19 to 20; visit leadvilleraceseries.com for registration options
Feast on Local Bounty
What makes Colorado’s summer treats so delicious? Soil, water, and elevation all play a role, but the biggest factor is the state’s hot summer days paired with cool nights, a combo that supercharges the natural sugars in our prized melons, peaches, and sweet corn. “Palisade is the perfect microclimate—the exact right niche that a peach thrives in,” says Chris Schmaltz, partner and general manager at Clark Family Orchards. Farmers across Colorado can say the same for their star crops. Don’t miss these three, all at peak ripeness in August.
From: The Rocky Ford area in southeastern Colorado
Try this: Chop and toss with honeydew and prosciutto for a bright salad.
What: Sweet corn
From: Olathe, on the Western Slope
Try this: Grill it on the cob, then slather with butter and sprinkle with lime juice and chili powder.
From: Palisade, on the Western Slope
Try this: Slice and top with homemade whipped cream.
Go Jump in a Lake
The dog days of summer can get brutally hot in southeastern Colorado: Lamar recorded the state’s record-high temp of 115 degrees in 2019. The best coping strategy? A dip in John Martin Reservoir, which bills itself as an “oasis on the plains” with swimming at both the reservoir (PFD required) and adjacent Lake Hasty. $9 daily vehicle pass
Raise a Pint—er, Ounce
Denver’s Great American Beer Festival is big—the most revelers (40,000), different beers (more than 2,000), and breweries (500) of any ticketed beer fest in the country. Slip on your best wig (the costume contests are half the fun) and get sampling, one ounce at a time. September 21 to 23; $95
Hike a Fourteener
Most people consider summer the high-elevation hiking season, but hold out till the first weeks of September for even better peakbagging conditions: You’ll hit the sweet spot between thunderstorm season and snow squalls, when the conga-line crowds fade away. For the perfect mix of solitude, scenic glory, and Class II to III challenges, head for 14,351-foot Blanca Peak (the state’s fourth-highest summit) in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Your plan for the roughly 14-mile round-trip jaunt: Camp at Lake Como to set yourself up for an alpine start to the apex.
Spice It Up with Pueblo Chiles
Once again, credit Colorado’s hot days and cool nights for creating something special. This time of year, it’s the ultratasty Pueblo chile. The climate “builds them into very thick, very flavorful peppers” that keep their shape when cooked or roasted, says Dalton Milberger, president of the Pueblo Chile Growers’ Association. Pueblo chiles actually encompass a host of varieties, but the quintessential pepper that’s perfect for all your recipes is the medium-hot Mosco. Head to Pueblo for the Chile & Frijoles Festival to grab ’em hot from the roaster. September 22 to 24; $6
Leaf-Peep Golden Aspens
There’s no one best spot to see the Centennial State’s famed fall-foliage show—that’s how blessed we are with hillsides slathered in bright yellow aspens come mid- to late September. OK, fine: We’re partial to the gold rush along the Capitol Creek Trail just south of Snowmass.
Get Lost in a Corn Maze
Anderson Farms in Erie carves an elaborate labyrinth into its 25-acre cornfields every fall, opening up eight twisting miles of trails dotted with games and checkpoints for intrepid explorers. Prefer less corn and more gore? Head next door to the Terror in the Corn haunted experience. Daily from late September through October 31; maze, $17 to $27; Terror in the Corn, Thursday through Sunday, $35 to $39
Listen to Cowboy Poetry
What’s cowboy poetry, exactly? Born from the tradition of actual cowboys entertaining each other round the campfire, the art usually “has something to do with a cowboy, a ranch, a cow, or a horse—and it’s usually funny,” says Lindy Simmons, president of the board of directors for the Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering, where the greats perform songs and spoken poems every year in schools, in saloons, and even on horseback trail rides. September 28 to October 1
Hear an Elk Bugle
From mid-September through October, bull elk compete for alpha male status by rounding up harems of cows and defending them from challengers by knocking antlers. Starting around dusk, bulls let out a piercing whistle-meets-honk—aka a bugle—to show off their virility to females and posture for any upstart males in the area. Hear the bulls’ haunting calls in Rocky Mountain National Park’s Moraine Park: You stand a great chance of spotting elk along the Cub Lake Trail. $30 per vehicle (timed-entry reservation via recreation.gov required until mid-October)
Get Out for Fresh Air Friday
Black Friday is so last decade: Celebrate Fresh Air Friday instead, with free admission to all 42 state parks. These five gems are particularly worthy this time of year. November 24
Golden Gate Canyon State Park, Golden: Choose from more than 35 miles of trails, some of which offer vistas of snowcapped peaks. Bonus: Most are open to skiing or snowshoeing if there’s snow on the ground.
Mueller State Park, Divide: Fall wildlife-watching for elk, mule deer, golden eagles, great horned owls, and turkey is stellar at this park in the foothills near Pikes Peak.
Navajo State Park, Arboles: Mild fall temps at this 15,600-acre reservoir that extends well into New Mexico mean year-round boating, fishing, and camping.
Pearl Lake State Park, Clark: Make a weekend of exploring the lake by booking one of the park’s two yurts, accessible via a half-mile hike, ski, or snowshoe.
State Forest State Park, Walden: High elevation (8,500 feet minimum) makes for a decent chance of early-season skiing. Still seeing dirt? Scope out the park’s famous moose on 100-plus miles of trails.
Upgrade Your Thanksgiving Turkey
If you want to hunt your own edible showstopper for the holiday table this year, go for it—just know that fall wild turkey hunting is challenging, says Aaron Berscheid, district wildlife manager with Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “You have to sneak up on a bird that has really good vision,” he says. It’s easier to spot the Rio Grande subspecies, which hangs out near river bottoms on the Eastern Plains, than the mountain-dwelling Merriam’s. No luck? No problem. Buy heritage turkeys, which are raised like their wild cousins (i.e., much more sustainably) and are more flavorful. Denver’s Marczyk Fine Foods stocks them come Thanksgiving.
Pray for Snow
Is Breckenridge’s Ullr Fest about asking the Norse god of snow for a powdery winter or simply an excuse to wear Viking horns and take part in a bid for the world’s longest shotski? Only one way to find out. Head for the hills to celebrate the 60th anniversary of this snowtacular. You’ll be able to cheer on the parade, watch the coronation of Ullr King and Queen (titles bestowed on the new royals based on their contributions to the city and their love of snow), and warm up at the Ullr bonfire. December 7 to 10
Be Dazzled by Holiday Lights
’Tis the season for strolling through blinking LED wonderlands, and Clark Griswold ain’t got nothin’ on the Front Range’s best light events. At right, a few of our favorites.
Fort Collins: Find twinkly trees, blossoms, and giant, bedazzled watering cans at Garden of Lights. Gardens on Spring Creek; December 8 to 24; $10 for adults, $5 for kids five to 11, children four and under free
Colorado Springs: Inflatable rhinos, leopards, and orangutans are all sparkles at Electric Safari. Cheyenne Mountain Zoo; early December through early January (reservations required); $24.75 for 12 and older
Littleton: Tunnels, lake reflections, and a huge blow-up snowman make the season merry at A Hudson Christmas Extravaganza of Lights. The Hudson Gardens & Event Center; opens the day after Thanksgiving; prices TBD
Ride the Polar Express
Kids, this one’s for you: Put on your fleecy jammies and climb aboard the Polar Express (aka the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad) for a ride to the North Pole to meet Santa Claus—hot chocolate and a spirited reading of the Chris Van Allsburg classic included. Mid-November to January 1; prices TBD