Travel: 8 Unmissable Weekend Getaways in Colorado

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  8 Unmissable Weekend Getaways in Colorado © Provided by AFAR

With spectacular snow-capped peaks, scenic drives, red rock canyons, dude ranches, hot springs, and communities with echoes of the Old West, Colorado has long served as a beacon for those with an adventurous spirit.

There is so much to see and do in Colorado—far more than could ever be included in a single guide—but consider these eight high-altitude playgrounds a jumping-off point for some of the best weekend getaways in Colorado.

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1. Estes Park

Located just outside one of the most popular national parks in the United States, Estes Park is a favorite for nature lovers, especially in the autumn, when aspens paint the hills gold and the elk, the unofficial mascot of the community, are in mating season.

For those looking to hit the ol’ dusty trail, Boulder Brook and Sky Pond are good hikes. Or if your lungs and legs can handle it, see if you can bag Longs Peak, one of Colorado’s 58 mountains with an elevation over 14,000 feet (“14ers” to locals). At 14.5 miles round-trip and with 5,100 feet of elevation gain, it’s a humbler (and it’ll probably take somewhere between 10 and 16 hours to complete), but the views from the summit are unparalleled. Alternatively, you can keep your sandals on and your breathing in check by driving the scenic Trail Ridge Road, the highest paved road in Colorado. Note that due to its popularity, Rocky Mountain National Park is currently doing timed-entry permitting.

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For those willing to take a potential dance with gravity, Kent Mountain Adventure Center takes novice and experienced climbers up the new Cloud Ladder via ferrata. Billed as the steepest of its kind in North America, adventure-seekers climb up a near-vertical rock face with a bit of help from metal bars bolted into the mountain. Climbers also have to cross two sky bridges and muster the chutzpah for the final 30-foot, 110-degree overhang to get to the top.

Where to stay in Estes Park

Perhaps the most well-known accommodation in Estes Park is the Stanley Hotel—the hotel was the real-life inspiration for Stephen King’s The Shining. The story goes that the famous author and his wife were the hotel’s only guests on the last night before it closed for the winter season. In the middle of the night, after King woke from a nightmare involving his son being chased down the hotel’s hallway by a firehose, he lit a cigarette, and by the time he’d finished it, he’d outlined the book in his head. While the spooky connection is fun, the hotel is over 100 years old, so if you want more modern amenities, places like the Estes Park Resort might be more appropriate.

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2. Colorado Springs

From almost anywhere in Colorado Springs, it’s possible to see Pikes Peak (the “purple mountain” in “America the Beautiful”). But don’t simply admire it from the ground—one of the loveliest ways to spend a day in the area is atop America’s Mountain. If you’re keen, it’s possible to hike to the top, but know that it’s 13 miles (one-way) and gains 7,400 vertical feet in elevation. Another way up is by driving a personal vehicle or catching a Gray Line bus—either way, it might be worth taking some Dramamine, as there are 156 twists and turns in the 12.42-mile road. The easiest way to the top is taking the Pikes Peak Cog Railway. The entire journey is about 3.5 hours (the train is 130 years old, so it’s not exactly high speed). No matter which route you go, the views are breathtaking—and not just because the air is thinner at 14,115 feet of elevation.

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Another popular natural wonder is the Garden of the Gods, a National Registered Landmark thanks to the red-rock formations. The 1,364-acre park is rife with opportunities for hiking, biking, horseback riding, and even getting around on a Segway. Bonus: Entry is free.

Beyond “the Springs,” one of the other nicknames for the city is Olympic City USA. That’s because it’s home to the Team USA training facilities, 24 National Governing Bodies of Sport, and, as of 2020, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Museum. At the latter, guests can check out exhibits ranging from medals from every game to more interactive ones where they can (virtually) challenge gold medal winners to their sport.

Where to stay in Colorado Springs

The Broadmoor was one of the first destination resorts in the country, and it’s attracted some high profile guests—every president since FDR has stayed here. At the 784-room property, guests can unwind at the luxury spa or sup in many award-winning restaurants. Or if they’re looking for more adventure from their Colorado vacation, the Broadmoor offers experiences like falconry, zip-lining, mountain biking, and hiking on or near the property. Another, newer hotel option is Kinship Landing in downtown. Beyond suites with in-room soaking tubs and balconies, the property also has an eight-bed bunk room and space on the roof to pitch a tent (seriously).

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3. Fort Collins

There’s a reason there’s a bicycle in the logo for New Belgium Brewing Company; the city where the suds started has a prolific biking scene. It’s actually one of the most bike-friendly cities in the country (bonus: there are very few hills). Consider picking out a chariot from Fort Collins Bike Share to noodle around town. Beer & Bike Tours also offers rentals, but if you opt to go with their knowledgeable guides, the adventure includes stops and behind-the-scenes tours of at least 3 (of the more than 20) local breweries.

Fort Collins also has a charming downtown district stuffed with indie-spirited restaurants, a raucous college campus, lots of live music venues, and shops featuring the works of local artists. In fact, Fort Collins is known for its impressive maker’s culture. One example? The Colorado Shoe School. Open since 2018 and helmed by a couple of retired circus performers, the school teaches students how to craft their very own kicks, largely from recycled materials such as scrap leather and rubber made from birthday balloons. All the materials are provided, but participants are encouraged to bring their own flair, like vintage fabrics, to really make the shoes their own.

Where to stay in Fort Collins

The Elizabeth Hotel, in downtown, bills itself as a music hotel. Each of the 164 rooms features a record player, and guests can pick up vinyl LPs from the lobby library. The more musically inclined can also check out a variety of high-quality stringed instruments, keyboards, amplifiers, and accessories like headphones and tuners to use free of charge. Most nights, the hotel hosts a musical show, open to both guests and visitors. Another boutique option is the Armstrong Hotel, also located in the heart of Fort Collins’s Old Town.

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4. Denver

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Denver has come a long way from its scruffy, gold mining town roots—it’s now one of the fastest-growing cities in America. And who can blame the newcomers to the Mile High City? There’s relatively quick access to nature, a dynamic foodie scene that ranges from food halls to multi-course tasting menus, and nearly 300 days of sunshine each year.

Perhaps one of the things Denver is best known for is its prodigious beer scene—with more than 150 breweries in the metro area, it often feels like there’s one on every corner. Each fall, the city hosts the Great American Beer Festival, one of the largest public tasting events in the world, with more than 50,000 hop heads sampling beers from nearly 1,000 breweries over three sud-soaked days.

Denver also has a thriving arts scene. Last year, the immersive arts company Meow Wolf opened the 90,000-square-foot Convergence Station, a multi-story fever dream that imagines the collision of four intergalactic worlds. About 120 of the artists who contributed to the project are Colorado locals.

Two neighborhoods where art is everywhere are the Golden Triangle Creative District and River North (aka RiNo). The former is home to the Denver Art Museum, Colorado Photographic Arts Center, Clyfford Still Museum, Kirkland Museum, and other art institutions. The latter is where many artists keep their studios and where each September, more than 100 graffiti artists from around the world come to create new works on RiNo’s walls. And talking about art, we’d be remiss not to mention Red Rocks Amphitheater, one of the most legendary music venues in the world. Artists perform in the natural sandstone amphitheater with sweeping vistas of Denver in the distance.

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Where to stay in Denver

There is no shortage of one-of-a-kind hotels in Denver. For art enthusiasts, consider the Maven, where more than 700 unique pieces, many of which were locally made, are peppered throughout the property. Another option nearby is the Crawford Hotel, where the best amenity is its location. Part of the historic Union Station, each of the 112 stylish guest rooms was once an office for railroad executives. The main lobby doubles as the city’s central transportation hub and features two bars, seven eateries, and a handful of eclectic shops. If you’re staying for a while, Catbird Hotel in River North is a good choice. The guest rooms at this artsy extended-stay hotel have a distinct, highly functional layout, where beds are lofted and come with hidden compartments for a slide-out table, a closet, and more. There’s also a unique lending library, from which guests can check out everything from board games to Vespas.

The best time to Maroon Bells, near Aspen, is at dawn, when the mountains are awash in a pinkish-orange glow. © Photo by Rich Martello/Unsplash The best time to Maroon Bells, near Aspen, is at dawn, when the mountains are awash in a pinkish-orange glow.

5. Aspen/Snowmass

After drinking craft beer and complaining about transplants, skiing is perhaps Colorado’s most prodigious pastime. For those who are vertically inclined, Aspen Snowmass, a four-mountain (Aspen Mountain, Snowmass, Buttermilk, and Highlands) ski resort, offers myriad ways to get your turns in. Even if you don’t ski or snowboard, it’s worth taking one of the trams to higher ground, if only for the sweeping vistas and on-mountain dining options.

If you’re here in the summer, consider venturing out to Maroon Bells, the much photographed mountains. From the far end of the lake, it’s possible to capture the two pyramid-shaped peaks reflected in the water. The hike from the parking lot to the viewpoint is less than a mile round-trip, with negligible elevation gain. If you’d like to work up a sweat, the moderate Crater Lake Trail and the challenging Willow Lake Trail will help you fill up your camera’s memory card.

Aspen and Snowmass aren’t all about outdoor pursuits—the area is also known for its legendary après-ski scene, world-class restaurants, colorful local characters, and high-fashion shopping. Actually, as you walk around, you might notice that many people are sporting one of the most iconic symbols of the American West: a cowboy hat. It likely came from Kemo Sabe, a western store in Aspen with a cult following (and myriad celebrity clients). While you can also buy boots, buckles, and knives, the shop is known for the one-of-a-kind, endlessly customizable hats.

Where to stay in Aspen/Snowmass

There is no shortage of dazzling lodging options in Aspen and Snowmass. There’s the Hotel Jerome, a three-story red brick building with an eccentric cowboy vibe. It’s the oldest hotel in Aspen (and the first west of the Mississippi with electric lighting). Interestingly, it was also the campaign headquarters for Hunter S. Thompson’s sheriff run in 1970. Aspen Meadows Resort is an art-forward hotel with several galleries and a well-curated outdoor sculpture collection. It’s a little removed from downtown Aspen, but the trade-off is that its rooms are some of the largest in the area. If you’re looking for something more family-friendly, consider Viewline Resort Snowmass. The Marriott property has oodles of suite options, and it’s ski-in/ski-out, which is helpful for parents who don’t want to schlep their kiddo’s gear to the chairlift.

6. Breckenridge

Ah, Breck. Thanks to its proximity to Denver, Breckenridge is one of the most popular ski towns in the country. But even if it were more challenging to get to, we’d wager powder hounds would still seek it out. With 2,900 shreddable acres, reached by a staggering 35 chair lifts (including the tallest in North America), and so many peaks they gave them numbers rather than names, the resort has ample opportunities for newbies and pros alike.

If you’re more interested in the après part of skiing, Breckenridge Distillery has the unique bragging right of being the highest distillery in the world. It also offers a free shuttle service and a complimentary 30-minute tour of the distillery. And for true spirits nerds, the distillery offers a Whiskey Blending Lab experience, wherein guests can taste through the barrels and customize a personal bourbon blend to bring home.

For those interested in Breckenridge’s seedy past, there’s the 90-minute Bawdy Breckenridge Tour, where participants get the lowdown on the town’s former red-light district and what kind of shenanigans happened at the saloons of old.

Where to stay in Breckenridge

Each of the condominium-style suites at Village at Breckenridge is individually owned, so you can expect high-quality decor, appliances, and electronics—when the space isn’t being rented out, the owners use them, so it’s unlikely they’d scrimp on comfortable digs.

One Ski Hill Place, Crystal Peak Lodge, and Grand Lodge on Peak 7 are three more ski-in/ski-out spots to consider if you’re looking for digs close to the action.

Telluride is close to several geothermal pools, including Ouray Hot Springs, just an hour's drive away. © Photo by Nicholas J Klein/Shutterstock Telluride is close to several geothermal pools, including Ouray Hot Springs, just an hour's drive away.

7. Telluride

Few things compare to driving into Telluride on a bluebird day—the historic down before its mountain backdrop is so spectacular you’ll forget that you just drove nearly seven hours from Denver to get there.

Snuggled into an isolated box canyon, Telluride isn’t easy to reach. But that also means it hasn’t faced the same overdevelopment problems that other ski towns have. Its main drag has a delightful, old-timey charm, even during “large” festivals like Mountainfilm, Telluride Bluegrass Festival, and Brews & Blues.

In winter, the blockbuster mountains are braided with world-class runs that are steep, deep, and most appropriate for intermediate and advanced skiers. If that’s not your scene, the Telluride Nordic Center offers rentals and classes on the multitude of public-use cross-country trails that weave in and around the town.

In summer, consider checking out the Telluride Historical Museum (home to more than 9,000 artifacts and 1,500 photos from Tellurides gold mining past), hiking in the San Juan Mountains (Bear Creek Falls is a local favorite trail), visiting a hot spring (Dunton, Orvis, and Ouray Hot Springs are the closest), or going on a tour with Roudy’s Telluride Horseback Adventures.

Where to stay in Telluride

The New Sheridan Hotel is anything but new—it was built in 1895. The historic downtown hotel has 26 rooms, each uniquely decorated with Victorian-era furnishings, but its amenities are entirely modern. Other luxurious options include Madeline Hotel & Residences and Lumiere with Inspirato. Both offer plush accommodations, an indulgent spa menu, and are ski-in/ski-out.

8. Grand Junction

Sometimes called “the Little Grand Canyon” due to its crimson-hued sandstone rock formations, the Colorado National Monument is a popular spot for hiking, biking, or a scenic drive (the 23-mile Rim Rock Drive is particularly stunning, though perhaps too strenuous for two-wheeled adventures, unless you’re incredibly fit). For trails, Devil’s Kitchen is an easy out-and-back trail, whereas Ute Canyon is a moderate option that covers much of the gorge floor.

For those interested in the Mesozoic era, there are two places to get your dino fix: Dinosaur Hill Trailhead, a one-mile loop that passes dinosaur bones and excavation sites, and Dinosaur Journey Museum, where visitors can get their hands dirty digging for (real!) fossils and see a paleontology lab.

The nearby Palisade has long been famous (at least in Colorado) for its peaches. But the area is also gaining a reputation for its up-and-coming wine region—the same sunny summer days, coupled with cooler nights that make the peaches so sweet, make for some dynamic, interesting grapes. There are more than 30 wineries in the region, many of which are located on the bikeable Palisade Fruit and Wine Byway. Check out Restoration Vineyards (named for the owner’s love of fixing up old Mercedes-Benz cars), Colorado Cellars (the state’s oldest winery), and Red Fox Cellars (which doubles as a hard cidery). When you tire from swirling and sipping, visit Suncrest Orchard Alpacas and Fiber Works, where you can stroll among the fruit trees with your own personal alpaca for company.

Where to stay in Grand Junction

Grand Junction is heavy on chains, so expect to see a fair number of Econo Lodge and DoubleTree by Hilton Hotels. However, that’s not to say there aren’t some appealing accommodations in the area, like the Hotel Maverick, the first boutique offering in town. Built on the Colorado Mesa University campus, the hotel features dog-friendly rooms, complimentary bicycles, and a rooftop bar and restaurant with views of the Colorado National Monument.

>>Next: AFAR’s Guide to Colorado

Would you stay at the world's most unusual themed hotels? .
Ever fancied sharing breakfast with giraffes? Or, perhaps, football is more your thing? Whatever your preference, we've scoured the globe to find some of the most unusual, incredible and downright bizarre themed hotels, from breathtaking winery escapes to questionable sausage-surrounded sleeps.

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