It’s hard not to be happy in freewheeling Colorado.
Home to the glorious Rocky Mountains, it’s as beautiful as anywhere else on the planet and a fantastic playground for outdoor enthusiasts of all skill levels. But travelers don’t have to have an adventurous bone in their bodies to love the Centennial State because from its biggest cities on down to its smaller towns, it manages to offer culture and culinary scenes to please all.
The most difficult thing about traveling through Colorado isn’t finding attractions and activities to suit every taste; it’s choosing where to visit. Luckily, Boulder, Breckenridge and Colorado Springs, all world-class destinations in their own right, encircle Denver like a wheel, each perched within a 90-minute drive of the capital city. Together, they make the perfect group getaway itinerary.
With 300 cloud-free days annually, the Mile High City, so nicknamed for the elevation at which it sits, has a sunny disposition indeed. But Denver makes a great stop for groups touring Colorado due to more than its famously gorgeous weather, though they might want to spend some time, as residents often do, relaxing in one of the city’s many al fresco cafes. For the past decade, Denver, perhaps the country’s biggest boomtown, has had a lot going on, said Ashley Geisheker, associate director, public relations and communications for Visit Denver.
“I think Denver really lends itself well to group visits because we have so much to offer in terms of art and culture, culinary options, and outdoor recreation,” she said. “There’s a lot for any type of traveler. We are able to offer the best of both worlds as to what a Colorado vacation would look like — the mountain experience and the urban city experience.”
Groups that want to begin with indoor adventures might want to first head to the Denver Art Museum, now under renovation, although the institution’s largest building remains open. A masterpiece in itself, the building contains no right angles, all the better to more uniquely showcase exhibits. Geisheker also recommends that groups stop by Union Station, the magnificent, century-old beaux-arts railway station now stuffed with jazzy shops and restaurants, including two from James Beard award-winning chef Jennifer Jasinski.
Groups can book one-hour tours of the station through the Crawford Hotel or head over to the home of the Colorado Rockies for “Behind the Seams,” a tour of Coors Field popular with motorcoach visitors. Part of the Denver park system, the legendary open-air concert venue Red Rocks also makes a great stop “because there are several miles of trails around the theater,” Geisheker said. “But if people aren’t interested in hiking, there’s a visitor center, which has a history of the venue, a full listing of who has played since 1904 and a nice video you can sit and watch.”
Home to the University of Colorado Boulder, this city of about 106,000 is best known for its laid-back, welcoming vibe and spectacular location at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Just a half-hour drive northwest of Denver, Boulder is a must-do stop for groups, thanks to both its unusual energy and unspoiled splendor, according to Mary Ann Mahoney, chief executive officer for the Boulder Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“One of the special things about Boulder is that it’s always so vibrant,” Mahoney said. “It’s such an active community, and the beauty you cannot replicate anywhere, with the Flatiron Mountains right in our backyard. We’re known for our land preservation, so when you get near Boulder, there’s all this open space which has turned into great recreational places to go biking, hiking or on a guided tour. Even though group members may not be active, when they visit Boulder, they want to be a little more active than they have been.”
For group members who would like to get moving, there is a wide range of guided experiences for visitors: fishing, biking, hiking, climbing, floating, Segway riding, ballooning, paddle boarding gliding and even goat yoga outdoors. Or if groups would like to tip an elbow, the city, which counts one of the highest concentrations of breweries per capita in the United States, also offers bespoke beer tours.
But one of the most popular group adventures in Boulder is the free Celestial Seasonings factory tour. It takes visitors not only inside the manufacturing facility but also through the history of the company that became one of the most famous purveyors of herbal tea in the world. With any remaining time, groups will also want to visit the new Museum of Boulder, which explores the city’s history with a wealth of engaging exhibits covering music, art, tech and more, as well as the spectacular Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse. Gifted by the people of Dushanbe, Tajikistan, it was disassembled, shipped to Boulder and reassembled as a symbol of goodwill and friendship.
Perhaps more than anyplace else in the country, Colorado is known for its abundance of ski towns. But beautiful Breckenridge, which lies about 90 minutes southwest of Denver, is quite unlike others that groups might encounter in the state, said Austyn Dineen, public relations director, Breckenridge Tourism Office.
“Breckenridge started as a mining community in the 1800s,” she said. “Other destinations were built around a ski mountain to provide that experience, but Breckenridge has this old-school, deeply rooted charm. And I think more than anything, Breckenridge is a welcoming and friendly, unpretentious community. When you’re on Main Street, you know everyone is happy you’re here.”
Breckenridge, which sits at the base of the Rockys’ Tenmile Range, offers groups a delightful National Historic District rich with Victorian structures painted in hues nearly as colorful and lovely as a Colorado sunset. Walking tours through it can be booked with the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance. Or groups can try their luck panning for precious metal at the Country Boy Mine. The fully restored attraction also offers tours that take guests 1,000 feet down into the former gold mine.
Afterward, groups might want to split up; depending on their pleasure, members can hop aboard a high-performance fat bike with Ridden for a tour of Breck’s breweries and distilleries or peruse the town’s extraordinary arts scene at sites like the Raitman Art Galleries and the five-decade-old Breckenridge Gallery. Group members can also download free cellphone audio tours of Breck’s 35 public art works and its Arts District through the Breckenridge Creative Arts organization.
But no matter what else groups do, they should make time to get outside. In the winter, the Breckenridge Ski Resort serves up a whopping 187 trails on 2,908 skiable acres. Summertime can mean hikes up the local “14er,” Quandary Peak or one of the multitude of 13,000-foot-plus summits that surround the town. But no matter how wild or mild you want your outdoor experience to be, Dineen recommends booking with Colorado Adventure Guides.
“They can shape tours for any kind of group,” she said, “That’s a great avenue because they can manage that experience so it’s more attainable for everyone in the group.”
Colorado Springs is a city on the rise. Second only to Denver in population, the city has recently experienced “a lot of economic growth,” said Alexea Veneracion, communications manager for Visit Colorado Springs. “We’re being seen as a destination for health and wellness. People come to breathe in the fresh air and be outside. We are close enough to Denver, but far enough to feel like a small-town getaway in the mountains. It’s really the best of both worlds.”
With a population that is estimated to have expanded from 400,000 in 2010 to about 700,000 in 2020 comes exciting new attractions. This past July, the 60,000-square-foot United States Olympic and Paralympic Museum debuted, it’s ingenious pinwheel-shaped interior and shimmering aluminum-paneled exterior so magnificent it’s already won acclaim from Architectural Digest. Designed to be one of the world’s most accessible buildings, the museum is extremely interactive, giving groups the chance to play Olympic sports like downhill skiing.
Also in July, the historic Flying W Ranch, shuttered since a 2012 fire, reopened. Groups can once again experience the beloved chuck wagon show, which includes dinner prepared over an open flame, or tour planners can schedule a private event at the attraction. And coming up next May, Colorado’s most famous mountain will get a new visitors center, the Pikes Peak Summit Complex, which will feature interactive displays about topics like its history and weather. Groups will be able to take the Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway there, which is reopening in May following a revamp that closed it for three years.
Before groups leave Colorado Springs, Veneracion suggests they experience Garden of the Gods, which she called “a great park for groups.”
“It’s so accessible and easy for tourists to drive through,” she said.
Among the easier hiking trails in the 1,367-acre nature area filled with sandstone formations is the Siamese Twins Loop Trail, known for its “two rock towers that frame Pikes Peak really nicely,” she said.