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TAP trips for every season

Courtesy Colorado Springs CVB

Rocky Mountain Fall
Pikes Peak, Colorado
Fall brings vibrant swashes of gold as aspen trees change color in the Pikes Peak region of the Colorado Rockies. Groups can take in the gorgeous views on a number of scenic drives around the area.

“More than 300 days of annual sunshine make it easy to get out and experience our amazing natural scenery,” said Chelsy Murphy, public relations manager at the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau. “The drive from Colorado Springs through Woodland Park up Highway 67 to Cripple Creek is magnificent when the colors arrive.”

Cripple Creek was the original location of the “Pikes Peak or bust” gold rush, and gold still exists in the hills there today. Groups can take mining tours in the historic ghost town, visit a heritage center and see a wild donkey herd.

Another impressive autumn drive called the Gold Belt Tour is a National Scenic Byway. This historic travel route connects Cripple Creek and the Victor Mining District, the site of the world’s largest gold rush. Communities along the way — Florence, Cañon City and Florissant — have a rich local heritage and distinct, wide-ranging scenery, from rolling mountain parklands to deep rocky canyons.

Cheyenne Mountain State Park, Colorado’s newest state park, is one of the locations that inspired Katharine Lee Bates to pen “America the Beautiful.” Twenty miles of trails allow hiking and biking alongside the scenic Rocky Mountains. Trails range from short and easy to long and moderate for all levels of recreationist.

Mueller State Park’s 5,000 acres are extremely popular for watching wildlife: elk, black bears, hawks and mule deer. The picturesque forest setting of spruce, fir, pine and aspen gives way to panoramic views of the Rocky Mountains.

100 Miles of Lights
Eastern Virginia
Seven Virginia cities glow as millions of twinkling lights and hundreds of events take place during the annual 100 Miles of Lights celebration, mid-November through January.

This seasonal celebration includes drive-through and walk-through light shows, historic-home tours, holiday plays, concerts, parades and other yuletide festivities. Groups can sample the best in regional cuisine and browse unique shops and boutiques.

“The 100 Miles of Lights is a regional effort that began in 1998 to promote holiday events and light shows from Richmond to Virginia Beach,” said Rebecca Cutchins, media relations manager at the Newport News Tourism Development Office. “The program began when there was still a light show at the fairgrounds in Richmond, which is approximately 100 miles from Virginia Beach — hence, the name.”

Holiday parades take place in Richmond, Williamsburg, Norfolk and Virginia Beach. Each parade features floats, marching bands, clowns and horses; and of course, Santa helps celebrate the season. Portsmouth’s traditional holiday parade takes the form of the Olde Towne Scottish Walk. The procession, led by pipe-and-drum bands, includes caroling and miniconcerts in Olde Towne restaurants and pubs.

Along the way, there’s plenty of shopping: affordable hand-crafted artwork from Norfolk’s d’Art Center, fantasy shopping night at MacArthur Center and the holiday militaria show at the Virginia War Museum in Newport News. The Virginia Beach Christmas Market sells Christmas collectibles, one-of-a-kind stocking stuffers and personalized handmade gifts.

Privately owned homes decked out for the holidays open their doors to the public. Visitors will find post-Civil War decorations at Lee Hall Mansion and Endview Plantation in Newport News. Richmond’s Maymont House is lavishly adorned for the holidays. Groups can also take a walking tour of Richmond’s Monument Avenue or explore Portsmouth’s Olde Town Historic District by trolley.

Christmas in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Winterfest in Pigeon Forge is a citywide mixture of holiday celebrations, themed special events and millions of twinkling lights. Groups can take a narrated Trolley Tour of Lights in one of the city’s Fun Time Trolleys. The heated, enclosed trolley comes complete with a personal tour guide who shares stories about Pigeon Forge’s history and its famous  Winterfest displays.

“The treat for groups is the array of activities and entertainment,” said Joy McNealy, senior sales manager at the Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism. “Step-on guides can narrate a tour through the city while its 5 million lights brighten the winter skies.”

More than a dozen theaters in town incorporate something special for Christmas. The Country Tonite show devotes the entire second half of its performance to holiday music. Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede turns its equestrian competition into a friendly rivalry between the North Pole and the South Pole. Christmas at the Smoky Mountain Opry puts on an entertainment extravaganza.

Shopping is plentiful at Old Mill Square and Walden’s Landing. The Incredible Christmas Place lives up to its reputation as the nation’s second-busiest Christmas retailer. The store sells Christmas ornaments, Nativity scenes, designer trees, dollhouses, fudge and more. Collectors will find favorite merchandise brands, including Boyds Bears, Cows on Parade, Fitz and Floyd, Precious Moments and Snowbuddies at the shop.

Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas displays an additional 4 million holiday lights. The park has more than 20 rides and attractions, plus seasonal shows. “Dollywood on Ice!” an ice dancing spectacular, is choreographed to the sounds of the season. Award-winning holiday shows include “Christmas in the Smokies” and “O’ Holy Night.”

Santa’s Workshop will impress park visitors with larger-than-life toy soldiers, wagons, a dollhouse and other classic toys. An 18-foot Christmas tree takes center stage in the workshop. Santa stars in the Parade of Lights that prances throughout the park.

“Dollywood makes an absolutely beautiful destination unto itself,” said McNealy. “The town of Pigeon Forge, Dollywood, the theaters and other businesses go all out to make the holidays a very special time for our visitors.”

Elizabeth Hey

Elizabeth Hey is a member of Midwest Travel Journalists Association and has received numerous awards for her writing and photography. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook @travelbyfork.