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Winter Park, Colorado

Winter Park Colorado is a vacation destination favored by Colorado residents and less known to outside tourists. To understand its appeal, you need to know a little about the geography of Colorado. This nearly square state is neatly divided into two distinct geographic areas. The eastern half of the state is characterized by high flat plains and gently rolling hills all of them over 1000 meters above sea level. The western half is covered by the great cordillera of the Rocky Mountains with lofty peaks towering to above 4000 meters. The eastern boundary of the Rocky Mountains is known as the Front Range, and all of the major Colorado population centers (Denver, Colorado Springs, Boulder) are situated at the boundary of the plains with the high mountains of the Front Range.

Winter Park Resort
© DebateLord

View looking north from the top of Parsenn Bowl at the Winter Park Ski Resort prior to the construction of the Panoramic Express.

Most of the major tourist resorts and ski slopes such as Vail, Aspen, Breckenridge, Gunnison, Telluride and Crested Butte are located deep within the Rocky Mountains at least two, three or more hours drive west from the Denver Air Terminal. Winter Park is located less than a 90 minute drive west of the Denver Airport, thus making it the most easily accessible mountain resort and a very popular destination for local residents to go on a weekend holiday.

Unlike Vail, Aspen and many of the other Colorado resorts, Winter Park is less characterized by upscale hotels, expensive designer shops and world class restaurants. Winter Park is more approachable with the atmosphere of a small cowboy town turned ski resort. It is more family oriented.

Getting to Winter Park

From Denver, you simply drive west on interstate route 70 for about 30 minutes. This brings you into the heart of the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains to the little old gold mining towns of Idaho Springs and Georgetown. The old store fronts and shops of these gold rush era villages are beautifully restored, so it is worth stopping there for a look.

From there, you turn north on route 40, and immediately begin climbing the mountain slopes up to Berthoud Pass (3446 meters / 11307 feet). The road is quite steep with several switchbacks. It is generally well maintained, but can, at times, be a precarious drive during the winter. Route 40 drops back down from the pass on the northern side where it passes the entry to the ski resorts of Mary Jane and Winter Park before entering the village of Winter Park.

The California Zephyr passenger train operated by AMTRAC passes through Winter Park with just one stop per day in either direction.

Downtown Winter Park
© Darkshark0159

Downtown Winter Park offers a variety of cafes and outdoor gear shops.

The Village

Winter Park Colorado and its neighboring community of Frasier have the appearance of a small mountain village with some elements of a cowboy town and some elements of a ski resort. Aside from the large ski lodges located a few miles out of town, Winter Park has almost no large hotels or lodges. Instead it has a few smaller motels and many condominiums and vacation rentals. It has a large assortment of restaurants, pubs, liquor stores, convenience markets, bicycle rental shops, wilderness outfitters and souvenir shops. Nearby, Frasier offers a couple of shopping centers. Both villages are located at an altitude of 2700 meters (9000 feet) above sea level.

The Ski Resorts

The Winter Park ski resort is located along route 40 just a few miles south of Winter Park village on the way to Berthoud Pass. It actually encompasses the Mary Jane and Vasquez Peak ski areas which are all accessible with a common lift ticket. They offer a wide variety of skiing and snowboarding options from gentle beginners slopes to expert slopes, mogul slopes, forest skiing and wilderness trails. They also offer a whole host of other winter activities such as ice skating, sledding, ski biking, snow cat rides and many others.

Accommodations are available at the several ski lodges and condominium rentals located near the slopes plus at the motels and numerous vacation rentals located in the village of Winter Park just a few miles away. Free transportation is provided from the village to the slopes during the winter ski season.

The ski resorts also offer many summer diversions including: mountain biking, hiking, an alpine slide, and other family activities during the off-ski seasons.

The Grand County area

The high-mountain Frasier Valley occupies the eastern part of Grand County Colorado just west of the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. It stretches about 100 km north from Winter Park with route 40 running its length through the quaint little ranching village of Tabernash to the larger town of Granby before it turns west through Hot Sulfur Springs to Kremmling.

North of Winter Park and the ski areas at the southern end of the Frasier Valley, the valley becomes more ranching and high country farming. There are a number of dude ranches and ranch resorts with opportunities for horseback riding, hiking, mountain biking, fishing, ATV riding and camping. It well known for its excellent trout fishing streams.

Granby, near the northern end of Frasier Valley, has several large lakes with many boating and fishing activities. At the far northeastern extremity of the valley, the quaint little community of Grand Lake with its beautifully restored cowboy storefronts and its collection of restaurants, saloons, boutiques and souvenir shops offers a wonderful place to visit. It is close to the western entry to the wonderfully beautiful Rocky Mountain National Park.

Mountain Hiking Trail
© Michelle Leco

There are many spectacular hiking trails near Winter Park.

West of Granby, along route 40, lies the historic spa town of Hot Sulfur Springs. As the name implies, it offers natural thermal springs for relaxation along with other therapeutic spa amenities. A bit further west along route 40, Kremmling is a mountain community unspoiled by the commercialism of tourist fame.

Scenic Tour

Here is a beautiful tour through the Rocky Mountain scenery of Colorado: Begin in Denver and drive west on route 70 to Idaho Springs. Stop here for a day to see the quaint gold-mining towns of Idaho Springs and Georgetown. Tour one of the old mines! Take a ride on the Georgetown Loop railroad! Shop in the quaint stores! Then, drive north on route 40 over Berthoud Pass, pausing to enjoy the panoramic mountain vistas. Visit the town of Winter Park and enjoy some mountain biking or wildness hiking! Drive north through the villages of Tabernash and Granby, then head east on route 34, pausing for lunch in the little cowboy town of Grand Lake before entering the Western Portal to Rocky Mountain National Park. Drive up the headwaters of the Colorado River in the park past the vistas of moose, elk and caribou, then climb the western slopes of the Front Range with its spectacular vistas, and down the eastern slopes to Estes Park. From there, you can choose to head east and take the interstate highways south back to Denver, or you can take the more scenic roads southeast through the mountains to Boulder and finally back to Denver. The entire tour could be completed in two days of hard driving, but it could be enjoyed much more in a three or four day excursion.

Written by: Mike Leco
Top Photo Credit: Michelle Leco
Photo Description: Ranch lands along a country road near Winter Park.