10 Ways to Do a Colorado Backcountry Vacation

From yurts to cabins to heli-skiing, get out and get away in the mountains

The mountains are calling you.

While Denver may be fun and exciting and there are plenty of cities worth a visit up and down the Front Range, there’s something special about a vacation in the mountains.

Here are our 10 favorite ways to go on a backcountry winter vacation in Colorado.

  • 01 of 10

    At Heli-Ski Camp

    Heli-skiing
    ••• A person heli-skiing in Colorado. Getty Images/stockstudioX

    Looking for more than a typical ski vacation? Telluride Ski Resort’s Heli-Skiing Camp, in partnership with Telluride Helitrax, will bring you heli-skiing in the San Juan backcountry.

    But first, this three-day camp will teach you how to master this sport and how to survive the wintery conditions. So by the time you and your guide are out in nature, you’ll be more than prepared for a cold-weather experience like no other.

     

  • 02 of 10

    Hyatt Style

    Who says backcountry can’t also be luxurious and high quality? Check out Park Hyatt Beaver Creek Resort and Spa’s variety of winter experiences.

    Choose your own adventure with activities like dogsledding, ski biking, Snowcat tours, sleigh riding, snowmobiling, ice-climbing, and nordic skiing, all led by the region’s top experts to keep you safe.

    And while you’re in Beaver Creek, of course, set aside some time to hit the slopes on your skis. Beaver Creek's slopes are among the best for families.

  • 03 of 10

    At a Dude Ranch

    Horseback riding in winter
    ••• Go horseback riding in the winter. Getty Images/Kelly

    Escape to the Sundance Trail Guest Ranch in Red Feather Lakes, where you can ride horseback through the Roosevelt National Forest. This ranch is open year-round.

    Particularly appealing in the winter: Book a massage, followed by stargazing in a hot tub. Or warm up with games, like pool and foosball. Seeking a calm winter vacation? Sometimes you don't need anything more than just relaxing by the fire while the snowflakes fall outside. Sundance is pet-friendly, too, so bring your furry friend along for this excursion.

  • 04 of 10

    On a Winter Picnic

    Telluride in winter
    ••• Telluride in winter. Getty Images/Norbert Eisele-Hein

    Here’s a new spin on a favorite, romantic, classic activity: a winter picnic, coordinated by The Hotel Telluride. Snowshoe up to the High Camp Hut, in the stunning San Juan Mountains and regroup with a gourmet picnic lunch. The hotel has offered this package in the past, so call and ask for details when you're planning your trip. 

    Pro tip: On your next snowshoe adventure, look for the Colorado-made Crescent Moon snowshoes. You can find different styles for different adventures, even snowshoe racing.

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    By an Isolated Alpine Lake

    Who says a waterside vacation is only for warm weather? There’s something magical about staying at the Coulter Lake Guest Ranch in Rifle, tucked into the White River National Forest. This backcountry getaway is private and serene; there are only six cabins, with lots of privacy.

    For some action, take out snowshoes, go sledding or cruise on a snowmobile through the trees. Coulter Lake promises some of the best snowmobiling in Colorado. Try it out for yourself and see. 

  • 06 of 10

    Amid All-Inclusive Western Hospitality

    Steamboat Springs in the winter
    ••• Aspens in Steamboat in the winter. Getty Images/Digital Vision

    Horses with sleigh bells. Beautiful log cabins. And meals prepared for you by a chef three times a day.

    Steamboat Springs’ Vista Verde Ranch is an all-inclusive vacation that turns log-cabin living into luxury. Although Vista Verde’s private cabins and tranquil atmosphere is ideal for relaxing and unwinding, you can also get your adrenaline pumping on fat-tire bikes, tubes, horseback, skis, and snowshoes. Design your vacation to meet your own vacation dreams, as active or as calm as you want. 

  • 07 of 10

    In a Yurt

    You can find yurts scattered throughout Colorado, but one great collection of the funky, round buildings are the Never Summer Nordic yurts in the state park not far from Walden. Pick the yurt that best fits your vacation needs, from only accessible via four-wheel-drive and totally private, to more convenient and handicap-accessible.

    Whichever yurt you select, all are cozy, secluded and come with a wood fireplace to cuddle up next to as the snow falls.

    When selecting a winter yurt, make sure it's open year-round and accessible without four-wheel drive, unless you rent an all-terrain vehicle. Many of the best yurts are isolated in the country, but that also means they can be tricky to access if the snow is too deep. 

  • 08 of 10

    Off the Grid

    If you want to get off the grid — no, really, off the grid — during your mountain vacation, head up to Whitepine's Tomichi Lodge. While the Tomichi Lodge itself is shut down for the 2017-2018 season, you can still stay in the Buckhorn Cabin and the Colorado Cabin.

    This lodge is powered by a hydro-electric system using the gravity energy of creek water, and a solar panel. No cell service. No internet. Just the great outdoors and plenty of peace and quiet.

    Tomichi Lodge is perched at an elevation above 10,000 (so stay hydrated and beware of altitude sickness) in the Gunnison National Forest.

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    In a Hut

    Colorado huts
    ••• Skiers outside a 10th Mountain Division Hut. Getty Images/Randall Levensaler

    One of the coolest features in Colorado’s outdoors is the various “hut systems.” These are just a series of huts located in the mountains, right in the action.

    In southwestern Colorado, there’s the San Juan Hut System, with easy access to 60-plus miles of remote trails and backcountry skiing. Go biking (fat bikes with wide tires are great on the snow), snowshoeing, and exploring.

    It’s highly possible to stay in one of these eight-person huts and never run across other travelers. You’ll feel like you have the world all to yourself.

    There’s also the Colorado Hut & Yurt Alliance, a collection of more than 130 huts and yurts across the state. This alliance was the first of its kind in the country in 2014. Each lodging option is slightly different, with its own features and fun. Pick the one that best meets your unique needs.

    Another well-known hut collection is the nonprofit 10th Mountain Division Huts, near Vail. These 34 backcountry huts are connected by about 350 miles of paths.

    Their...MORE name is in honor of the 10th Mountain Division of the U.S. Army that trained in the region during the ‘40s. So it’s not surprising that these huts offer special veterans programming, as well.  

    Pro tip: While in Vail, stop to enjoy the great dining. There are tons of reputable restaurants in Vail, so even if you stay in a remote hut, set aside a day to visit the ski town itself; it's worth it. Vail is considered one of Colorado's healthiest ski resorts.

  • 10 of 10

    Near Rocky Mountain National Park

    Estes Park
    ••• The town of Estes Park covered in snow. Estes Park

    A favorite destination for visitors is Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park. If you want to stay in nature near this park, check out the Estes Park Outfitters Lodge in Estes Park.

    Estes has lots of great lodging options, from the prominently located and luxurious Stanley Hotel to convenient cabins at the YMCA of the Rockies (ideal for an active family vacation in the mountains).

    But for a true, secluded getaway, the Outfitters Lodge will surround you with open space, miles of cross-country trails outside your door and private ponds. This retreat is solar-powered and gets its water from Fish Creek, making it an authentic mountain escape where you can go to truly clear your mind.

    And in case you need to pop back into the “real world,” downtown Estes Park is adorable this time of year. Stroll through the old-fashioned streets with a hot coffee or hot chocolate and enjoy one of Colorado’s most beloved mountain towns.

    Make sure you stop for a glass of locally made wine at the Snowy Peaks...MORE Winery, not far from a local brewery. Even if you don't drink alcohol or are traveling with kids, ask about Snowy Peaks' great list of juices, including cherry, blackberry and peach.

    Cherry juice is especially important in this area, which has a long history of cherry orchards. Keep your eyes peeled for a cherry shop, where you can score the best cherry pie of your life.

    Learn more about a vacation to Estes Park here.