9 Ways to Do a Colorado Backcountry Vacation

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 09

At Heli-Ski Camp

 Heli Trax

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 09

Hyatt Style

Dog sled tour organized by Park Hyatt Beaver Creek

 Courtesy of Winterhawk Dogsled Adventures

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 09

At a Dude Ranch

Horses in the snow Sundance Trail Guest Ranch

 Sundance Trail Guest Ranch

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 09

On an Ice-Climbing Adventure

Courtesy of the Telluride Tourism Board. Photo by Ryan Bonneau.


Add some adventure to your backcountry vacation when you head to Telluride, a premier winter destination in southwestern Colorado known for its skiing and snowboarding.

But if you're not one for the slopes or you want to add on a different kind of adventure to your ski trip, consider ice-climbing. Starting this winter, in the first week of 2019, The Hotel Telluride is partnering with San Juan Outdoor Adventures to offer a expert-guided ice-climbing experiences to guests of the hotel. 

In the half-day tour, guests will receive ice axes, crampons, and a climbing rope and learn to ascend frozen waterfalls. 

Continue to 5 of 9 below.
05 of 09

By an Isolated Alpine Lake

View from Coulter Lake Guest Ranch

 Coulter Lake Guest Ranch

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 09

Amid All-Inclusive Western Hospitality

Luxury log cabin at VIsta Verde Ranch

 Vista Verde Ranch

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 09

In a Yurt

A Never Nordic Summer yurt

 Scott Hardesty

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 09

In a Hut

San Juan Huts

 San Juan Huts

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 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.

Continue to 9 of 9 below.
09 of 09

Near Rocky Mountain National Park

Estes Park
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 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.