A Gay-Friendly Guide to Grand County, Colorado

••• A verdant meadow near Grand Lake. photo by Andrew Collins

Grand County in a Nutshell:

About 90 miles west of Denver and world-famous among outdoors enthusiasts, Grand County is situated along the Continental Divide and encompasses part of Rocky Mountain National Park. Like much of the Rocky Mountain region, Grand County's laid-back, friendly towns are quite gay-friendly, although there's no GLBT "scene" here to speak of. It's nevertheless perfect for a romantic, outdoorsy getawasy, and for groups of friends looking for a stunning beautiful destination to ski, mountain-bike, raft, or hike, and with accommodations more reasonably priced than in Aspen, Vail, or many other outdoor-recreation meccas.

The Seasons:

Grand County is very much a year-round destination, with plenty of snowfall for winter sports, and relatively cool temperatures in summer, which makes it popular with those looking to escape from the heat. Winter Park receives 350 to 400 inches of snow each year (Grand Lake gets about 150 inches). Summers are dry, with rainfall averaging 2 to 3 inches per month.

Winter Park average highs and lows in Jan. are 30 and 7 deg F; in July, the highs average 68 deg F, with lows a cool and crisp 42 deg F. Grand Lake average highs and lows in Jan. are 32 and 4 deg F; in July, the highs average 76 deg F, with lows of 39 deg F.

Driving Distances:

Driving distances to Winter Park from major cities and points of interest are:

  • Aspen: 190 miles (3.5 to 4 hrs)
  • Boulder: 85 miles (2 to 2.5 hours)
  • Breckinridge: 75 miles (90 min)
  • Colorado Springs: 140 miles (2.5 hrs)
  • Denver: 75 miles (1.5 to 2 hrs)
  • Estes Park: 85 miles (1.5 to 2 hrs)
  • Fort Collins: 130 (2.5 hrs)
  • Grand Junction: 240 miles (4 hrs)
  • Grand Lake: 40 miles (1 hr)
  • Salt Lake City: 435 miles (8 to 9 hrs)
  • Santa Fe, NM: 460 miles (7 hrs)
  • Steamboat Springs: 100 miles (2 hrs)
  • Telluride: 350 miles (7 to 7.5 hrs)
  • Vail: 90 miles (1.5 to 2 hrs)

Rocky Mountain National Park's "Quiet Side", at Grand Lake:

One of the most visited national parks in the country, Rocky Mountain National Park draws most of its visitors from the more accessible but far more crowded eastern Estes Park side. You can avoid the crowds and still access this park's dramatic scenery - from teeming wildlife to wildflower-strewn meadows to rugged hiking trails - by approach on U.S. 34 via Grand Lake (entering at the Kawuneeche Visitor Center), which is about 40 miles north of Winter Park.

Grand Lake has a great little downtown rife with lively restaurants and shops, plus numerous accommodations.

Skiing and mountain biking at Winter Park Resort and Grand County:

With some 3,000 acres of ski terrain that in summer morphs into more than 50 miles of highly acclaimed mountain-biking territory in summer, Winter Park Resort has long been a top destination for both hard-core and merely casual recreation enthusiasts. It's also the closest major resort to Denver, which is just 70 miles away.

Just 15 miles northwest of Winter Park in Tabernash, Devil's Thumb Ranch is one of the nation's most acclaimed cross-country ski centers.

Resources on Grand County and Winter Park:

For general visitor information, check out the Grand County Colorado Tourism website, which covers all of the towns in the area.

You can also obtain specific information on Winter Park from the Winter Park-Fraser Valley Chamber of Commerce, and on Rocky Mountain National Park from the park's official website

Getting to Grand County, Colorado:

Although Grand County lies just under 100 miles from progressive Denver and Boulder, and it's also quite close to such gay-popular ski towns as Vail, Breckenridge, and Aspen, there's little in the area specifically oriented toward GLBT visitors - certainly no gay bars or events. However, the region - especially Grand Lake and Winter Park - is highly popular with outdoors enthusiasts, and plenty of gays and lesbians live in these towns, attracted by the generally accepting and progressive vibe, and the mesmerizing natural beauty.

A handful of the mainstream accommodations in the area market to GLBT travelers, including the Wild Horse Inn in Fraser, the Spirit Mountain Ranch in Grand Lake, and the Arapahoe Ski Lodge in Winter Park.

But generally speaking, all of the county's accommodations are quite welcoming.

The neighboring high-mountain towns of Winter Park and, just northwest, Fraser, draw the bulk of visitors to Grand County are highly popular spots for outdoor recreation, from skiing and snowshoeing in winter to mountain-biking (Winter Park rightly bills itself "Mountain Bike Capital, USA"), rafting, and hiking in summer. Winter Park also has some outstanding music festivals in summer, and Fraser - with its rich ranching history - hosts the High Country Stampede Rodeo during the warmer months.

The county's other big destination with vacationers is Grand Lake, at the quieter southwestern side of Rocky Mountain National Park. Grand Lake's bustling downtown is worth exploring, and like Winter Park and Fraser, it's an excellent base for outdoor recreation. The town also supports the first-rate Rocky Mountain Repertory Theatre, which mountains several musicals throughout its summer and fall season.

Smaller communities in the county include Granby, which has a handful of inexpensive B&Bs and motels that make a good base for exploring either Winter Park or Grand Lake, as it's situated between them; and Kremmling, which is situated at the county's western end.

Winter Park, Fraser, and Grand Lake have the bulk of the area's better restaurants and shopping, from down-home barbecue joints to classic brewpubs.