Boasting over 3,000 acres of skiable territory, Winter Park, Colorado, features award-winning terrain for anyone wanting to hit the slopes. But what if you don’t ski?
When I was planning a media visit through parts of Colorado by train, I nearly passed up on visiting Winter Park because I thought their only draw was skiing. Not being a skier myself, I wondered what I would do instead. Trust me, there is plenty to do, even for those who don’t ski. Winter Park wound up being one of my favorite stops, and I enjoyed a variety of winter activities without putting two sticks on my feet and gracelessly sliding down a mountain.
Early on the morning of my arrival, as Amtrak’s California Zephyr pulled into the Fraser/Winter Park depot, the conductor announced that there was a blizzard in Winter Park. I detrained to whiteout conditions and watched as the train pulled away, leaving me the lone passenger in a foreign city. I wondered if the bus would arrive with the poor weather, but after just a few minutes, it pulled up to deliver me to my condo at Stay Winter Park.
I struggled to drag my load of luggage through the snowy roads, but once I settled in my condo, the weather was no longer an obstacle. The sun came out and the brightness of the snow and sunshine was nearly blinding. I took off on foot to discover this small mountain town, reveling in the difference a few hours made in the change of weather.
Learn more about my trip riding the California Zephyr through Colorado (plus other Colorado train rides) in this article.
Here, in no particular order, are the 10 best things to do during winter in Winter Park, besides skiing. Also, don’t miss my picks for the best places to eat in Winter Park below these activity recommendations.
1. Snowmobile Tour
Driving a snowmobile is an adventurous yet easy-to-learn activity for all ages. Take a guided tour or seek out the trails on your own. Grand Adventures provides snowmobile rentals for 2- or 4-hour rides as well as guided tours. The snowmobiles are environmentally friendly, using less fuel and no fumes.
If you take the Continental Divide Tour, you’ll experience Colorado’s backcountry following the historic “Moffat” railroad route to Corona Pass. At nearly 12,000 feet, you’ll take in views of the entire Winter Park Resort and the Fraser Valley.
2. Dog Sledding
It’s an exhilarating feeling to ride a dog sled. With Dashing Through the Snow Dog Sled Rides, you can take in the view as an experienced musher takes you on a dog sled ride (or choose a horse-drawn sleigh ride). Afterward, sip hot cocoa around the fire.
Pro Tip: There is a strict limit of 350 pounds per sled. This includes bodyweight and any winter gear. There are scales available if needed.
3. Ice Fishing
Let an experienced guide make the experience easy and pleasurable when you book an ice fishing trip. No experience is needed as they will provide all the equipment, including an experienced guide, your rods, tackle, bait, state-of-the-art ice sonar, hot drinks, and an ice fishing hut. Just show up for this unique fishing experience. You’ll stay warm in a heated ice fishing hut as you spend a day or half-day ice fishing.
If you’d like to keep what you catch, bring a cooler and baggies. Your guide will clean up to four fish per guest for you to take home and enjoy fresh-caught fish later.
Pro Tip: Wear waterproof pants and boots, a wind-resistant jacket, hat, gloves, and warm socks. You’ll need to bring a Colorado fishing license with you, so apply for that in advance.
4. Indulge In A Spa Day
My muscles were sore after traveling by train and experiencing so many physical outdoor experiences, but a massage at Blue Sky Massage fixed what ailed me. It was the most memorable massage I’ve had anywhere. After, I hiked back to my condo and slept for hours. When I awoke from my nap, I felt rejuvenated and ready for more adventures.
Or drive about 30 minutes to Hot Sulphur Springs for a massage and soak in the hot springs at Hot Sulphur Springs Resort and Spa.
Devil’s Thumb Resort and Spa is another option for a spa day. Located on a ranch with stunning views of the Continental Divide, the 18,000-square-foot spa uses organic products in a variety of treatments.
5. Explore Wide Open Wintry Spaces
Even if you don’t ski the slopes, there are 600 miles of trails to explore on foot with snow skis, boots, or bikes. There are several snowshoe or cross-country ski spots, including Devil’s Thumb Ranch, Grand Lake Nordic Center, Ski Granby Ranch, or YMCA of the Rockies Snow Mountain Ranch. If you prefer a guided tour, try a ranger-guided snowshoe tour at the Rocky Mountain National Park.
Pro Tip: Adventure by moonlight on a night snowshoe tour. A guide will take you through the forest to the top of Hill House to discover the quiet beauty of the winter woods by moonlight. The tour ends with s’mores under the stars.
6. Mountain Biking
Fat biking uses wide rims and extra-large tires to let you explore the trails on a bike, even in the winter months. Take the trails accessible from downtown Winter Park, explore the Arapaho National Forest, or visit the trails at some of the resorts.
Growing up near lakes, I’ve spent plenty of time riding waves on an innertube. Still, nothing compared to the thrill of snow tubing in Winter Park. With more tubing hills in Winter Park and the Fraser Valley than anywhere else in Colorado, it’s an exhilarating ride atop the snowy hills.
Colorado Adventure Park provides a Magic Carpet lift to take you to the top. There are slow and easy as well as fast and wild terrains to choose from for any thrill level.
Pro Tip: Helmets are required for anyone under the age of 18.
8. Ice Skating
If you enjoy ice skating, there are free (or nearly free) options at Devil’s Thumb Ranch, Winter Park Resort, the Ice Box in Fraser, and YMCA of the Rockies Snow Mountain Ranch.
9. Hot Air Balloon
A hot air balloon ride with Grand Adventure Balloon Tours is a memorable way to explore Winter Park. A balloon ride in the Rockies is considered one of the most beautiful balloon destinations in the world. Watch as the balloon is filled, then take off to see snow-covered mountain ranges for up to 100 miles. On the return flight, you may get close enough to the treetops to pick pine cones, then follow the Fraser River before landing.
10. Ice Bumper Cars
The latest adventure addition is Ice Bumper Cars. Bumper cars are fun enough; imagine how much more fun they’ll be when you can glide across the ice to bump into your friends. The rides are offered in 15-minute time slots.
Pro Tip: Riders must be 48 inches or taller and less than 300 pounds to ride.
Eating In Winter Park
The food is fresh and vibrant, just like the outdoor atmosphere in Winter Park. While I sampled a delicious variety of Italian food at Volario’s and Hernando’s Pizza Pub and a delicious burger at The Peak, my most memorable meals were found at the quirky coffee shops in Winter Park.
Goodys Mountain Creperie
You’ll find crepes, sandwiches, and breakfast foods made from seasonal and regional ingredients at Goodys Mountain Creperie. Crepes are the specialty, and you’ll find an abundance of both sweet and savory options. The Mary Jane is a delightful combination of sauteed mushrooms, onions, swiss cheese, bacon, and spinach wrapped in a crepe and topped with raspberry glaze. For a sweet option, the Bananas Foster serves caramelized bananas sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar and topped with a caramel drizzle. Drinks from the bar are served all day, so you may want to warm up from the winter chill with Peppermint Cocoa, hot cocoa with peppermint schnapps.
Another coffee shop that utilizes locally grown products, including 100 percent cage-free eggs, is Carvers. Since 1982 they’ve been serving breakfast, brunch, and lunch at this popular cafe. The Reuben sandwich with corned beef, sauerkraut, swiss cheese, and Thousand Island dressing on homemade rye bread is delicious. Pair it with one of their seasonal soups such as an organic savory butternut bisque, the organic ancient grain minestrone, chicken artichoke Florentine, or Green chili. For a cocktail, try one of their Mimosas, Screwdrivers, or Greyhounds made with fresh-squeezed juices.