Best times to visit Colorado
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There’s no bad time to visit Colorado, but some times are better than others. The best time to visit for you will depend largely on what you want to do when you get there. Snow may be hard to come by at most elevations in August, and you’re not likely to have great hiking and mountain biking weather in most parts of the state in January. But — it also all depends.
At about 380 miles long and 280 miles wide, Colorado has multiple climates, so it’s entirely possible to be in the middle of snowy conditions on the mountain, while folks are walking around Denver in shorts and a T-shirt. So unlike somewhere with a defined climate across the whole area, like say the Maldives, the best time to visit Colorado is a bit more nuanced based on where you are heading and what your priorities are while you’re there.
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When to find the best weather in Colorado
Most of the time, the “best weather” means going when it is most likely to be sunny and temperate. But in Colorado, where people go to chase powder, you’re going to need to define “best weather” a bit more closely.
Best times to visit for skiing
If you’re hoping for a great day skiing or boarding on the mountain, then your best months for snow will be the winter months. While there are some outliers in Colorado with longer ski seasons that run October to May (or longer), most ski mountain resorts are open from late-November to early-April, based on snow conditions. However, early and late season conditions can be very unpredictable in terms of snow totals and quality.
Related: The best ski towns in Colorado
The average snowiest months in most parts of Colorado are February and March, while January is typically the coldest month based on historic averages. All things being equal, I’m a big fan of late-February Colorado skiing. By then, the snow totals should be good and temperatures are typically still safely below freezing, while usually being beyond the deepest bitter cold of winter.
Related: One perfect ski day in Telluride
Best times to visit for hiking and white water rafting
If you’re after air that is warm by day, but crisp and cool by night, your best weather months in Colorado are mid-June through September, though know that early June and even late-September can still be potentially dicey in some higher elevations. But if you want to enjoy hiking and exploring Colorado and places like Rocky Mountain National Park on foot, summer is your best bet for optimal weather.
Those looking for Colorado white water rafting will also be best served in the summer, with the caveat that the most adrenaline-packed water usually comes in late spring and early summer as the snowmelt fills the rivers, while a more tranquil float is more often found later in the summer.
The transitional months of April, May and late-October can hold the most unpredictable weather in Colorado of the 12 months, so these are months you may want to avoid if you don’t want the weather conditions to be a last-minute surprise.
When to travel to Colorado to avoid the crowds
Remember those transitional, or shoulder season, months I just mentioned as being a touch less desirable in terms of unpredictable weather? Well, forget that part if you’re looking to avoid the crowds. Typically speaking, April and May and then October through mid-December will be your least crowded months in Colorado, as visitors often aim for the warmth and accessibility of summer or the powdery snow of winter.
But, you can get really lucky with phenomenal early or late season snow, if that’s what you are secretly hoping for. In 2019, Steamboat Springs enjoyed 44 inches of snow on the middle of the mountain in October 2019, prompting the ski resort to start operations up earlier than originally planned.
On the flip side, a later arrival of fall can mean that the leaves are actually at their peak at some point in early to mi-October, saving the aspen’s golden show for the lucky few traveling during a traditional shoulder season.
Cheapest dates to visit Colorado
The least expensive times for hotels in Colorado depends on where you’re traveling.
For example, December is the cheapest hotel month on average in Denver, according to Kayak. This is likely due to a drop-off in business travel in December.
However, if you were to look at a ski town such as Vail, Aspen, Breckenridge, Steamboat, etc., then December prices are some of the highest of the year — especially during the second half of the month.
Again according to Kayak data, in Vail, the cheapest month for a hotel night is May, with an average of price of $142 per night, while the average cost of a night in December is $668 (making ski season precisely when you want to redeem those hotel points).
If you want to stay slopeside at the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek, it will cost you 30,000 World of Hyatt points per night for a standard room, even when that room is selling for $1,000 per night during peak season. (Here’s how to earn some Hyatt points of your very own.)
Related: Best hotel credit cards in 2020
The cheapest months to fly to Colorado, according to Kayak, are September, October and May.
The priciest months to fly to Colorado are in December, especially around the holidays, and March — because of spring break travel. However, since Denver (DEN) has such a large presence of low-cost air carriers, you have more low-fare options available there than in many other destinations, regardless of when you decide to travel.
The average cost of a domestic round-trip ticket to Denver is about $50 below that national average across airports. (However, the smaller airports such as Aspen-Pitkin, Vail-Eagle, etc. are often much pricier if using cash.)
Seasonal events in Colorado
Summer is festival season across Colorado, which can temporarily dramatically impact rates and availability when something as major as the Telluride Film Festival is in town.
A sampling of other popular summer festivals and events in Colorado include Telluride Bluegrass Festival, Colorado Brewers Festival in Fort Collins, Blues and BBQ in Denver, Food & Wine Classic in Aspen and the Hot Air Balloon Rodeo in Steamboat Springs.
The “Wildflower Capital of the World,” Crested Butte, holds its annual wildflower festival in July. You’re also sure to find a variety of farmers markets, fairs and rodeos across the state during the warm weather months.
Fall brings with it not only the changing of the leaves in must-see spots like Maroon Bells near Aspen but also several autumnal-themed events, like Oktoberfest. There are a few Oktoberfest-type festivals around the state, but a popular one is Vail Oktoberfest, which is extra special as Vail itself has a very European look and feel.
In Denver, in the fall you’ll also find the Great American Beer Festival.
A unique fall event in Colorado happens each September and October as the elk in the Estes Park area bugle and put on a show for each other (and we just get to watch). To go along with the natural annual “rut,” there is also Elk Fest that takes place in Bond Park. Here you’ll find everything from elk-inspired arts and crafts, to craft beer, bugling contests and Native American music, dancing and storytelling.
Related: Best places to visit in September
Winter is the time for all things snow and ice in Colorado. In addition to getting lots of use out of annual ski passes such as Ikon, Epic and Mountain Collective across the state at ski resorts large and small, there are other winter happenings in Colorful Colorado.
Related: Where kids can ski free
If you want to take in the best of the best at X-Games, head to the Aspen area each winter. This year, the competitive winter sports event is slated for late-January. (Snag a room on points at the new W Aspen, if you can.) The last several winters, there’s been an ice castle constructed in Dillon, Colorado, that is worth a visit.
Spring brings with it the end-of-season events at the various ski mountains, which can be pretty entertaining if you like to see folks in fun costumes ski jump from the melting snow into the water!
Related: Where you can ski into the summer
But once the snow melts and the lifts stop running, the early season festivals begin to crop up. In Beaver Creek, you’ll usually find the Blues, Brews & BBQ festival happening in May.
If mountain biking is more your speed, in May you can find the Fruita Fat Tire Festival out in western Colorado, which is home to some of the best mountain bike terrain in the state.
I hate to play favorites, but Colorado has to be one of the best destinations in the United States for those who love the great outdoors. From the wildflowers of summer to the powdery back bowls of winter, each season holds special adventures and events across the western state. The best time to visit Colorado will all depend on which adventure you want to embark on next.
Featured image by Clicked by Avik Chakraborty/Getty Images
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