Continuing the winter travel series, I asked Colorado expert Dalya from Sweet Little Journey to share her tips for the best things to do in Denver in winter. There are plenty of fabulous winter activities in Denver Colorado to choose from, so read on for Dalya’s top recommendations!
It appears as though Denver has won the winter lottery; it’s sunny and decently warm in the winter, but also has some of the best skiing in the US within an hour’s drive! Denver is an endless source of entertainment for couples, families and solo travelers alike and is an incredibly diverse city. It’s packed with museums, parks, street art, restaurants, bars, comedy clubs and of course the Denver Zoo!
During the holidays, Denver turns into a magical winter wonderland especially right after a snowfall. You’ll find the heart of downtown full of holiday lights and Christmas trees, the annual Christkindl Market and Santa parades! The rest of the winter months bring beautiful powdery snow which makes for perfect skiing conditions in any of Colorado’s nearby ski towns.
Winter Weather in Denver
Generally, winter is fairly mild in Denver. Average temperatures range from -7 to 8 degrees Fahrenheit and since the mountain air here is so dry, it doesn’t feel as cold as it sounds. Snow piles up on the ground after a major snowfall but evaporates after a few days due to the dryness. The heaviest and most frequent snowfalls happen in March, and this is the best time to go into the mountains for some skiing.
Although winters are long, Denver is actually one of the sunniest cities in America, averaging 300 days of sunshine a year! The sun and the dry climate combined make winter mild and enjoyable. You’re likely to experience a lot of weather fluctuations throughout the day – the morning can start off extremely cold and by the afternoon it may feel like summer. It’s also not unlikely to have a 50 degree jump in 24 hours!
It’s important to be very careful on the road since often they don’t get cleaned immediately after a snowfall. Mountain roads can be treacherous during a snowfall and it’s best to avoid driving any of the mountain passes during one. Some mountain passes even close down during extreme weather conditions.
What to Wear in Denver in Winter
One of the most common running jokes among locals is that Denver (and all of Colorado) has 4 seasons a day! Evenings and mornings are cold and you’ll find yourself bundling up in a winter parka, and by the afternoon you’re likely to undress down to t-shirt and shorts due to the heat from the sun.
Locals like to dress in layers so that it’s easy to adjust to the changing temperatures throughout the day. Snowstorms can start and end sporadically so you always have to be prepared if you’re out on a hike or exploring the city. It’s not unusual to have a snowstorm one day followed by sun, heat and 70 degrees the next.
You’ll want to pack lots of layers and a warm jacket so that you can adjust based on the ever-changing temperature.
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Where to Stay in Denver
There are plenty of cool places to stay in Denver, like this private suite with a hot tub, or this gorgeous loft on the edge of the RiNo District. Budget travelers should check out this studio apartment, or this lovely private room with friendly cats to keep you company. You can take a look at all of the options for Airbnb in Denver here.
If you have never used Airbnb before, use this link to sign up & get up to $40 credit to use on your first trip, or $11 credit on your first experience (subject to terms and conditions). Read more about the Airbnb first time discount code and my full Airbnb guide or click below for your Airbnb coupon.
Things to do in Denver in Winter
Here are some of the best things to do in Denver in Winter! Some of these are great any time of year but most of these places look just a little more magical with a white dusting of snow.
This is the largest park in Denver and boasts beautiful views of the Denver skyline against a mountain backdrop. There’s lots of room to relax, walk, bike, picnic or fly a kite! This park has some of the best views of the Denver skyline and surrounding mountains. Enjoy a stroll here while taking in some of the beautiful views. City Park is located just south of the Denver Museum of Nature, so you could visit both of these places while you’re here.
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Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre
Whether you’re here to catch a concert or just enjoy the views, Red Rocks Park is not a place to be missed! It’s one of the most unique concert venues in the US and hosts some of Colorado’s best concerts throughout the year. Tickets sell out fast so make sure to check the schedule and snag your tickets before they’re gone. There are several hikes that start from Red Rocks Park and are fairly easy and rewarding. This park is especially nice during winter when you can see the stark contrast between the red rocks sprinkled with white snow.
Denver zoo is home to more than 4000 animals representing 600 species and sprawling across 80 acres near City Park. This is the most popular paid attraction in Denver and the most visited cultural destination in Colorado. Denver Zoo is a nonprofit organization which is committed to saving animals and conserving wildlife while bringing science education to life. Denver Zoo provides close encounters with animals of all kinds.
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Dine in an Outdoor Dome
Denver has set up some of these outdoor heated domes all around town to accommodate outdoor dining in cooler months. You can find these all over the city and enjoy dining outside while enjoying city views. These aren’t tied to a particular restaurant so you’ll find some in parks, on pedestrian-only streets and next to established restaurants.
Visit the RiNo Art District
The River North (RiNo) Art district is a famous landmark in Denver, known for the multitude of impressive murals sprinkled around four historical neighborhoods. Here you can find numerous contemporary art galleries, food halls, cocktail lounges and pubs. Visitors like to go on an art scavenger hunt to find all these murals, some of which make for really great photo-ops!
Rocky Mountain National Park
If you’re looking to get outdoors and into nature, Rocky Mountain National Park is just 1.5 hours away from Denver and the perfect day trip for experiencing some of Colorado’s most beautiful landscapes. You can rent cross country skis or snowshoes in Denver and go on one of Rocky Mountain’s numerous snowy trails. Alternatively, spend the night there and enjoy a wonderful weekend trip from Denver.
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Rocky Mountain National Park is open year round, but some roads may be closed due to weather conditions. Make sure to check the National Park Service website for up to date information on road closures and conditions. A day pass costs 25$ per vehicle, or free if you have the annual national park pass.
You might also like these tours to the Rocky Mountain National Park:
Dillon Ice Castles
This is a truly unique attraction located just an hour outside of Denver and is a must-see if you’re visiting Denver in the winter. The Ice Castles can only be seen in four locations around the US, and Dillon hosts one of them. This frozen attraction is an award-winning experience that’s built using thousands of icicles that are hand-placed by professional artists.
The castles are lit up with different colored LED lights at night to create a truly breath-taking display. Visitors are allowed to walk around the Ice Castles, explore various tunnels, see the fountains and even go down an epic ice-slide!
Christmas in Denver
Christmas in Colorado is a wonderful time of year, and Christmas in Denver feels cozy and magical. Downtown Denver transforms into a winter wonderland with festive lights and Christmas trees. There is a Parade of Lights full of floats and displays around the city, starting at the end of November.
Christkindl Market is an annual event that brings authentic German and European holiday traditions to the heart of Denver. You’ll find lots of authentic German holiday traditions, European coffee, Bavarian beers, hot chocolate and charming shops selling handmade gifts.
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Denver Zoo Lights
Every Christmas, Denver Zoo puts on a festive spectacle inside the Zoo grounds. Hundreds of animal sculptures are lit up with LED lights to make a magical walk-through experience. Tickets work on a timed entry to stagger visitors and reduce congestion, meaning you’re allowed to enter during a specific time period and stay as long as you want!
There are several food stands serving hot chocolate, popcorn and other snacks and beverages, ice carving competitions and a 4D movie experience you could add on to your ticket!
Georgetown Loop Holiday Train
This polar express experience brings magic to every child and adult alike. Visitors board the train at the North Pole station, where hot cocoa is served along with freshly baked cookies and other goodies. Once the train is ready for passengers, visitors take their assigned seats in one of the coaches. Some types of tickets include food and drinks, others just include the ride.
The train takes you through Colorado’s mountains and forests where a lit up display of lights is waiting to be seen! Santa also makes his appearance at some point during the ride and hands out goodies to every child on the train. This is an unforgettable experience and an absolute must!
Christmas in Color
This drive-through light show is a perfect way to relax after a busy day exploring the city. You can sit back in your car and enjoy the display of animated lights synchronized to music playing on a special channel in your car’s radio! For an added bonus, you can put on your 3D glasses and see some extra effects. This experience is located in Westminster, just a few minutes drive north of Denver.
New Year in Denver
The Mile High Tree is a must if you’re staying in Denver for New Year. This is a 110-foot tall immersive art installation that synchronizes lights to music and is right in the heart of Denver. The tree is lit up from late November until early January and is free to access! Make sure not to miss the Winter Wonderland Light Walk while you’re seeing the Mile High Tree – this is a stretch of 16 blocks that are sparkling with more than half a million lights, choreographed to music.
For something a little more active, check out the ice skating dance party on New Year’s Eve at the Downtown Denver Rink at Skyline Park. This is a free event if you have skates, but skates are also available for rent. Ice Skating is also available at the Denver International Airport Plaza, for free.
For some epic fireworks, head over to 16th Street Mall at 9pm to watch the New Year’s Eve Fireworks Spectacular. This event is also free!
I hope I’ve inspired you to visit Denver in the winter, there is so much to see and do here in the wintertime. As long as you wrap up warm and prepare for the cold weather I’m sure you will have a wonderful time!
About the Author
I’m Dalya, the creator, writer and photographer behind Sweet Little Journey. I drag my husband and two kids around the world with me so that I can take cute photos of them in some pretty remote places! My family and I currently call Colorado home and absolutely love everything that it has to offer. I love the mountains and nature and get out hiking as much as possible, wherever possible. Thankfully Boulder makes that easy with all of its hiking trails and mountains in every direction! You can also find me on Instagram & Facebook.
If you’re looking for travel insurance for your trip to Denver, get a quote now from World Nomads.
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Just to let you know, this post may contain paid or affiliate links, which help to maintain Tales of a Backpacker and give me the chance to keep travelling, and to keep creating awesome content for you! I only recommend goods and services I believe are useful and reliable.Last updated: December 2, 2020