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23 Tips for Your Colorado Holiday Vacation

Planning a holiday vacation in Colorado means looking forward to cozy fires, fresh snow, and plenty of events and sightseeing. It can also involve juggling various family schedules and expectations, not to mention trying to nail down where to stay, what to do, and how to get there. Fortunately, with just a little extra planning and some insider knowledge, you’ll be able to cut down on the stress and enjoy a fulfilling and relaxing trip to Colorado. Use these 23 tips to get the most out of your holiday.

1. Bring lots of layers

As you’re packing your clothes, you’ll probably check the weather forecast for the Colorado spot you’ll be staying in, but keep in mind that the weather can swing dramatically. Plan on bringing plenty of layers so that you can be comfortable whether it’s 50 degrees or 0 degrees – you might actually see both extremes while you’re in town.

2.Bring boots or extra footwear

Breckenridge Main Street HolidaysBy the time the holidays roll around, it’s full blown winter for most of Colorado, and that means you could be walking through fresh snow, melting snow, or ice, so make sure your feet are warm and comfortable. If you’ve got room in your bags, plan on bringing a pair of boots in addition to regular shoes. If you can’t fit boots, be sure to at least bring an extra pair of shoes in case your first pair gets wet.

3. Ship gifts to and from your Colorado destination

It seems like every year the airlines charge higher fees, and bag fees are no exception. Instead of lugging 4 oversized suitcases through the airport only to pay $20 or more per bag, consider putting your money to better use and shipping your gifts to your Christmas vacation destination. At the end of your trip, you can ship the gifts you’ve received back home (and enjoy “unwrapping” them a second time).

4. Check the local holiday event calendar

Colorado’s mountain towns excel at providing a full calendar of events and attractions during the holiday season. From lighting ceremonies to visits with Santa, concerts, holiday markets, and even wine and food festivals, you won’t want to miss out on all the fun happening around you. Be sure to check online or call the visitor center before you arrive to make sure you don’t miss the local signature event.

5. Ask the concierge about deals and specials

Many businesses will promote their holiday specials and discounts, but sometimes the best way to find out about a great deal is to ask a local who’s in the know. Check with your hotel’s concierge or front desk what specials are going on around town to get the inside scoop and save a few bucks.

6. Visit local attractions

When you’re in a holiday mindset, it’s easy to just focus on the holiday-themed activities going on, but chances are there are unique local attractions that draw visitors year-round. Take the time to find out what the town is known for. You may realize you’re glad to have a break from the non-stop Christmas decorations and you'll probably end up with a great story for when you get home.

7. Avoid peak travel times

Colorado Holiday TravelNo matter where you’re visiting, the worst part of holiday travel is usually the increased crowds – on the roads, at the airport, and everywhere else. Give your sanity a break and try to travel during off-peak times whenever possible. Take red-eye flights or extra-early departures to avoid the mid-morning security lines. Check local traffic patterns to avoid gridlocked roads, and if you are in a ski town, stay off the roads during the couple of hours when the lifts open and close. 

8. Check the weather before going out

Whether you’re planning to spend a day skiing or an evening at dinner, be sure to check the weather during the time you’re away from your vacation rental. Just because it’s cool and cloudy now doesn’t mean it won’t be warm and sunny in a couple of hours. The weather in the Rocky Mountains is notoriously unpredictable, so checking right before you go out will give you the best chance of being prepared and comfortable.

9. Prepare for the elevation

When you’re reading about all the fun Colorado vacation ideas for the town where you’ll be staying, it’s easy to fill up every day of your trip with activities and reservations. Keep in mind that you’ll be making a big change in elevation, and your body is going to need time to recover once you’ve arrived in Colorado. Plan something low-key for your first day or consider keeping the first 24 hours completely free of plans. After a chance to recover, you’ll be much more ready to take on the local attractions.

10. Plan to take lots of pictures

Colorado is beautiful during the winter months, and chances are you’ll be spending most of your time making amazing holiday memories with family and friends. Whether you bring a camera or just make sure you have extra memory on your phone, you’ll want to be ready to document every moment of your stay.

11. Make reservations for everything

If you’ve visited Colorado during other times of the year, you may be used to deciding on plans at the last minute or wandering into the nearest restaurant to grab dinner. During the holidays, it’s a good idea to make advanced reservations whenever possible. Not only will it cut down on wait time at the door, but it will also guarantee that you get to dine at the cozy bistro you just have to try.

12. Dine early or late

If you’re on a flexible schedule, a great way to avoid holiday crowds is to adjust your dining schedule. While most restaurants will be packed at 7pm, you may find that there’s no wait at all at 9pm. Worried you’ll be too hungry to wait that late? Consider pushing lunch back to 2 or 3 – another time when local eateries are likely to be quieter.

13. Don’t wait until the last minute to do your shopping

Doing some of your holiday shopping once you arrive in Colorado is a great way to add some unique gifts for your loved ones. Not only can you find boutiques with one-of-a-kind wares, but you can score great deals on ski gear and other winter wear. If possible, try not to wait until Christmas Eve to find that perfect item – stores sell out, so your best chance of finding that perfect item is going to be right when you get into town.

14. Get outside

Skiing in Colorado for ChristmasWinter makes most people want to stay inside, especially if there’s a crackling fire and a mug of hot cocoa or mulled wine available. But make sure to plan some outdoor fun while you’re in Colorado. You’ll discover there are tons of winter activities – not just skiing and snowboarding, but snow tubing, dog sledding, snowmobiling, cross country skiing, snow shoeing and more. 

15. Wear sunscreen

You probably don’t worry too much about sunscreen during the winter months when you’re at home. Not only are you all bundled up, but it’s probably dark and cloudy, and you’re not going to be outside for very long anyway. Once you get to Colorado, be sure to apply sunscreen to any exposed skin (even if it’s just the tip of your nose) before heading outside. The sun in the mountains is very strong thanks to thin mountain air, and the reflection off the snow amplifies it even more. Plus, you’ll be having so much fun outside, you may end up staying in the sun much longer than you planned.

16. Stay within walking distance of dining or activities

The more things you want to do while you’re in Colorado, the happier you’ll be if you can walk to everything. Why load up all your ski gear, find parking, and then still have to walk to the lifts if you can have a ski-in, ski-out condo? And dining and shopping are much easier if you can simply stroll a couple blocks to get to downtown. For large families, it’s even more importation – when half the group wants to get up early and ski while the other half wants to get a mid-morning brunch in town, you’ll be glad you’re not the designated chauffeur.

17. Explore as soon as you get to town 

If you’re headed to a Colorado vacation destination that you haven’t spent a ton of time in, you’ll want to take some time to explore the area once you arrive. And when it comes to getting the lay of the land, the earlier the better – you’ll quickly spot restaurants, stores, activities, and attractions that you want to visit later in your trip, and finding them early means you can set aside time in your already busy holiday schedule, not to mention securing advanced reservations.

18. Research local transportation

Even if you’re planning on having a car while you’re visiting Colorado, it’s a good idea to know what the other transportation options are. Maybe you’ll decide it’s easier to catch the local bus to get to the big Christmas festival instead of paying to park in the closest garage. Or perhaps taking a pedicab to New Year’s Eve dinner will end up being one of the most memorable parts of your trip. 

19. Explore the surrounding area 

Especially during the holiday season, it can be easy to get tunnel vision and spend all your time in one small area. Try to take one day to venture out and explore. If you’re staying in a larger town or city, head for the mountains and find that perfect scenic overlook. If you’re lodging in a smaller town, head a couple towns over or to the nearest big city. You’ll find all kinds of new experiences that will add another dimension to your vacation.

20. If you’re planning to ski, make sure you have everything you need

Before you start packing, make a list of everything you need on the ski slopes. Split that list into anything you’re planning to rent and everything you will be bringing with you. If you don’t ski or snowboard often, you might want to have a family member or friend double-check it to make sure you didn’t forget anything. Plan to check this list not only when you pack for your trip, but also each time you head up to the mountain. You don’t want to miss out on an hour of skiing because your goggles are still in the vacation rental.

21. Set expectations before arriving

Planning to ski every day you’re in Colorado? Want to spend most of the time going to holiday events and looking at Christmas light displays? No matter what you have planned for your time in Colorado, make sure you set clear expectations to the rest of the family. The kids will be much more excited about heading to a snowboard lesson if they know they get to visit Santa as soon as they’re done.

22. Bring your address book 

Don’t’ postpone holiday obligations for after you get home – if your family will be opening gifts from friends and extended family, make sure you bring any addresses you might need. Once you arrive in Colorado, buy thank you cards so everyone can send their thanks while still on vacation. You won’t have to worry about remembering who gave what as you’re unpacking after your trip.

23. Schedule free time

Sure, it’s the holidays, but you’re still on vacation, right? Make sure you set aside some time to just relax. Then don’t worry about what you’ll do with that time until it arrives. Maybe you’ll feel like heading for the hotel’s hot tub or curling up with a book under cozy blankets. Maybe catch happy hour at the brewery down the street or head for the independent movie theater downtown. Just find whatever sounds like the most enjoyable way to spend the next few hours. 

Traveling during the holidays can be stressful and complicated, but it doesn't have to be - with these tips, you may just have the best Colorado holiday vacation ever.

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