The Mile High City of Denver, Colorado, has its origins in the mid-1800s Gold Rush era, and it has stood ever since as the last urban outpost before the snow-covered peaks of the Rockies rise up from the American plains. Denver in winter is a bustling scene where you’ll find a mix of the constant happenings of such a big city and a big influx of seasonal travelers heading up the Interstate 70 corridor bound for the ski resorts of Colorado’s high country.
Potential day trips from Denver during winter are always in good supply, especially given that Colorado’s state capital is so close to the mountains. But travelers shouldn’t neglect spending some time in the city itself, as there are plenty of things to do in Denver in winter that don’t require being outside or driving a long distance in hazardous weather.
Winter Weather in Denver
Although the Denver area is known for being near the top of the list in terms of most sunny days per year, on average, of anywhere in the United States, you can bet there’ll be at least a few days of extreme winter weather each month in the window of roughly November through March.
This holds especially true if you’re in Denver in December, January, or February, which tend to be the “dead of winter” months when daytime and overnight temperatures are the coldest.
December temperatures average about 46°F (8°C) for the high and 19°F (-7°C) for the low. Denver in January averages about 48°F (9°C) for the high and again about 19°F (-7°C) for the low. You can expect similar temperatures if you’re visiting Denver in February.
The Colorado snowpack doesn’t actually peak until sometime in April, generally speaking, but the harshest weather, on average, is usually a thing of the past by late March.
The presence of snow and altitude make skiing come to mind for many people when they think of Denver in the winter, and it’s definitely worth setting a day or two aside to ski or snowboard any of the mountains that lie within striking distance of Denver. There are also plenty of other winter activities to enjoy beyond skiing, as well.
A lot of ski resorts, such as those in Breckenridge or Vail, are very regular about posting up-to-date snowfall totals, and the United States Department of Agriculture publishes snowpack summary graphs on its .gov website.
This sort of info combined with local weather forecasts can help you make an educated decision on whether to make a drive up high into the Rockies for skiing, visit gorgeous Rocky Mountain National Park for some winter wonderland vibes or other activities while visiting Denver.
Driving in Denver in Winter
Since local road and highway crews are obviously used to ice, snow, sleet, hail, and pretty much anything Mother Nature can dish out, driving around the immediate urban parts of Denver is never much of a problem in the wintertime if your car has good tires.
However, roads here are not always salted to the extent that some on the East Coast of the USA are, so be sure to drive below the speed limit and be slow and deliberate about braking when driving in Denver during wintertime, whether you’re renting a car from Denver International Airport or driving in from elsewhere.
You might start to want a higher-clearance vehicle—if not even winter tires and/or chains, depending on the severity of conditions—if you decide to make the drive up into the mountains on I-70 or any other highways near Denver such as US 285 or US 36.
It’s not uncommon for this part of Colorado to experience blasts of snow, ice, near-zero temperatures (Fahrenheit), and wind chill in the middle of wintertime.
Yet temperatures can also climb as high as the upper 60s with blue skies and sunshine, depending on the day, so Denver locals often note that snow tends to melt off sooner here at 5,280 feet of altitude in comparison to many other cities.
If you need to rent a car for your trip to Denver during winter, browse Rentalcars.com which aggregates deals across a number of major suppliers.
Which Month to Visit Denver in Winter?
When travelling to Denver, Colorado in winter—meaning between the months of late November or early December through March—you might choose a different month for your trip depending on your goals for activities and lodgings.
Denver in December, for example, can be warm and dry if you look at a year like 2021 in which the snowpack in Colorado’s high country didn’t really begin to pick up until the very last week of the month. Because of this, December may or may not be a viable month for a ski-oriented trip to jump off from Denver, depending on the year.
The Downtown Denver Rink in Skyline Park not far from Union Station also opens up in late November, meaning that December is a great time to hit the ice in a festive setting.
Denver in January is more reliable when you’ll start to get those “champagne powder” sort of days that the state of Colorado’s ski mountains are known for. Obviously, skiing is one of the best things about a winter in Colorado. However, craft beer fans will love the Winter Brew Fest that takes place in late January.
Resorts like Vail, Steamboat, and Winter Park see some of their coldest annual temperatures in January, and the frigid air mixed with precipitation makes for excellent skiing and snowboarding.
For travelers who aren’t at all interested in the ski scene or going up into the mountains, February can be a great time for a stay in the Mile High City as temperatures start to creep upwards and early signs of spring begin to show. Still the perfect temperature for curling up with a mug of hot chocolate.
Visiting Denver in February can also be nice in that the Spring Break season window of March has yet to arrive, but the busy holiday season is well past, so crowds both in Denver and the mountains can often be thinner.
Things to do in Denver in Winter
Morrison and Red Rocks Amphitheatre
The town of Morrison is located just outside of Denver a little less than 10 minutes to the south of the Golden area.
Morrison is best known for being home to the worldwide-acclaimed Red Rocks Amphitheatre concert venue, but the town’s downtown strip is an underrated gem that can be especially fun for families to stroll down when visiting during the holidays.
You’ll find this row of small local shops, restaurants, and bars lined with bright, festive lights after dark, and the waters of Bear Creek may even be trickling down from the canyon if the weather is warm enough.
If you’re someone who likes to stay active or is looking to keep up on some cardio while traveling, Red Rocks and the surrounding area is also a fun place for hiking, climbing, and running.
Locals often know that the inside of Red Rocks is open to the public when no events are happening, and parking tends to be free, so it’s pretty common to come here and see several people running up and down the steep flights of stairs in the Amphitheatre.
Views looking out over the eastern plains from the trails and the top of the nosebleed seats at Red Rocks can be breathtaking when you see the rock formations. While events like concerts aren’t typically held here in the winter months, be sure to take a look at the schedule for the next year and plan to come back for one in the summer if you can.
If you don’t have your own transport, you can also go on a half-day tour to the area.
Denver Botanic Gardens
The Denver Botanic Gardens is well-known by Denver residents, but it doesn’t tend to get crowded with tourists like the Denver Zoo can—especially in winter.
Botanists and home garden enthusiasts will be in heaven here, but the beauty of the Denver Botanic Gardens is that between its conservatory, array of gardens with differing themes, and sunken amphitheatre, it’s a multifaceted public botanical garden with something for all to appreciate.
In fact, the Denver Botanic Gardens actually consists of two separate facilities: the classic, central location on York Street in Denver’s Cheesman Park area, and the Chatfield Farms property to the south of the city in Littleton.
Chatfield Farms is a “700-acre native plant refuge and working farm,” according to the botanic gardens’ website, so more indoor activities tend to be available at the York Street location if you’re around Denver in winter.
Tickets must be purchased in advance, so consult the website first and plan on prices ranging from free for members and infants to a standard adult rate. After stopping by the botanic gardens, consider taking a walk around Cheesman Park if the weather is nice enough. If this is too much of an outdoor activity, head to the Denver Art Museum instead.
Denver Zoo and the Museum of Nature & Science
Another one of the things to do in Denver in winter that’s ideal for travelers with kids is spending some time at the Denver Zoo or the Museum of Nature & Science, or both, as they’re located just a stone’s throw from each other in Denver’s City Park area.
The Museum of Nature & Science has gained recognition as one of the top natural history museums in the West and even the entire country, and when you see its expertly curated exhibits like “Guitar: The Instrument That Rocked The World” and the upcoming “Egypt: The Time of The Pharaohs,” you’ll understand why. Other standard attractions at the Museum of Nature & Science include an IMAX theater and planetarium.
The Denver Zoo is also truly one of the best as American zoos go, with generally clean facilities, lots of food and beverage stations, a nice variety of animals both exotic and domestic and friendly staff.
It’s also laid out in a very sensible “loop” sort of fashion in which visitors tend to only walk a couple of miles at most during a visit, which is nice for both kids and older visitors.
Depending on wintertime temperatures, keep in mind that not all of the animals may be active enough to really be out and about if you’re at the Denver Zoo in winter.
Ski for a Day in the Mountains
Some of Colorado’s most famous ski resorts are within just a few hours’ drive of Denver, so no list detailing what to do in winter in Denver would be complete without mention of a day trip to the snowy alpine country.
One of the closer and more economical options for a day of skiing when based out of Denver, assuming you’re not bound for other favorites like Aspen, Vail, Breckenridge, Idaho Springs Steamboat, or Copper Mountain, is to head for Loveland Ski Area.
Getting here from downtown Denver usually takes less than an hour and a half if traffic and weather aren’t bad, and lift tickets, rentals, and even other expenses like meals and drinks tend to be more economically priced in comparison to other ski mountains.
If you’re arriving in Denver initially and want to stray a bit farther than what day trips from Denver in winter will allow, then you might consider venturing as far as either Wolf Creek or Monarch Mountain ski resorts.
Like Loveland Ski Area, these two resorts tend to have lower prices and shorter lift lines compared to resorts such as Vail or Breckenridge while still boasting plenty in the way of variety, acreage, and snow quality.
The marquee mountains of the state get crowded for a reason, though, so it’s always worth considering making a day’s visit to quintessential wintertime Rocky Mountain destinations like the ones included on Vail Resorts’ Epic ski pass.
Explore Denver’s Food and Beverage Scene
If you’re less of an “outdoorsy” type or find yourself sticking around the city in Denver for any reason, it’s well worth taking a day to simply explore what the city has to offer when it comes to activities like dining, shopping, nightlife, and live music.
A Denver winter is especially hopping where the food and beverage scene is concerned, as local breweries, restaurants, and social hotspots know folks are often looking for a chance to be inside with friends enjoying good food and drink.
The challenge might be in deciding where to start: if you’re a lover of both pizza and craft beer, then you can’t go wrong with Fat Sully’s or Hops & Pie. If you’ve already eaten and want to sample several locally brewed beers, then Denver Beer Co., Ratio, or Wynkoop might be the winner. You can also go on a craft beer tour if you want to sample a few different breweries in a short period of time.
Although Denver is so well-known for its craft beer scene, a lesser-known fact is that it hosts arguably some of the best Latin American food in the country.
You can find everything from more upscale Mexican food at a restaurant like Chili Verde to tiny taco stands farther to the north on the same main road of Federal Blvd.
Fans of other ethnic cuisine types will also find lots of options ranging from eateries serving Vietnamese and Chinese food to the American Indian-owned and operated establishment Tocabe (picture a similar format to Chipotle only with options like frybread, ground bison, and hominy).
If you want to sample a lot of Denver’s food scene in one afternoon, this small-group food tour will take you to a selection of restaurants in the city.
Where to Stay in Denver
If you’ve decided that you do indeed want to visit Denver in the wintertime, then you’re going to need to find a place to rest your head in the Mile High City. There are lots of accommodation options in the Colorado capital that will suit all kinds of visitors. If you’re wondering where to stay in Denver, have a look at these suggestions:
Westin Denver Downton — If you’re after a great, high-end hotel option in downtown Denver then this is an excellent choice. Well-located for exploring all that the city has to offer, they have numerous clean and comfortable rooms available along with other amenities to ensure you have a lovely stay. Click here to see their availability
Holiday Inn Express Downtown Denver — A good option if you’re looking for a reliable and comfortable hotel that is centrally located in downtown Denver – close to all of the action. There are numerous rooms available and there is a complimentary breakfast included in the rate. Click here to see their availability
Private Rental – If you’re after a bit of privacy or independence on your winter trip to Denver, then a private vacation rental — like this centrally located farmhouse — is a great option. There are tons of properties to choose from across a number of different platforms. Click here to browse Denver private rentals
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Denver hotels
The ideas listed here for things to do in Denver in winter are really only a starting point, as Colorado’s state capital has just as much to offer as any major American city (and definitely more where mountain snow sports are concerned).
A trip to Denver, Colorado in winter is sure to be worthwhile if you plan for seasonal travel conditions and decide whether your goals center on spending time in the city itself or the mountains. And if you have room in your itinerary for a little of both without feeling too crunched for time, then all the better.
Are you planning a winter trip to Denver? Have any questions? Let us know in the comments!