The state of Colorado is filled with idyllic winter destinations painted with snow-capped peaks, charming cabins and locally-owned eateries serving up après inspired menus. But for travelers seeking a truly relaxing, outdoor activity-packed cold weather getaway this season, the small town of Grand Lake is the place to go. Thanks to its location just outside of the western entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park, warm weather in the summertime (and clear roads through the park) draw hoards of tourists to the town named for one of the largest bodies of water in the state. But when the snow falls in the winter, Grand Lake transforms into a quiet, breathtaking playground for snow enthusiasts.
If you’re looking for a hearty meal and a good cup of coffee to start the day, head to the Blue Water Bakery. Located in the heart of town, this small breakfast and lunch joint is serving up big meals, like a giant plate of cheddar-clad Huevos Panaderia, cream cheese-stuffed French toast and an assortment of house-baked goods. When lunchtime rolls around, pull up a chair to one of the checkered tablecloth-covered tables at Sagebrush BBQ & Grill. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, this delicious smelling, funky downtown restaurant will most likely become a staple for meals during your trip. In operation since 1999, Sagebrush offers an extensive, and I mean extensive, protein-forward menu. Whether it’s a plate of tender BBQ pork ribs, a healthy cut of prime rib or the BBQ Chicken Salad, Sagebrush has a little something for everyone (ahem, they’re even serving up Rocky Mountain oysters…), all served in a family-friendly and energetic atmosphere. After a quick shower to wash off the day’s adventures, put on your mountain casual best and head over to the O-a Bistro, just a short drive from the town’s main drag. With a focus on Colorado ingredients, and a lovely wine list, this quant bistro is a wonderful place to enjoy a delicious meal and good conversation. Meals are served in two or six courses, so be sure to go hungry. And with any small town dining scene in the off season, be sure to check hours and seasonal information for your favorite eateries before hitting the town.
In the town of Grand Lake, you won’t find a shortage of rustic, cozy lodging to post up in during your stay. For a one stop shop (especially if you’re traveling with a large group), call up the folks at Western Riviera Lakeside Lodging and Events. Western Riviera manages a variety of all types of properties throughout town including a lakeside motel, a handful of cabins to choose from, a lake house, a “tree house” and a recently-added penthouse that overlooks the historic downtown. The majority of the Western Riviera lodging options accommodate larger groups and boast very budget-friendly rates in the winter. For the ultimate cozy cabin experience, book a stay at Colorado Cabin Adventures. This lakeside property is about a 10 minute drive outside of Grand Lake’s downtown and comes with incredibly scenic views. Choose from 13 different rustic cabins onsite. Rates start at $109 per night. A stay at Colorado Cabin Adventures also comes with access to a “Rustic Concierge” who can help you book any type of local outdoor activity your heart desires.
It’s been a mild winter in Colorado this year, but Grand County is putting up some leading numbers when it comes to snowfall in the state. For skiers and riders chasing the snow, this is good news, because Grand Lake has not one, but two snow-blessed ski resorts within an hour’s drive. The slopes at Winter Park Resort are roughly a 50 minute drive, and the hometown mountain—Granby Ranch—a mere 30 minutes away. Nordic skiers looking for scenic trails to explore will enjoy Grand Lake Nordic Center’s 35 km of groomed classic and skate skiing trails. Bring your own skis, or rent from the retail shop. The Grand Lake Nordic Center also offers snowshoe trails, dog-friendly trails and a free-to-use tubing/sledding hill for the kids. Day passes for adults are $16, with a discounted rate of $13 offered in the afternoon. If nighttime skiing is up your alley, don’t miss the Full Moon Ski hosted by the Nordic Center on March 31. A $10 fee to use the trails and a $10 rental fee will get you into the event which will also feature adult beverages and marshmallow roasting around a campfire. With the entrance to one of the most beloved national parks in the country a short drive from town, save time for some rugged snowshoe adventures in Rocky Mountain National Park. The “quiet side” of the park is an exceptional place to play in the wintertime and avoid crowded trails and trailheads. Rent a pair of snowshoes and pick up any other gear, apparel and tips for best trails to hit that you might need at Never Summer Mountain Products in town before heading into the park. And with two of the largest lakes in Colorado at your fingertips and a local celebrity fishing guide, there’s no better place to test your ice fishing skills than during a visit to Grand Lake. To truly catch the big ones, call up Bernie Keefe of Fishing With Bernie. The local legend and longtime guide offers guided ice fishing trips throughout Grand County—and all age groups are welcome. Rates for guided trips start at $350 per person and $500 for groups of two.