While many travelers think of ski and snowboarding when Colorado’s Breckenridge, Keystone and Copper Mountain come to mind, these resorts in Summit County, at the top of the Rockies, are actually terrific year-round destinations. For visitors who prefer the warm months, there’s unlimited hiking to (or toward) the top of 14,000 foot mountains, mountain biking on rugged trails and biking on paths that climb and descend hundreds of feet between towns. The region offers excellent golfing, fishing and rafting. With to-die-for scenery, excellent hotels and enough good restaurants to keep foodies tasting for a year, it’s no wonder Summit County attracts visitors from all over the world.
Old gold mining town, ski town, resort town – Breckenridge is all of these and more. Called simply “Breck” by locals, it’s approximately 70 miles from Denver via I-70 and Route 9. As you head into town you are passing huge mounds of river gravel dredged up by the gold boats.
There’s still a lot of gold under the town, but Breck is now noted more for white gold (snow) and tourism. The historic Main Street and immediate side streets are still lined with some original buildings, now housing restaurants, galleries, sports shops and boutique stores.
Beyond the historic core, newer buildings and homes sprawl up to the base of Breckenridge Ski Resort’s peaks. In winter there’s skiing – downhill and cross-country – and snowmobiling to the Continental Divide. In summer there’s hiking, mountain biking, golf on a public Jack Nicklaus course and lots of music. Here’s a two-day itinerary to explore Breckenridge, Copper, Keystone and the rest of Summit County in the summertime.
Copper Mountain, just off I-70, exit 201, opened in 1972 but much of the building took place later between 2001 and 2009. While it doesn’t have the history of Breckenridge, it has the advantage of a compact core. Once at Copper, you can park your car and forget it. Copper lays claim to being the largest ski area in Summit County (although Keystone disputes it) and is more self-contained than Breckenridge. Copper’s ski slopes have a layout that naturally separates skiers and boarders by ability. Beginners and intermediates tend to favor the slopes on the west. More advanced skiers stay east at the Alpine and Super Bee lifts, although they also migrate to the Sierra lift at the top of the western slopes.
Copper also offers extensive cross country skiing and snowshoeing. Visitors in the summer enjoy hiking and mountain biking and the golf course that covers much of the mountains base area and some of the lower slopes. Hundreds of Coloradans flock here for ski/snowboard festivals in the winter and for music festivals in the summer. At the base the resort is family friendly with everything from hiking and mountain biking to ziplining over a pond in the summer.
Keystone resort, which opened in 1970, is about 100 miles from Denver via I-70 and Highway 6. The ski slopes sprawl across three mountains, reachable from two base areas: Mountain House and River Run. Most skiers and snowboarders park in lots near River Run because the River Run gondola climbs up the face of Dercum Mountain. North Peak and the Outback mountains can be accessed from there. Keystone offers night skiing on Dercum. (Parking in the day lot or riding the shuttle to River Run still requires a walk through the village to get to the gondola.)
Keystone resort has lots of lodging in condos and a main lodge that surround a small lake. In the winter, there’s ice skating on the lake, which is often a focal point of apres skiing/boarding for families. Keystone has a full range of summer activities, including two exceptional golf courses. The resort is very family friendly, and many packages – summer and winter – include free lodging, skiing and other activities.
Here’s a fun-filled 2-day itinerary if you want to visit Breckenridge and Summit County in the summer or fall.
Both summer and winter weekends Summit County is a straight shot from Denver up I-70 and through the Eisenhower tunnel. You get off at the Silverthorne, Frisco, or Copper Mountain exits, depending upon whether you are visiting Breckenridge, Keystone or Copper.
Denverites who love to ski in the winter, or escape city heat in the summer, head to the high country so the traffic early morning and late afternoon on weekends can be terrible. (There is a toll-lane on certain high-traffic days for part of the way back to Denver. The toll price varies according to the amount of traffic but is listed on overhead screens. The cost is more expensive if you do not have a transponder.)
If you have a choice, head to the high country on a weekday. If not, either go very early or mid-morning. Return mid-afternoon or -as savvy Front Range folks often do – stay up high for dinner.