The best time to visit Colorado depends on how you want to spend your time in the Centennial State. From world-class skiing and snowboarding in the winter to picturesque hiking and mountain biking in the summer, Colorado is all about outdoor recreation, which is largely seasonal and weather-dependent.
But not everything takes place outside. Colorado is also home to tranquil spas, thought-provoking museums, great shopping and other year-round pursuits. So while Mother Nature can serve as your guide, she shouldn’t be the only factor you consider. The state also encompasses many different landscapes, and it’s vital to keep in mind that the weather varies greatly depending on location — for instance, temperatures may be spiking in Denver while some mountainous regions are still covered in snow.
Plan your next trip to Colorado trip with our seasonal breakdown of the best activities and festivals throughout the year.
June to August is the best time for getting outdoors
Whatever your sport of choice, you can probably do it in Colorado in the summer. Hiking, mountain biking, whitewater rafting, stand-up paddle boarding, fly fishing, road cycling, camping and birdwatching are just some of the many outdoor pursuits you’ll find here between June and August – all set against a stunning natural backdrop, of course.
Tons of celebratory festivals – ranging from the Palisade Peach Festival to the Vail Wine Classic – take place primarily outdoors between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Summer is also wildflower season in Colorado, with vivid red paintbrushes, delicate lavender-and-white columbines, and bold purple penstemons putting on a colorful display. And if you’re hoping to bag a “fourteener” – Colorado-speak for hiking to the top of a 14,000-foot mountain – late summer is also your best bet.
Summer weather varies greatly throughout the state. On the often-overlooked Eastern Plains – the flat part of the state that shares a border with Nebraska and Kansas – temperatures are usually in the upper 80s and low 90s, with occasional spikes into the low 100s. The same is generally true for the communities along the Front Range, like Colorado Springs, Denver and Fort Collins, as well as cities on the Western Slope, like Grand Junction. Though there isn’t as much humidity as in other parts of the country, summers can still be very hot at lower elevations in Colorado.
In the Rocky Mountains, however, it’s a different story altogether. If you visit mountain towns like Aspen, Vail, Breckenridge and Silverthorne between June and August, you’ll experience blissfully cool temperatures in the 60s and 70s. That’s a big reason why many Denver metro-area residents head up to higher elevations once the weather heats up. So, while summers in the mountains are amazing, they also come with bigger crowds, more expensive accommodations and other ripple effects of peak tourism.
September to October is the best time for fall foliage
If you love to go leaf-peeping, there’s no better place to be than the Colorado Rockies in autumn. From September through October, the normally lime-green leaves of aspen trees transform into a rich, golden-yellow hue. They stand in stark contrast to the deep green shades of pine, spruce, fir and other evergreen trees, which creates a gorgeous spectacle. Some of the best places for viewing Colorado’s spectacular fall foliage are the Peak to Peak Highway, Kenosha Pass and Buffalo Pass, to name a few.
Autumn is also harvest season for Colorado’s many hardworking fruit growers, especially those who specialize in apples and wine grapes. You can get in on the action yourself by visiting one of the many family-friendly “u-pick” orchards located around the state, with a high concentration near Palisade, Grand Junction and Paonia on the Western Slope. Pumpkin patches, corn mazes and fall festivals, like Applefest in Cedaredge, are also abundant this time of year.
Fall has historically been one of two shoulder seasons in Colorado, but mountain towns can still get busy during peak fall foliage season, especially on the weekends. Overall, though, you’ll find fewer crowds and cheaper lodging options throughout the state in September and October.
Temperatures are fairly warm in September, then really start to drop off in October. In the Denver metro area, they can even dip into the 30s in October. And in the mountains, they can range from the mid-20s to the mid-50s. Dress in layers, and be prepared for substantial swings between sunny days and cool nights.
December to March are the best times for skiing and snowy adventures
Colorado ski slopes beckon from December to March. The state is home to more than 25 different resorts, which range from big, well-known spots like Vail Ski Resort to lesser-known, smaller operations like Sunlight Mountain Ski Resort and Granby Ranch.
For non-skiers, there’s still plenty to do in the winter, from high-adrenaline pursuits like snowmobiling to more mellow excursions like snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Many mountain town hotels have large, upscale spas, which are the perfect place to stay warm on a chilly day. And if your idea of a vacation involves cozying up in front of a roaring fireplace with a good book, you’ll find plenty of places to do that in Colorado in the winter, too.
The snowy landscape also creates some pretty magical dining experiences. For example, to indulge in a five-course meal at Beano’s Cabin, located at Beaver Creek Resort, you’ll need to climb aboard a sleigh pulled by a snowcat (a big, industrial vehicle typically used to move snow) and take a ride under the stars. In Aspen, diners must cross-country ski, snowshoe or ride in a horse-drawn sleigh to reach Pine Creek Cookhouse.
Winter is also an ideal time for wildlife viewing, particularly birds, which are easier to see because of the lack of foliage on many trees. Bald eagles congregate at Barr Lake State Park, snow geese flock to Lamar and waterfowl throughout the state are wearing their most colorful plumage to attract mates. In February and March, roughly 20,000 sandhill cranes arrive in the San Luis Valley, near Monte Vista and Alamosa, as they migrate north.
In the mountains, winter means peak tourism in Colorado, so prepare to spend a lot of money on a ski-centric vacation. But if you visit nearly anywhere else in the state, you’ll have a much more relaxed, affordable experience. While everyone else is shredding powder in the mountains, head to attractions that are typically crowded in the summer, like the Garden of the Gods. The red rock formations look especially striking when they’re covered with a light dusting of snow — and you won’t be elbowing anyone else for the best view. Rocky Mountain National Park – the fourth most-visited national park in the country – is also much less busy in the winter, and there’s still plenty to do and see.
April and May are the best months for budget travelers
Ski season often extends into April (and, during particularly good snow years, even into May and June). But, for the most part, ski tourism tends to start winding down in the spring. As such, it’s a great time to visit Colorado if you’re on a budget.
In the mountains, you’ll be able to catch the tail end of spring skiing, when the days are longer, the weather is typically sunny (punctuated by occasional big dumps of snow), and the mood is lively and fun. And, at this point in the season, most travelers have moved on, so you’ll be sharing the slopes primarily with Colorado residents. You can usually find more affordable lodging rates during this time, too – though be forewarned that during “mud season,” many restaurants and businesses close up shop for a few weeks to recuperate after the busy winter.
Though hiking trails in the mountains are muddy or still covered in snow, you’ll find plenty of spots to get out and stretch your legs at lower elevations. Spring can be quite rainy, so it’s also an ideal time to wander through a museum, spend an afternoon at a craft brewery or go shopping. Or plan a trip to one of Colorado’s two wine regions – the Grand Valley American Viticultural Area and the West Elks American Viticultural Area, both in the Western part of the state – and sample reds, whites and rosés made from high-elevation grapes.