By Brian Schott, courtesy Whitefish CVB
Published July 08, 2014
No matter, spring, summer or fall — the Rockies welcome your group with world-class outdoor activities.
Hiking, jeep tours and wildlife viewing are the order of the day during warmer months; winter brings abundant skiing and snowshoeing. The golden hue of autumn beckons those who enjoy a quieter season of scenery and transition.
Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes Park and Denver remain perennial favorites. And a journey on the spectacular Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad spans Colorado and New Mexico. Farther west, Glacier National Park’s scenery and wildlife rank as some of the nation’s most stunning, and the mountain town of Whitefish, Montana, makes a terrific hub for groups touring the area. Yellowstone National Park preserves the majority of the world’s geysers. In winter, Ogden Valley, Utah’s smaller crowds, fabulous snow and relaxed vibe attract groups that prefer to ski.
Always popular, Rocky Mountain National Park and the surrounding area have it all: sophistication, nature and plenty to do. Trendy Denver sits at the base of the Colorado Rockies. This not-to-be-missed gateway to the mountains boasts fabulous museums and first-Friday art crawls. A thriving culinary scene and numerous brew pubs roll out the welcome mat just 65 miles southeast of Estes Park.
Adjacent to Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes Park has recovered from the flood damage of September 2013. Groups can take jeep rides, historic trolley tours, guided hikes and wildlife-viewing expeditions. The Estes Park Events Complex, which opened in June, hosts a wide variety of events, including rodeos and car shows.
“Another must-do is scenic Trail Ridge Road that can be navigated by motorcoach or jeep,” said Brooke Burnham, director of communications and public relations for Visit Estes Park. “Each open-air jeep holds about 10 to 15 people, and the guides are very knowledgeable.”
Estes Park Historic Tours began operating in April. Tours were developed and scripted by a local historian and run four times daily on two antique trolleys. The journey through town highlights the original Estes homestead, the Stanley Hotel and the MacGregor Ranch, the area’s last remaining working cattle ranch.
The Rocky Mountain Nature Association announced several new 2014 seminars, all aimed at highlighting nature that’s native to the area. Most classes include an in-the-park component that covers biology, geology and history. New adventures include “Escape to Bear Lake: An Educational Adventure” and “Secret Places in Rocky Mountain National Park.”
Glacier National Park
Montana’s Glacier National Park is a veritable ecological wonder, with 25 glaciers, 1,000 species of plants, grizzly and black bears, mountain goats, bighorn sheep and moose. Naturalist programs feature fireside talks, hikes and boat cruises. Groups can learn the history of the glaciated landscapes, mountain peaks and varied climate zones.
The park’s highlight, Going-to-the-Sun Road, is a National Historic Landmark built in the 1920s and 1930s. It slices through the park’s wild interior for 50 miles. In spring and autumn, the road closes to vehicles and opens to bikers and walkers. During winter, it beckons cross-country skiers and snowshoeing enthusiasts.
“Groups can travel the road by a narrated ‘jammer’ red bus, whose canvas roof folds down in good weather,” said Brian Schott, communications manager for Whitefish Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Drivers are incredibly knowledgeable and stop along the way for photos.”
Just 25 miles from Glacier National Park, Whitefish offers great shopping, award-winning cuisine and a lively performing arts and culture scene. Tuesdays during the summer, the Downtown Farmers Market pulses with live music and 150 vendors selling local products.
Whitefish Mountain Resort’s summer chairlifts and enclosed gondolas whisk groups to the 7,000-foot summit of Big Mountain. At the mountain’s base, Walk in the Treetops follows a boardwalk that in some places is suspended 70 feet above the forest floor. A zip line and an alpine slide satisfy those with a need for speed. Golfers will want to head to Whitefish’s 36-hole golf complex, which offers exceptional views; the historic 1936 Whitefish Lake Restaurant sits next to the first-tee box.
Yellowstone National Park
In the northwestern corner of Wyoming, Yellowstone National Park has more than 10,000 hydrothermal, water and heat features within its borders. Groups that visit will find abundant wildlife: eagles, grizzly bears, wolves and herds of bison and elk. And the legendary Old Faithful geyser erupts every 88 minutes, give or take a few.
Iconic Old Faithful Inn embodies the spirit of a classic park lodge. Outside its entrance, a boardwalk leads to the famous geyser. Additional boardwalks go to Upper, Mid and Lower Geyser Basins, which support an astounding number of thermal features. The new Old Faithful Visitor Education Center focuses on the park’s geysers, hot springs, and paint and mud pots.
The Canyon area also boasts a new visitors center and state-of-the-art exhibits covering geology. Canyon Village offers wonderful cabins set in trees. North Rim Drive leads to Inspiration Point and other lookouts around the canyon rim. Clear Lake Loop Trail accesses backcountry thermal features fairly easily and ends at Artist’s Point. The lookout has been reconstructed in the last several years. It remains one of the most photographed spots in Yellowstone.
“One mistake many visitors make is their failure to hike,” said Al Nash, Yellowstone National Park spokesperson. “Many easy trails simply require a water bottle and decent shoes. It’s a Yellowstone experience that few take advantage of; they never get off the boardwalks.”
During the early morning or at dusk, groups will want to visit Hayden and Lamar valleys for wildlife watching. Coyotes and herds of buffalo roam the area, bears make an appearance, and bald eagles fish in the rivers.
Ogden Valley, Utah
Tucked into the Wasatch Mountains 55 miles north of Salt Lake City, Ogden Valley boasts three distinct skiing options. The simple Powder Mountain and the ultra-chic Snowbasin sit roughly 30 minutes apart. Sandwiched between, Nordic Valley Ski Resort makes a perfect beginner’s spot.
“The nearby city of Ogden isn’t merely a ski town,” said Rich Koski, director of sales for Visit Ogden. “It’s got Historic 25th Street and the Salomon Center, with indoor skydiving, climbing and surfing. Plus Utah Transit Authority runs a ski bus that goes to Powder Mountain and Snowbasin and picks up at the hotels.”
At Powder Mountain, skiing is a simple and pure experience: no hype, no bravado. The mountain features miles of powder and is surrounded by an almost surreal silence. A rustic lodge offers one simple cafeteria line and well-worn wooden furniture. The mountain boasts impressive stats by any standard: 113 runs of almost perfect white carved into 5,500 acres on three mountains, mostly intermediate to advanced. Powder Mountain’s 2,000 vertical feet make for good cruising and less daunting intermediate runs than at Snowbasin, which boasts another 1,000 vertical feet. The hardy can attack 1,200 acres of backcountry powder or 700 acres of Snowcat skiing.
State-of-the-art Snowbasin played host to the 2002 Winter Olympic downhill and super G slalom events. Snowbasin woos skiers with heated sidewalks and enclosed high-speed gondolas. The main stone lodge dazzles with six massive fireplaces, chandeliered dining rooms and miles of custom-weave English carpet. For those who prefer to combine skiing and lounging, seeing and being seen, this is the place. It’s easy to forget why you’ve come.
Up on the mountain, things turn a bit more serious with 2,960 vertical feet of ski slopes. Expert skiers can attempt the Olympic downhill courses and the Superpipe. There’s also room for beginners and intermediates on 53 runs. Five snow tubing lanes and 26 kilometers of groomed Nordic trails offer diversions from the slopes.
For one of the best learning hills around, Nordic Valley Ski Resort operates three chairlifts with a mere 1,000-foot vertical drop. Here, even beginners feel like pros. As skiers hop off the lift, Ogden Valley stretches out below. Hit the slopes at nightfall and, with luck, watch a full moon rise above the valley floor while you cruise down the mountain.