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Nighttime destinations in the mountains

Courtesy Santa Fe CVB

Sunset doesn’t have to be the end of a great travel day in the mountains.

Mountain destinations provide an escape from the hectic pace of life and invite visitors to slow down, breathe the fresh mountain air and enjoy majestic natural beauty. After the sun sets behind the peaks, nature goes quiet. But many of those mountain destinations also include thriving nightlife.

Here are some great mountain towns that offer activities for the night owls in your group.

—  Santa Fe, New Mexico  —
Santa Fe is a crossroads of Spanish and Native American culture sitting 7,000 feet above sea level. Those elements come together in the evening at El Farol, a restaurant where Spanish wine and cuisine are accompanied by live flamenco music and dancers.

After dinner, take in a concert or play at the Lensic Performing Arts Center, a restored 1920s theater that is home to several performing-arts events and organizations, including the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet and Pro Musica.

The Santa Fe Opera House is another entertainment option. Set on a mountain overlooking town, it is worth a visit for the architecture alone.

“The Opera House is an open-air venue, so at twilight, you can feel the mountain breeze sweep through,” said Jim Luttjohann, executive director of the Santa Fe Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Even if it rains, it is covered, so you stay dry. And there have been many instances where right at a dramatic point of the opera, you hear a thunder clap.”

During the summer, Santa Fe doesn’t get dark until quite late, but when the sun does set, stargazing opportunities abound. Santa Fe Mountain Adventures offers walking or driving stargazing tours to see constellations.

If you are looking to experience Native American culture, there are opportunities to experience traditional dance or a storytelling session at a local pueblo or one of the museums on Museum Hill: the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art or the Museum of International Folk Art.

—  Gatlinburg, Tennessee  —
In the picturesque Smoky Mountains, Gatlinburg’s outdoor activities and attractions are excellent during the day, but there is plenty to do at night.

“The evening is actually the best time to go to Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies since it can be really crowded in the morning,” said Jim Davis, public relations manager at the Gatlinburg Convention and Visitors Bureau. “The fish are the same, the shows are the same, the staff has more time to answer questions, and you don’t have to worry about being elbow to elbow at all of the exhibits.”

The strip along Parkway Street comes alive in the evening as the perfect place to people watch and shop. On Fridays and Saturdays during the summer, Smoky Mountain Tunes and Tales features six to 10 bluegrass bands out playing on the parkway, so visitors can sit and watch to get a taste of Southern Appalachian music.

Get a taste of what Smoky Mountain entertainment was like in the 1890s with a slapstick vaudeville show at Sweet Fanny Adams Theater and Music Hall. The show is a throwback to the music halls of old, with original productions and a cast that interacts with the crowd, so no two shows are the same.

—  Breckenridge, Colorado  —

When gold was discovered in the area in the 1850s, the story of Breckenridge was forever changed. The Gold Pan Saloon is a nod to the area’s storied history. Open since 1857, the Gold Pan Saloon is one of the oldest bars in the United States and features all sorts of music, from DJs to folk.

Breckenridge has a city-funded arts district that includes numerous renovated historic buildings, some of which were moved from other parts of the city recently to create this unique part of town. It’s a great place to stroll in the evening, and on the second Saturday of every month, there is an art gallery walk where groups can enjoy wine while viewing the work of local artists.

The Hearthstone is an intimate fine-dining restaurant located in the 125-year-old Kaiser House. For a more casual evening, Fatty’s Pizzeria offers pizza and pasta served in a historic hotel building.

“One unique activity in the winter is a dinner sleigh ride with Breckenridge Sleigh Rides,” said Jessica Lichtie, reservations manager at the Breckenridge Resort Chamber. “A horse-drawn sleigh pulls guests throughout the mountains, eventually taking them to a yurt, which is basically a big, climate-controlled tent in the mountains, and [there they can] have dinner and enjoy live guitar. It’s beautiful because you can see the lights of Breckenridge from up high.”

Backstage Theater is a small theater company, but it offers a wide array of shows, including “A Christmas Carol,” “Charlotte’s Web,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “The 39 Steps.”

Summer concerts in the area include the Breckenridge Music Festival, a concert that features the local orchestra performing with different bands throughout the summer. The National Repertory Orchestra has an annual concert series where young musicians come and stay for the summer and play concerts.