Summer fading to fall in Breckenridge, ColoradoAaron Dodds
It's no secret that one of the vacationing trends of the pandemic has been a surge in "safe" domestic travel via the great open road. Some have opted for multi-week cross-country excursions, while others have simply taken refuge in a weekend escape to that nearby town they've always overlooked. This summer, our family also opted for a few old-school family road trips. Our primary goal? Anywhere we could find beauty, culture, and some good family fun. But I selfishly made sure we put a heavy focus on food and beverage. Our first excursion was a short weekend getaway to San Antonio. But our furthest venture found us in the Rocky Mountain splendor of Breckenridge, Colorado.
A former nineteenth-century haven for gold and silver prospectors, today, the fortune most people find in Breckenridge includes idyllic mountain grandeur, looming pine and aspen trees, and perpetually blue skies. Sitting high at 9,600 feet above sea level, this charming little town not only serves as a popular destination for intrepid alpine adventurers but as a convenient weekend escape for Denver locals who can make the drive in less than two hours.
The Blue River flows through Breckenridge on a crisp fall day.getty
Though many flock here for winter skiing and snowboarding, summer, and early fall are ideal for hiking, fishing, and casually strolling the historic old town charm of Main Street. Though I've personally enjoyed a few turns on the slopes during ski season, I've always been partial to the warmer seasons in Breckenridge. Growing up in Texas, this was one of our favorite spots to vacation to escape the summer heat, and this year was no exception.
This is a casual mountain town where function takes priority during the day, and jeans are acceptable for the nicest dinners. Word to the wise, even in warmer months, it's always wise to dress in layers and keep a light rain jacket handy for afternoon showers. One other handy pro tip: If you're from lower elevations, which is pretty much everyone, start hydrating with plenty of water a few days before your trip, and plan to drink 2-3 liters of water during your stay. (Altitude sickness is no joke.) Speaking of which, take it easy on the alcohol, though there are plenty of enticing local wines, beer, and spirits to imbibe, one drink can quickly feel like two.
Unlike the quintessential ski village environment you find at resorts such as Beaver Creek, Vail, and Snowmass, Breckenridge is built up around the historic town. Aside from Main Street, the best way to orient yourself is to look to the mountains, particularly the main ski mountain to the west behind the town. You'll notice five primary peaks marked by prominent ski runs. Running from left to right, they are Peak 10, Peak 9, Peak 8, Peak 7, and Peak 6. Many of these peaks have restaurants, restrooms, and some lodging making them ideal for ski-in, ski-out opportunities during the winter season. But it's also a great way to find a little peace and quiet away from town during the warmer months.
Breckenridge is the perfect place to enjoy the great outdoors.Breckenridge Tourism
Where to Stay
We opted for one of the newest lodges at the base of Peak 8, the Grand Colorado. Nestled in a grove of pine trees along the mountainside, this new three-building lodge balances modern mountain elegance with natural elements such as stone fireplaces and sleek timbered accents.
The location is just steps to the new Colorado SuperChair in the winter and the Breck Summer Fun Park in the summer. Similar to a time-share, the Grand Colorado offers fractional-real estate opportunities for those that want to secure premium space during the high seasons but without the responsibility of property ownership or maintenance.
Each of our rooms was outfitted with spacious king-sized beds with pillowy luxe linens and airy, well-appointed en suite bathrooms. (Adjoining balconies were also a plus.) The master suite offered a spacious kitchen and dining area and a broad living room with a gas-powered stone fireplace and massive flatscreen TV as the focal point.
Guests can enjoy two separate aquatics areas with heated indoor and outdoor pools and hot tubs, three onsite lounge, bar, and dining options, a private movie theater, a reservation-only "escape room" experience, and an array of organized activities for children of all ages. (We opted for the kitchen challenge kit to judge the culinary creations of our kids as well as the DIY stuffed animal kit resulting in a fluffy new fox and teddy bear addition to our family.)
There are endless options for wining and dining in Breckenridge.Breckenridge Tourism
Wine and Spirits
Colorado has long been associated with craft beer production, but wine and spirits have also successfully emerged in recent years. If you're even the slightest bit curious, you won't have to go far to try a few of these local productions in Breckenridge. At the Continental Divide Winery, wine is produced in nearby FairPlay from grapes grown in Colorado's western grape-growing region, The Grand Valley. At more than 10,000 feet, the winery is considered one of the highest altitude wineries in the world. More importantly, the wine is good, too. Try the Riesling and Merlot. Denver-based Carboy Winery has a Breckenridge location along Main Street, offering a selection of international wines as well as a line of Colorado-grown wines such as Albariño and Cabernet Franc. Added bonus, not only can you purchase wines by the bottle, but also in a one-liter refillable Carboy growler fresh from the tap. If you're looking for a well-curated selection of wines from around the world, step into Ridge Street Wine and Chocolate. This quaint side-street locale serves a wide selection of wine by the bottle and by the glass, along with specialty cheeses and chocolates.
For craft spirits, look no further than Breckenridge Distillery, where whiskey, bourbon, gin, and vodka are all on offer. Those who want to dive deeper into the process can opt for the Founder's Lab Blending Experience, which allows participants to smell, taste, and savor single whiskey selections before crafting a unique, personalized blend to take home with them.
Be sure to book a table at the adjoining restaurant where Chef David Burke offers a well-appointed seasonal menu with everything from pan-seared salmon with asparagus and chilled pea broth to dry-aged steaks and rich Osso Bucco with buttered egg noodles and roasted mushrooms. The kitchen's bold flavors are paired with spirit flights and an exceptional cocktail menu. Favorite dishes range from house-made pasta to Chef Burke's patented 40-day dry-age steaks. Tours and tastings are scheduled daily on Airport Road, and an outdoor space features games, BBQ lunch, and patio bar featuring crafted porch pounders perfect for those sweet, summer, Colorado-starlit nights.
Where to Eat
You'll find an abundance of places to eat in Breckenridge; the question is, what are you in the mood for? For fast and healthy breakfast and lunch options, check out the vegan menu at Semplice or the sizable farm-fresh offerings at Amazing Grace. Coffee and breakfast burritos at Cool River Coffee House Cafe make for a great way to start the day, and if you're looking for an afternoon nibble, grab a perfectly curated cheese plate at The Cheese Shop or an early Happy Hour drink and Spanish Tapas at Mimos.
As for dinner options, my husband and I used to love grabbing a pizza from Giampietro's to enjoy on the mountain-view porch of our rental house. (If you ask me, this is still a solid option.) But these days, there are so many choices, it's hard not to explore as many as possible.
New York strip with creamed corn, porcini, and truffles at Rootstalk restaurant in Breckenridge.Jessica Dupuy
Dinner at this quaint little historic Victorian house on Main Street is an absolute must. Here, Summit County native Matt Vawter (formerly of Denver's Fruition and Mercantile restaurants) helms the kitchen offering an impressive coursed menu of local, seasonal ingredients such as goat cheese agnolotti with nectarines and pistachios, and New York strip with creamed corn, porcini, and truffles. You can also order single dishes from the menu, such as pork and veal bolognese and rigatoni—a comforting bowl of goodness. It's important to note that the wine and cocktail menu are well-appointed and expertly executed.
Aurum Food Wine
An absolute gem on Ridge Street with a bright and airy cabin-like feel. The seasonally shaped menu places emphasis on Colorado-sourced ingredients from local farms and purveyors. We loved the crispy curried cauliflower to start. Kid-sized steaks were perfectly cooked to medium-rare with crunchy green beans and creamy mashed potatoes. Striped bass over creamy risotto with seasonal veggies and citrus was a deliciously light dish accented by a glass of Cinsault from Colorado-based Buckel Family Wine.
Seasonal Palisade peach, blue cheese, and prosciutto pizza at Tin Plate in BreckenridgeJessica Dupuy
Located in a 138-year-old mining cabin in Breckenridge's prized Historic District, Tin Plate is an upscale pizza restaurant specializing in quality ingredients, elevated spirits, and local beers. The building was once the town's gold assayer in 1887 and is where Colorado's largest gold nugget, colloquially named "Tom's Baby," was cleaned and weighed at 13.5 pounds.
We nabbed a sunny spot by the window and placed an order for spicy olives and homemade bread and butter while we narrowed down our pizza selections: classic pepperoni, fresh Margherita, and a special And the best part, the crust. Crisp on the outside, tender on the inside with a touch of pleasant chewiness. We washed it down with a tart and fruity glass of Lambrusco before opting for a Snickerdoodle from the adjoining cookie stand.
What to Do
From Peak 8, you can take the BreckConnect Gondola to get into town, a nice alternative to driving. (Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.) As you're riding down, note the Cucumber Gulch Wildlife Preserve located right after the Peak 7 station stop. Here, 77 acres of wetlands provide vital habitat for the state-endangered boreal toad along with moose, elk, deer, mountain lion, beaver, and over forty-seven species of birds.
Stroll the myriad restaurants, gear shops, boutiques, gift shops, and toy and candy stores along Main Street, including The Mountain Goat Clothing Co., Magical Scraps, and Belvidere and Hern. On Sunday's forage a feast at the seasonal Sunday Farmers Market (open until 2 p.m. throughout the summer and fall).
Epic Discovery at Peak 8
We took advantage of the summer activities on Peak 8 at Epic Discovery and spent a day enjoying some of their family-friendly activities. You can ride the Alpine Slide, Gold Runner Coaster, or the Colorado SuperChair to access the Alpineer Challenge Course and Gold Summit Climbing Wall. Note: Epic Discovery Summer Activities last through September 12. But if you missed it this year, there's always next summer to look forward to!
Learning to fly fish with Mountain Anglers outside of Breckenridge.Jessica Dupuy
Fly Fishing with Mountain Anglers
Fly fishing is a favorite pastime in our family, and a trip to Breckenridge, which is home to a plethora of fishable streams and rivers, isn't complete without making a few casts and getting a line wet. The best way to find local fishing hot spots is to book an expert fishing guide. In Breckenridge, Mountain Anglers is the place to trust. First-timers can book a half-day experience to learn the basics of casting, setting the hook, and releasing your catch safely back to the water. More experienced anglers can book a full-day float or wading trip from any of the region's nearby streams or rivers. We booked a full-day wade trip for the adults and a half-day of casting instruction for our ten-year-old. (Ask for Anthony, you won't be sorry.) Note: All anglers 16 years or older must purchase a Colorado Fishing License before trip departure. Mountain Anglers recommends purchasing an online license the day before the trip.
Hiking the trails around Breckenridge.Tomas Cohen Photography
Sallie Barber Mine
Take A Hike (literally), and learn a little history at the Sallie Barber Mine. One of the area's oldest silver mines. During World War II, when gold mining was shut down as "nonessential" to the war effort, the Sallie Barber continued to operate, pulling lead and zinc from the deep shaft. Ample signs placed around the site explain the mine's history, the many steam boilers on site, and the views from the tailings pile. Sallie Barber Road is closed to motorized vehicles and offers excellent views along the trail as you make your way to the historic sites. The hike is about 5.5 miles round trip.
Meet the town troll, Isak Heartstone, along the Trollstigen Trail. Located a short 10-minute walk from downtown, the large, 15-foot wooden troll sculpture was created by Danish artist Thomas Dambo who specializes in making imaginative art pieces from recycled materials. Originally built as part of the annual Breckenridge International Festival of Arts, Isak makes up the 30+ public art pieces located in and around Breckenridge, easily explored by a Public Art + Arts District Audio Tour.
Petting one of the huskies of the Good Times Adventures teamJessica Dupuy
Kennel Tour with Good Times Adventures
As a family of dog lovers, the Good Times Adventures husky kennel tour was a highlight of the trip. Full of furry petting and plenty of happy puppy kisses, this hour-long walking tour of the kennel allows you to meet many of the 140+ huskies the organization trains and works for a full-scale sledding operation. Following the tour, you can enjoy a ride through the mountain landscape pulled by one of the dog teams. Though most of the season centers around the winter months, where dog teams are hooked up to traditional snow sleds, Good Times has rigged a fun summer-time option hooking the dogs up to a golf cart, which helps give them a little extra help during the warmer months. Word to the wise: Wear pants and close-toed shoes, and expect to get a little dirty from all the puppy love.
Transitioning to the fall, the town has a few festive events worth syncing up with. From September 16-19, the Breckenridge Wine Classic offers education, quality food, and wines from vineyards around the world amidst the height of Breckenridge's colorful foliage season.
Brecktoberfest is scheduled to happen this fall.Breckenridge Tourism
Brecktoberfest is just a few days later, from September 24-26. With the world's largest folk festival in Munich still on pandemic hold, the Breckenridge community will host a downsized Oktoberfest-themed, intimate experience featuring fall-themed beers at the Riverwalk Center. Tickets include a reserved three-hour session, one half-liter stein, and two beer tokens.
Travel note: As the COVID-19 virus continues to be a health concern across the country, be sure to check GoBreck.com before arriving in Breckenridge to ensure you are prepared as travel guidance changes rapidly.