From Denver, head west on I-70, north on U.S. 40, then northeast on U.S. 34, past Lake Granby and Shadow Mountain Lake.
Why go now: This rustic antiresort town is all about snowy adventures—sleigh rides, snowmobiling, skating—and village charm.
On the map: It’s about 100 miles northwest of Denver on the western edge of Rocky Mountain National Park.
Main hub: Quaint Grand Lake Village, on the lake’s northern edge, is packed with galleries, shops, and restaurants. Park along Grand Avenue near the giant Christmas tree.
It really is grand: At 507 surface acres, this is the largest natural lake in Colorado.
Known for: The 1,000 acres of lakes and 11,000 acres of reservoirs that make the area especially popular in summer.
Not known for: Downhill skiing. Look up! “Mt. Baldy,” the nickname for the 12,000- foot Mt. Craig, is visible from any point in town.
How the locals get around: Snowmobiles legally share the road with cars. Rent one from On the Trail Rentals (1447 County Rd. 491; 970/627-0171), and get trail info from the Trail Blazers Snowmobile Club (gltrailblazers.com).
Where to warm up: Blue Water Bakery ($; lakeside on Garfield St.; 970/627-5416) has warm bread, soup, and sandwiches.
Dashing through the snow: Sleigh rides are the main draw at 160-acre Winding River Resort. Don’t let the horses’ hooves lull you to sleep or you’ll miss the snowcapped peaks and evergreen forests. Hot chocolate and a marshmallow roast top it off. 3 miles north of town at the end of County Rd. 491; windingriverresort.com.
Finally land that double axel: The basketball court at the center of town converts this month into a popular (and free!) ice rink. Speakers blast a holiday soundtrack to accompany your fi gure eights. Blue Water Bakery (see page 23), across the street, lends skates, or BYO. Next to the Grand Lake Community House, 1025 Grand Ave.
Check your list twice: You can get lost in Whispering Pine, one of Grand Avenue’s more impressive (and less hokey) gift shops, even if you’re not a Christmas zealot . Check out the posh yellow and orange leather purses, kids’ books, and best of all, wine bottles and martini glasses. 1116 Grand Ave.; 970/627-8010.
Stay for dinner: The Terrace Inn is a tiny white-tablecloth bistro with just a few tables but a big ol’ bar that takes up the rear wall. In a town not known for its cuisine, the Terrace stands out; order the grilled chicken with creamy Cajun sauce. $$$; closed Sun; 813 Grand Ave.; 970/627-3000.
Stick around for more snowy adventures
Explore the trails (1.5 miles from town): The Grand Lake Nordic Center has 20-plus miles of crosscountry- skiing trails, from the steep 1.2-mile Janice’s Jaunt to the more leisurely 3.1-mile Winter’s Way. (Several miles of trails are earmarked for dog walking too.) The snowy mountain views overlooking Arapaho National Forest and Rocky Mountain National Park are knockout. $12; 1415 County Rd. 48; 970/627-8008.
Take a winter dip (25 miles from town): The area’s best Continental Divide scenery is in Hot Sulphur Springs (pop. 521). Take it in at Hot Sulphur Springs Resort, where 16 indoor and outdoor pools reach 112°. Legend has it that hundreds of years ago, Utes and Arapahos named the springs “big medicine.” $18; 5609 County Rd. 20, Hot Sulphur Springs; 970/725-3306.
Hit the slopes (36 miles from town ): The ski town and resort of Winter Park is the perfect midpoint between hoity-toity Aspen and Vail and bare-bones Arapahoe Basin and Copper Mountain. The resort’s two mountains are mostly known for the treacherous moguls geared for black-diamond skiers, but there are beginners’ trails and a ski school for rookies too. winterparkresort.com
Make it a weekend: A onetime brothel that was built in 1915 , the Historic Rapids Lodge has the kind of homey rooms just right for playing board games all night by the fireplace. From $85; rapids lodge.com