Summer's the season when tourists head en masse to Cañon City to play daredevil on (or under) the famous Royal Gorge Bridge. They come to drive across it, or raft under it, to ogle and take pictures and then move on.
But during December, the town takes a break from pleasing tourists and takes a turn at just being itself.
Holiday lights sparkle in shop windows beneath the stark Sangre de Cristo Mountains, and garlands festoon street-lamps on old-timey Main Street, where cultures converge: Outdoorsy residents and local cowpokes stroll these sidewalks and nod their hellos.
From Denver, take I-25 to exit 140 and follow State 115 south, then U.S. 50 west into Cañon City.
Hadley's Western Wear. The horse statue above the door clues you in to the cowhand theme; inside, browse western shirts, rhinestone belts, and boots made just for walkin'. INFO: Closed Sun; 502 Main St.; 719/275-9512.
R.S.V.P. Holiday displays crowd the windows of the home decor and kitchen shop. The old-fashioned ribbon candy makes a fun stocking stuffer. INFO: Closed Sun; 515 Main St.; 719/275-0294.
Widom Art Gallery. Portraits and nature-inspired paintings by Dianne Widom, displayed in a former candy shop with original tin ceiling. INFO: Closed Sun-Mon; 418 Main St.; 719/276-0115.EAT
Le Petit Chablis. Chalkboards describe the daily menu at the French restaurant, which serves steaming French onion soup, choucroute, and other classics in a restored Victorian home. INFO: $$$; closed Sun-Mon; reservations required; 512 Royal Gorge Blvd.; 719/269-3333.
Varsity Malt Shop. Slide into a red vinyl booth and savor classic malts and burgers in the flashy '50s-style diner. INFO: $; closed Sun; 415 Main St.; 719/276-9230.
The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey. Sample Merlot and Riesling, the wine-maker's favorites, in a tasting room built in 1924, and shop for gastronomical gifts. INFO: Free tastings; 3011 East U.S. 50; 877/422-9463.
HAPPENING IN DECEMBER
In addition to elegant dinner trips through the rugged Royal Gorge, the historic Royal Gorge Route Railroad runs the kid-friendly Santa Express Train (12:30 p.m. Dec 15-24 with St. Nick, Dec 26-31 without; from $30, from $10 ages 12 and under; 401 Water St.; 888/724-5748).
Jewel of the Canyons Bed and Breakfast. (3 rooms from $89; 866/875-0378) has original stained-glass windows and rooms furnished with storied antiques; book the Red Rocks Canyon Suite, with a private fireplace.