By Beth Buehler
When considering Colorado for a group gathering, finding a destination that is attractive to attendees isn’t the problem, the issue is choosing just one. The Centennial State is filled with attractive options featuring a wide variety of landscapes; local vibes; and distinct venues, properties and activities. While it’s easy to find guidebooks that help pair leisure travel experiences and locales with individual preferences, it can be tougher when planning for a corporate, association, nonprofit or social group.
Taking a cue from the likes of Lonely Planet and Fodor’s, here is a look at top group travel destinations in Colorado by categories.
Thriving Cities – The dome of Colorado’s state capitol gilded in gold leaf has stood watch over Denver since 1894. The Capitol Hill district is just one of several thriving districts in The Mile High City along with the Theatre District, Golden Triangle Creative District, 16th Street Mall, Lower Downtown (LoDo), River North (RiNo), Lower Highlands (LoHi) and Cherry Creek North. Denver has truly come into its own over the past decade with an explosion of new hotels and marketplaces, a burgeoning culinary scene, and all sorts of great venues joining an already strong collection of options including Colorado’s largest convention center.
Plus, all the towns that make up the Denver metropolitan area like Aurora, Broomfield, Littleton, Westminster and more are finding their own solid place in the meetings and events world.
South of Denver, the scene also is playing itself out in Colorado Springs, the state’s second largest city. Fly groups into Colorado Springs Airport or nearby Denver International Airport to access amazing resorts with everything groups can need or want in one place or full-service hotels with downtown or other convenient locations and find all sorts of unique in the form of top-notch microbreweries, a money museum, America’s only mountain zoo, the U.S. Olympic Training Center and more.
Ranking ninth in population and located only 40 minutes from Colorado Springs, Pueblo is located at the confluence of the Arkansas River and Fountain Creek and has a variety of meeting and event facilities, including the Pueblo Convention Center. The Historic Arkansas Riverwalk shouldn’t be missed or pair a gathering with annual events such as the Colorado State Fair, Chili Festival and movies in the park.
Front Range Fun – Just like Colorado’s ski towns are each distinct, so are the Front Range towns of Boulder, Fort Collins, Loveland, Longmont and Greeley. The three largest state universities are in Boulder, Fort Collins and Greeley, providing college town flair and a whole range of meeting and event space at these institutions, which also is the case at public and private institutions of higher learning in towns like Denver, Colorado Springs, Durango, Gunnison and Grand Junction.
Boulder has new hotels in recent months, provides easy access to mountains for day hikes and bike rides, offers a handy Boulder Beer Trail map that also includes wineries and distilleries, and has been successful in structuring walking conferences (those that incorporate various hotels and venues instead of just one), especially those centered around the dynamic Pearl Street Mall area.
Fort Collins introduced a new football stadium for the Colorado State University Rams last fall and also is going big where the music scene is concerned. Like Boulder, a vibrant downtown district will catch attendees’ attention, and there are all sorts of options for a group dine-around and tour of local microbreweries.
Loveland, Greeley and Longmont also are part of this dynamic Front Range mix, with Loveland and Greeley having high-quality fairground complexes as well as other unique places to gather such as sculpture gardens, distilleries and rodeo grounds. Longmont recently added Wild Game Entertainment Experience and has two of my favorites, the Beer Hop Trolley and cheese-making classes.
Ski Town Charm – Colorado’s ski towns have earned the state an international reputation and most have become year-round destinations with summer visitation now eclipsing winter in places like Crested Butte, Telluride and Aspen. A good way to sort through the options is taking a look at community personality, geographic location in the state, transportation options, budget, and capacity of lodging properties, meeting/event venues and outfitters to host the size of group you are bringing.
Don’t write off a ski town just because there isn’t one place that can host everyone, as properties located in ski towns like Vail and Aspen have become masters at hosting “walking conferences” that involve short walks or rides between hotels and venues.
If you are looking for historic charm, head for Breckenridge, Aspen, Steamboat Springs, Telluride and Crested Butte. Beaver Creek, Vail and Snowmass are newer to the scene but have earned their international appeal, and Copper Mountain, Keystone and Winter Park offer all sorts of activity options as well as the best proximity to Denver.
More Mountain Majesty – Colorado has several other mountain towns that are big on charm, rich in history, and offer their own distinct attractions like national parks, guest ranches, hot springs and more. Estes Park continues to expand its capacity to host larger groups and is within easy reach of all sorts of Front Range towns. Estes Park along with Grand Lake are gateways to Rocky Mountain National Park.
Hot springs and amazing rivers for rafting, kayaking and fishing aren’t all that define communities like Glenwood Springs, Pagosa Springs, Buena Vista and Salida, but they provide options attendees will love outside the four walls of meeting rooms. Golden is on the fringe of Denver but stands on its own in the area of small town charm and as the longtime home of Coors, while Black Hawk is ideal for groups seeking casino/resort experience for multiple days or a day trip.
If solitude and the spirit of the West is a better fit, head for Grand County, home to not only Winter Park but towns like Granby and Tabernash that have some of the state’s best high-end guest ranches and the YMCA of the Rockies’ spacious Snow Mountain Ranch with various types and price levels of lodging and gathering space. YMCA of the Rockies also has a location in Estes Park.
In the beautiful southwest corner of Colorado is Durango with one of the state’s most vibrant downtowns, a variety of distinct historic and riverside lodging properties suitable for groups, Fort Lewis College, Purgatory ski resort and the iconic Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.
Western Slope Wonders – For a completely different Colorado experience, head to the Western Slope, which is vineyard and orchard country and the location of several excellent golf courses, natural wonders like the Grand Mesa and all sorts of hiking, biking and horseback riding trails. Grand Junction and Palisade, both just off Interstate 70, form the heart of this agricultural mecca and wilderness that still serves as home to wild horses and boasts several great properties. Head south along Highway 50 to find a true gem in Gateway Canyons Resort & Spa in tiny but spectacular Gateway, Colorado.
Once you understand the types of destinations Colorado offers and a bit about geography, the next step is to determine if the potential destinations selected have lodging properties, meeting and event space, activities and experience suitable for your size of group. There is an easy online RFP process on Destination Colorado’s website to get the ball rolling, plus seek out local destination marketing organizations (DMOs) and destination management companies (DMCs) to narrow the options down fairly quickly.
Colorado is blessed with so many different options that planners can keeping returning to the same destinations and experience something different each time or rotate meetings around the state for meetings and events that are both rich in content and Colorado charm.
Beth Buehler is editor of Colorado Meetings + Events and Mountain Meetings magazines, has planned numerous meetings and events and enjoys exploring Colorado in all seasons.