5 Ski Towns That Bring Tons of Outdoorsy Fun—Snow Not Required

Rethink what you thought you knew about visiting your beloved mountain town.

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Breckenridge’s gondolas make the area’s natural spaces more accessible.

Photo by Nicholas Courtney/Shutterstock

While there’s a lot to love about skiing and snowboarding, there are loads of reasons to pooh-pooh the idea of visiting a ski town in the winter, ranging from not enjoying the sport to not wanting to pay sky-high lift ticket prices to simply not being keen on having cold (often wet) feet all day.

But ski towns don’t exist only when the snow is flying—they’re also underrated year-round destinations. Off-season visits mean access to incredible hiking and biking trails, world-class restaurants, fabulous breweries, and cheaper accommodations.

Read on for five seasonal locales that make for exceptional year-round destinations.

1. Breckenridge, Colorado

There’s a lot to love about Breckenridge. For starters, it’s one of the most accessible ski towns to get to in Colorado, being less than two hours’ drive from Denver International Airport. It’s also easy to get around—thanks to the free BreckConnect Gondola, the connection between mountain and town is seamless.

As far as things to do, Breckenridge is big on the outdoors—and helping visitors have meaningful experiences in them. If you’re looking for a vacation that focuses on self-care, spend some time at the Be Your Own Guru Wellness Center (which offers yoga sessions, tarot card readings, energy healing, and more) or take a SUP Yoga class with Bhava Yoga.

For a more outdoor-focused trip, you could spend the afternoon with Summit Nature Guides. This new nonprofit ecotour provider will take anyone on a free guided hike to nurture a fresh appreciation for our national forests. Or join a naturalist on a flora and fauna hike (also free). If you’re keen to work on your mountain biking skills, Rocky Mountain Underground offers weekly group rides and skills clinics, and Colorado Adventure Guides leads mountain bike tours, as well as co-ed and female-specific beginner and intermediate mountain bike courses. And whether you’re a novice or professional angler, you can wade into the nearby streams (and potentially sign up for a fly-fishing tour).

And when you’re ready for a nosh, consider a meal at “mountain Italian” eatery Radicato, pizzeria Tin Plate, or Mimo for tapas. Afterward, drink at Breckenridge Distillery and Breckenridge Brewery.

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Head to the Winner Creek Gorge Trail for a light excursion.

Photo by Nicole N/Shutterstock

2. Girdwood, Alaska

In the winter, Mount Alyeska has a reputation for being “steep and deep.” (It also contains the longest continuous double black diamond ski run in the nation.) But even without snow, those trails can get your blood pumping. One of Girdwood’s most popular hiking trails is a two-mile climb up the North Face of Alyeska. Those who make the ascent can enjoy a summit beer overlooking Turnagain arm at the Bore Tide Deli and Bar. (Pro tip: If you hike up, you can take the Aerial Tram down for free.) The chairlifts also stay open in the summer for those who want to mountain bike.

Alyeska is currently in phase two of three in opening its Nordic Spa, a hydrotherapy experience nestled in the woods. Now that it’s partially open, guests can oscillate between hot and cold pools, saunas, and steam rooms before wrapping up in the exfoliation cabin. There are also options to indulge in a 60-minute massage and participate in a yoga class.

Off-mountain, Girdwood has a variety of easier trails (like Winner Creek Trail, which is mostly flat and features a hand tram), an award-winning brewery, and oodles of inventive eateries. And with Girdwood as your base camp, it’s possible to visit other nearby attractions like Byron Glacier and the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. You can also take the Glacier Discovery Train to Whittier, where it’s possible to hop on a wildlife cruise into Prince William Sound or book a Sea-Doo tour out to a glacier.

3. Park City, Utah

Park City carries an International Mountain Bicycling Association–Certified Gold Level designation—one of only four destinations in the country with the distinction. There are more than 400 miles of trails open for mountain biking, and Park City Mountain Resort, Deer Valley Resort, and Woodward Park City maintain a mountain bike lift service.

Even if hurtling down a mountain on wheels isn’t your idea of a good time, Park City delivers in other ways. There’s the Utah Olympic Park, originally built for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. It’s still an important training ground for athletes, but there are opportunities for visitors to “touch the torch” with firsthand experiences like the summer bobsled track.

For those looking to get into nature with locals who know the way, All Seasons Adventures offers rafting, hiking, trap shooting, and fly-fishing trips. Alternatively, explore Utah’s stunning natural landscapes with Montage Expeditions, which offers day trips to Arches National Park and Zion National Park. Or take to the air with Bigfoot Hot Air Balloons—from its baskets, you can watch the sunrise over the Wasatch Mountains. And Uncharted Society also offers ATV tours that follow ridge lines to hidden lakes.

Utah’s first brewery, Wasatch Brewery, and first (legal) distillery, High West Distillery, both call Park City Home. The latter sits at the end of the Quittin’ Time Trail, making it a good spot to sip cocktails and nibble appetizers after a day of hiking in the hills.

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Reno Tahoe has plenty of outdoor beauty and quirky festivals to go around.

Photo by Clara Marie/Unsplash

4. Reno Tahoe

Sure, the Reno Tahoe area has the highest concentration of ski resorts in North America, but that doesn’t mean you won’t find worthwhile activities year-round. However, a healthy love of the outdoors is key—the area is known for its spectacular hiking and biking trails and easy access to water sports on Lake Tahoe, which straddles the California–Nevada border.

If you’re looking to spend time in nature, but aren’t sure where to start, give Sierra Adventures a call—its has experts in kayaking, rafting, biking, hiking, fishing, horseback riding, and more—to get set up with a guide, transportation, or gear rentals. For animal lovers, Sonny Boy Tours offers excursions to find wild horses in the Great Basin.

For art enthusiasts, Reno Tahoe is home to plenty of public art pieces. Art Spot Reno features guided and self-led art tours to see more than 100 murals and sculptures around the city. There’s also Sparks Art Walk, a curated collection of artwork displayed in downtown Sparks’ Victorian Square.

Quirky festivals in the area include the World Championship Outhouse Race. The yearly event (this past weekend was its 33rd iteration) dates back to when Virginia City outlawed outdoor plumbing in the 1940s, causing locals to take to the streets with their latrines. Now it’s a competition that sees costumed locals racing homemade outhouses—the first to cross the toilet paper finish line wins.

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Get your iconic shot on a visit to Maroon Lake.

Photo by Linda Armstrong/Shutterstock

5. Aspen, Colorado

Found in the celestial beauty of Roaring Fork Valley in the Rocky Mountains, Aspen (and its neighbor, Snowmass) is a vibrant place to visit year-round—especially if you like outdoor adventures, fine dining, and exciting art and culture scenes.

If you’re visiting in the summer, you’d be remiss not to hike out to Maroon Bells. Look for the spot where you can see the twin peaks (both of which are “14ers”), reflected in the nearby lake—it’s a popular place for outdoor photographers in Colorado.

For a less sweaty afternoon adventure, pop over to the Aspen Art Museum. Open since 2014, the museum contains three floors of gallery space. There’s no permanent collection, but expect innovative contemporary exhibits ranging from paintings and sculptures to mixed media and video installations. (There’s also a good café on the roof with views of the mountains.)

Downtown Aspen is famous for its range of boutiques and designer storefronts—there are more than 200 shops in all. Because this is the American West, we’d recommend stopping in Kemo Sabe, a western goods store known for its custom cowboy hats, boots, buckles, and more. Away from downtown, try renting an eBike and go for a 35-minute ride to explore Woody Creek Tavern, famous for its margaritas and connection to Hunter S. Thompson.

Bailey Berg is the associate travel news editor at AFAR, where she covers breaking news, trends, tips, sustainability, the outdoors, and more. When not interviewing sources or writing articles, she can be found exploring art galleries, visiting craft breweries, hiking with her dogs, and planning her next adventure (at present, she’s been to 75+ countries and hopes to spend time in every one someday).
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