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Colorado’s Off-the-Radar Attractions for Meetings & Events

By Beth Buehler

Photo: Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad (Yavonne Lashmett)

In a recent “Top 10 Meeting Trends for 2018” released by Benchmark, one of the top things meeting and event planners look for is off-the-radar attractions and activities in local destinations. Today’s groups like to get off property for at least a few hours to explore the unique aspects of the place where they are gathering, and Colorado has plenty to offer in this category! As a bonus, we paired places to stay with distinct experiences.

Western Slope Wonders

Vineyards, orchards and significant natural beauty are hallmarks of Colorado’s Western Slope. An award-winning winery with a chateau, a recreation trail along rivers, a cidery and quaint inns are just a few chapters of a big story.

Head out to the beautiful Two Rivers Winery & Chateau in Grand Junction to soak in the scenic beauty of Colorado National Monument and the surrounding vineyards and orchards, taste great wines, and learn about the winemaking process. End the day with a winemaker’s dinner paired with a selection of Two Rivers Winery’s award-winning wines. Small groups can even stay on-site in the chateau’s guest rooms and utilize the indoor and outdoor meeting and event space.

Photo: Chateau at Two Rivers Winery in Grand Junction

After a successful day of meetings at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Grand Junction, rent bikes and take a leisurely ride along the nearby One Riverfront Trail that celebrates and preserves the cottonwood groves, wetlands, cattail marshes, gravel bars and islands of the Colorado and Gunnison rivers. Choose from five distinct sections or tackle the 60-mile round trip.

Photo: One Riverfront Trail in Grand Junction

Paonia is a community made vibrant by resident artists, agriculturists and foodies. Delicious Orchards, home of Big B’s Juices and Hard Ciders, has a tasting room, farm store selling local organic products, and cafe serving food made from local ingredients. During growing season, guests can pick organic cherries, pears, peaches and apples from the orchards. Also plan a stop at Azura Cellars and Gallery to view contemporary fine art created by Helen and Ty Gillespie, taste handcrafted wine available only at the winery and soak in the amazing views.

Photo: Big B's Hard Cider in Paonia

Also book the historic Bross Hotel Bed & Breakfast with 10 guest rooms and memorable gathering spaces in town, and the secluded Wisehart Springs Inn located on 40 acres. The inn is a sublime place to host a dinner or reception, with the main hall comfortably seating 70 and opening onto an outdoor seating area that overlooks the North Fork Valley. The property features handmade furniture, artisan-crafted stone and woodwork, and distinct round rooms, and the entire upper floor — with three bedrooms and bathrooms, two sitting areas and an outdoor deck — can be reserved for overnight guests.

Photo: Bross Hotel in Paonia

Mountain Town Magic

Snowmass, Estes Park and Durango may share mountain majesty but they have completely different locations around the state and their own fun surprises for groups.  

Few, if any, other ski areas have an upscale bowling alley located in their base villages. Snowmass has Slopeside Lanes, with eight lanes of bowling, pool tables, foosball, air hockey and two massive 300-inch televisions. The menu features fresh American cuisine, including wood-fired pizzas and a nice selection of Colorado beer and spirits. Stay at Viceroy Snowmass or The Westin Snowmass Resort nearby for meeting and event space, and accommodations and locations that attendees will love.

Photo: Viceroy Snowmass (Courtesy Miles)

For outdoorsy types, make time for a 1.5-mile hike to yin-yang, a multi-toned labyrinth with a yin-yang at its center. It’s the perfect place to regroup and reflect and possibly continue on to complete the 7.84-mile loop, reaching an elevation of 9,203 feet for spectacular views of Snowmass Village. Schedule a hike and meeting to happen in tandem with the Snowmass Free Summer Concert Series on Thursdays from June 9–Aug. 16, 2018 (and two bonus shows on June 9 and July 21). Reserve a concert picnic dinner prepared by Artisan Restaurant at Stonebridge Inn, which can host groups of up to 120 with lodging and various meeting and event spaces.

Photo: Snowmass Summer Concert Series (Courtesy Jeremy Swanson)

Another option is booking The Estes Park Resort, located along Lake Estes in Estes Park and featuring 54 guest rooms and suites, and a variety of meeting and event spaces. During free time, enjoy live music at the on-site restaurant and schedule team-building time at Open Air Adventure Park, where participants bond while climbing on, maneuvering over and swinging through 32 aerial obstacles. Or secure unique activities, lodging and meeting space all in one place at the YMCA of the Rockies Estes Park Center and choose from a selection of community service projects at Rocky Mountain National Park that range from trail work and vegetation projects to fire-fuel-reduction work, litter cleanups and painting.

Photo: Estes Park Open Air Adventure Park

Get a taste of past and present while meeting, eating and sleeping at one of four Durango historic properties: Strater Hotel, General Palmer Hotel and the Rochester Hotel. Also save time in the itinerary to visit the free railroad museum at the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad depot, also located downtown. The museum not only houses steam locomotives, railroad cars and train equipment dating back to the 1880s (as well as a baggage car used in the 1969 movie “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”), it features the Immigrant Sleeping Car, long-since believed to be haunted. If time allows, head out on a day trip to Silverton riding the D&SNGRR or stay overnight at the railroad company’s recently restored Grand Imperial Hotel.

Photo: Durango's Historic Strater Hotel (Smith Photography)

Unexpected Places

One is on the northeastern plains and the other stationed north near the Colorado-Wyoming border, but they share rich agricultural history and beautiful landscapes of their own. Dine at a working ranch in Sterling or pedal to your beverages and perhaps some music in Fort Collins.

For something completely different, head to northeast Colorado and stay at the new Holiday Inn Express & Suites in Sterling, with the Overland Trail Recreation Area right outside the back door, providing great views and offering an easy way to get a breath of fresh air during breaks. After the work is done, escape to the 1,900-acre Swedlund Ranch to savor an outdoor Supper at Sunset and amazing sunsets over the adjacent North Sterling State Park reservoir.

Photo: Sunset at the Swedlund Ranch in Sterling

On the Front Range, Fort Collins offers an ideal combination of outdoor adventures and urban escapades. Fort Collins-based Beer & Bike Tours has a whole menu of options, including a local brews cruise, mountain-bike outing, day tour, and grain-to-glass and whiskey-to-wheels excursions. Front Range Ride Guides is another option for mountain-bike tours and brewery bike tours.

Photo: Mountain biking with Front Range Ride Guides in Fort Collins

For groups with music lovers, The Music District is a new gathering hub, workspace and creative playground for the music community. Also, the Bohemian Foundation purchased the iconic sports bar Washington’s, installed state-of-the-art sound and lighting, and is focused on bringing live contemporary music to the venue, which holds up to 900. Groups can base at The Elizabeth Hotel, a new 164-room property in Old Town with 3,500 square feet of function space and a focus on locally inspired art, music and craft beer.

Photo: Live music at Washington's in Fort Collins (Courtesy Kirsten Cohen)

For meetings with a local twist, this is just a sampling of Colorado’s many distinct and off-the-radar options for groups of all types and sizes.

Candle Making

In downtown Grand Junction, it’s an easy walk to Candle Kitchen from the Two Rivers Convention Center and the three Hilton and Marriott hotels all located on the second block of Main Street. Attendees can craft their own custom-scented candles, with a variety of sizes of candle jars and more than 100 scents available.

Photo: courtesy Candle Kitchen Grand Junction

Explore the Past

In Durango, Ghost Walk Durango and Horsefly History Tours offer a variety of tour options like Coal Dust & Oysters, Murder & Mayhem and Kick the Can so participants can imagine the notorious stories of bygone saloons and stand where legendary gunfights took place during Durango’s early days.

Photo: Kylah Thompson

Jeep Excursions

A spectacular way to experience mountain landscapes in Estes Park is exploring with Green Jeep Tours and staying at Taharaa Mountain Lodge, with 18 guest rooms and meeting space. Head out on Rustic Old West, Photo Safari and Waterfall Hiking tours or the Ruttin’ Around Elk Viewing Tour led at sunset in the fall.

Photo: Visit Estes Park