10 Amazing Events in Colorado
By Beth Buehler
When meeting in a destination, I always relish the chance to experience the local scene instead of just staying within the four walls of a host venue. Tapping into a community’s events calendar is a good way to make that happen and it takes booking entertainment and activities off a planner’s to-do list. The one potential downfall is that Colorado’s best-known events often sell out the host town’s lodging, so it requires advanced planning and a fatter wallet for accommodations. Also make sure to purchase tickets early if required for entry or for certain parts of festival.
Tying into a local event also provides opportunities for a gathering’s theme and gifting. If it is a beer festival, a branded beer glass, a festival T-shirt, and snacks in a small fold-up travel cooler is an option. A natural theme for a meeting scheduled in tandem with a balloon festival could be something along the lines of “reaching new heights” or the “sky is the limit.” Also work in speakers and entertainers that relate to the chosen festival such as a researcher from Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory during the Crested Butte Wildflower Festival or a cowboy poet and singer during the Greeley Stampede or Denver’s National Western Stock Show. You get the idea.
Here is a list of 10 amazing events in Colorado for groups to consider. There are many others worthy of being on the list as this is a state that likes to celebrate. My goal was to cover the state geographically and to provide variety so groups can find their best fit. Since narrowing it down was nearly impossible, I snuck in 10 bonus ideas.
Telluride Bluegrass Festival turned 50 in 2023 and has been bringing people together for four days in June to enjoy amazing music in southwest Colorado. Sam Bush, Robert Plant, Mumford & Sons, Brandi Carlile, Norah Jones, Jason Mraz, Greensky Bluegrass, Emmylou Harris and plenty more have graced the stage over the years. The music doesn’t stop at Telluride Bluegrass as NightGrass is the late-night extension of the event with concerts held in venues around Telluride.
Bonus Idea: Winter Park Jazz Festival, July
“America’s oldest and boldest whitewater festival” happens every June in Salida, drawing kayakers, stand-up paddlers and rafters to compete and have fun on the Arkansas River. While whitewater is the draw of FIBArk (First in Boating on the Arkansas), there is live music, a parade, skateboard competition, running races, live music, a parade and more. There is even SUP boxing at this festival that celebrates 75 years in 2023.
Bonus Idea: GoPro Mountain Games, Vail, June
Dating back to the late 1800s, the two-week Greeley Stampede is Colorado’s premiere western summer celebration with rodeos, concerts, a carnival midway, a western art show, kids’ activities, and lots of special happenings like Tacos & Tequila and Big Buckle Ball: Neon Cowboy 90s Country Party. This late June and early July event is all about cowboy culture and country music and reaches its culmination with a huge Independence Day parade.
Bonus Idea: National Western Stock Show, Denver, January
The 10-day Crested Butte Wildflower Festival has a colorful schedule with over 200 workshops that focus on flowers, ranging from painting, pollination and photography to culinary arts, medicinal uses for plants and hikes and 4×4 tours of various distances. As the official Wildflower Capital of Colorado, Crested Butte is the natural place to host this July event that dates to 1986.
Bonus Idea: Longs Peak Scottish-Irish Highland Festival, Estes Park, September
Cherry Creek Arts Festival offers a perfect opportunity to find inspiration, connect with others through art, and explore one of Denver’s best-known shopping and dining districts. The early July festival has grown over more than three decades to fill the streets of Cherry Creek North with more than 250 juried artists, live music galore, kids’ activities, great food, and more. VIP passes are available.
Bonus Idea: Colorado Shakespeare Festival, Boulder, June and July
Experience delicious Palisade-grown peaches at their finest during Palisade Peach Festival weekend in mid-August. Celebrating 55 years in 2023, there is plenty of fun for all ages with a pancake breakfast, Just Peachy 5K, peach cuisine demonstrations, barbecue contest, peach-eating contests, live music, and all sorts of vendors in Riverbend Park. Not to be missed are orchard farm tours and Feast in the Field Dinners held in a peach orchard.
Bonus Idea: Aspen Food & Wine Classic, Aspen, June
Colorado State Fair in Pueblo is a lively combination of big-name acts paired with PCMA rodeos, a selection of other stage performances, and competitions ranging from 4-H and livestock to beer and wine. The demolition derby and monster trucks are big for those who like it loud, and everyone should try a least one treat. Maybe Pueblo green chiles or a deep-fried Snickers? A summertime favorite in Pueblo since 1869, the fair happens for 10 days from late August into early September.
Bonus Idea: A Taste of Colorado, Denver, once a month in May, June and July
Snowmass Balloon Festival returns to Snowmass Village for its 48th year in 2023, with colorful balloons soaring over fall foliage splendor in the mountains. The longstanding September tradition features three days of more than 30 hot-air balloons launching from 7:30-9:00 a.m. with spectators encouraged to hike, bike or head to the launch site to see the balloons take flight.
Bonus Idea: Telluride Balloon Festival, Telluride, June
In terms of festivals that embrace snow, Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival started out as a way for residents to cope with cabin fever during the height of winter in 1914. Today, it is a full-on February celebration of athleticism and winter that highlights Steamboat’s western and ski heritage. This event includes everything from kids pulled on skis behind horses down a snow-covered main street to the Lighted Man with a 70-pound, battery-powered suit at the Night Show Extravaganza whose. An air bag jam festival, ski jumping jamboree, s’more family fun party, cross-country obstacle course, ski ballet, parade, street events and more are on the carnival schedule
Bonus Idea: Leadville Ski Joring & Crystal Carnival Weekend, Leadville, March
Breckenridge’s Ullr Festival is approaching 60 years of celebrating all things winter in 2024. Grab your Viking hats and join in two days of December fun to honor Ullr, the Norse god of snow, in hopes of a powder-filled ski season. A parade, bonfire, comedy night, ice skating party, ice skating show, and unofficial attempt to break the largest shotski world record are among the many reasons locals and visitors attend.
Bonus Idea: Wintersköl, Aspen, January
Utilize this list of 10 amazing events in Colorado and 10 additional bonus ideas to get creative with your next meeting, event or incentive trip held in the Centennial State. Attendees will thank you for the chance to mingle with the locals and to sample of the culture, cuisine, outdoor action and rich history that makes up Colorado.
Top Photo: Cherry Creek Arts Festival, courtesy Paul Malinowski/VISIT DENVER
Colorado native Beth Buehler has been editor of Colorado Meetings + Events magazine for 18 years, helped launch Mountain Meetings magazine, and is on the team introducing Southwest Meetings + Events this summer. She has planned numerous meetings and events and enjoys exploring Colorado.