Authentic Meeting Experiences in Small Towns

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Authentic Meeting Experiences in Small Towns 

By Beth Buehler

Colorado has great small towns. They don’t have to be large to offer a mind-boggling range of options for groups, especially in the form of amazing activities. I selected seven Colorado communities that are not known as ski towns (although one has a local ski hill) to share thoughts about authentic meeting experiences in small towns.

Buena Vista & Salida

While they are two separate towns in Chaffee County, Buena Vista and Salida are fun to experience together, are located within easy driving distance, and feature vibrant downtowns. In summer and fall, there are fun water activities for groups on the Arkansas River like rafting, tubing, kayaking and fly fishing. For a true flashback, bring your crew to Buena Vista’s Comanche Drive-In (one of only 305 drive-in theaters in the nation) to watch movies as the sun sets against a mountain backdrop. In winter, consider surprising your team with a dog-sledding adventure through the San Isabel National Forest just southeast of Monarch Mountain ski area. The ride traverses past historic mines, alongside a creek, across fields and through forests.

One of the stars any time of year are Colorado’s natural hot springs. Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort, one of three hot springs attractions in Chaffee County, offers it all with hot springs for soaking, a spa, lodging, and meeting and event space. Or check out the Salida Hot Springs Aquatic Center and meet and stay at Surestay Plus Hotel by Best Western Salida.

Just a small glimpse of Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort, photo by Scott Peterson

Estes Park

When meeting in Estes Park, make room on the agenda for a visit to Rocky Mountain National Park for amazing vistas, trails and wildlife viewing. Wildside 4X4 Tours offers photo tours in the park, including sunset and elk-watching options. Or head out off-roading in Roosevelt National Forest with fun options like the Not So Mellow Marshmallow Tour that wraps up with a bonfire for roasting hotdogs or making gooey s’mores.

For an adventurous team-building outing, Kent Mountain Adventure Center can assist with various via ferrata routes, rock climbing and hiking. Via ferrata falls somewhere between scrambling and technical rock climbing with a system of cables and ladders in place, so even beginning climbers can give it a try. All this can be combined with meetings or trade shows at Estes Park Events Complex and a wide variety of lodging and meeting space options and loads of activities all in one place at YMCA of the Rockies Estes Park Center.

Book Cowboy Brad for a John Denver Tribute show or a cowboy singalong. There’s nothing quite like hearing “Rocky Mountain High” while sitting around a campfire.

Via ferrata in Estes Park, courtesy Kent Mountain Adventure Center

Granby

Situated between Winter Park and Grand Lake, Granby is near the other entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park and serves as a great place to get a taste of the West. Attend the Granby Rodeo at Flying Heels Arena on Saturday evenings in June and July and other select dates surrounding the Fourth of July and Labor Day or book a corporate retreat, incentive trip and meetings at C Lazy U Ranch. Attendees won’t soon forget ranch activities like horseback riding, hiking to yoga, trap shooting, archery, and bee-hive tours.

YMCA of the Rockies also has a location near Granby, Snow Mountain Ranch, with a variety of lodging types (cabins, lodges and yurts), meeting space and dining options. There’s no staying inside all day with the availability of horse-drawn sleigh rides, dog sledding, Nordic skiing and tubing in the winter while the summer and fall are all about a challenge course, zip line, disc golf, miniature golf, biking, horseback riding, tubing and more. Some activities are included while others are at an extra cost.

Eating outdoors in Colorado doesn't have to mean casual, courtesy C Lazy U Ranch

Georgetown

Settled after the discovery of gold in 1859, Georgetown is one of Colorado’s original mining camps. Today, the result is a community rich in both history and experiences. One of the major highlights is riding the Georgetown Loop Railroad to Silver Plume and back. Get a taste of the 1880s and the Wild West on this historic narrow-gauge railroad, add on a tour of the Lebanon Silver Mine and try your hand at gold panning.

The Georgetown-Silver Plume National Historic Landmark District recalls the days of the silver boom and demonstrates the area’s longtime dedication to preserving its heritage. There is a variety of unique places to stay, dine and shop as well as places to gather at Workspace at the Old School. Groups also can visit the working Capital Prize Gold Mine in Georgetown, book tours of local museums and stop at Georgetown Wildlife Viewing Area for a glimpse of the numerous bighorn sheep living in the area.

Leadville

During Leadville’s silver boom heyday starting in 1879, people from near and far flocked to the highest incorporated city in North America seeking riches and fame. Located 100 miles from Denver, Leadville, one of the states great small towns, is easily accessed on Highway 24 via the Top of the Rockies Scenic and Historic Byway. There is a small local ski area, Ski Cooper, just 10 minutes outside of town and Tennessee Pass Cookhouse and Nordic Center, where hiking, skiing or snowshoeing one mile to the yurt for a four-course dinner is especially memorable.

Freight is the town’s flagship meetings and events venue, and the town’s opulent Tabor Opera House is being restored and currently offers tours and performances. To give attendees an additional taste of true western heritage, book a stagecoach ride or visit the National Mining Museum and Hall of Fame, Heritage Museum, Tabor Home, Matchless Mine and other local attractions. Groups also are sure to enjoy an excursion on the Leadville Colorado & Southern Railroad along the Arkansas River Valley and Lamplight Tours with a local historian.

The Tabor Opera House recalls the early days of the Wild West, photo by Diana Lange

Black Hawk

It’s not hard to envision the Wild West when walking the streets of Black Hawk with its wealth of buildings that are more than a century old. Since its history-making gold strike in 1859, Black Hawk has built a legacy beyond the boom-bust cycles. Today, this picturesque mountain town that occupies less than two square miles is still about striking gold as the casino gaming capital of Colorado, with 17 casinos and more than 200,000 square feet of gaming action. Black Hawk is ranked 18th in gaming destinations by the American Gaming Association with casinos ranging from small to spacious like Monarch Casino Resort Spa Black Hawk with plenty of meeting and event spaces to get down to business and a spa for pure relaxation.

Nestled in Clear Creek Canyon approximately 40 miles west of Denver, Black Hawk is in the Arapaho National Forest on the scenic Peak to Peak Byway. For some time outdoors, groups can hike the Burro Loop Trail that dates back to the 1840s, when settlers moved into the present-day site of Golden Gate Canyon State Park in search of gold. While no gold has ever been found in the park, there are plenty of riches like classic Colorado lodging in the form of yurts and cabins.

Don’t miss the opportunity to book authentic meeting experiences in small towns. Destination Colorado Meetings can help with a simple RFP process to match planners with the perfect place and space for their group.

Beth Buehler has been editor of Colorado Meetings + Events magazine for 16 years and helped launch Mountain Meetings magazine in 2013. She has planned numerous meetings and events and enjoys exploring Colorado.