Story by Linda DuVal. It took 150-some years, but the little old mining town of Breckenridge, high in the Colorado Rockies, has evolved from a wild and woolly gold camp of the mid-1800s to one of the most charming resort towns of the 21st century. But it hasn’t forgotten its roots.
Breckenridge has long since recovered from the ravages of the mining years to become one of the prettiest towns in the West, with lovingly restored buildings in bright Victorian colors and a riot of overflowing window boxes and flower beds loaded with blossoms each summer.
The fall colors here and on nearby Hoosier Pass are pretty spectacular, too.
The Blue River runs through it, and alongside it is the city’s terrific Riverwalk events center, where music reigns year -round.
It’s really a town for all seasons, with annual events that celebrate everything from films to wine to beer to ice sculptures.
Start at the Welcome Center on Main Street. There’s a small museum orienting you to the town’s history and it’s free (or you can make a $5 donation if you like.).
The town also hosts occasional bike-in movie nights, which are free and held in the Breck art district. (Dates vary, but they’ll know at the Welcome center when one is scheduled.) And OK, if you don’t have a bike, you can walk in.
Summer Saturdays, once a month, are also free, with activities and entertainment for all ages and especially great for kids. Sunday Market happens in the summer and early fall with more than 45 vendors at Main Street Station.
History and civil rights buffs may want to visit the Barney Ford House, home to Colorado’s first African-American legislator. Born a slave in Virginia, he eventually immigrated to Colorado where, with his wife, he opened a successful café and eventually got into politics. It’s free, but a $5 donation is suggested. It’s only open in summer months.
The Edwin Carter Museum shows the work of an early “conservationist” who intended to preserve the Rocky Mountain wildlife through taxidermy. Kids love to see the incarnations of these animals, it seems. It’s free (again, a $5 donation is suggested).
For another peek at the town’s past check out the Brecknridge Sawmill Museum, and take a free self-guided tour any time (depending on weather).
In summer the gondola will take you up the mountain side for free to take a hike across the front of the famous peaks where there would normally be skiers in winter. Check out the gorgeous wildflowers.
This town is always celebrating something, it seems. Its festivals include a historically themed and slightly crazy Ullr Fest (December) and the International Snow Sculpture Championships (late January), a must-see event that requires you bring a camera or a phone that takes great pictures. Festivities continue through and an international festival of the arts in August with lots of free programming.
And getting around once you’re there is easy, because the town buses are also free.
Of course, the town is nestled in the heart of the great Rocky Mountains, so there are plenty of outdoor activities, such as hiking, mountain biking and backpacking.
With more than 100 miles of trails in and around town, dozens of mountain streams and rivers, there are endless summer activities the whole family will love. And be sure to check out the FREE naturalist guided hikes, too.
Get a complete guide to more free things online.
Cheap things to do
If you’re really a history buff, take a guided walking tour offered by the Welcome Center and a volunteer, dressed in authentic Victorian garb, will tell you of the town’s past, about the gold that was discovered here, and the bust that followed, and later about the “white gold,” — fine powder skiing — that resurrected this village, as it did many others in Colorado.
The guide also talks about how the town got its name — its origins are still speculated upon today, and how it went through several spellings before it adopted its current one. At one point, the town was omitted from maps all together.
On the tour, it becomes obvious that the town’s miners lived very differently than the mine owners and others who profited from the boom.
You’ll also pass by a small white church and hear the story of Father Dyer, the “itinerant preacher” who traversed the area on snowshoes, bringing religion to the miners and helping them in practical ways, too. The small non-denominational chapel fills up every Sunday morning.
The guided tours cost $20/adult (ages 13+), $10/child (ages 4-12) and reservations and payment are required 2 hours prior to the tour. If you’d rather go it alone, you can get a self-guided tour brochure at the center for just $5.
Worth the price
If you love live music, the Breckenridge Riverwalk Center offers a spectacular lineup at its annual summer festival. Its lineup includes world-class artists of various musical genres in a beautiful, intimate venue. It’s pricey, but a unique experience.
If you go in winter, the town offers world-class skiing, too. You’ll pay for those beautifully groomed runs and many options for all skill levels. Ski buffs don’t seem to be deterred by the cost, though – still less than the priciest resorts in the state.
In summer, the ski area turns into a playpark. If you’re willing to shuck out the bucks, consider riding the Gold Runner Coaster, the Alpine Slide or the Alpineer Challenge Course, with all sorts of obstacles for you to overcome. None are cheap, but all are a helluva lot of fun and will satisfy the thrill-seeker in you.
Of course, there are all sorts of outfitters who will take you on rafting, kayak or biking tours and more, but they tend to be pricey and while fun, not unique to this area.
Dining and Lodging
There are plenty of places to stay, from cute little bed-and-breakfast inns to lofty mountain-side lodges. None are cheap, but for the budget-conscious, try the Bivvi Hostel or the Lodge, a renovated motel with an outdoor theme. And families might try Beaver Run, somewhat affordable and close to town.
Go here. Then, type in your location (in this case Breckenridge, Colorado), along with check-in and check-out dates.
Dining has always been one of the town’s strong suits, from a long-time favorite, the upscale and pricey Hearthstone (everything from lobster ravioli to Alaskan black cod) and homey favorites like Fatty’s (great pizza). The choices range from Thai to Mexican food.
Locals love Michael’s Italian restaurant, or Above the Blue, a food stand on the south end of town, with gyros, mac and cheese and other family favorites. Also try the popular food trucks, Gyros Deli or Trolley’s Crepes. Also, for breakfast, try BreckFast for good prices to start your day.
For a full list of dining, drinking and shopping options, visit the Welcome Center site.
Getting to Breckenridge
From Denver, take I-70 West to Colorado Highway 9 and go south, a total of about 80 miles.
For more information, check out GoBreck or call 877-864-0868. Once there you may find parking difficult on the town streets, but there are large parking lots adjacent to the most popular areas. There is an online parking guide to help you.
“48 Hours” is a series of easy getaways within driving distance from Denver. Linda DuVal is an award-winning travel writer and former travel editor at the Colorado Springs Gazette.