The picturesque ski town of Breckenridge, Colorado may be known for its winter season, but with over 300 days of sunshine per year, it is the perfect place for a summer vacation. A relatively small town steeped in gold rush history, you’ll find the locals more than welcoming to tourists, and by the end of your stay you will feel right at home. In fact, you won’t be surprised to meet many locals who came to Breck, and never left. It has that small-town charm that is rare these days.
Breckenridge boasts an endless list of activities that allows for a choose-your-own-adventure style itinerary year-round. “Breckenridge is widely known as a winter skiing and snowboarding destination, but if you haven’t been here in the summer, you are missing out,” says Austyn Dineen, public relations director for Breckenridge Tourism Office, who has lived in Breck for over 12 years. Offering an escape from the midwest heat, the region is typically a mild 70 degrees with low humidity in the summer season, making it perfect for “outdoor adventures in every direction,” Dineen adds.
From hiking and biking to dining and shopping, here’s what to do, where to stay and what you should know before you book that summer getaway.
Prepping for that altitude
Breckenridge sits at the base of the Rocky Mountains’ Tenmile Range, and is at 9,600-foot elevation (that’s double the elevation of Denver). This means you better prepare yourself for possible altitude sickness — something that can affect anyone. Symptoms of altitude sickness include shortness of breath, a rapid pulse, fatigue, headache, diarrhea, loss of appetite and nausea. Yeah, it doesn’t sound like a good time.
How can you beat it? According to Breckenridge Resort, a few days before your arrival, start prepping by drinking at least 2 liters of water a day, eating a well balanced diet and getting a good amount of sleep. Upon your arrival, take it easy and maybe skip alcohol that evening, and drink at least a liter more of water a day than you normally would during your stay. “It’s important to know that traveling to a high elevation should be taken seriously with more water and sunscreen,” notes Dineen.
Getting to Breck
Many are surprised to learn that Breckenridge does not have an airport. But being so high in elevation, the air is simply too thin to support air travel. This means most visitors fly into Denver International Airport and either book a shuttle bus or rent a car. However, an easier solution is now offered by United; you can book a ticket straight to Breckenridge (QKB) that will fly you into Denver, where you will board the new Landline service right on the tarmac.
The Landline transfers any luggage you may have checked from home and allows you to seamlessly hop from your arrival gate to the Landline gate, skipping a lot of hassle and wasted time. Plus, the bus boasts WiFi, free entertainment, luxurious reclining seats with in-seat power and tray tables, a bathroom and giant windows that allow you to take in the mountain sights on the way to Breck.
Now that you have arrived, here’s what to do…
Explore the Outdoors
There are dozens of breathtaking outdoor experiences to enjoy in Breckenridge, and hiking is prime post-winter, post-shoulder season (April through May.) “With over 60 miles of trails, there is literally something for every age and ability,” Dineen said. Popular moderate hikes include Hoosier Pass Trail, McCullough Gulch Trailhead and the French Gulch, which takes you past remnants of Breck’s old mining days. If you like a more history with your hike, you can have a local expert hike with you through the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance.
No matter what path you choose, remember to leave no trace and to help the Friends of Breckenridge Trails maintain their beautiful open space. In fact, if you are looking to lend a hand during your stay (and you should!), you can work with Friends of Breckenridge Trails during one of their Trail Building volunteer events, that occur during the summer months.
Conservation is important to Breckenridge and its residents, and one area of importance is the Cucumber Gulch Wildlife Preserve. Once poised for development, the 52 acres were purchased by the town and the Breckenridge Open Space Advisory Commission to protect the vibrant life that lives in the Gulch. From moose and beavers, to mountain lions and over 47 species of birds, it’s hard to take in how this amazing wildlife can be less than a mile from Main Street. It’s a can’t miss, and you can even get a birds eye view while on the BreckConnect Gondola, that runs during select summer months from town to the Peak 8 Base Area.
If you are looking for something a little more thrill seeking, there are multiple spots to rent mountain bikes around Breckenridge, with trails ranging from easygoing to advanced. In the mood for a classic Colorado activity that’s great for all ages? Whitewater rafting is nearby, typically running May through September.
Discover Main Street
Main Street, which runs through the town of Breckenridge, is a hub of activity that includes shopping, dining, breweries and an Arts District. As you stroll down Main, you may have a sense of deja vu; the picturesque scene was a backdrop for the 1994 classic comedy, Dumb and Dumber.
Once you’ve had your fill of shopping, make plans to attend the Bawdy Breckenridge Tour, run by the Breckenridge Historical Alliance. This one is for the 21+ crowd, as it explores the “seedier” side of Breckenridge history, including murder, saloon lore, gold rush gangs, gambling and brothels.
Ronnie, a resident since the ’70s, leads the hilarious tour while telling Breck’s (and his) wild stories. It all ends at the historic Gold Pan Saloon, with a couple beers to close out the 90-minute tour.
Honest Local Food
It seems that most restaurants in Breckenridge abide by one guiding principle: support local. You won’t find many chain restaurants here, which is a pleasant change of pace from other destinations. Most spots source from local farms, offering delicious and fresh farm-to-table dining experiences.
Favorites for breakfast include Mom’s Baking Co, a European coffee shop featuring homemade pastries, strudels and egg burritos, and Cool River Coffee House, which serves amazing coffee and hip, modern dishes that you can enjoy along the River Walk.
For lunch, locals rave about Ridge Street Kitchen, which is the perfect spot to grab lunch to-go to enjoy on the trail. Around the corner you’ll find the famous Breckenridge Brewery & Pub, which is the original brewpub that started back in 1990. Here, you’ll find beers that you won’t be able to get anywhere else on the market, and they have great sandwiches, appetizers and outdoor seating.
For dinner, be sure to make reservations in advance to dine in town at Rootstalk, which serves “elevated everyday dining,” and Aurum, which boasts Breckenridge’s “best happy hour.” Both offer an excellent wine menu and fresh, seasonal fare that makes for a memorable, and delicious, evening.
If you have a car or want to do a nice afternoon bike ride followed by dinner, don’t miss Breckenridge Distillery out on Airport Road (they also have a shuttle that runs during operating hours). Their award-winning house spirits compliment their gastropub and seasonal fare perfectly, and the atmosphere is hard to beat.
For a truly unique experience, check out the distillery’s Founders Lab Experience in their new event space. Guests can choose a unique tasting experience, and even visit the Whiskey Blending Lab to create their own personal 750ml blend.
If you head out to the distillery, plan to stop by Broken Compass Brewing, where “lost soul beers are found.” They have a Main Street Taproom, but their original spot has a unique vibe that locals love, and you can see their brewing in action here. Their Coconut Porter is a must-try, and what they are best known for.
Where to Stay
After a long day of exploring, it all comes down to where you lay your head at night. Gravity Haus, in the heart of Breck, isn’t just a hotel — it’s a globally conscious destination for the “modern adventurer.”
What does that mean exactly? Gravity Haus Breck, at the base of Peak 9, is a boutique hotel that has a state-of-the art training facility, in-house Unravel Coffee shop, Japanese-inspired onsen, supertramp (a giant trampoline!), Cabin Juice restaurant, Starterhaus co-working space, recovery spas and more. They also offer a membership for those who frequent Gravity Haus’ hotels around Colorado, but you don’t need to be a member to stay and enjoy their spaces and amenities.
Whether it’s through their dining, ethos or in-room amenities, Gravity Haus strives to curate a sustainable experience for their adventure-loving guests. They also take care of the little things that make your stay extra special, including providing humidifiers to make you comfortable (you’ll need one in Breck!), gear storage, and they are incredibly dog-friendly, too.
Covid-19 & Breckenridge
As vaccination rates improve, many of us are looking to travel again. And while we welcome a return to some normalcy, Dineen notes that Breckenridge is not unique to the challenges that most popular tourist destinations face post-pandemic.
Her advice? Have some patience. “Many of our favorite shops are short-staffed or may have limited hours,” she said. “We are asking guests to be aware by planning ahead, be calm, and most importantly, kind on their next visit, because we are all doing our best after a year on hold.”
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Macaire Douglas lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband and two sons. She proudly supports Save Abandoned Babies Foundation, a Chicago-based nonprofit organization that works tirelessly to prevent the illegal abandonment of newborns nationwide. Since its inception in 2000, more than 3,600 newborns have been safely surrendered and adopted into loving homes.