Botanical Gardens (Montrose)

What: Montrose Botanical GardensMontrose Botanical Gardens 1
Where: Montrose
When: Daylight hours (just open the gate if it’s closed — the gardens are never open to deer)


Lovely flowers, intriguing cacti and succulents, rare and native plants, lovely trees and shrubs, winding paths, and dramatic views of the San Juan mountains — Montrose Botanical Gardens has it all. Winter, spring, summer, or fall, you’ll find peace and natural beauty as you stroll around this small, but spectacular, garden located just south of the Montrose Pavilion / Events Center.

Be sure to spend some time in Gretchen’s Garden, created in memory of Gretchen Van Reyper, a local botanist who was known for her expertise in rare and native plants of western Colorado and eastern Utah. Relax on the flagstone patio surrounded by native flowers and shrubs and enjoy some of the best views of Mt. Sneffels and surrounding peaks you’ll hope to find.

Montrose Botanical Gardens shelterLocation:
Montrose Botanic Gardens
1800 Pavilion Dr
Montrose, CO 81401

(970) 249-2539

Additional directions:
From US 550 (Townsend), turn East on Niagara Road and continue 0.8 miles to Pavilion Drive. Turn right and park in the Pavilion parking lot. The entry gate to the Gardens faces north (toward the Pavilion building). 


Snow Goose Festival (Lamar)

What: High Plains Snow Goose FestivalAlanBauer_SnowGoose1
Where: Lamar
When: 3 days in mid- to late-February

Snow Goose: Considered to be the most abundant goose in the world. This this is a prime opportunity to view these beautiful white geese by the thousands as they make their travel plans to return to the Arctic from their winter nesting areas.

There is a fee to participate in many of the events of this festival, but there are a number of outstanding activities and presentations which are free. Some of these require that you pre-register, so see the contact information at the bottom of this page. We’ll list a few of the free activities of the 2007 festival — check the website for a current listing.

Jackson’s Pond Tour (Eads) – Hear how the community has planned to save their natural area and wetland. Pre-register by calling (719) 438-2200.

AlanBauer_SnowGoose2Wildlife tour at John Martin Reservoir State Park – Keep your eyes peeled for raptors including Ferruginous Hawks, Northern Harriers, Red-tailed Hawks, Swainson’s Hawks and Kestrels. With luck, you may also spot Bald Eagles, Golden Eagles and Great Horned Owls.

Wildlife Watch Class – Enhance your outdoors experience by learning how to have more luck in spotting and watching wildlife. This class is being offered by the Division of Wildlife.

Kid Zone – Here’s a fun atmosphere for kids to learn about snow geese and other birds.


For more information, contact:
Lamar Chamber of Commerce
(719) 336-4379


Special thanks to photographer Alan L. Bauer for giving us permission to use his images of Snow Geese. Please visit for even more samples of his outstanding photography.

Garden of the Gods (Colorado Springs)

What: Garden of the Gods Park, Visitor Center, Trading Post Garden of the Gods (Colorado Springs CO) - free admission
Where: Colorado Springs
Park hours:
Summer 5:00 AM – 11:00 PM; Winter 5:00 AM – 9:00 PM
    Visitor Center hours: Summer 8:00 AM – 8:00 PM; Winter 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM;
closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Days
    Trading Post hours: Summer 8:00 AM – 8:00 PM; Winter 9:00 AM – 5:30 PM; open all year

Drive, hike, mountain bike, or horseback ride among spectacular red rock formations and all-around, jaw-dropping natural beauty. Technical rock climbers, who must first register at the Visitor Center to obtain a permit to climb, scale the towering cliffs of sandstone. Garden of the Gods Park is home to rock formations with intriguing names such as Giant Footprints, Kissing Camels, Siamese Twins, Three Graces, and Tower of Babel.

Legend has it that two surveyors came upon this natural wonder. One commented that it would be a “capital place for a beer garden.” His partner, Rufus Cable, having a greater appreciation for the uniqueness of the landscape, was taken aback. “Beer garden? Why, it is a place for the Gods to assemble. We will call it the Garden of the Gods!”

Rock climbing at Garden of the Gods (Colorado Springs CO)The Visitor & Nature Center is worth a stop, with interesting exhibits, complimentary park maps, and even a free sample of fudge. The cafeteria offers a wonderful view of the region, with majestic Pikes Peak as a backdrop. Ask for a schedule of the free Nature Talks held on the terrace of the building, and free guided Nature Walks.

If all this free stuff has you itching to buy something, or if you just like to browse, be sure to head over to Garden of the Gods Trading Post toward the southwest end of the park. This adobe-style building has been expanded numerous times, and now houses the largest Trading Post in Colorado.

The range of merchandise boggles the mind. You’ll find the odd little five-and-dime sort of trinkets that the kids always seem to crave, as well as t-shirts galore. However, you’ll also discover a wonderful collection of Navajo rugs, sand painting, Pueblo pottery, gorgeous southwestern-style jewelry, and other beautiful items in the Art Gallery.

On the other hand, perhaps you’d be interested in a mounted jackalope trophy? Ask for another free taste of fudge at the Trading Post’s café before you head off into the park again for a picnic.

Check out both websites for coupons offering discounts on food and merchandise, as well as discounts for a 12-minute movie offered at the Visitor Center.

For more information, contact:
Garden of the Gods Visitor & Nature Center
30th Street & Gateway Road
Colorado Springs, CO 80904
(719) 634-6666

Garden of the Gods Trading Post
324 Beckers Lane
Manitou Springs, CO 80829
(800) 874-4515 or (719) 685-9045

Additional directions:
Drive to Colorado Springs on I-25

If you are heading south, take Exit 146 (Garden of the Gods Road)
Drive West 2.3 miles on to 30th Street
Turn left onto 30th Street, and follow it 1.3 miles to the Visitor Center, which will be on your left.

If you are heading north on I-25, take Exit 141 (US 24 / Cimarron) toward Manitou Springs and Pikes Peak

Drive West 2.5 miles on US 24 to 31st Street
Turn right at 31st Street, and follow it 0.6 miles to Fontanero, where you will turn right
Follow Fontanero 1 block to 30th Street, and turn left on 30th Street
Continue north on 30th Street 1.2 miles to the Visitor Center, which will be on your right.

Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre (Denver)

What: Red Rocks Park & AmphitheatreRed Rocks Amphitheatre (Denver CO)
Where: Denver
WhenVisitor Center:  Summer hours (May-Sept): 8:00 AM – 7:00 PM daily
Winter hours (October-April): 9:00 AM – 4:00 PM daily

The Beatles. Lyle Lovett. Sting. Al Jarreau. Allman Brothers Band. Earth, Wind & Fire. Rage Against the Machine. Itzhak Perlman. Grateful Dead. Paul Simon. U2. Smothers Brothers. Igor Stravinsky. Joe Cocker. Peter, Paul and Mary. Emmy Lou Harris. Al Hirt. Santana. Indigo Girls. Sheryl Crow. Phish. Willie Nelson. Roseanne.  Count Basie. Victor Borge. Widespread Panic. 

From Opera to Rock, Jazz to Reggae, Folk to Swing, Classical to Country; all types of musical performances have occurred at this spectacular natural amphitheatre since the early 1900s. In 1911, a famous opera star of the time traveled up to Red Rocks by burro to try out the acoustics and declared, “never in any opera house the world over have I found more perfect acoustic properties.”

How old is this amphitheater? Look at the 300-foot-high red sandstone cliffs on either side of the seating area. Ship Rock and Creation Rock have probably been standing here for over 250,000 years. The seats, stage, and other man-made additions were built from 1936 through 1947, designed with an emphasis on preserving the natural beauty of the area.

During the day, or late into the evening when no concert is scheduled, you can come explore this beautiful concert venue. Stand in front of the stage and speak to friends watching from high above in the last row of seats. Imagine thousands of fans anticipating the start of a concert. From the seating area, enjoy the panoramic views of Denver in the distance.

Red Rocks amphitheatre park (Denver CO)When you’re done exploring the amphitheatre, don’t miss the captivating Visitor Center, which opened in 2003. The Visitor Center is tucked under the seating, so it made a minimal impact on the appearance of the area. Watch a 10-minute film that describes the history – both natural and musical – of the park. Reminisce as you view concert posters from the past 40 years, see instruments belonging to favorite musicians, or use the interactive computer terminals to find out who performed here or to remember a special concert. Enjoy a relaxing meal at the Ship Rock Grille, a full-service restaurant located in the Visitor Center building.

Do you still have some energy left? Explore the paths around the amphitheatre, or hike the rugged 1.4 mile Trading Post loop trail, which will take you through marvelous rock formations, meadows, and valleys. Remember that rock climbing in this park is strictly prohibited, and failure to comply with this rule carries a large fine. The trail closes ½ hour before sunset.

This is a Denver-area classic, not to be missed!

For more information, contact:
Red Rocks Amphitheatre
16352 County Road #93
Morrison, CO 80465

(303) 295-4444 or (303) 640-2637

Additional directions:
Red Rocks Amphitheatre is located near Morrison, 15 miles west of downtown Denver. From I-70 take the Morrison exit (259). At the bottom of the exit ramp turn south (left, if you were driving Westbound on I-70) onto CO 93 and continue about 1.5 miles to the signed entrance on your right. Note: turn left at this intersection to visit Dinosaur Ridge.

Hudson Gardens (Littleton)

What: Hudson Gardens Hudson Gardens in the off-season (Littleton CO) free admission during winter months
Where: Littleton
When: Free admission November through April

Perhaps you don’t think gardens can be beautiful during the “off-season”. It may be time to reconsider!

First of all, there are still many signs of life in our gardens in late Fall. And an early Spring visit can reward you with delightful blooms pushing through the last of the snow. But, even in the midst of Winter, a brisk walk in the cool, bright sunshine through a mostly-sleeping garden can be a joy.

Blue Heron at Hudson Gardens in the off-season (Littleton CO) free admission during winter monthsWander past the model train area and imagine a journey across the bridges and through the tunnels. Watch for Blue Heron or Canada Geese or other birds who enjoy these Gardens and waterways. Let your imagination take over as you wander through the Rock Garden or peek into the Hobbit Hole.

There is a special free remembrance day on September 11 each year (Check the Hudson Gardens website for other special dates).

For more information, contact:
The Hudson Gardens & Event Center
6115 South Santa Fe Drive
Littleton, CO 80120



Denver-for-Free: a fun-filled day of free things to do around Denver

by Diane Winger

Whether you are planning a vacation to Denver, or you’re a local looking for something new to see or do, chances are you’d like to find something for free. Good news: you’ve come to the right place!

Let’s start off our free day (if today happens to be a Tuesday during the warmer months) by dropping in at Denver Botanic Gardens. Enjoy a fitness walk through the beautiful gardens, followed by a healthy snack (also free!). To add more balance to your morning, attend the free T’ai Chi class as well. (For more information: call 720-865-3500 or visit
2010 UPDATE: The Gardens aren’t holding their fitness walks and t’ai chi classes this year. Check their website for any changes to their schedule.

That was invigorating! Now, let’s head downtown to the Colorado State Capitol Building. The distinctive dome is plated with Colorado gold. The gold has been replaced several times, using rolls of ultra-thin gold, requiring only 47 ounces of gold to coat the entire dome! As you explore the building on your own, or join a free tour, enjoy the murals, stained glass portraits, wall hanging, and presidential portraits. During the legislative session, step into the Senate or House of Representatives gallery to watch state legislators in action.

For those Coloradoans who’ve visited in the past and remember hiking up and up the spiral stairs into the dome to enjoy the views of the city and of the building below, we have some bad news. After 9/11, this part of the building was closed to visitors. The good news is that visitors are still able to stroll through much of the building to enjoy its beauty and fascinating history. (For more information: call 303-866-2604 or visit

News flash 3/2007: Tours are now available again for the Capitol Dome!  Reservations are required (2 weeks in advance)

As we approach lunchtime, how about browsing the incredible book offerings at one of the Tattered Cover bookstore locations? What’s a bookstore doing in an article about free things to do in Colorado? Well, my friends, the Tattered Cover isn’t just any bookstore. What started out over 30 years ago as a small, cozy bookshop with an eclectic selection of books evolved into an amazing place for anyone who enjoys books. Not only will you find an outstanding selection of books (over half a million in the two original locations, consisting of over 150,000 titles), but you’ll still enjoy the feeling of being in a cozy shop where you feel welcome to curl up on a sofa or sit back in a recliner to enjoy reading a book, magazine, or newspaper. This is the bookstore that some of the “big box” booksellers wish they could be.

Although lunch isn’t free, may we suggest a light meal at the in-house coffee shop. (For more information: call 303-436-1070 or

Are you up for one more tour? If your free day is a Wednesday or Saturday, and it’s now about 2:00 PM, head over to the historic Brown Palace Hotel downtown. Meet in the sitting area beside the entrance to the Ship Tavern inside the hotel, and enjoy learning some fascinating Denver history on this 45 – 60 minute free guided tour. See a hotel that has hosted kings and presidents, executives, rock stars, and even people like you and me. (For more information, call: 303-297-3111 or 800-321-2599 or

Next up: Dinosaur Ridge by Morrison. This site gives new meaning to the term “leave only footprints” when hiking! You’ll be amazed at the variety of prehistoric animal tracks, both large and small, which are available for viewing along this well-preserved site. Stop by the Visitor Center, and then take time to experience the self-guided tour which includes sixteen interpretative signs that describe fossil remains as well as other relevant features of the area. (For more information, call: 303-697-3466 or visit

From Dinosaur Ridge, it’s just a quick jaunt over to the gorgeous Red Rocks Amphitheatre and Visitor Center. From Opera to Rock, Jazz to Reggae, Folk to Swing, Classical to Country; all types of musical performances have occurred at this spectacular natural amphitheatre since the early 1900s. During the day, or late into the evening when no concert is scheduled, you can come explore this beautiful concert venue.

When you’re done exploring the amphitheatre, don’t miss the captivating Visitor Center, which opened in 2003. The Visitor Center is tucked under the seating, so it made a minimal impact on the appearance of the area. Watch a 10-minute film that describes the history – both natural and musical – of the park. Reminisce as you view concert posters from the past 40 years, see instruments belonging to favorite musicians, or use the interactive computer terminals to find out who performed here or to remember a special concert. (For more information, call: 303-295-4444 or 303-640-2637 or visit

Are you up for one final stop and a few free beers? Take a tour at one of Colorado’s best-known companies, Coors (now known as:  MillerCoors), and enjoy up to 3 free samples of their variety of beer products (if you are over 21), or complimentary soft drinks if you are younger or prefer something non-alcoholic.

More than 250,000 people take this popular free tour each year. Participation is on a first-come, first-served basis; no reservations are taken. Your self-guided audio tour will take you through the main steps of the brewing process at the world’s largest brewery at a single site.

The tour takes 35 to 40 minutes; allow additional time to enjoy your 3 beer samples, to browse the gift shop, and sober up before you drive. (For more information: call 866-812-2337 (toll free) or 303-277-2337 (303-227-BEER) or visit

Whew! That’s enough fun for one day. Thanks for joining me. 


©2006-2017 All Rights Reserved.
Diane & Charlie Winger are authors of several hiking and travel guidebooks, including The Essential Guide to Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, The Trad Guide to Joshua Tree – 60 favorite climbs from 5.5 to 5.9, and Because It’s There – A Photographic Journey. Charlie recently released his autobiography, Two Shadows – a true story of triumph over adversity, an inspiring story filled with mountaineering adventures. Diane authored Faces, a novel featuring struggles with face-blindness (prosopagnosia), Duplicity, a thriller set at a ski hut high in the mountains of Colorado, Rockfall, a story of tragedy and hope, Memories & Secrets, the story of a grandmother and granddaughter each facing her own demons, The Daughters’ Baggage, which follows the lives of several young women as a special little suitcase passes from one to the next, and The Abandoned Girl, because although every child deserves a loving home, some don’t get what they deserve.

Ullr Fest (Breckenridge)

What: Ullr FestUllr Festival (Breckenridge CO)
Where: Breckenridge
When: One week each January

Once upon a time, the Norse winter god, Ullr (OOOL-er), was traveling around the Northern Hemisphere depositing snow, when he happened to find himself in the resort ski town of Breckenridge. Locals were pleased to receive Ullr’s gift of snow, and decided to celebrate each year (not coincidentally, during a period known to be a little slow where tourism is concerned) to encourage even more snow on their scenic town and ski area.

Early versions of the festival (then known as “Ullr Dag”, which translates to “Ullr Day” for those of you who don’t happen to speak Norwegian) were pretty wild, and included a huge bonfire of burning skis, and prodigious amounts of alcohol. Things got so exciting that the event was canceled for a while during the early 1970s.

However, it was resurrected by the local Chamber of Commerce in 1979. The recent versions are still a big bash, but the bonfire has been toned down to a “campfire” because it wasn’t very “environmentally healthy.” Still, the local bars and restaurants enjoy offering games and specials to draw in the crowds, and there are numerous fun and sometimes a bit wild events all week.

Ullr Festival (Breckenridge CO)There are snowshoe and Nordic skiing events, the crowning of the King and Queen of Ullr, and a free ice skating party at an indoor arena. But the fun really gets going at the Ullympics, when athletes (and we use that word lightly) participate in strange and hilarious events.

Finally, don’t miss the parade of floats down Main Street. Helmets with large horns are everywhere, as are ski decorations, people dressed in costumes as snowflakes, snow bunnies, and who knows what else. The winning float for 2004 even included a mini-snow slope complete with a brave skier.

If you want an excuse to party, this winter celebration will certainly accommodate you!


For more information, contact:
Breckenridge Resort Chamber
P.O. Box 1909
Breckenridge, CO 80424

(877) 864-0868

Ullr Fest info

Snow Sculptures (Breckenridge)

What: International Snow Sculpture ChampionshipsSnow Sculptures (Breckenridge CO)
Where: Breckenridge Riverwalk Center (Between Washington Street & Adams Avenue)
When: Late January or early February

The Breckenridge International Snow Sculpture Championships have been held for over 13 years. With sculpture names like Prometheus (2002), A Fishing Tail (2003), Winter’s Oasis (2004), and The Nautilus (2005), this isn’t your backyard “let’s make a snowman” contest.

The unique snow sculptures are hand crafted works of art which are created over a period of 65 hours from 10 foot by 10 foot by 12 foot tall, 20-ton, specially formed blocks of snow. Artificial snow is used for the best consistency. Front-end loaders dump snow into frames, and volunteer “snow stompers” work to compact the snow.

Four person teams from all over the world meet here in Breckenridge to compete in this yearly event. All sculpting is done using only hand tools.

You might think that there are thousands of dollars in prizes to win as a result of this competition. Nope. The teams get a free ride to and from the Denver airport, and free room and board during the 5-day sculpting period. Winners enjoy recognition for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place as well as awards for Peoples’ Choice, Kids’ Choice and Artists’ Choice, but no cash awards.

Snow Sculpture (Breckenridge CO)You’ll marvel at the attention to detail each of these teams apply to their design. It’s fun to visit the sculptures one day and then return the next to see how they are taking shape. Each sculpture has a drawing on display for spectators to see how the finished product will look.

Each year brings a different selection of sculptures and teams. Present and past sculpture designs can be found on the website referenced below.

If “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” was one of your favorite movies, you’ll also not want to miss the additional event where intricate ice carvings are created using chain saws. Each carving is sculpted into a glowing statue.

Dress warmly and plan on staying around to view all of these exciting displays during the day. Catch dinner at one of the fine Breckenridge restaurants and then return after dark to catch some breathtaking views as the sculptures are lit with attractive lighting and the artists work into the night.

For more information, contact:
Breckenridge Resort Chamber
P.O. Box 1909
Breckenridge, CO 80424

(800) 789-SNOW / (800) 789-7669
(970) 547-3100

Snow Sculpture Championships

Frozen Dead Guy Days (Nederland)

What: Frozen Dead Guy DaysFrozen Dead Guy Days (Nederland CO)
Where: Nederland
When: 2nd or 3rd weekend in March
Friday evening, Saturday, and Sunday

“Grandpa’s Still in the Tuff Shed.” No, we’re not talking about an elderly, eccentric resident of Nederland who refuses to leave his workshop. We’re talking about what most of us would call a deceased Norwegian gentleman named Bredo Morstoel, who passed away in 1989, but is certainly not forgotten. In fact, his grandson, Trygve Bauge, is paying to have dry ice delivered on a regular basis to a Tuff Shed where Grandpa is being cryogenically preserved (according to Trygve, who the INS deported back to Norway after a disagreement about the need for him to have a green card).

At the time of Trygve’s departure, very few people knew Grandpa was on ice in Trygve’s back yard. His mother (Grandpa’s daughter), however, was distressed about her son’s departure, and fretted to a friend, “What am I going to do about the bodies?” Soon, the whole town of Nederland learned that Grandpa and another “cryogenic client” were stored in an old tin shed.

As you can imagine, this news created quite a stir. The family of body number 2 decided to bury their relative in a more traditional manner, but Trygve insisted that Grandpa should remain where he was. A law was passed making it a crime to keep corpses on private property. However, Grandpa was (wait for it…) “Grandfathered in.” A local radio station arranged for a nice, new Tuff Shed for Grandpa, Trygve found a company to continue delivering dry ice to keep Grandpa at a comfy -60º F, and the annual Frozen Dead Guy Days festivities were born!

Frozen Dead Guy Days (Nederland CO)The schedule varies somewhat from year to year, but perhaps there will be a showing of the hilarious feature-length film, “Grandpa’s Still in the Tuff Shed” (small fee) on Friday night. On Saturday and Sunday, enjoy the Snow Sculpting contest, watch the passing coffins and hearses during the Parade down First Street, cheer on your favorite team in the Coffin Races, or shudder at the lunacy of the people participating in the Polar Plunge for Charity.

There are also art and craft displays, children’s activities, a Frozen Dead Van Smash, snowshoe races, and more. Although there is a fee to actually participate in many of the events, nearly all events are free to watch.

Dress warmly and give our best to Grandpa.

For more information, contact:
Nederland Area Chamber of Commerce
P.O. Box 85
Nederland, CO 80466
(800) 221-0044 or (303) 258-3936


Tour of Carvings (Bayfield / Durango)

What: Vallecito Lake Tour of CarvingsVallecito Tree
Where: Bayfield (near Durango)
When: Anytime

Forest fires — destructive, yet renewing.

In 2002, the Missionary Ridge fire burned over 70,000 acres of forest in La Plata county, including a substantial area around Vallecito Lake. By 2005, much new growth could be seen in the area. However, another very unique and memorable sight can be seen in this area: a number of artistic carvings of damaged trees near the lake have been created to commemorate the huge number of firefighters, EMTs, and others who fought to save lives and homes. Sadly, one firefighter, Alan Wyatt, was killed by a falling tree. One of the carvings is dedicated to his memory. In addition, 56 homes were destroyed in the region, including about 10 homes by Vallecito Lake.

As you drive around the lake, look for the dozen or so carved trees amidst the shops or closer to the water. Maps and information booklets are available just below the Vallecito dam at the information center, as well as from many local businesses.

Most of the carvings were created by artist Chad Haspels. Donations are still welcome to help preserve the completed carvings, as well as to support the creation of additional ones.

After driving around to see the carvings, stay a while to enjoy fishing, boating, hiking and horseback riding during the warm months; cross-country skiing and snowmobiling on trails during the winter months.

For more information, contact:
Vallecito Lake Chamber of Commerce
P.O. Box 804
Bayfield, CO 81122

(970) 247-1573


Additional directions:
Drive to Bayfield on US 160.

Turn right (North) at the traffic signal onto La Plata County Road 501.

Drive 14 miles to the reservoir.

From Durango, you can also reach the lake by driving about 22 miles East on County Road 240 (turn east on Florida Road from Main Street). CR 240 will intersect CR 501 (see above) — turn left onto CR 501 to head to the reservoir.