Budget Travel

Colorado on a tight budget

Colorado is the sweetheart from the Rockies, a place that showcases natural great thing about free airline, from mountain peaks and aspen forests to river valleys and high desert mesas.

Granted, some of the state's top draws are not cheap – a ski vacation can cost you a pretty penny – but there are many affordable activities, and some that don't even cost you a dime. Bargains can be purchased on lodging too, there are deals on high-ticket items, if you know where (so when) to look. Here are good tips for barely making it on a tight budget in Colorado.

Flying into Denver is truly the cheapest way into the state

Denver Airport terminal (DIA) may be the region's hub and something from the busiest airports in the country, with direct flights to hundreds of destinations. Fortunately, the big number of flights means lots of opportunities for deals, including on low-cost airlines like Southwest, Frontier and Spirit.

If you're headed further afield, there's also several smaller commercial airports throughout the state. Flights are usually more costly (and often involve connecting through DIA), but they allow you to avoid the cost and hassle of renting a car or going for a shuttle from Denver. It's worth crunching the numbers for the total door-to-door cost before booking any flights.

Avoid renting a car at the airport

Traveling by car is the most enjoyable method to see Colorado, with mountain vistas and historic towns seemingly around every bend. But car rentals don't come cheap, often starting around $60 to $70 per day from many Coloradan airports. However, prices drop significantly if you book off-site, which reduces hefty airport taxes and fees. A quick cab ride towards the nearest town's rental agency can save you hundreds on the week-long trip.

Take a shuttle to ski towns from Denver International Airport

If you're traveling solo or perhaps in a little group, it can often be cheaper to take a shuttle to the mountains rather than hiring a car. Epic Mountain Express and Summit Express provide door-to-door shuttle service from DIA to Aspen, plus the major resort towns along I-70, including Vail, Beaver Creek, Copper, Breckenridge and Keystone. Resorts provide free bus service out and about and to nearby ski resorts. Should you prefer a car for a day or two, you can always rent one there.

Travel during the low season

From April to May (aka mud season), prices fall as Colorado's ski season winds down. October and November bring another lull, because the weather begins to cool and the fall colors disappear. In mountain towns especially, low season means a slash in rates – sometimes up to half off – for from hotels and guided excursions to spa treatments as well as pints of beer.

Still, the sun's rays shines as bright as always, making it easy to enjoy the outdoors with no crowds or even the costs. And don't forget about the state's cities – discounts aren't as pronounced, but hotel rates do fall in the low season, and there are lots of cultural offerings year-round.

When to visit Colorado

Stay inside a hostel

A growing number of Colorado's cities and mountain towns have modern hostels, still catering to travelers on a budget yet featuring swanky style and boutique amenities. Most offer private rooms with shared bathrooms, though dorms are where it's at if you are seeking the ultimate bargain. Rates can lead you to breakfast, there are usually kitchens to make your personal meals, which helps save money on food costs. For hostel leads in Colorado, take a look at Hostelworld.

Go car camping

Car camping is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to experience Colorado. What better way to take the state's magnificence rather than be surrounded by it? With hundreds of public and private campgrounds offering overnight stays for cheap, it's easy to increase and set up camp. They have shared bathrooms and fire bowls; some even have showers and camp stores. Campgrounds can fill fast, especially on summer weekends, so make reservations ahead of time to ensure a spot, for both federal lands assuring park campgrounds.

Take your tent towards the backcountry

If being in the wild is more your pace – no one around with no amenities – dispersed camping may be the approach to take. Absolutely free, this back-to-basics camping style is permitted on federal lands, from established campgrounds. And with almost 23 million acres of public ground in Colorado, there are countless options in the state's national forests or Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands.

Stop at ranger stations or a BLM office for maps; most dispersed camping areas are available by dirt roads and marked with tent symbols. Make sure to pack out all you pack in, and remember to create a shovel to bury your poop!

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Stay in a hut

If you love the wilderness but also love a roof over your head (and maybe even electricity), think about a remain in hut. Colorado comes with an extensive system of backcountry huts that are accessible year-round by trails and fire roads. Some are basic dry cabins, while some are nicer affairs with solar-powered lights, wood-burning stoves as well as eco-compost toilets. Browse the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association and San Juan Hut System for the options; reserve early for winter stays!

Base your meals around groceries and farmers markets

Colorado's restaurant scene ranges from simple homegrown eats to world-class dining, but eating out can also add up fast. Instead, intend on prepping your own meals some or most of the time. Don't worry without having a kitchen inside your hotel; you are able to stock up on self-catered meals, snacks and fruit at local supermarkets and farmers markets – it's remarkable how filling sliced salami, bagged salad and a baguette can be-plus, you'll save a lot of money.

Ask about discounts

Don't be shy about asking about discounts! Children often pay less for tours, admission fees, theater tickets and public transit, sometimes around half from the regular rate; ditto for college students, seniors and military personnel. If you are visiting Denver, consider investing in a CityPASS, a prepaid ticket package that provides significant reduced prices for a few of the city's top attractions. Museums round the state often provide a monthly free day too.

Buy a united states the gorgeous Pass

Colorado is home to four national parks – Rocky Mountain, Mesa Verde, Great Sand Dunes and Black Canyon of the Gunnison – together offering spectacular vistas and wildlife spotting, geological marvels and echoes of ancient civilizations. Each park is vastly different from the other, but all are unmissable for his or her trails, scenic drives and out-and-out adventuring.

Admission runs $25 to $35 per vehicle (including all occupants). Knowing you will be visiting a lot more than two national parks, it's worth buying an American the gorgeous Pass ($80), including entry to them all. The pass includes admittance to all federal recreation lands for a whole year, including Colorado's eight national monuments – an excuse to explore further (or to come back!).

The the best places to visit find your personal piece of Colorado

If you intend to ski or ride, sniff out the deals

Colorado is one of the priciest ski destinations in the country, with single-day tickets pushing $225 at some resorts. If you'll only be hitting the slopes for any day or two, it can save you a couple of bucks by buying your tickets online. Going midweek or late within the season also often means lower lift-ticket prices. And when push involves shove, many resorts offer half-day tickets.

If you'll be skiing or riding for three days or more, it may well be cheaper to buy a multiday “pack” (usually good for three to five days) or even a full season pass. It appears excessive, but buying day passes adds up fast. Browse the various Epic and Ikon options, most of which can be used at multiple resorts; just be sure to browse the small print for restrictions and blackout days. To find the best rates, buy before Labor Day.

Top ski resorts in Colorado for novices to powder hounds

Daily costs

Ski-town shuttles: Free
Lift tickets: $85 -225
State park campsite: $18 -28
Hostel (dorm bed): $35 -85
Basic room for 2: from $90
Self-catering apartment (including Airbnb): from $100
Cup of coffee: $3 -5
Sandwich: $8 -14
Dinner for two (without drinks): $30 -100
Pint of craft beer: $6 -12

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