Be dazzled by astonishing light displays, live musical performances and noteworthy holiday attractions

Few places offer a more picturesque Christmas retreat than the towering snow-capped mountains and soft glow of tucked-away towns in the Rocky Mountain states. Whether you’re looking for charming antique shops and adventure-filled days at ski ranges or want to admire the lights with a warm cup of cocoa, these cities offer a cozy getaway for the holidays.

Billings, Montana wastes no time preparing for Christmas with festivities kicking off the day after Thanksgiving. Billings’ annual Holiday Parade features local marching bands jazzing up classic winter tunes along with an appearance from Father Christmas himself. ZooMontana celebrates the season with a drive through its light display and a number of live music festivals play carols throughout December.

Missoula, Montana is set aglow by its annual Parade of Lights, the perfect backdrop for a number of downtown activities throughout December. Each weekend sees new, themed crafts and a kids corner, while adults can warm up with a mug of hot chocolate as they peruse the quaint specialty and antique shops downtown. Carriage rides are offered throughout downtown through The Resort at Paws Up, offering a delightful view of the town.

Equally dazzling is the Christmas tree lighting event in Casper, Wyoming where people gather downtown to witness the town’s transformation to a holiday wonderland. Each year, the town embraces a new theme with a parade and ice skating rink.

As snow falls across Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, travelers can embrace their adventurous side with cross-country skiing through the pine trees of the Panhandle National Forest. Snowboarding and skiing are also popular at Silver Mountain. Jump on board a boat ride with Lake Coeur d’Alene Cruises and be dazzled by the more than 1 million lights reflecting off the water from the resort’s holiday light show.

More breathtaking light displays can be found at the Botanical Garden’s Winter Garden aGlow in Boise, Idaho. Travelers will have to crane their heads to see the top of the huge Christmas tree at the front of the Capitol building. Luckily, visitors can also see festive greenery indoors at the Boise Center, which displays decorated pines during the Festival of Trees as cheerful notes from live music and dance performances winds through the trees.

Say hello to Santa in Colorado Springs.

Travelers will be delighted by an afternoon in Colorado Springs, where they can visit the North Pole, a Christmas-themed amusement park. The park is packed with holiday cheer, featuring themed rides (such as the Candy Cane coaster), a miniature train ride and, of course, the chance to meet Santa. Later, take a spin on the outdoor ice skating rink at Acacia Park before visiting the nearby holiday market — perfect for finding unique handmade gifts. The ice skating rink is seasonal and is open from November to February.

Denver, Colorado offers spectacular views and deluxe shopping, while Denver Zoo delivers a kaleidoscope of colors with Christmas lights sculpted to the shapes of animals. The two-mile Parade of Lights dazzles with floats, marching bands and the appearance of Santa, while the Colorado Ballet does a showing of the Nutcracker to celebrate the season.

Denver Zoo

Tucked away at the base of the mountains is another North Pole experience in Flagstaff, Arizona. Tours of the North Pole lead visitors through the toy factory, Santa’s workshop, Mrs. Claus’ bakery and an elf university. The Riordan Mansion State Historic Park embraces the Christmas spirit by transforming the grounds into a winter wonderland, with its arrangement of wreaths, garlands and lights drawing in visitors throughout the holiday season.

Ballets, local musicians and philharmonic performances delight in Reno, Nevada, performing holiday classics. Join carolers each evening in their nightly performances downtown, and don’t miss out on the Reno Santa Pub Crawl, which raises money each year for local charities as participants dress as elves, Santa and Mrs. Claus on their tour
of various Reno bars.

The celebrations continue in Ruidoso, New Mexico, where the Annual Festival of Lights dazzles visitors. Nestled among the mountains in the south of the state, Ruidoso Winter Park offers sledding and tubing. The nearby Ski Apache is home to more challenging skiing and snowboarding paths. In the evening the slopes are brightened by a torchlight parade, where skilled skiers create a ripple of light down
the slopes by holding torches as they ski.

Nativity scenes and more than a million Christmas lights set up a charming scene in Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah. Here, holiday festivities run throughout the entire month of December. Visitors can treat themselves to a three-day concert from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, explore the light tunnel at Hogle Zoo or wander through historic villages at Heritage Park’s Candlelight Christmas — all while enjoying views of the snow-capped Wasatch Mountains.

With twinkling lights and cozy retreats, the Rocky Mountain states offer a beautiful setting for the perfect holiday season.

By Lauren DeLorenzo