Travel

A Golden Christmas in Colorado

The historic town has been celebrating Christmas with gusto for more than 160 years
TIMEDecember 17, 2021

We’ve just begun our winter walk when a man behind us pulls out a guitar. I hear the simple sounds of “Silent Night” fill the cold night air, and soon everyone around me is singing. Holding a lit candle in my mittened hands, I join in. The light of my single candle joins hundreds of others, illuminating our footsteps as we walk through historic Golden, Colorado.

It’s all part of the Olde Golden Candlelight Walk, a beloved tradition in this little town of 20,000 nestled against the Colorado Rocky Mountains some 25 minutes from Denver.

025 Golden By Night March 2010
Golden by night. (Courtesy of Visit Golden)

Mining History

Golden has been celebrating Christmas with gusto for more than 160 years. Founded in 1859 as a gold rush town, Golden grew in the two-mile-wide Clear Creek Valley between two large mesas and the foothills of the Rockies.

The small town was the last stop for gold seekers before they headed into the hills in search of riches, and it soon became an important supply center. Mining built the town, a fact seen today at Golden’s well-respected Colorado School of Mines.

Over time, others came to seek their fortunes, including a young man named Adolph Coors. Coors, who was born in what is now part of Germany, had stowed away on a ship to America in 1868. By 1873, he had started a brewery in Golden with partner Jacob Schueler, then became its sole owner in 1880.

Coors provided many local jobs in Golden during those early days. During prohibition, Coors kept the company alive by manufacturing porcelain and malted milk products. Today, Molson Coors Brewing Company is one of the largest single brewing facilities in the world, yet the town of Golden retains its small-town charm.

The water Coors uses to brew its beer comes from the Clear Creek watershed. Snow from high in the Rockies melts, gathering minerals as it makes its way through the mountains and down into Clear Creek, the river that runs through the heart of Golden.

019 Downtown Golden Snow December 2016
A light layer of snow lends Golden a magical quality. (Courtesy of Visit Golden)

In the springtime, icy water rushes down the river, creating perfect conditions for kayakers who come to play in Clear Creek White Water Park, a recreational kayaking course with 800 feet of drops, eddies, and waves.

By summer, the water levels calm, and people float on inner tubes through town, climbing out near Coors.

While I’ve floated the river several times, my favorite activity in Golden is walking or biking the Clear Creek Trail, which runs from town into the foothills.

At Christmastime, Clear Creek Trail turns into a magical world of twinkling lights. More than 50,000 holiday lights decorate the city, and many illuminate Clear Creek Trail. Walking along the river under a canopy of trees filled with holiday lights is a magical experience.

From Clear Creek Trail, I continue my walk into Clear Creek History Park, home to many historic homes and buildings from Golden’s early days. Cabins and even an original schoolhouse from the 1800s have holiday lights illuminating them in the crisp night air. The park is free and open seven days a week from sunrise to sunset.

016 Parfet Park Hiker December 2010
A hiker in Parfet Park. (Courtesy of Visit Golden)

A Month of Christmas

Christmas in Golden is a month-long affair. On the second Saturday of the month, the Golden Christmas Parade rolls through town, with marching bands, antique cars, holiday floats, dancing elves, and even a visit from Santa and Buffalo Bill, Golden’s hometown here. After the parade, Golden hosts free horse-drawn carriage rides.

The nearby Colorado Railroad Museum is another must-see during the holidays. The Museum has more than 100 locomotives, passenger and freight cars and cabooses in its 15-acre railyard. From mid-November to Dec. 23, it’s home to the Polar Express, a family-friendly show that takes passengers on an exciting trip to the North Pole with Santa and his elves.

photos by Evan Semón Photography
Santa heads down main street. (Courtesy of Visit Golden)
photos by Evan Semón Photography evan.semon@gmail.com720-620-6767
Santa is on hand to welcome children. (Courtesy of Visit Golden)

Holiday Shopping and Dining in Golden

Golden’s historic arch, which spans Washington Ave, says “Howdy Folks! Welcome to Golden, Where the West Lives.” Yes, this may sound cheesy, but it’s a beloved icon and one of the most photographed locations in Colorado. Underneath the arch, Golden’s main street is lined with boutiques, art galleries, and other shops that fit the region’s western style.

During the holidays, one of the best places to find unique Christmas gifts is at the Holiday Art Market at Foothills Art Center. Housed in a historic Gothic church, the art center features one-of-a-kind artisan gifts from more than 100 local artists. One of my favorite finds is a handprinted egg ornament with an image of downtown Golden and the mesas in the background.

arch welcoming visitors
The arch welcoming visitors to Golden. (Courtesy of Visit Golden)

Small though it may be, Golden has many top restaurants which bring in diners from all over the county. Some of my favorites are the Buffalo Rose Bar & Grill, which has been a popular local drinking spot since 1859. Though it’s changed since those heady mining days, it still retains its historical feel. Other popular finds include The Old Capital Grill and Smokehouse, located in the former capital building of the Colorado Territory, and Abejas Bistro, a seasonal community restaurant focusing on local, fresh ingredients.

Foothills Art Center
Christmas decor items from Foothills Art Center. (Courtesy of Visit Golden)

When to Visit Golden

While Golden is especially magical during the holidays, the town is popular with Coloradans and visitors year-round. Visitors to Denver can take the train to Golden for the day to visit its many shops and restaurants, go hiking in the foothills or take a brewery tour.

Many who come to ski in Colorado stop for a night or two in Golden to acclimate to the altitude before heading to the ski resorts in the mountains.

golden candlelight walk
People attend the Olde Golden Candlelight Walk. (Courtesy of Visit Golden)

Where to Stay in Golden

Built in 1925, Table Mountain Inn is the perfect base for a visit to Golden. Located in the heart of historic downtown, the Santa Fe-style hotel offers comfortable and luxurious rooms just minutes from all the action in town. During the holiday season, the Table Mountain Inn is lit up with holiday charm. Its restaurant, the Table Mountain Cantina & Grill, offers a daily brunch and excellent southwest cuisine.

While staying at Table Mountain Inn, you can leave your car in the hotel’s garage and walk to almost everything you need. Walking is the best way to experience Golden, especially during the holidays.

Janna Graber
Janna Graber has covered travel in more than 55 countries. She is the editor of three travel anthologies, including “A Pink Suitcase: 22 Tales of Women’s Travel,” and is the managing editor of Go World Travel Magazine.