GEORGETOWN - Head about 45 miles (a 52-minute drive) west on I-70 from Denver, and you'll notice a small mountain town on the south side of the highway that looks like it belongs in a picture book.
That's Georgetown, a 1.15-square-mile town that sits 8,530 feet above sea level and has a population of just over 1,000.
The old mining town is also famous for being one the best places to visit around the holiday season.
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A start in mining
Georgetown began as a mining camp back in 1859.
Brothers George and David Griffith had split from their mining party and ended up finding gold in Clear Creek. Needless to say, they stayed in the area for the rest of that summer and the following fall. But when winter came, they left to escape the harsh conditions.
The following spring, word had spread and a rush of gold seekers flooded the valley. By June, the Griffith Mining District was incorporated to help regulate competition for water rights, recording property transactions, boundary and mineral disputes, founding claims, etc.
Soon, residents formed the “Georgetown Company” and claimed 640 acres for a townsite. But by 1861 gold was becoming harder to find and many residents were leaving for better prospects. Luckily, only three years later a large silver deposit was found nearby and a new mining boom began.
Prospectors returned to the valley, and on January 28, 1868 the Town of Georgetown was officially incorporated.
Georgetown around the holidays
Look on almost any list of the top small towns to visit in the holiday season, and Georgetown will be there. In fact, the Georgetown Christmas Market was listed on the Top 10 Holiday Festivals by USA Today in 2015 and was mentioned in a Travel Channel story about Magical Christmas Markets Around the World published this November.
So, what makes their market so special?
Each December for the past 55 years, Georgetown is transformed into a traditional Christmas village for two weekends. Visitors can snack on roasted chestnuts while strolling through the streets lined with gorgeous lights and local vendors. Or take a ride through historic downtown on a horse-drawn carriage.
There is also a daily procession of the Santa Lucia, Victorian-era carolers, dancers, and appearances by St. Nicholas, dressed of course in his traditional garb.
This year, the Christmas Market will take place Saturday and Sunday December 3 and 4 as well as Saturday and Sunday December 10 and 11.
For an extra special holiday experience, the Georgetown Loop Railroad offers two unique winter train rides. Santa’s North Pole Adventure is a one-hour trip onboard a decorated train where Santa and his helpers pass out goodies to children on the ride. In the evenings, Santa’s Lighted Forest winds through a beautiful light show synchronized to music in the forest above the town.
When Georgetown Lake freezes over, outdoor enthusiasts near and far come to play. Ice fishing huts can be seen dotting the 55-acre reservoir nearly all season. For the last 40 years, a local club has also been hosting public ice racing. Anyone can bring their car and try racing it out on the ice for a small fee. They also offer classes for those who want to learn to race or just drive better on icy roads.
Though Georgetown is most known for these winter festivities, they also host a slew of events through the rest of the year. In November, the Big Horn Sheep Festival celebrates the fact that the town is home to the biggest free range herd of Bighorns in North America. And Buffalo Bill Daze in September brings railroad guests back to the days of Buffalo Bill Cody’s visits to the town.
Spending a day in the town
If a small-town vibe is for you, you'll probably be able to find something pretty affordable in Georgetown. The median home price there is $260,000, according to real estate website Trulia.com, and the median rent is $1,400.
But if you don't plan on living there, Georgetown is great for a day visit.
First, head to the historic Georgetown Loop Railroad, where you can take a one-hour, 15-minute train ride around Georgetown, or stop to tour the Lebanon Silver Mine for a two-hour, 30-minute trip.
Next, go back into town and hit up the Hamill House and Hotel de Paris museums, both great ways to explore late 1800s-era life.
And if you have time, and enjoy scenic drives, take a ride on Guanella Pass (probably best to hold off until good weather on this one, though).
Georgetown is home to about 80 businesses, with specialties ranging from gift shops, to outdoor gear retailers and events' guides, to construction companies and more.
In the heart of town is the Georgetown Rock Shop, which sells Colorado minerals and offers a selection of rocks and gems from around the world. Shoppe International, a floral gift and home decor shop with unique, hand-made offerings, is also a good place to check out.
There are also plenty of places to shop and grab a bite to eat, too.
The Alpine Restaurant & Bar (which visitors say has some amazing calzones) and The Happy Cooker (a breakfast-lunch spot) are two local favorites.
If you like Mexican food, head to Lucha Cantina, which has a hipster take on Tex Mex. Or go to the Dusty Rose Tea Room, which really brings home the history of the town with its Victorian "high tea" or "afternoon tea."
Take the family to the Georgetown Valley Candy Company for some delicious, hand-made fudge, taffy or brittle. And afterwards, give your kids a place to burn off the sugar high at Foster's Place Playground, an elaborate playground with five play areas, all connected with ramps, bridges and walkways.
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