College students are attracted to the Rocky Mountains like bees to honey. Students like the lifestyle and culture that goes along with the area’s scenic beauty. The region is home to numerous colleges and universities that have become integral parts of the communities they inhabit.
Here are some of the most popular college towns in the Rockies that are also great places to host a meeting or conference.
The city of Boulder, Colorado, has 107,000 permanent residents, but when school is in session at the University of Colorado at Boulder, 33,000 more people are added to the mix.
“Being in a college town takes on a different vibe in a community that can really generate so much energy and so much vibrancy in a community,” said Mary Ann Mahoney, CEO of the Boulder Convention and Visitors Bureau. The university and the federal laboratories in Boulder are a big attraction for groups.
Boulder doesn’t have its own convention center, but it does have about 2,600 rooms and lots of meeting space in town and on campus. The University of Colorado has some versatile spaces, such as the Glenn Miller Ballroom in the University Memorial Center and the Fiske Planetarium. Many of the classroom buildings have meeting spaces, as well as auditoriums that are just right for meetings and lectures.
There are numerous hotels surrounding the university. The largest ballroom in town is at the Embassy Suites by Hilton Boulder, with 7,637 square feet. The Hilton Garden Inn, next door, also has meeting space. Between them, they have 376 guest rooms.
To preserve its beautiful views of the foothills and its famous rock formations, the Flatirons, the city is surrounded by open space and outdoor recreation. Biking and hiking are two of the most popular sports in and around Boulder.
Boise State University (BSU) is just a few city blocks away from Boise’s main downtown core. The city has grown exponentially over the past 10 years.
“It is booming,” said Sophie Sestero, spokeswoman for the Boise Convention and Visitors Bureau. With that growth in population has come new restaurants and businesses. The river that runs through town has a 25-mile-long green belt alongside it that has 10 dedicated wineries and cideries. Boise proper has 19 craft breweries. People love to hike and bike along the greenway.
“The thing that differentiates Boise is we are so welcoming,” Sestero said. Plus, Boise is an outdoor paradise, offering everything from whitewater rafting to float trips, kayaking, skiing and stand-up paddleboarding.
The university can accommodate conferences of up to 1,400 people. The BSU student union has three ballrooms and multiple meeting rooms. The Stueckle Sky Center, which was built overlooking the blue turf of BSU’s Albertsons Stadium, has 131,000 square feet of space and offers 360-degree views of the city and foothills.
The Double R Ranch Club seats up to 350 banquet guests or 450 theater style. Groups can also add a tour of the field if their event doesn’t conflict with a football game or practice.
The Grove Hotel has 14,000 square feet of meeting space, with additional space available next door at the 5,400-seat CenturyLink Arena. The Boise Centre has more than 80,000 square feet of meeting and event spaces.
At 110,000 people, Billings is the largest city in Montana and the largest urban center in the mostly rural region.
Two colleges call Billings home: Montana State University Billings and Rocky Mountain College. Because of that, the area draws a lot of young professionals. With 55 hotels citywide, the area is just shy of 5,000 hotel rooms. It also has about 350,000 square feet of meeting space.
Billings has five independent full-service conference hotels, and the MetraPark complex has a 12,000-seat arena, a 28,800-square-foot pavilion and the 77,400-square-foot Expo Center.
Because most people are unfamiliar with Montana as a destination, Visit Billings works with meeting planners to help orient them to the area, including the best restaurants, the best beer and where to go to experience the nightlife and culture that makes the area unique, said Stefan Cattarin, meeting and convention sales manager for Visit Billings.
Besides its convention facilities, Billings has a beautiful zoo — ZooMontana — with some of the best bison and grizzly bear exhibits in the country, a children’s museum, water parks and a Scheels sporting goods store with a Ferris wheel, an arcade and a giant fish tank. Outdoor sports are huge in Montana. Some must-see areas include Pictograph Cave State Park, Pompeys Pillar, the Billings Brew Trail and the Beartooth Highway, which leads from Billings to the entrance of Yellowstone National Park. Many of the off-site venues in Billings celebrate its Western history.
Laramie, Wyoming, is an outdoor-lover’s paradise and is home to the University of Wyoming. Two mountain ranges run to the east and west of Laramie, attracting outdoor enthusiasts who like to hunt, fish, hike, climb and camp.
Laramie is known for its proud Western history, but it has grown into so much more, said Mike Gray, design and operations manager for Visit Laramie. Downtown Laramie is full of unique shops and restaurants and has five breweries. The city has even expanded its culinary palate from beef to include exotic things like Thai food, vegetarian fare and sushi.
Meeting planners love the city, as it has first-class meeting venues for a city of 32,000 people. The Hilton Garden Inn has 3,483 square feet of event space and 135 guest rooms. That facility sits across the street from the University of Wyoming Marian H. Rochelle Gateway Center, a 67,000-square-foot facility that has several conference and meeting options.
Travelers like to visit the Wyoming Territorial Prison Historic Site, a prison built in 1872 that housed many notorious outlaws, including Butch Cassidy. The University of Wyoming American Heritage Center is also worth a visit. Marvel comic book legend Stan Lee donated nearly 200 boxes of his working drafts, photos, videos, articles and fan mail to the center before his death. The Deerwood Ranch Wild Horse EcoSanctuary cares for 350 wild mustangs and is a great place to visit.
The city of Ogden and Utah State University have a symbiotic relationship. Each works to promote what the other has to offer.
Ogden prides itself on its proximity to outdoor sporting activities like skiing, hiking and biking, but its history plays a huge role as well, since Ogden is where the transcontinental railroad was completed. Visitors love to visit the historic Union Station, which houses four museums and two art galleries.
The 2002 Winter Olympic Games, which were held in Utah, were a huge catalyst to revitalization and development in the area.
“We didn’t recognize we were an outdoor recreation destination,” said Sara Toliver, president and CEO of Visit Ogden. “It’s been wonderful to see the city embrace that and enhance those offerings.”
Many of the area’s historic buildings were turned into restaurants, retail, and meeting and event spaces. The area has about 1,600 guest rooms, 500 of which are in Ogden’s downtown convention district. Its convention center has 70,000 square feet of meeting space that is attached to Peery’s Egyptian Theater, a historic movie palace built in 1924 that is now an 800-seat multiuse theatrical venue.
The university is also a meeting destination. It recently built meeting space above its stadium that “literally sits right in front of the mountain range there, so the views are just unparalleled,” Toliver said. “It is absolutely breathtaking.”