1. Telluride, 2. Crested Butte, 3. Creede, 4. Steamboat Springs, 5. Breckenridge, 6. Estes Park, 7. Vail, 8. Silverton, 9. Durango, 10. Trinidad, 11. Frisco, 12. Ouray, 13. Manitou Springs. Many towns in Colorado's mountainous state are ideal for anyone seeking a getaway in the great outdoors. Colorado is a skier's paradise with some of the biggest and most well-known ski resorts in the US, but it's also a hiker's paradise with its abundant parklands, hilly terrain, majestic rivers, and ancient forests. You have a fascinating place to explore in terms of nature and culture when you combine it with a history of silver mining and status as one of the most liberal, progressive Western states in the present. Here are the best towns in Colorado.
- Crested Butte
- Steamboat Springs
- Estes Park
- Manitou Springs
Only eight blocks wide and twelve blocks long, the town of Telluride is tucked into a box canyon surrounded by 13,000- and 14,000-foot peaks. Telluride was named a National Historic Landmark District in 1964 due to its important place in the history of the American West. Telluride’s luxury hotels coexist with colorful Victorian-era homes, clapboard storefronts, historic structures, and boutiques, art galleries, and gourmet restaurants. The sister town of Mountain Village, perched above at 9,500 feet, complements Telluride’s mining heritage with European-style architecture, contemporary amenities, ski-in/ski-out accommodations, and panoramic views of the surrounding mountains. The first and only free public transportation system of its kind in North America connects Telluride and Mountain Village with a breathtaking, 13-minute ride on a free gondola.
The summers in Mountain Village are simply breathtaking, and tourists savor the unique experience of visiting this enchanted place. The visitor’s guide can be found here. The skies are clear, the vistas are unparalleled, and there are new opportunities to experience genuine Colorado adventure every day. There is something for every outdoor enthusiast, including hiking Wilson Peak, tubing down the San Miguel River, and cycling the entire circumference of the San Juan Mountains.
With The Cabins, the town also offers a distinctive spin on the gondola experience. 25 converted gondola cabins are scattered throughout Mountain Village’s various plazas and function as both private dining rooms and art installations. Year-round, locals and visitors alike enjoy a diverse range of cuisine. Whether they eat in a restaurant in the town or one of the cabins. After a memorable meal, round out the experience with a stroll through Mountain Village’s plazas and a stop at one of the renowned shops for personalized skis or western boots.
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The East River Valley’s isolation makes Crested Butte less populated than other Colorado small towns. Visitors can then fully take in the region’s breathtaking beauty and culture. The National Historic District is surrounded by Victorian structures because it was once a mining town. Many of them have been transformed into quaint restaurants, gift stores, and antique boutique hotels. The community upholds its reputation as “the last great ski town in Colorado”. A well-liked winter activity is skiing and snowboarding at Crested Butte Mountain Resort. The town’s nordic center offers both cross-country skiing and ice skating.
Plan your trip around one of Crested Butte’s unique events to take advantage of all that the mountain village has to offer. With workshops, photography classes, garden tours, and hikes, the well-known Crested Butte Wildflower Fest honors the region’s annual display of vibrant wildflowers. The Crested Butte Music Festival sets up shop from July through September, hosting concerts in jazz, bluegrass, indie, and classical music amidst breathtaking mountain and valley views. The Grand Traverse backcountry skiing, mountaineering, biking, and running race between Aspen and Crested Butte, the Crested Butte Pole, Pedal, paddle multi-sport endurance race, and the world’s first mountain bike festival, Crested Butte Bike Week, are just a few of the events available to serious athletes.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation recognized Crested Butte as one of its “Dozen Distinctive Destinations” in 2008, a list of locations that illuminate the history of the country. Visit the Crested Butte Museum to learn more about the past of the region, then stroll through downtown Crested Butte where locally owned stores and eateries are housed in stunning late-1800s storefronts. And discover the rationale behind the designation of the Crested Butte Creative District as a Certified Colorado Creative District.
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Because of its isolation and small population of less than 300, the mountain town of Creede in Colorado is little known. However, this Wild West town had 10,000 residents in the late 19th century. Numerous people were prospectors drawn by the now-closed silver mines. But in this small Colorado town, the legacy of the sector continues. Most people associate Creede with its Underground Mining Museum, whose tours are led by locals who once worked in the mines. Visit the Creede Historical Museum and take the free tour of Last Chance Mine to round out the experience.
You are invited to shop, eat, and stay at nearby lodgings by preserved 1890s storefronts. Visit the Creede Historical Museum and the extremely unique Underground Mining Museum while you’re there to learn more about the town’s silver mining history. But this story isn’t just about the past. The town hosts the Creede Repertory Theatre every summer, which runs for the majority of the season and presents a mixture of traditional and contemporary productions. The annual Taste of Creede festival, which takes place over Memorial Day weekend, includes cooking competitions, live music, and artist demonstrations. And Donkey Dash is a must-see! Every year in June, Main Street fills up with burros and their riders as they get ready to race 10 miles to the finish line.
You can go rafting, ATVing, hiking, mountain biking, and fishing a lot here because it’s near the headwaters of the Rio Grande and San Juan rivers. Change those out for winter sports like cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, sledding, and ice skating once the snow starts to fall. Explore at least one of the area’s scenic byways, such as the Silver Thread scenic and historic byway, and if you have a 4X4 vehicle, make time to stop at the intriguing formations at Wheeler Geologic Area south of town. The historic Bachelor Loop is surrounded by mining remnants and changing leaves in the fall.
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Steamboat Springs, located in the Rocky Mountains, is home to not one, but two excellent skiing areas. There are two ski areas in the area: the much smaller Howelsen Hill Ski Area, which is named after the man who introduced ski-jumping to Steamboat Springs in 1913, and the well-known Steamboat Ski Resort, which is located on Mount Werner just outside of town. You can go white-water kayaking on the challenging Yampa River for more aquatic fun. And if you enjoy cycling, you’re in luck because the League of American Bicyclists recognized the region surrounding Steamboat Springs as a top location for cycling in 2011.
Steamboat Springs is the ideal location for just about any summer adventure you can think of thanks to its distinctive combination of mountains and valleys, three different lakes, and a river that runs directly through town. Steamboat changes its name from Ski Town, USA® to Bike Town, USA® during the summer. There are many other trails for cross-country mountain biking, as well as trails around the town for easy cruising with the family. Take to one of the many hiking and backpacking trails by swapping your wheels for hiking boots. The breathtaking views are present on all types of hikes, from easy family strolls to strenuous backcountry treks.
Both on land and in the water, Steamboat is a lot of fun. Tubing down the Yampa River is a must-do Steamboat activity because the river runs directly through the town. Of course, anglers from all over Colorado and beyond come to fish in its gold Medal waters. You can fish, boat, canoe, and sail at the breathtakingly beautiful Steamboat Lake, Pearl Lake, and Stagecoach Reservoir. Two geothermal hot springs, one in the center of town and the other, Strawberry Park Hot Springs, a short drive up the mountain, are ready to revitalize you when it’s time to slow down and unwind. Not all adventures take place in the wild. There are many new restaurants and brewpubs in the area that are open and provide a variety of comfortable dining options.
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The biggest ski mountain in the state is Vail Ski Resort, but Breckenridge Ski Resort is the most well-known in Colorado and one of the busiest in the Western Hemisphere. Although everyone who visits Breckenridge probably comes for the skiing, this town’s roots are in mining. And the log and clapboard fronted buildings strewn about town, dating all the way back to the late 19th century, reflect the leftovers of that prospector-born wealth. Additionally, the area is ideal for hiking; in the summer, visit Blue River for wildflowers along the picturesque trails.
Breckenridge’s winter season offers many chances to spend time with your favorite people. Whether it’s sharing a round at après after spending the day tearing through powder on the legendary slopes of the ski town (Fun fact: Breckenridge has the highest chairlift in North America), or strolling arm in arm in a puffy jacket down the sidewalk under a soft snowfall as you make your way from one neighborhood pub to another. Breckenridge may only be 7 miles long and 2 miles wide, but it is home to more than 100 restaurants and bars where visitors are welcomed with open arms and bar tabs. Therefore, there is plenty of ground to cover.
Whether you start early on the river casting dries at a particularly alluring eddy, splashing through rapids on a Class V run down the Arkansas, or you take to the singletrack on two wheels or four legs, cool mountain breezes and long, sun-drenched afternoons make it easy to seek out the excitement in every day. Of course, the journey is the best part of any excursion here, and it frequently includes seeing the friendliest locals, such as moose, elk, deer, and other native wildlife who enjoy interacting with visitors to Breckenridge as much as the locals do.
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Estes Park is the place to go for anything outdoor-related because it serves as the command center for the Rocky Mountain National Park. If getting outside and enjoying nature is what you’re after, there are plenty of activities to choose from, including hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter. Notably, Estes Park is also known for being the location of The Stanley Hotel, which opened its doors in 1909 and served as the model for Stephen King’s novel The Shining. Naturally, King is the focus of the tours of this Edwardian hotel. The mountain village of Estes Park, which serves as the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park, provides all the contemporary conveniences you require along with the mountain charm and welcoming atmosphere you seek.
Since Estes Park is known for its unique wilderness activities, you can find the local experts, the necessary equipment, and the guided excursions to get both experienced explorers and beginners out exploring. In the summer and fall, Estes Park and the surrounding areas are great places to go camping, hiking, biking, rock climbing, and engaging in water sports like stand-up paddle boarding and whitewater rafting. In the breathtaking beauty of true wilderness, winter brings snow-covered slopes and cold-weather activities like snowshoeing, sledding, ice climbing, and even backcountry skiing! Adventurers are drawn to the trails and streams year-round to fly fish, ride horses, fat-bike, and improve their photography skills.
Estes Park is also a great winter getaway for snow activities, relaxing in a hot tub, and taking part in uncommon winter festivals. The main attraction in this picturesque valley is Rocky Mountain National Park. Travelers can experience a journey through an alpine wonderland on Trial Ridge Road, which is a designated national scenic byway and the highest continuous paved highway in America. Daily wildlife sightings are common, particularly those of the majestic elk that graze in lush meadows. Despite the park’s popularity, visitors can find solitude at any time of year by avoiding the roads and sticking to the trails. A park ranger will be happy to point you in the right direction if you ask them for suggestions.
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Snowmobiling, snowshoeing, snow tubing, sleigh rides, and other activities are available for those seeking adventure off the slopes even though skiing and snowboarding are the most popular winter sports. With adventure courses, ziplines, a mountain coaster, and a ton more options at Epic Discovery, the town and nearby mountains come alive with energy and adventure in the summer and fall. There are excellent waterfall hikes nearby, difficult and enjoyable mountain bike and road cycling routes, spas and delectable dining options, rafting and golf courses. Aspen leaves turn to a variety of golds in the fall, creating a visual feast against a cornflower-blue sky.
The Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater and the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens are two examples of the legacy left by the former president Gerald R. Ford and his wife Betty, who made this place their home. The Vail Recreation District’s programs, the Vail Nature Center, and the numerous works of public art that dot the Vail landscape make for an abundance of recreational opportunities. The GoPro Mountain Games, the Vail Dance Festival, the Bravo! Music Festival, the Vail Jazz Festival, the free Hot Summer Nights concert series, Snow Daze, the Burton U.S. Open, and more exciting annual events are all held in Vail throughout the year.
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One of Colorado’s most well-known mining communities, Silverton has been designated a National Historical Landmark. Independently, the popular attraction Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad holds the same title. Because it provides breathtaking views of the San Juan Mountains, tourists adore taking this scenic train ride in Colorado. Silverton is tucked away at 9,318 feet in the center of the San Juan Mountains. It’s the perfect starting point for a variety of grand adventures.
Silverton, which is less than 50 miles from Durango and is now a National Historic Landmark District, was once a mining boomtown and is situated within 15 miles of seven of Colorado’s most well-known 14,000-foot peaks. To see those majestic mammoths in all their glory, take the EV-friendly Alpine Loop scenic byway. Visit the Victorian Grand Imperial Hotel, Old Hundred Gold Mine, Mayflower Gold Mill, and the San Juan County Historical Society to travel back in time. For open-air thrills, you can also board the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and snake your way along cliff edges next to a raging river.
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The most picturesque part of Durango’s historic district is Main Avenue, where structures like the Strater Hotel and The General Palmer Hotel serve as a backdrop to its illustrious past. The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad depot is located at one end of Main Avenue. You can ride this vintage railroad all the way to Silverton through the hills and valleys of the old prospector region. The amazing Mesa Verde National Park, which contains cliff-side stone palaces and pueblos constructed by the region’s indigenous people more than 1,500 years ago, is also accessible from Durango. Durango has served as a source of inspiration for famous authors writing Western novels as well as actors and directors creating award-winning films over the years.
Durango has long been considered a foodie’s paradise and was once noted for having more restaurants per capita than San Francisco. You might even find some Durango specialties on the shelves of your local grocery store, such as beers from Ska Brewing and honey, jams, and sauces from Honeyville, as well as green chili from the Durango Diner and confections from the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. For their innovative dishes, Durango’s chefs, brewers, and artists are recognized with awards every year. Come and taste the delectable treats at the annual Taste of Durango festival to believe it for yourself.
There is still a lot to see in the southwest’s ancient history and culture after months of exploration. Durango offers unmatched access to some of the nation’s best-preserved history thanks to its more than 2,500 preserved archeological sites, four nearby national monuments, 13 historic sites, two members of the UNESCO World Heritage List, and one national park. Visit Chaco Canyon, spend a day at Mesa Verde National Park, and make a point of escaping to the Weminuche Wilderness for some private time in nature.
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Trinidad has received numerous honors, including being named one of The Culture Trip’s 10 Most Beautiful Towns in Colorado, one of Colorado’s Local Fan Favorites for 2015, one of Westword’s 10 Best Colorado Towns to Buy a House, one of True West Magazine’s Top Ten True Western Towns, and the State of Colorado’s Creative District designation. The abundance of historical victorian architecture in Trinidad gives the town’s amenities a distinctive atmosphere. Participants and spectators from all over the country flock to special annual events like the wildly imaginative drivable vehicular art invasion of ArtoCade in September, which attracts participants and spectators from galleries showcasing both traditional and unexpected works, outstanding museums, cozy boutiques, sidewalk cafes, year-round theatre, and special art treks with galleries showcasing both traditional and surprising artwork.
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With an elevation of 9,097 feet and a location between mountains and a lake, Frisco is a classic Colorado mountain town. It is only 90 minutes from Denver International Airport. Gold and silver mining in the 1870s served as an inspiration for the town’s founding, and hundreds of acres of public land surround Frisco today continue to serve as an inspiration for locals and tourists. Six top-notch ski resorts, including Copper Mountain, Breckenridge Ski Resort, and Vail Mountain, are within 30 minutes of Frisco’s enviable location. A unique “resortless resort town” that enjoys the good fortune of being situated in the middle of incredible recreational opportunities while still maintaining its small-town charm is created when you add a charming Main Street filled with independently owned shops and restaurants.
In other words, it’s the perfect place to establish a base camp, whether for a summer expedition on the water and trails or a winter vacation on the snow. The Frisco Adventure Park offers a lift-assisted tubing hill, beginner ski/ride hill, Nordic center with cross-country skiing and snowshoe trails, and horse-drawn sleigh rides in the winter, all within minutes of Main Street. Chuck wagon rides, a free skate park, bike park, and disc golf course open up for the summer at the Adventure Park after the snow melts.
At the eastern end of Frisco’s Main Street, the Frisco Bay Marina offers everything you need for the classic “summer lake life”, including fishing and sailing as well as pontoon boat and stand-up paddleboard rentals. Since Frisco is surrounded by public lands with easy access to trailheads from every part of town, there are countless opportunities for outdoor summer activities like hiking and mountain biking. The 55 miles of paved recreation paths in the area, which are great for road biking, running, walking, and even longboarding, are also centered in Frisco.
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Ouray was founded in the late 1870s during the gold and silver strikes because it is such a wonderful place to unwind. The Ouray Hot Springs, where locals and tourists alike go to soak in the healing waters, are fed by natural hot springs. The Ute Indian Chief Ouray, after whom the town is named, is said to have frequented the pool and held ceremonies in the nearby vapor cave. A short hike down to Box Canyon Falls, where the water thunders 285 feet from top to basin into a tight canyon, is a popular activity for tourists and makes for some amazing photo opportunities. In fact, the town’s canyons serve as the setting for ice climbing, one of the most well-liked winter activities.
Ouray, Colorado, proudly hosts the Ouray Ice Festival every January at the Ouray Ice Park, which offers the straightforward access climbers love. The town, which is surrounded by deciduous trees like quaking aspens and evergreen scrub oaks, transforms into a stunningly colored canvas each fall, attracting tourists who want to get a closer look at the vibrant foliage. Off-roaders, Jeep tours, and other backcountry lovers frequent the town because of the scenery, the towering San Juan Mountain peaks, and a network of abandoned mining routes. Another well-liked route to travel through the region is the San Juan Skyway Scenic & Historic Byway.
A look at what it was like to be a miner can be obtained from tours of the Bachelor-Syracuse Mine and exhibits at the neighborhood museum. Another option is to take a ghostly tour guide on a carriage or foot through history. Visitors are drawn in by the city’s historical structures, a wide variety of inexpensive and comfortable lodging options (some with hot spring pools on-site), special artisan shops and galleries, delicious, diverse restaurants (and the renowned Mouse’s Chocolates), and unique shops and galleries.
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Since visitors first learned about the therapeutic waters the Ute Indians had been drinking for years in the 1870s, Manitou Springs, tucked into the petticoats of Pikes Peak, has been the prototypical tourist destination. There are still many active mineral springs in the town, and the water is still free. In addition to therapeutic waters, tuberculosis patients were said to benefit from the cool mountain air. Visitors still come today for both their physical and mental well-being. At SunWater Spa, which has one private and seven public cedar pools with temperatures ranging from 85 to 104 degrees, you can dip your toes in water from Manitou Springs’ Seven Minute Spring, one of the eight springs in the city.
The Manitou Incline, a former cable-car track turned calf-burning workout, draws professional athletes and intrepid hikers to the region. Despite being only one mile long, the trail climbs 2,000 vertical feet. Arcade Amusements, a penny arcade where you can still play pinball for a dime, is a favorite family hangout because of the relaxed atmosphere and casual dress code. The downtown main street is lined with amusing shops and fantastic little eateries. As you stroll the town, look for locally made arts and crafts. Accommodations range from fully restored, opulent buildings to the historic motels that welcomed the first weary travelers. A must-see is Miramont Castle, a Victorian-style mansion constructed by a French priest that incorporates nine different architectural styles.
When in town, be sure to explore the ruddy rocks for yourself, either by taking a guided tour of the caves at Cave of the Winds Mountain Park (where you can then ride exhilarating rides), or by going to the Manitou Cliff Dwellings. Pikes Peak itself is, of course, the main draw. From Manitou, you can board the Pikes Peak Cog Railway, which slowly ascends the mountain to its 14,000-foot summit. Or select one of the many hiking trails that lead to breathtaking views at the top; the 13-mile Barr Trail is among the most well-liked options.