The best mountain towns in Colorado include everything from world-famous ski resorts to teeny-tiny (but wildly scenic!) hamlets few people have ever even heard of. This Colorado travel guide covers over 20, highlighting what to do, where to eat and stay, insider tips, and more.
Few U.S. destinations are quite as iconic as the best Colorado mountain towns.
The Rocky Mountains carve jaw-dropping, dramatic landscapes throughout the Centennial state, creating stunning view, year-round outdoor recreation (seriously, if you’re not into hiking, rafting, or mountain biking, you probably shouldn’t visit), and charming, historic alpine communities.
Interestingly, every little town has its own distinct personality, perks, and reasons to visit. In some cases, this is even true of towns very close to one another!
We reached out to some of our favorite travel bloggers—many of them lifelong Coloradoans!—to get the inside scoop. Check out 22 of the best mountain towns in Colorado, ranging from hot tourist destinations to hidden gems (yes, such a thing still exists!).
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Jump ahead to:
Best Mountain Towns in Colorado
You’ll find internationally-known household names and places even some locals have never heard of. That’s the beauty of the best Colorado mountain towns — there’s something for everyone!
Highlights: An upscale, world-class ski resort town home to some of the world’s most recognizable mountains
Closest major city: 40 miles (1 hour) from Glenwood Springs and 130 miles (about 2 hours) from Grand Junction
Don’t miss: the iconic Maroon Bells!
The town of Aspen, elevation 8,000 feet, is known for its world-renowned skiing, mountain views, and high-end restaurants. It’s also famous for the many aspen trees around town (hence the name), which turn bright gold in the fall.
Aspen is 40 miles (1 hour) from Glenwood Springs, or 130 miles (about 2 hours) from Grand Junction. From Denver, it’s 200 miles and the drive through the mountains takes almost 4 hours, but it’s really worth it.
If there’s one thing you can’t miss when you’re in Aspen, it’s the Maroon Bells!
These are the most photographed mountains in North America, and you can reach them in about 30 minutes from town. Note that advance parking reservations are required from May through October to alleviate some of the crowds and parking headaches.
Insider tip: you can also hike past Maroon Lake to a second one called Crater Lake, which is much quieter and offers views of the Bells from a different perspective.
Overall, Aspen is one of the best mountain towns in Colorado for its skiing and scenery.
Ski season runs from November to April, but fall is another excellent time to visit (especially mid- to late September), when the leaves on the trees change to amazing shades of yellow and orange. This is also one of the best times to photograph the Maroon Bells.
Contributed by David from The World Travel Guy
Highlights: A mixture of family-friendly fun, renowned winter sports, and epic adventures such as parasailing, all just 1.5 hours from the Mile High
Closest major city: 80 miles (1.5 hours) from Denver
Don’t miss: Driving scenic Boreas Pass Road and indulging in an après-ski (or post-hike!) American burger and fries from Bird and Cow
Situated at a base elevation of nearly 10,000 feet, Breckenridge is home to North America’s highest chair lift (the Imperial Express Superchair) and spans over 7 miles of snow-capped peaks.
With its easy access from Denver, “Breck” is easily one of the best mountain towns in Colorado!
Known for gold mining like so many other Colorado mountain towns in the late 1800s, Breck is now renowned for its exceptional ski resorts and unparalleled adventure opportunities.
Take part in everything from gold panning and biking hundreds of miles of trails to pottery classes and even paragliding!
Although Breck is often referred to as one of the best adventure capitals in North America, there’s also plenty to do for people seeking relaxation in the mountains.
Visitors of all ages should take the time to do the scenic drive from Boreas Pass Road to the Continental Divide.
For travelers enjoying Breck’s incredible ski resorts in the winter, don’t miss the snow sculpture competitions every January. As one of the biggest winter sculpture competitions in the world, the entire town truly transforms into a winter wonderland!
For couples seeking a romantic and adventurous summer getaway, the Breckenridge Food and Wine Festival every July is another great event to be a part of. But no matter what season you visit Breck, staying at the Grand Colorado on Peak 8 is sure to be a highlight of your trip!
Contributed by Emily of Emily Embarks
Highlights: This Colorado mountain town is home to both the highest concentration of 14ers in the U.S. and the state’s biggest whitewater park
Closest major city: 93 miles (just under 2 hours) from Colorado Springs and 135 miles (2.5 hours) from Denver
Don’t miss: Summit a 14er, paddle through the Buena Vista Whitewater Park, and check out the nearby ghost town of St. Elmo
Buena Vista is one of the best mountain towns in Colorado for outdoor adventure enthusiasts. The town is nestled between the Arkansas River and the Collegiate Peaks, affectionately known as the “Avenue of the Fourteeners.”
This range has the highest concentration of 14,000-foot mountains in the entire country, including Mount Princeton, Mount Yale, and Mount Harvard (hence the “Collegiate” name).
Needless to say, there’s no shortage of adventure in Buena Vista. Hike, bike, go whitewater rafting (there’s even an official whitewater park — the biggest in Colorado!), rock climb, fish, or paddle in a kayak or on a SUP.
You’ll also find tons of amazing campsites in the surrounding San Isabel National Forest.
Need something lower-key? Buena Vista has you covered there, too.
Visit two nearby hot springs, Mount Princeton Hot Springs and Cottonwood Hot Springs, or wander through the adorable downtown historic district. An official Colorado Main Street Community, there are several great shops and restaurants, and even a whiskey distillery, Deerhammer.
Not far from town, you can visit one of Colorado’s best-preserved ghost towns, St. Elmo. This area also has some epic off-roading opportunities!
The town is situated almost perfectly in the middle of, well, everything. Several ski resort towns like Crested Butte and Aspen (also listed here as some of the best mountain towns in Colorado!), other adventure hubs including Cañon City and nearby Salida, and major cities are all within 1.5-2 hours.
Because of its geography, Buena Vista is largely overlooked from a tourist standpoint and has much more of a local vibe.
Highlights: Best known as the home of the Royal Gorge, but Cañon City will surprise you with its small-town feel and endless adventure.
Closest major city: 45 miles (1 hour southwest of Colorado Springs)
Don’t miss: Ride the gondola or walk across the Royal Gorge Bridge and go to a wine tasting at the historic Holy Cross Abbey
Nestled at the foot of the rugged Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the Rockies, Cañon City is best known as the home of the iconic Royal Gorge Bridge.
The bridge, among the highest and longest suspension bridges in the world, is so beloved that it’s commonly referred to as “America’s Bridge.” Yet, Cañon City feels too sleepy and slow-paced (in a good way!) to be a tourist destination.
Perhaps because, while the Royal Gorge Bridge & Park is a popular attraction, Cañon City proper is not.
By all means, do the fun touristy things: ride the aerial gondola and zipline, walk across the bridge, and raft the Arkansas. But to experience why this is one of the best mountain towns in Colorado, you’ll have to spend some time in town.
Explore Red Canyon Park, Cañon City’s version of Garden of the Gods (or Sedona!). Learn about some dark, fascinating history at the Museum of Colorado Prisons. It’s adjacent to the actual prison, the Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility, which has housed inmates continuously since 1871!
Finally, sample some wine at The Winery at Holy Cross Abbey, a truly unique experience. Wineries at this high elevation are unusual to begin with, and this one sits in an abbey built in 1886!
Highlights: Home to one of Colorado’s most iconic 14ers and a long list of family-friendly and outdoor attractions, yet is much more relaxed than many big cities.
Closest major city: Colorado Springs is a major city with its own airport, and it’s 68 miles south of Denver (just over one hour)
Don’t miss: Drive or take the cog train to the Pikes Peak summit and have a high-altitude donut, and catch sunrise from Garden of the Gods. If you visit during the holidays, check out the Broadmoor’s elaborate Christmas displays.
Colorado Springs certainly isn’t a hidden gem — it’s the second-largest city in Colorado and home to Pikes Peak, so iconic that it’s widely referred to as “America’s Mountain.”
Yet, Colorado Springs has a certain magic that makes it feel like maybe it is, in fact, a local secret.
With tons of great hiking and camping opportunities, a location that’s ideal for exploring all sorts of attractions across the state, and a perfect combination of big-city amenities with a small-town vibe, “The Springs” is one of the best mountain towns in Colorado.
Pikes Peak is a no-brainer, so start your exploration there. Hike, bike, or drive to the summit, or ride the Pikes Peak Cog train up! The train is one of the world’s only remaining cog rails (the only other one in the U.S. is in New Hampshire’s White Mountains), plus the highest and one of the oldest!
A round-trip takes about 3.5 hours and includes a stop at the Pikes Peak Visitor Center at the summit. Make sure to get a unique high-altitude donut!
Off the mountain, other can’t-miss attractions include the spectacular Garden of the Gods (which is, amazingly, always totally free to enter and enjoy!), Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, the Broadmoor, U.S. Air Force Academy, the North Pole, and even a couple of historic castles you can tour.
If you have a bit of time, Paint Mines Interpretive Park is well-worth a detour. This off-the-beaten-path gem looks more like it belongs in southern Utah, and offers some of the best stargazing in the entire state.
Colorado Springs truly has it all, and we haven’t even mentioned its proximity to Manitou Springs (further down on this list!) or Cañon City!
Before leaving this amazing Colorado mountain town, visit at least one or two of its speakeasies. There are several, but two of the most unique include the Alice in Wonderland-themed Rabbit Hole and Allusion, which rotates its entire theme every few months!
When we were there recently, it was a Harry Potter theme.
Highlights: Four-season recreation in what’s known as Colorado’s “last great ski town.”
Closest major city: 4 hours from both Denver and Colorado Springs
Don’t miss: Summer wildflowers (CB is known as the wildflower capital of Colorado!), strolling historic Elk Avenue, and the tiny ghost town of Gothic, just outside of Crested Butte!
Once a booming mining town, Crested Butte is now home to a beautiful mountain resort with over 15 lifts. Sitting at an elevation of 8.909 feet, many people flock here every year for the incredible skiing, but you can enjoy the natural beauty of this Colorado mountain town any time of the year!
Nestled into Colorado’s rugged and somewhat remote Western Slope, it does take some planning to get to Crested Butte, but it’s worth it! The longer drive from any major airport means it’s not *quite* as crowded as some bigger ski towns closer to Denver.
What makes Crested Butte one of the best mountain towns in Colorado is that you can truly experience everything it has to offer without ever leaving the mountain. Mt. Crested Butte (aptly named!) reaches 9,375 feet above sea level and makes its own little town, too!
After shredding the mountain all day, you can explore the shops and restaurants, just as the base of the mountain. Be sure to grab sushi from Divvy Ghost Kitchen!
Not into winter sports? Head to Crested Butte in the spring for the Crested Butte Wildflower Fest and enjoy live music all summer at the Crested Butte Music Festival. No matter the time of year, you certainly won’t regret a visit to Colorado’s last great ski town.
Contributed by Ashley from Ashley on the Move
Highlights: Crestone is a world-renowned spiritual hub and nestled at the base of the rugged Sangre de Cristos, home to some of the most challenging 14ers in the state.
Closest major city: 3 hours from Colorado Springs
Don’t miss: Climb to the top of the sacred Crestone Ziggurat and day-trip to Great Sand Dunes National Park, just over one hour away!
The tiny Colorado mountain town of Crestone, on the western slope of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, is one of the best places in the West to get your zen on.
Join in on a full-moon drum circle, take a yoga class in the shadow of 14,000-foot mountains, or meditate with Buddhist monks. It’s all possible in Crestone, world-renowned as a premier spiritual hub and home to more than two dozen spiritual retreat centers.
In Crestone, you can also experience Hindu chanting in an ashram, or climb a ziggurat symbolizing the link between gods and humans. The choices are endless in this spiritual mecca at an elevation of 8,000 feet.
The summer months bring outdoor concerts and great hiking weather if you want to bag one of the local 14ers, Crestone Peak or Crestone Needle.
In late August, the Crestone Energy Fair is one of the nation’s longest-running sustainability fairs, showcasing innovative ideas in sustainable construction and lifestyle. This event alone makes Crestone worth visiting!
Fall and winter are perfect for visiting one of the nearby hot springs, and you can welcome spring by celebrating International Earth Day at Shumei, a Japanese spiritual center open to all.
No matter what time of year you visit, you’ll find spectacular night skies, as Crestone is a designated International Dark Sky Community.
Contributed by Diane from Slow Stroll Travel
Highlights: A postcard-worthy Old West mining and railroad town with a ski resort, the iconic Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad steam engine, and a surprisingly robust foodie scene
Closest major city: 215 miles (3.5 hours) from Santa Fe, New Mexico. Durango also has its own airport.
Don’t miss: Try night skiing, ride the unique hand-controlled Inferno mountain coaster, and day-trip to Mesa Verde National Park
Tucked into far southern Colorado, Durango is part laid-back Southwestern and part mountain ski resort town. That dichotomy is exactly what makes Durango one of the best mountain towns in Colorado; there’s no place like it!
Best known for being a ski town and the home of the historic Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, there’s no shortage of things to do in Durango.
Purgatory Ski Resort offers year-round recreation. The family-friendly resort is widely considered one of the best ski values in the West and also offers the unique experience of night skiing.
Come summer, hike or bike the mountain and don’t miss the Inferno, a mountain coaster that lets you control the speed!
Riding the train from Durango to Silverton is a must. For that matter, so is driving the Million Dollar Highway to Ouray (another one of the best Colorado mountain towns!).
Speaking of driving, set time aside to explore nearby Mesa Verde National Park (one of the most underrated!), along with Canyon of the Ancients National Monument.
Mountain towns in Colorado aren’t exactly known for their foodie scenes, but Durango is an exception. It’s said that the town has more restaurants per capita — right around 200 — than any other U.S. city, including San Francisco and New York.
Grab chocolate-filled croissants and chocolate drop cookies from Jean Pierre, and head to Carver Brewing Co. for local craft brews and their hatch green chile spinach artichoke dip.
Highlights: One of the most popular Colorado mountain towns, Estes Park is close to Rocky Mountain National Park and easily accessible from Denver. Its resident elk herd, location along the Big Thompson River, and adorable downtown ensure there’s always something to do and see.
Closest major city: 1.5 hours from Denver
Don’t miss: The supposedly haunted historic Stanley Hotel, which The Shining is based on
Estes Park is known as the Gateway to the Rocky Mountains, but it should also come with the tagline, “Adventure Awaits.”
Nestled in the heart of the Rockies, Estes Park is one of the best places in Colorado to visit and only 90 minutes from Denver. Estes makes a perfect family-friendly destination for a day trip or a week-long vacation.
While Estes Park is popular all year with blossoming spring color, vibrant fall foliage, and fun winter adventures, it’s especially busy in the summer months. Families and friends stroll along Main Street eating ice cream, perusing tourist shops for mementos, and wandering along the River Walk.
The town hosts the Scandinavian Midsummer Festival, 4th of July celebrations, free summer concerts, a Rooftop Rodeo, the Wool Market, and the amazing Christmas Parade right after Thanksgiving.
Estes also serves as the perfect basecamp for adventures in Rocky Mountain National Park, making it one of the best mountain towns in Colorado.
What will you love most about your trip to Estes Park?
The Ghost Tour at the Stanley Hotel
- Playing a round of mini golf
- Fishing, boating, and kayaking on Lake Estes
- Family time at Fun City on the rainbow slide, bumper boats, go-karts, and bungee trampoline
- Artisan festivals and craft fairs with music, local arts, crafts, and food
Contributed by Jolayne from Just Wander More
Highlights: Known as the “Main Street of the Rockies,” Frisco features a charming downtown, a fun place to play on the water, and close proximity to six ski resorts, making it a perfect basecamp for adventure in any season.
Closest major city: 1 hour, 15 minutes from Denver (with no traffic on I-70)
Don’t miss: Frisco Bay Marina on the Dillon Reservoir
Frisco is often overlooked among all the Colorado mountain towns, but it actually has a lot to offer!
In the summer, spend a day (or several) at Frisco Bay Marina, where you can rent all the gear you need to play on Dillon Reservoir. Pontoon boats, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and even fishing poles! There’s also a nice beach if you just want to relax and soak up the sun.
You can get your hiking fix in Frisco with a short but sweet hike to Rainbow Lake. The 1.5-mile round trip trail starts right from Main Street and provides awesome views of the nearby mountain peaks.
For more of a challenge, you can hike a 14er – Quandary Peak and Grays/Torreys are under an hour away from Frisco and considered relatively “easy”…at least in 14er terms.
Finally, Frisco also makes a great home base when the snow starts to fall. This Colorado mountain town is less than a half-hour away from several world-class ski resorts, including Copper Mountain, Keystone, Breckenridge, and Vail.
Frisco itself even has a nordic center with tons of trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Contributed by Allison from She Dreams of Alpine
Highlights: Set in a dramatically beautiful travertine canyon, Glenwood Springs is unique among mountain towns in Colorado, with natural hot springs and world-famous Hanging Lake, plus winter recreation.
Closest major city: 2.5 hours west of Denver
Don’t miss: the largest hot springs pool in the world!
Glenwood Springs is an adorable mountain town known for its world-famous hot springs and perfect for a weekend getaway. It’s almost directly west of Denver along I-70, making it one of the most convenient Colorado mountain towns from the Mile High.
The centerpiece of town, Glenwood Hot Springs Resort, has a giant, 1,078,000-gallon spring-fed pool — the biggest in the entire world! It sits right at the base of a mountain, so you have great snowy views in the winter and lush green mountains in the summer.
If you want something a little cozier and more intimate, head to Iron Mountain Hot Springs. You’ll find a series of smaller hot spring pools of varying temperatures next to the Colorado River.
In the summer, venture up the mountain to Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, where you’ll find thrilling rides and cave tours.
Another can’t-miss summer activity? You can also get a permit to hike to Hanging Lake, a spectacular, remote lake and waterfalls.
Contributed by Ashley from Jetset Jansen
Highlights: A quaint Colorado mountain village situated along the shore of the largest natural lake in the state and just minutes from Rocky Mountain National Park.
Closest major city: 2 hours northwest of Denver
Don’t miss: The short hike up to Adams Falls just outside of town, where you’ll pass through peaceful meadows and pine forests, ending at a roaring waterfall
Surrounded by snow-capped mountain peaks, Grand Lake encompasses the western entrance to Trail Ridge Road and Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s the ideal starting point for family adventures and exploring the outdoors!
Insider’s tip from a local: Moose are abundant in this area, so keep your eyes open for these elusive creatures!
A postcard-perfect Colorado mountain town, Grand Lake still maintains that small-town feel, with quaint shops and family-owned restaurants downtown.
You’ll see people snowmobiling high in the mountains and even through town in the winter, and there are abundant skiing and snowshoe trails. In the fall, the Aspen trees light up the town with brilliant golds and yellows.
Come summertime, Grand Lake hosts lively Memorial Day and 4th of July festivals, arts and crafts fairs, and farmer’s markets.
At the Grand Lake Marina, you can rent kayaks, paddleboards, and motorized boats to explore the beautiful lake. There’s also a beach where you can relax, swim, fish, and have a picnic. It’s one of the best mountain towns in Colorado to visit in every season!
Contributed by Erin from Super Simple Salty Life
Highlights: A Colorado mountain town so tiny that many locals have never heard of it, but that has quick access to one of the biggest lakes in the state and some of the best off-roading and camping
Closest major city: 260 miles from Denver (about 5 hours); 100 miles (2 hours) from Montrose
Don’t miss: Hike to Whitmore Falls and rent ATVs to explore the Alpine Loop Backountry Byway
It’s difficult to find any true “hidden gems” anymore when it comes to Colorado mountain towns, but the tiny town of Lake City is exactly that.
Nestled in the San Juans but still a good distance from Ouray and Telluride, we’ve met Colorado natives who couldn’t point to Lake City on a map.
Maybe that’s because it’s teeny-tiny — occupying less than one square mile. Don’t let that deter you from visiting though; Lake City punches well above its weight class.
For example, an impressive five 14ers surround the small town: Handies (the easiest to summit), Redcloud, Sunshine, Uncompahgre, and Wetterhorn.
Colorado’s second-biggest lake, Lake San Cristobal, is also just a couple miles outside of town. Enjoy it via boat, kayak, or SUP, and in the winter, ice skating and snowshoeing. It’s also one of the best places in the state for spotting moose!
Perhaps the biggest reason Lake City is one of the best small mountain towns in Colorado is its spectacular off-roading.
Lake City lies right alongside the renowned (and ultra-rugged — do NOT attempt this without an extremely capable 4-wheel-drive vehicle with high clearance) 63-mile Alpine Loop Backcountry Byway, which connects to Ouray and Silverton.
If time allows, camp along the way and make this a 2- or 3-day excursion; it’s that good. You’ll pass ghost towns, wildflower-blanketed meadows, and who knows how much wildlife.
Finally, in case you need further convincing that this is one of the best Colorado mountain towns, there are four waterfalls within easy access of Lake City!
Highlights: Perched at over 10,150 feet above sea level with some of the tallest mountain peaks in Colorado looming across a valley, this historic mining town is the highest incorporated city in North America.
Closest major city: 2 hours from Denver
Don’t miss: The National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum, surprisingly entertaining (and, of course, educational) for both adults and children.
While the landscape is jaw-dropping, Leadville was also one of the most important Colorado mountain towns during the late 19th-century gold and silver rushes.
Visitors can tour several historic and period homes, mines, and cemeteries. The picturesque main street is lined with buildings that have stood since those heady days of the Silver Kings, including the still-operating Delaware Hotel.
Take in history and scenery simultaneously with a ride on the Leadville Colorado & Southern Railroad, where the conductor will regale you with local facts and lore. Rides are available late May through early January.
Leadville makes a fantastic base to explore old roads and stagecoach routes with 4×4 or off-road vehicles. You’ll pass old mines, cabins, ore bins, mills, and other remnants of the past, along with outstanding wildflower fields in summer.
In the winter, cross-country skiers and snowshoers can enjoy groomed trails or complete a hut circuit over several days. Tennessee Pass is a popular stop for the unique combination of fine dining and yurt glamping. You can’t drive to this restaurant, though—you have to hike or snowshoe in!
Contributed by Shara from SKJ Travel
Highlights: Just 10 minutes from Mesa Verde National Park and right off the San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway (say that five times fast!)
Closest major city: 30 minutes from Durango; Albuquerque, NM is the closest major city at about 4.5 hours (180 miles)
Don’t miss: Book a tour at Mesa Verde National Park and sample cider from Fenceline Cider
Although best known as the gateway to Mesa Verde National Park (easily one of the most underrated!), Mancos is a great small Colorado mountain town in its own right.
In fact, HGTV and Travel Channel have named Mancos one of the most charming and most beautiful small towns in America for several years in a row!
In addition to being a scenic jumping-off point for Mesa Verde, this tiny town is fascinatingly eclectic. Ranching and agriculture are still major parts of the culture, but so are the arts. In this town of about 1,600 people, nearly 200 are artists and other creatives!
You’ll see the evidence on Main Street, as galleries and jewelers sit alongside western outfitters and feed stores. Colorful murals and hip restaurants also mingle with well-preserved buildings from the 1800s.
Mancos Valley is also one of the most scenic in the state (and that’s really saying something!), situated right off the San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway with easy access to the Million Dollar Highway.
Highlights: Manitou Springs is one of the best mountain towns in Colorado, known for its eight natural mineral water springs around town (bring a refillable bottle!) and the famous Manitou Incline hike.
Closest major city: Just 15 minutes from Colorado Springs and 1 hour, 15 minutes from Denver
Don’t miss: the Manitou Cliff Dwellings! Discover how people used to live almost 1,000 years ago in buildings constructed into the side of cliffs, to protect them from the elements. The museum next door is also great, full of artifacts and information about Anasazi culture.
There are lots of things to do in Manitou Springs, with various attractions and great restaurants within walking distance from several accommodation options.
Start by visiting some (or all!) of the town’s natural mineral springs. Each has a unique taste due to different mineral levels, so fill up a couple of bottles to compare. Many people believe the water has healing powers!
The Arcade Amusements Penny Arcade is packed full of modern and retro arcade games. Check out Border Burger Bar for a menu with unique burgers and nearby, the famed Manitou Incline is just one mile long but has a brutal thigh-burning 41% grade and 2,744 steps!
If you’re looking for overnight accommodations in Manitou, a great place to stay is the Villa Motel Manitou Springs. Reservations include a light breakfast, and the hotel has a pool and hot tub with mountain views.
Contributed by Kylie from Between England & Iowa
Highlights: Teeny-tiny Ouray is deservedly known as the “Switzerland of America,” located just off the renowned Million Dollar Highway and home to natural hot springs and endless outdoor recreation
Closest major city: 1 hour, 45 minutes from Grand Junction; 45 minutes from Montrose (not a major city by any means, but the closest decent-size town)
Don’t miss: Hike the 6-mile Perimeter Trail above town, rent ATVs to go off-roading, soak in natural hot springs, and road trip (in a regular vehicle!) at least part of the Million Dollar Highway.
Arguably one of the most beautiful and unique Colorado mountain towns, Ouray is nestled in a valley in the rugged San Juan Mountains.
Interestingly, it’s just 10 miles from Telluride as the crow flies, but because the wild Sneffels Range separates them, the drive takes about an hour. And while Montrose is just 45 minutes away, Ouray feels far more remote.
It’s an authentic, small Colorado mountain town with Old West vibes, where every business is run by a local, from restaurants and shops to accommodations and adventure outfitters.
The Ouray Hot Springs are a year-round attraction, as well as Ouray’s breweries (this is Colorado, after all). The 6-mile Perimeter Trail is also a must at any time of year. The moderate loop hike literally takes you above the town, offering a unique birds’-eye view.
Warmer months are great for exploring the area’s waterfalls. Box Canyon Falls Park and Lower Cascade Falls are easily accessible from town.
Ouray is also one of the best mountain towns in Colorado for off-roading in the summer and fall. Take a guided tour or rent ATVs and explore. First-timers shouldn’t miss Yankee Boy Basin.
The winter months are perfect for skiing, sledding, and climbing at the Ouray Ice Park. Fun fact: tiny-but-mighty Ouray is widely considered the ice climbing capital of the world! The town also hosts the Ouray Ice Festival every January.
Contributed by Caitlin from Twin Family Travels
Highlights: One of Colorado’s bigger and best-preserved former boomtowns, with a rich history and some of the most extreme adventures in the state.
Closest major city: 48 miles (just over 1 hour) from Durango; Denver is a whopping 6.5 hours
Don’t miss: Drive the renowned Million Dollar Highway, ride the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, and stop into Thee Pitts Again for BBQ (get the peach cobbler!). Thrillseekers should also ski or snowboard Silverton Mountain (the highest in North America!) or try heli-skiing.
When most people think of Silverton, they associate it with the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. While the train is worthwhile — albeit a bit touristy — there are many other reasons why Silverton is one of the best Colorado mountain towns.
Get off the beaten path (literally), and you’ll quickly find all sorts of epic outdoor adventures in this former mining boomtown. We’ll let you guess what was mined here, but the town’s name is the only hint you need!
Nestled deep in the rugged San Juans, this entire region has fantastic off-roading and some particularly, well, adventurous adventure sports. Like heli-skiing, for example, which is exactly what it sounds like: riding in a helicopter to remote backcountry areas, then skiing them.
Speaking of skiing, Silverton Mountain has some of the most challenging terrain in North America, as well as the country’s highest-elevation ski area. At an elevation of nearly 14,000 feet, many people consider Silverton among the best mountain towns in Colorado for this reason alone!
More casual visitors will enjoy driving part of the Million Dollar Highway; exploring one of Colorado’s best ghost towns, nearby Animas Forks; and yes, riding the D&SNGRR train.
Highlights: Removed a ways from the interstate, this small Colorado mountain town is a bit more intimate than the big, popular ski resorts. It’s bursting with adventure, entertainment, relaxation, and a touch of that Ol’ West cowboy vibe.
Closest major city: 3 hours from Denver
Don’t miss: Steamboat Lake State Park! This gorgeous state park has a lake where you can boat, SUP, kayak, or even swim at the beach. The best part is Hahn’s Peak in the background, making Steamboat Lake State Park one-of-a-kind with its scenery.
Steamboat Springs is paradise for outdoor enthusiasts, especially mountain bikers and hikers.
The Colorado mountain town welcomes visitors to Lincoln Avenue, full of local shops and restaurants, and hosts a fabulous 4th of July Parade, Pro Rodeo series, and farmer’s market throughout the summer.
Winter is just as fun, with snowshoeing, skiing at two resorts, and the winter carnival on Lincoln Avenue every February. Stop at Beau Jo’s Pizza after a day on the slopes for legendary Colorado-style pizza.
Any time of year, you can enjoy Steamboat’s hot springs pools at the rec center. Strawberry Hot Springs is also just up the mountain, in a less-developed, more natural setting (and very, ahem, ‘au naturel’ after dark!).
You can also drive bumper cars on ice at Howelsen Ice Arena – the only place in Colorado to do so!
Contributed by Megan from Let’s Jet, Kids!
Highlights: Not only is this southwestern Colorado mountain town home to some of the best skiing in the state, but it has the picturesque San Juan Mountains right at its back door, too.
Closest major city: 2 hours from Durango and 5 hours from Albuquerque, New Mexico
Don’t miss: Hike to the top of Bridal Veil Falls, the waterfall you can see from anywhere in town
This quiet, postcard-perfect community is home to some of the best hikes in the state, like Blue Lake, Jud Wiebe Trail, and Bridal Veil Falls. In fact, Bridal Veil is easily one of the best hikes in Telluride and can be accessed just near the end of town.
And if you’re a real outdoor junkie, be sure to do the Telluride Via Ferrata, too. It features a series of rungs and cables across sheer rock faces that you need to traverse from way up in the air!
Telluride is one of the best small mountain towns in Colorado, home to a wealth of well-preserved historic buildings and relics that represent the town’s fascinating gold mining past.
You’ll also love sampling some traditional Mexican fare at Esperanza’s Tequila Restaurant before grabbing a nice cold craft beer at Telluride Brewing Co.
Finally, unwind for the night inside one of the luxurious, hand-built log cabins at nearby Dunton Hot Springs. This place used to be an old ghost town and is now a high-end resort that comes complete with a saloon, dance hall, and on-site natural hot springs!
Contributed by Meg from Fox in the Forest
Highlights: One of the “OG” ski resort towns in Colorado, Vail is both posh and western rustic and offers every imaginable winter sport
Closest major city: 100 miles west of Denver straight down I-70; about 2 hours depending on traffic
Don’t miss: Aside from skiing or snowboarding, in the winter you have to experience dog-sledding with Alpine Adventures. And don’t leave town without trying a Corn Old Fashioned at the Slope Room, which comes garnished with charred corn on the cob!
One of the state’s most well-known destinations, Vail is undoubtedly one of the best mountain towns in Colorado. Skiing is the star attraction here and in fact, the word “Vail” is used interchangeably for both the town and the ski resort itself — they’re that synonymous!
Vail Mountain is the second-largest ski area in the U.S., the third-largest in North America, and among the biggest in the world. There are over 200 trails catering to all experience levels, and over 30 lifts service the mountain. So, you could say skiing is sort of a big deal here.
If the slopes aren’t your thing, you’re in luck. Vail’s dining and entertainment scenes are impressive, with over 100 restaurants and dozens of bars and coffee shops sprinkled throughout the charming village comprised of Bavarian buildings.
There are also plenty of cafes and hotels with cozy lobbies, wonderful places to curl up with a book or simply people-watch in every season. Thanks to Vail’s unique dry climate and perpetual sunshine, even when it’s 20 degrees, it’s often comfortable enough for short sleeves.
Other unique Vail activities include snowmobile and snowshoeing tours, as well as horse-drawn sleigh rides and dog sledding in the winter. During the summer, like many of the other best Colorado mountain towns, Vail’s ski terrain becomes incredible hiking and biking trails.
CAN’T GET ENOUGH OF COLORADO? YOU’LL LOVE THESE!
So there you have it, a whopping 22 of the best small mountain towns in Colorado. And to think, we didn’t even cover them all! Do you have a favorite? We spend a lot of time in Colorful Colorado, so let us know where we should head next (especially if it isn’t on this list!).
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