The gorgeous town of Telluride, Colorado.

12 Unforgettable Small Towns To Visit In The Rockies

Stretching for over 3,000 miles (4,800 km), the Rockies is a captivating North American range through several western states in the US and the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Alberta. From glaciers to mesmerizing alpine lakes of deep blueness to mighty waterfalls, the snow-capped mountain peaks hide away obscure, unforgettable towns. These offer the best basecamps to explore around, like the wedged Creede or the command center for winter sports in Park City, Utah. So grab your loved one to commemorate your love in Loveland, finally see what Vail is all about, or enjoy summertime along the beaches in Whistler, yes, Canada!

Central City, Colorado

Aerial view of Central City, Colorado
Aerial view of Central City, Colorado.

Just out of Denver, heading to Vail, with its apt and memorable moniker, you will remember Central City as the small town where each breath of alpine air comes easier. You can stretch your muscles from work via a trail around the deep blue Loch Lomond Lake and climb or rim the epic Clear Creek Canyon! From the whitewater thrills on Clear Creek to the bumpy 16.8-mile Whole Casino mountain bike track, it's an ultimate summertime paradise with fly fishing, paddleboarding, and kayaking at Chase Gulch Reservoir. The Virginia Canyon Road is a hairpin-turn, paved adventure with insane views to take and calm your nerves after along the relaxing Peak to Peak Scenic Byway. The Gold Rush town from 1859, just an hour from Rocky Mountain National Park, is a great base to rest and recharge in the charming downtown with local restaurants, a casino, and festivals.

The unmissable Plein Air Festival in September features fall landscapes and architectural portraits by 25 artists to view, buy, and hang a memory of this unforgettable city on your wall! Sometimes referred to as Las Vegas in the Rockies, there's applicable entertainment, like Central City Opera, the US' fifth-oldest professional opera company founded in 1932, constructed as a circa-1878 jewel-box theater with exceptional productions. Its annual Opera Festival in July includes iconic plays like "The Light in the Piazza" and "Die Fledermaus," just in time for Madam Lou Bunch Day, a Victorian-themed extravaganza on Main Street! There are Stills in the Hills in June and the Great Central City Beer Festival in August for suds from two dozen local breweries!

Creede, Colorado

Homes along Willow Creek outside the town of Creede, Colorado.
Homes along Willow Creek outside the town of Creede, Colorado.

Creede, at the eastern end of the San Juan Mountain Range, is an unforgettable town within a former volcanic caldera that stunts the town's further growth. The downtown, wedged under the dramatic cliffs, packs a punch, with much to see and do along its 1890s storefronts. From unique gifts to delicious treats, there are hotels for any budget and interesting museums to make a stay memorable for every taste! With a pocket full of mining history, there's the Underground Mining Museum and Creede Historical Museum, terraced cafes with views, and Creede Repertory Theater for an evening play.

You can enjoy the nearby outdoors via hiking, biking, climbing, kayaking, rafting, and four-wheeling, while winter brings in cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or building snowmen with your family. Booming from 300 locals to over 10,000 during the 1880s silver boom, you will find authentic 19th-century buildings and only 600 locals today amid tons of tourists, including filmmakers, in the high-elevation atmosphere that starred in the 1976 John Wayne film The Shootist and The Lone Ranger!

Dubois, Wyoming

The charming downtown area of Dubois, Wyoming.
The charming downtown area of Dubois, Wyoming.

In the embrace of the Wind River and Absaroka Mountains, this town with an old-west spirit along the upper Wind River boasts unforgettable scenery. With myriad ways to enjoy the outdoors, like hiking, mountain biking, and fishing, you can also relax over waterside recreation against the sweeping view of the range! No wonder the town's name rhymes with "Cowboys," where you will find everything from striking western-style architecture to cozy nooks like the Cowboy Café, with hearty, cowboy-style breakfast, as well as the weekly Dubois Friday Night Rodeo from July to August!

Dubois adapts to every interest and budget, like its best big game hunting in the west of the US, historic dude and guest ranches like Rams Horn Guest Ranch, unique stores, and plentiful gift shops for western-themed memorabilia. You can hop between Crooked Creek Guest Ranch, Triangle C Ranch, and Bitterroot Ranch for wildlife and local lifestyle views that pull you right in to join in fun fly fishing and horseback riding! You will encounter bighorn sheep and learn insights at the National Bighorn Sheep Interpretive Center, including tours to some cool sites with petroglyphs from the early Native Americans! In winter, Dubois sees flocks of ice climbers headed to the nearby Togwotee Pass, with ample snow for Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, and dog sledding.

Gardiner, Montana

Aerial view of the gorgeous Rocky Mountain town of Gardiner, Montana.
Aerial view of the gorgeous Rocky Mountain town of Gardiner, Montana.

Gardiner, the "Nature's Favorite Entrance to Yellowstone National Park," is an unforgettable escape from it all with unreplicable landmarks like the iconic Roosevelt Arch! Five miles from the town, just over the famed Boiling River, are the impressive Mammoth Hot Springs, the only ones swimmable within the park, open with lovely terraces for summer recreation under the sun. With every season memorable at the park, you can enjoy the only-in-winter personal-vehicle entrance to ensure safety and comfort for all. Afterwards, why not take the most scenic Gardiner to Tower Junction to Cooke City Drive?

A real winter wonderland, the park is hauntingly quiet, with Nordic ski trails and wildlife sights in the Lamar Valley, where wolves like to winter! The down-to-earth basecamp community, home to under 900 locals and more antelope, bison, deer, and elk, is fully fledged with shops and local eateries to make the most of your outdoor experiences in every direction. From world-class hiking, ziplining, and horseback riding along the Paradize Valley to rafting and fly-fishing with the Yellowstone River through the heart, Gardiner is a mecca for the outdoorsy, including the nearby Custer Gallatin National Forest in the Absaroka and Beartooth Mountain Ranges.

Loveland, Colorado

Loveland, Colorado, in fall.
Loveland, Colorado, in fall.

The town with a memorable moniker and even an alternative national park is a favorite among sweethearts of all ages! With the promise of a quintessential experience in the name, Loveland delivers something for everyone and special sculptures throughout town to lock your love, figuratively, of course. You can hunt around for your favorite one in a place that speaks to you—not an easy task when considering matters of the heart! From dog-friendly outings to days at the local lake, there are countless memories to make in Loveland!

The love-themed town is decorated, from its Loveland Visitors Center for cool information about Loveland to the unique shops for Loveland- and Colorado-made souvenirs. A perfect romantic escape from Denver, near Fort Collins, is not complete until you witness the love stamp program of re-stamping envelopes to send them around the world "from Loveland," nor a hand-in-hand stroll through the primo public art and sculptures at Chapungu Park!

Park City, Utah

Spectacular fall colors in Park City, Utah.
Spectacular fall colors in Park City, Utah.

The winter sports central command of the state calls on one and all to experience its premier Olympic destination for yourself. From more biking and hiking trails than you can handle in one summer to skiing in the perfect combo of groomers and powder, it is a four-season vacation destination for epic outdoors! A host for the skiing and snowboarding events during the 2002 Winter Olympics, Park City is home to world-class resorts, art, and film festivals like the iconic Sundance Film Festival.

Deer Valley and Park City Mountain draw globe-wide visitors for one winterlong party down the slopes and an après-ski scene worth celebrating, like upscale restaurants and hotels to eat, rest, and repeat! Whether you come to ski, snowboard, eat, or do some holiday shopping, the Snyderville Basin views will follow. You can even peek at the United States Ski Team training while the festival takes place after the merriment in the second half of January! Only slightly calmer, the summer returns to the slopes with amazing hiking and mountain biking trails, as well as lakes just a quick hop away!

Telluride, Colorado

The gorgeous town of Telluride, Colorado.

Home of Ryder Walker, some call Telluride the most beautiful town in America, and while beauty is in the eye of the beholder, Telluride is one of the most unforgettable ones, hands down! Even the obscure box canyon end location with walls of sandstone and Ajax Mountain at the head doesn't stop the valley of Telluride from its national and international skiing fame! Thanks in part to the apres-ski restaurant scene, it is the views that keep you prowling for more! From hiking and golf courses to boutique shopping and chilling, there is always a reason to return to Telluride in any season!

The site, once considered a holy place by local Native Americans, preserves authentic Rocky Mountain gold rush sights and a distinct Victorian aesthetic. Powered entirely by green energy and completely free, the Telluride Gondola is the lifeline from Telluride, a National Historic Landmark, to Mountain Village with world-class slopes, the core of this exceptional ski resort, where vistas meet you head-on in the air. The local restaurants with farm-sourced international cuisine never tasted so good after snow fun exhaustion and emotional hunger from the scenery at Mountain Village—some of the best in the West!

Vail, Colorado

Aerial View of Loveland, Colorado.
Vail, Colorado, nestled in the picturesque Rocky Mountains.

Originally built as the base village for Vail Ski Resort, the town, named after highway engineer Charles Vail, is now the largest ski resort in the state. Incorporated in 1966 by some pretty big names, four years after Vail Ski Resort, the town within the White River National Forest is only 4.5 square miles (11.7 kilometers). Despite cold winters and no lakes, Vail makes up for it with an average of 200 inches of snowfall each winter and second-to-none views from 8,150 feet (2,484 meters) above sea level.

Nestled at the foot of sweeping mountains, the pretty town is a dreamy place for skiers and sightseers alike. In fact, while in Vail Valley, you will feel like you are in a snow globe come to life! Vail Village is steeped in history, and while the Vail prices may bite, it is the European Alpine charms that will stay with you long after you leave this, still cheaper than Europe, town, and hankering for a do-over. If nostalgia gets a hold of you in the summer, you can enjoy formidable bars, restaurants, and shopping in lieu of ski passes, like getting those fur boots from Gorsuch that will last you many seasons.

Victor, Colorado

Downtown Victor, Colorado.
Downtown Victor, Colorado.

Perched at almost 10,000, you will feel on top of the world in Victor with the sweeping views that will stay with you long after. Designated as a National Historic District, the small town with the proud moniker of The City of Gold Mines has a deep pocket full of rich history preserved on the southwest side of Pikes Peak, with museums and gold mining experiences like panning and special tours. Part of the Cripple Creek Victor Mining District, just 5 miles from Cripple Creek and 45 minutes from Colorado Springs and Pikes Peak, Victor is a ready-made summer vacation. The clean, cool mountain air follows you along the hiking trails, which you can enjoy almost year-round here in the sunny town. Central to the Gold Belt National Scenic Byway, scenic views are guaranteed even under chance overcast, like a daytrip to the nearby Cripple Creek, a booming tourist town with casinos!

Without stoplights, chain stores, or traffic, but with a gold rush legacy from railroads to mining, milling, and ranching, Victor is a treasure trove of historic sites, local shops, and restaurants amid striking 1890's mine structures and turn-of-the-century brick buildings. Once home to over 20,000 people, the population of only a few hundred today lives within a history book. You can see the Victor Daily Record newspaper office, the Masonic Hall, and trolley depot, as well as the 1899 Victor Hotel with its beautiful Victorian-style lobby and first birdcage elevator, open for stays. The Lowell Thomas Museum offers insights into the man's life as a writing world-trotter who grew up in this high-altitude mountain town and made Lawrence of Arabia famous.

Wallace, Idaho

The beautiful town of Wallace, Idaho.
The beautiful town of Wallace, Idaho.

Wallace, the world's largest silver producer for over a century, is an unforgettable town to visit! With a rich history and a wealth of sights around each corner, this richest mining town in existence is entirely listed on the National Register of Historic Places! With meticulous preservation efforts and world-class attractions, Wallace is one of the most aesthetic towns you'll ever lay your eyes on and home to one of the "centers of the universes," in a manhole in the middle of Bank and Sixth Streets! Take a selfie from the Wallace Stairs against the unforgettable views of the mountain landscape for the most-liked post!

Nestled against the Bitterroot Mountains, Wallace is rich in natural beauty, clean air, and sunshine, which lend tastefulness to many huckleberry bushes and pine trees. The scented, fine town is "mined" for the area's colorful, living history alone, while over 1,000 miles of mining, logging, and Forest Service roads open as the world's largest mountain bike, ATV, and snowmobile trail system! The Route of the Hiawatha and Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes beckon worldwide adventurers to cycle, mountain bike, stroll, and even rollerblade! From unique antique and pawn shops to the lush, verdant forests, you can also dig down with underground mine tours via a trolley from Sierra Silver Mine Tours around the town and explore a real silver mine, while the Pulaski Tunnel Trail offers views of the iconic Nicholson mine.

Westcliffe, Colorado

Beckwith Ranch Historical Site in Westcliffe Colorado during sunrise
Beckwith Ranch Historical Site in Westcliffe, Colorado, during sunrise.

Dating to the late 1800s, the quintessential mining town in the Rockies features an incredible heritage display along the streets and outdoor ventures against the scenic backdrop! With unique dining experiences, the walkable, historic downtown hosts local shops and the unmissable Alpine Lodge & Restaurant for a mouthwatering meal and exquisite desserts in the cozy atmosphere of a vintage building. First in the state, the Dark-Sky-recognized town offers stargazers a real love affair under Westcliffe's Dark Skies along the Wet Mountain Valley. You can join Milky Way spotting enthusiasts at Smokey Jack Observatory for stargazing parties in the summer!

From the unmatched night sky views, the Sangre de Cristo Mountains follow you during the daytime on horseback and hiking adventures through the landscape. The Custer County town wedged between the Wet and Sangre de Cristo mountain ranges boasts views of the five 14,000-foot peaks in the Crestone Group. It is a quiet area to explore, with over 200 miles of hiking and biking trails, 54 alpine lakes, untouched beauty, and wildlife sights. The inspiring scenery like The Crestone Needle, some 17 miles from Westcliffe, attracts avid rock climbers, while hikers and mountain bikers follow the 30-mile Rainbow Trail along Sangre de Cristos. From B&Bs to rustic lodges and diners, the show-stopping scenery transports you back to a simpler, wilder time!

Whistler, British Columbia

Whistler, British Columbia, in fall.
Whistler, British Columbia, in fall.

You can make every season memorable in this town where the outdoors is a year-round celebration! Whistler Blackcomb, North America's largest ski resort, boasts a mountain and a youthful, adventurous feel alongside all the modern amenities like the famous Whistler cafés and the good, ol', almost too nice Canadian spirit. The trails through the ancient BC forests—the real Canadian wilderness—are for adventurers and purists to commune with nature, with a high chance of spotting a bear and beautiful birdlife. From mountain biking, hiking, or relaxing lakeside, the mountain air seeps through into the streets, the golf course, and the window of your stay for every style and budget.

Not far from the coast, Whistler is equally fantastic in the summertime majesty of the Canadian Rockies. The pleasant weather keeps you prowling with several picturesque lakes around, like Lost Lake's beach area, for a summer day of lazy swims and basking under the gentle sun. Replete with waterfalls, the unforgettable Athabasca Falls is a destination in itself, while the horsetail Shannon Falls is a memorable 335-meter drop right in between Whistler and Vancouver to visit on your way. 

So grab a camera for the most diverse wildlife sights through the striking Rockies peaks, alpine meadows, luscious woodlands, and dense conifers. From hot springs in a national park in Gardiner to gold rush sites in Victor, you can grab a painting from the Plein Air Festival to hang at home! Home to some of the most famous national parks in the world, many of which are on the UNESCO World Heritage List, unforgettable memories are just a scenic drive away. With worldwide hikers, climbers, skiers, and water sports enthusiasts, you can enjoy a four-season getaway to the nearest town for skiing, summertime recreation, shopping, or eating hearty mountain cuisine aplenty!

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