Colorado is known as an outdoor enthusiasts' paradise due to the colossal Rocky Mountain range which runs through it. The rejuvenating mountain air, when paired with the alpine lakes and national parks on both sides of the Canadian-U.S. border, makes the Rockies a premier destination. Colorado’s wondrous beauty is not limited to the mountains, though. The state’s small towns are full of charming whimsy and great alternatives to touristy spots where one can equally appreciate Colorado’s scenic vistas. Visit these towns to see the other side of The Centennial State.
Known as “The Heart of the Rockies,” Salida is two and a half hours' drive from Denver and sits along the Arkansas River. The town is home to the largest historic district in Colorado, and walking tours are available. Walk through the town during its many festivals, including Whitewater Festival, the oldest of its kind in the nation. Paddle down the Arkansas River or bike through the Methodist Mountain trail systems. There is even Captain Zipline, an aerial adventure park where you can zip line overtop the expansive Colorado mountain wilderness.
This Colorado town of 1,500 residents is known for its dry climate and its delicious produce. Apricots, peaches, pears, and cherries are all grown here due to the rich mountain soil. There is even an annual event held each fall called Ciderfest, where the town celebrates with live music, barbecue, and, naturally, cider. Grand Avenue and Paonia’s creative district are worth seeing for art lovers looking to grow their collections, and Paonia State Park is highly photogenic and perfect for influencers looking for that perfect shot of the Ragged Mountains.
For winter sports lovers looking to shred down the Colorado slopes while avoiding the overcrowded tourist spots, Crested Butte is the best of both worlds. The slopes in town are just as good as those in Aspen or Vail. Crested Butte has plenty to do outside of skiing as well. The town is quaint and has plenty of benches to sit on and enjoy the views, a pastime for the townsfolk. Look out over the wildflowers or up towards the snowy peaks depending on the season. In the warmer months, mountain biking, climbing, horseback riding, and river rafting in Crested Butte are divine.
The town of Manitou Springs is a quick 15-minute drive from Colorado Springs and is definitely worth the trip. This town of nearly 5,000 is surprisingly packed with things to do. Firstly, the famed mineral springs in Manitou are great for recovering after a long day of hiking. The Manitou Incline is 2,744 steps up into the mountainside and offers a beautiful view from the top. Leave the cook top alone and try eating out instead during your trip to Manitou Springs. Visit the many cafes, wineries, and diners nearby to experience what this lovely mountain town has to offer. D’Vine Wine Manitou Springs is a stunning winery located in the historic spa buildings in the heart of town.
Ten minutes from Aspen, Snowmass Village has plenty of ski-in and ski-out residences and a palpable resort vibe for visitors to enjoy. The nearby Snowmass Mountain is one of the best in Colorado for winter sports and is even used as one of the “Power of Four” ski race areas. Shop to your heart’s content at Snowmass Mall which sits at 8,200 feet above sea level and often features music indoors on Fridays. Lost Forest Adventure Park has a disc golf course, biking trails, and even an alpine sled through the trees.
Visit the historic mining town of Silverton for a peek into living, breathing Colorado history. Walk on the town’s main street amongst the beautifully preserved buildings, many of which have been repainted in bright, cheerful colors. Visit the San Juan County Historical Museum to learn more about SIlverton’s mining history The town is nearly 10,000 above sea level and mountain peaks rise up in nearly every direction. For a visual treat, hop aboard the railroad in Durango and take a picturesque ride into Silverton. Handlebars Food & Saloon offers famous Rocky Mountain oysters which are a local delicacy.
Only 70 miles from Denver, Estes Park is surrounded by the Roosevelt National Forest and Rocky Mountain National Park. The surrounding areas around Estes Park are a hiker’s paradise, so do not expect to be spending too much time indoors. Rock climbers will also be pleased with the bouldering opportunities at the park, and there are even paddleboard opportunities as well. Espes Park’s charming downtown is full of breweries and quaint boutique restaurants. Come by in the winter for the unique events held in town like Frozen Dead Guy Days and the Men in Heels Race.
The town of Pagosa Springs rests at the foot of the rugged San Juan Mountains. Pagosa Springs was established over the world’s deepest hot springs, and visitors from across the state have long sought after the restorative powers of the mineral-rich waters. There are several resorts and spas in town like The Springs Resort where you can soak and experience the waters for yourself. Before that, visit the Great Sand Dunes National Park, a 30 square mile area, where you can climb the vast dunes which rise up to 750 feet.
Forget the Holiday Inn, vacationers looking to spend the night in Carbondale are treated to rustic log cabins and lodges. Looking to sleep outdoors? The peaceful campgrounds are ready and waiting in this picturesque town 30 miles from Aspen. National Geographic called it one of the “Top 12 Towns” in a list of places to live and play. Fly fish in Roaring Fork River and bike the Prince Creek trails. Celebrate First Friday in Carbondale with the town’s artisans, musicians, and brewers like Marble Distilling Co., which brew small batch bourbon gingercello, in the heart of the town’s creative district.
The town of Steamboat Springs is nestled in the heart of Colorado’s Rocky Mountain Range. Hike through the unspoiled mountainside, where lush fields of lavender and wildflowers grow unspoiled. The Old West is alive and well in Steamboat Springs. Take a historic tour through Steamboat Springs and Hahns Peak and experience the ranching culture first-hand. Swing by the rodeo or even try driving cattle yourself with Saddleback Ranch. Visit Steamboat Springs, the town the cowboys never left.
Found in the San Juan Mountains and situated in a volcanic crater, Creede feels tucked away and cozy like Colorado’s best-kept secret. There are 19th-century storefronts that have been expertly maintained and repurposed for modern-day life. Visit the Underground Mining Museum which chronicles the town’s founding, and head further into town where events like the Donkey Dash and Taste of Creede are held. In summer, Creede comes alive, and for good reason. The hiking, ATVing, and fishing here are divine.
Known by locals as ”Breck,” Breckenridge is a former mining town turned premier skiing destination. There is plenty to do and eat in town, especially during happy hour. Happy hour in Breckenridge is almost a municipal event. There are plenty of outdoor patios on which to enjoy the more than 300 days of summer in Breck after a long day of skiing. Insider tip: Cecilia’s Cocktail Bar & Nightclub has a Satan’s Soul Patch cocktail you should definitely try. The town is a veritable outdoor playground all year that is waiting to be discovered.
If you are an ice climber, Lake City is for you. There are more than 75 routes in Lake City between three climbing areas. The town is found along the Silver Thread scenic byway and is the only town to speak of in Hinsdale County. The rest of Hinsdale is public land. There is a Lake City Ice Climbing Festival at the local ice park for both spectators and participants, and during the summer San Cristobal Lake is a haven for anglers.
Colorado is not only full of untouched natural beauty and jagged peaks but wonderful mountain towns as well. Between the breathtaking sights, the small towns of Colorado are waiting to steal your heart with their whimsy. Walk down the main streets in 19th-century mining towns, hike through valleys, and ice climb over 100-foot pitches all in one day. Colorado has something for the outdoorsman in all of us.