Colorful vivid village houses in Crested Butte, Colorado. Image credit Kristi Blokhin via Shutterstock

7 Breathtaking Towns to Visit in Colorado

Colorado is a breathtaking state, offering a rich playground for adventurers, photographers, and wildlife lovers, with some of the nation's most diverse landscapes, highest peaks, and sparkling lakes. This is a place to make unforgettable memories. Lake City, known for outdoor recreation along Lake San Cristobal in remote Hinsdale County, is nestled in the heart of the San Juan Mountain Range. It offers Haute Route yurts for a cozy overnight stay in the wilderness under a celestial sky.

Ouray, often called the "Switzerland of America," replicates a Swiss village, surrounded by 12,000 to 13,000-foot peaks and waterfalls in a high alpine valley. It also serves as an entrance to the stunning Cascade Falls Park. Cortez is home to Puebloan heritage and acts as a gateway to iconic natural and historical wonders like Mesa Verde National Park, which also offers some of the darkest, star-filled skies in the state.


Town of Carbondale facing Mount Sopris in the northwestern Elk Mountains range of the Rocky Mountains
Town of Carbondale facing Mount Sopris in the northwestern Elk Mountains range of the Rocky Mountains

Carbondale, another beautiful town, is set in a broad valley beneath the towering Mt. Sopris. Recognized by National Geographic Adventure Magazine for its adventure appeal, it offers a variety of activities for all types of travelers. Whether you seek outdoor excitement or relaxation, with an average of 295 days of sunshine and low humidity, this town feels like a happy place where every breath brings you clean mountain air. The northern terminus of the West Elk Loop Scenic and Historic Byway provides plenty of opportunities for hiking, biking, and scenic drives where the scenery leaves you breathless.

Cold but mild winters attract skiers and snowshoers to Carbondale's slopes and trails, while the warm summers are perfect for camping and activities like summiting Mt. Sopris. The charming downtown, through which the Crystal River flows, has great foodie spots like Village Smithy Restaurant and White House Pizza. Sopris Park, a popular spot for picnics, and Mushroom Rock, a scenic hiking spot, are other attractions. Additionally, Mountain Fair, an art and music festival, draws up to 20,000 visitors over three days during the last week of July. The Wild West Rodeo, a source of western family fun and entertainment, offers concessions every Thursday night throughout the summer.


Cortez, Colorado.
Cortez, Colorado. Image credit: Doug Kerr via

The small, high-country desert town of Cortez offers an idyllic setting in the midst of its natural surroundings, inspiring adventures that attract true outdoorsmen. From McElmo Creek, a tributary of the San Juan River, to the nearby Ute Mountain, these landscapes are dotted with archaeological sites like Yucca House National Monument, where visitors can explore ancient Pueblo ruins near the mountain. Hawkins Preserve is a popular hiking area with local fauna and distant peaks often covered in snow. Don't miss the Notah-Dineh Company and Museum, a fascinating art gallery with various mediums, including quilts. Downtown, you can visit the Farm Bistro and Lounging Lizard for a bite, as well as the Cortez Cultural Center for local history and culture.

The enchantment continues at Mesa Verde National Park, minutes southeast of town, which was a sacred site for Ancestral Puebloans for over 700 years. This UNESCO World Heritage Site blends history with nature, offering visitors a glimpse into ancient Pueblo communities and cultural insights. Explore ancient dwellings like Far View House, Step House, and Cliff Palace, and follow scenic trails along the majestic mesas to see ancient markings. As an International Dark Sky Park, Mesa Verde offers incredible stargazing opportunities in some of the darkest skies in the country.

Crested Butte

Street view of Crested Butte, Colorado with pizzeria
Street view of Crested Butte, Colorado with pizzeria

Originally a quaint mining town in 1880, Crested Butte is now known as "Colorado's Last Great Ski Town." It's surrounded by the Elk Mountains, providing breathtaking views and a wide range of outdoor activities. As a registered national historic district, it retains a unique charm while also housing the Crested Butte Mountain Resort, catering to both skiers and snowboarders with its thousand-plus acres of terrain. The town is also a popular spot for Nordic skiing, snowmobiling, and snowshoeing, with summer activities following the wildflower blooms in spring.

Though somewhat remote, Crested Butte attracts visitors for its vibrant festivals, like the Crested Butte Wildflower Festival and the Crested Butte Music Festival. The town offers 750 miles of biking trails, alpine forests for hiking, and pristine rivers, lakes, and streams for fishing, kayaking, and whitewater rafting. Its unique geography provides a stunning backdrop for outdoor experiences. Downtown, there are several museums, coffee houses, and restaurants serving international cuisine. Check out the Sherpa Café for Nepalese food, visit Rainbow Park with its charming gazebo, and take the kids to the Trailhead Children's Museum for some family-friendly fun.

Lake City

Baptist Church in Lake City, Colorado
Baptist Church in Lake City, Colorado, By Tim Engleman - Wikimedia Commons

Located in the most remote part of Hinsdale County in the lower 48 states, Lake City is accessible via the Silver Thread Scenic Byway, which leads into the heart of the San Juan Mountain Range. This picturesque town provides year-round outdoor adventures and scenic relaxation against a stunning backdrop. Just off the byway, you'll find North Clear Creek Falls, one of Colorado's most photographed waterfalls, along with four other cascades in the area. Nearby, the spectacular San Cristobal Lake offers an ideal spot for a family vacation in the summer or a refreshing stop on a road trip. The town itself has a unique mountain culture with historic roots, including ties to the Ute Indians and the mining era, best explored along the Alpine Loop Backcountry Byway. Along with the snow-capped peaks and seasonal flowers, you can visit nearby ghost towns, old mining sites, and the neighboring towns of Ouray and Silverton.

In the winter, Lake City is home to the largest groomed network of snowmobile trails in Colorado. It also features a new ice-climbing park with 15 routes and some of the best cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trails. Haute Route yurts offer a cozy and unique lodging option for those looking for a wild stay. In the summer, the area's five 14,000-foot peaks (14ers) and twenty 13,000-foot peaks (13ers) attract avid hikers, while others enjoy fishing and boating at Lake San Cristobal. The town's National Historic District provides dining, lodging, and shopping options that make it easy to enjoy a vacation while soaking in the local culture and heritage.


The historic main street of Ouray, Colorado.
The historic main street of Ouray, Colorado. Image credit Michael Vi via Shutterstock

Known as the "Switzerland of America," Ouray is a breathtaking town nestled among 12,000 to 13,000-foot peaks. This high alpine valley offers a variety of natural landscapes and wonders to explore, including cascading waterfalls right through town. Box Cañon Falls, where thousands of gallons of water spill each minute, and Cascade Falls, which can be seen from various points in town, are two notable highlights. The Cascade Falls Park is perfect for easy hikes with stunning views.

Ouray's mining history is evident in its architecture, museums, historic sites, and saloons. The trail to the Chief Ouray Mine offers an advanced hike to a former lead-zinc mine, with a bonus of the picturesque Upper Cascade Falls along the way. In winter, Ouray transforms into a charming Swiss-inspired village with snow-covered peaks and unique activities like ice climbing at the Ouray Ice Park, the largest public ice-climbing park in the world. This park overlooks the cozy town nestled under a blanket of snow.


Aerial View of Saguache, Colorado, at the edge of the San Luis Valley.
Aerial View of Saguache, Colorado, at the edge of the San Luis Valley.

Flanked by the Sangre de Cristo mountain range to the east and the San Juan range to the west, Saguache is a breathtaking high-country town that serves as the northern gateway to the San Luis Valley in south-central Colorado. Located at 7,800 feet above sea level, the rugged Sangre de Cristo Mountains create a fantastic backdrop for adventures like camping in the Saguache area. Tourists can pitch a tent under some of the darkest, star-studded skies in Colorado, enhancing the serene landscape that provides a truly scenic setting.

With wildlife roaming freely, visitors can enjoy a variety of trails for biking, horseback riding, and hiking, ranging from gentle greenways for easy strolls to rugged mountain hikes. Nearby fishing streams add to the outdoor activities available. Attracting photographers, romantics, and hammock enthusiasts, Saguache is also home to some of the state's most peaceful hot springs, perfect for daytime soaking or nighttime relaxation. It's an excellent way to unwind after a day trip to the nearby Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. The nearby town of Crestone is known for the Karma Thegsum Tashi Gomang monastery, adding to the area's spiritual and cultural significance.


Swiss-style resort in Vail, Colorado.
Swiss-style resort in Vail, Colorado. Image credit Andriy Blokhin via Shutterstock.

Vail is renowned worldwide as a winter playground for affluent skiers, but its appeal extends beyond the slopes to its luxurious bars and vibrant nightlife. While some might avoid Vail's more upscale atmosphere for smaller, quaint towns, the perception of large crowds is often exaggerated, and Vail's charm is understated. Despite its popularity, Vail offers a unique experience in the Rockies, comparable to Aspen, with stunning nature and unique geography taking center stage. The Vail ski resort, one of the largest in the nation, provides over 195 runs for world-class skiing, including secluded trails, family-friendly runs, and areas with fresh snow.

The town itself is a magnificent recreation of a Swiss or Austrian ski village, featuring beautiful European architecture and a distinct atmosphere that exudes a different culture. From dining to shopping, the nightlife is top-notch, even for a quick escape to unwind and enjoy yourself. Just two hours west of Denver along I-70, this Rocky Mountain town is a mecca for skiing and also offers spectacular summer landscapes with easy trails, longer treks like the hike to Gore Lake, and biking on the ski hills. There's rarely a queue for the scenic gondola ride, offering a bird's-eye view of the town, and you can savor hearty local cuisine at the Slope Room at Gravity Haus, a contemporary mountain lodge. The Root and Flower is a great spot to enjoy a drink with locals, while Cohabit in Avon provides an affordable place to stay for your visit.

In Colorado, the Centennial State, there is no shortage of breathtaking views. These charming towns offer access to epic outdoor adventures amidst unforgettable sights and experiences, featuring diverse wildlife and scenic byways. Vail's après-ski entertainment is as exciting as you've heard, with some of the best ski slopes in the nation. In summer, Vail offers a relatively serene atmosphere for gondola rides and leisurely dinners without the crowds.

Crested Butte, nestled in the captivating Rockies, celebrates its natural bounty with skiing, springtime wildflowers, and lush hiking trails in the foothills. Whether you're seeking a secluded escape or thrilling outdoor activities, these Colorado destinations offer a chance to connect with local culture and heritage against a backdrop of breathtaking scenery.

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