Main Avenue in Durango, Colorado. Image credit WorldPictures via Shutterstock

7 Delightful Towns to Visit in The Rockies

The Rocky Mountains, one of the most beautiful natural features in the country, extend from British Columbia to New Mexico, over 3,000 miles, and are as high as Mount Elbert in Colorado at 14,440 feet above sea level. Starting low, long, and flat in the eastern plains, the landscape grows towards the west into a "wall," the Front Range, just east of the continental divide. Simply breathtaking, Mount Robson in British Columbia peaks at 12,972 feet, while all the small towns in the creases scenically embrace the visitors. The towering cliffs that once posed significant challenges for settlers and travelers through the rugged terrain delight today with turquoise lakes, gorges, train rides, and skiing slopes.

Home to one of the US's highest suspension bridges at the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park, Cañon City is protected from harsh weather over 5,000 feet above sea level. Durango, an old mining town, attracts worldwide travelers to experience the Old West in fall colors via its narrow-gauge railroad, alongside specialty wineries with tasting rooms. Glenwood Springs is home to one of the world's largest hot spring swimming pools, while Montrose's expansive water sports park is the newest and largest on the Western Slope. From warm hospitality in the mountains to the cooling waters on a riverside stroll and paddling turquoise lakes, uncover the most delightful towns to visit in the Rockies.

Banff, Alberta

The famous Banff Avenue on a sunny summer day in Banff, Alberta.
The famous Banff Avenue on a sunny summer day in Banff, Alberta. Image credit Eddy Galeotti via Shutterstock

No wonder Banff was named one of the best towns to visit in the world, at the heart of the bejeweled lakes and untouched wilderness that define Canada’s first national park. It is a wonder how this small town of around 9,500 splendidly preserves its natural ambiance while catering to a homey feel with vibrant attractions in nature and downtown. Banff Ave. thoroughfare delights the eye under a daunting, nearly 9,800-foot Cascade peak, with fine restaurants, cozy cafes, and colorful gift shops among gear stores and accommodations for every type of traveler. Sporting adorable names, such as Elk Street, the streets feature scenic nooks along the Bow River, while Banff Park Museum National Historic Site is a landmark 1903 building and National Historic Site with natural history exhibits.

Picture-perfect and lively, Banff is not a one-time destination but a favorite retreat year-round, with quaint forest hikes like Hoodoos Viewpoint or the Tunnel Mountain trailhead area and the terraced tranquility of Cascade of Time Garden along its landscaped paths and places to relax among unique trees and flowers. Whether you are in for the winter wonderland feel and skiing or wildlife hikes in the summer, the breathtaking views persist. Accessible to an average American on a relaxing long weekend getaway, from shopping and soaking in the hot springs to casual eateries, chocolate, and ice cream shops, the beauty of the outdoors keeps you hungry for more sights and small-town delights, or splurge on the opulent Fairmont Banff Springs in a castle in a pine forest.

Buffalo, Wyoming

The Occidental Hotel Lodging and Dining in Buffalo, Wyoming.
The Occidental Hotel Lodging and Dining in Buffalo, Wyoming. Image credit Cheri Alguire via Shutterstock

Home to under 5,000 people, this charming town is perched delightfully at 4,646 feet above sea level, at the intersections of Interstates 25 and 90 and the Cloud Peak Scenic Highway through the heart. Nestled in the foothills of the soaring Big Horn Mountains, visitors can take the highway from Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone National Park. The Main Street features over a dozen historic buildings, among other historical sites, like the Occidental Hotel and the Jim Gatchell Museum, with its impressive collection of over 15,000 artifacts from the American Old West. Steeped in Wyoming history, Buffalo is just a quick drive away from Fort Phil Kearney, Fetterman's Massacre Site, and the Wagon Box Battle Monument.

Flaunting fascinating frontier heritage, the region around Buffalo delights Old West fans like no other town around, home to the infamous “Hole in the Wall"—the hideout of Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid, and the rest of the “Wild Bunch." The outdoorsy enjoy year-long opportunities for skiing, camping, hiking, boating, fishing, and wildlife viewing around guest ranches, lakes, streams, and mountains. From central City Park along the Clear Creek to the easy Clear Creek Trail Head just west, it is a photographer's delight to hunt for more spectacular scenery. The treasures at the Finders Keepers Thrift Store will surprise you as much as the old-timey Buffalo Theater over a cozy evening movie.

Cañon City, Colorado

Cañon City, Colorado, historic downtown.
Cañon City, Colorado, historic downtown.

Under an hour from Colorado Springs, Cañon City is a delightfully quintessential town along the majestic Arkansas River banks, in saturated colors no matter the season. Nestled at 5,300 feet above sea level, it delights with gorgeous views and protection from harsh weather, touted as “the Climate Capital of Colorado.” The unique geography encompasses natural wonders like the world-renowned Royal Gorge, with breathtaking vistas and outdoor activities for every level. Just 11 miles south, 80 incredible routes wind along the granite walls at Tanner Dome Crags through canyons and mountain passes, with overlooks and picnic spots. The unmissable Family Mexican Restaurant is right across from the scenic Arkansas Riverwalk Trail.

Hogbacks Open Space offers an extensive mountain biking trail system for beginners to pros through junipers and pinyon pines. Home to one of the US's highest suspension bridges, the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park, is an adrenaline-pumping experience for the whole family with stunning views from 1,000+ feet over the Arkansas River. A 24-mile scenically charged ride is just as exciting from the comfort of your own seat via the Royal Gorge Route Railroad, with the option to dine on board, a special Murder Mystery Train with a quest, or the wintertime Santa Express and Holiday Train. While it is generally 10 degrees warmer in winter than other nearby Colorado communities, should the snow keep you inside—check out the Museum of Colorado Prisons and the nearby Royal Gorge Dinosaur Experience, which displays real dinosaur fossils.

Durango, Colorado

The gorgeous town of Durango, Colorado.
The gorgeous town of Durango, Colorado.

This small town-big tourist magnet inspires a dreamy outdoor escape for all the adventurous and youthful at heart. Delighting mountain biking and rock climbing pros, enthusiasts, and beginners, Durango's unique charm is accessible to all, from the picturesque San Juan Skyway to fun winter sports and serene strolls through the Durango Botanical Gardens. Celebrating its local talent and creativity with a vibrant cultural scene of music and arts festivals, the annual Balloon Rally adds color to the skies, your life, and the town in its picture-perfect embrace of the craggy peaks. Discover Durango Treasures and the Durango-Silverton narrow-gauge railroad, which winds along jagged cliffs and spring-fed meadows.

The mountain mining town beckons visitors to dig deep for the rich history and stories that shaped it, with several museums, including The Powerhouse, for young minds. Molded further by an outdoor spirit and respect for nature, its blend of modern amenities and a dining scene appeases comfort creatures. Attracting worldwide travelers to experience the Old West in fall colors via the train ride to and from Silverton and specialty wineries with tasting rooms, Purgatory's secluded slopes are only 30 minutes north in the wintertime.

Glenwood Springs, Colorado

Historic buildings lining a street in Glenwood Springs, Colorado.
Historic buildings lining a street in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. Image credit Kristi Blokhin via Shutterstock

Established in the late 1800s as a center for tuberculosis treatment, John Henry “Doc” Holliday, a dentist-turned-gambler and gunfighter, could not be saved with his advanced tuberculosis. Attracting Western history fans, the Doc Holliday Museum pays homage to the icon in the heart of town, while his grave marker in Linwood Cemetery is an easy hike away. The nature enthusiasts find Glenwood Springs most riveting at the start of the Roaring Fork Valley, which is also home to Aspen, under an hour south along the scenic Highway 82, and outdoor thrills at the Hanging Lake. For many others, Glenwood Springs is all about rest, relaxation, and recreation.

Flaunting dynamic dining and entertainment scenes without straining your wallet at farm-to-table eateries and award-winning breweries, Glenwood Vaudeville Revue presents a hilarious comedy-musical dinner show. The Riviera Supper Club and piano bar offers dining with live music and mystery-themed dinners, among other places to dance the night away. Glenwood Springs is synonymous with unwinding—at one of the world's largest hot spring swimming pools, vapor caves, and Sunlight Mountain Resort in town for skiing with its own riverside hot springs. Under three hours from Denver and 1.5 hours from Grand Junction, shooting straight along the I-70 highway, come for one delight and experience them all.

Montrose, Colorado

Overlooking a Public Park in Montrose, Colorado.
Public Park in Montrose, Colorado.

Overlooking the region from 5,800 feet above sea level with its large historic district, Montrose is a delightful small city to visit just an hour south of Grand Junction along the scenic Highway 50. This slower-paced town at the gateway to the South Rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison—just 20 minutes northeast—offers all the modern conveniences for a bite and shopping, like local restaurants and brewpubs to unwind between nature pursuits. The apt slogan “Stay here. Play everywhere” reflects the surrounding iconic Western Colorado mountainous scenery to enjoy while fishing, biking, photography, camping, swimming, and more. From the plummeting Black Canyon National Park just to the east to the towering and majestic San Juan Mountains to the south, the contrast attracts thrill seekers.

To the west, the expansive Uncompahgre Plateau is great for hikes, while the lake-bejeweled Grand Mesa to the north offers a remarkable selection of outdoor experiences. Home to its own expansive water sports park with a two-story slide at its heart, the 5,000-square-foot Montrose Rec Center is the newest and largest on the Western Slope. Visitors of all ages can stay active or relax with amenities like a cool-water lap pool, a warm-water leisure pool with a lazy river, a playground, and a zero-depth entry beach. From scenic drives to the exhilarating wilderness, there are also golf and cultural venues like the Museum of the Mountain West. The Ute Indian Museum displays the region's native heritage, including artifacts and ceremonial dress, while the lush 3.5-acre Montrose Botanic Gardens feel like an oasis in a desert setting along the colorful promenade and native plants.

Taos, New Mexico

Ancient dwellings of Taos Pueblo in New Mexico.
Ancient dwellings of Taos Pueblo in New Mexico.

Taos bursts with cultural diversity, rich history, and natural wonders, and sits in the shadow of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Founded by Spanish colonialists at the site of the Taos Pueblo, the village is eponymous of its former Native American farming communities. The Pueblo was a meeting place and trading center for various Native American groups even after the arrival of the Spanish. The Pueblo people revolted against the rule twice in the 1600s, and after New Mexico became part of the US in 1847, they marched along Santa Fe. Thus, preserving their home and identity, the peaceful town is home to the original tribe member descendents from over 1,000 years ago. Travelers can experience the authentic lifestyle along their two multi-story adobe structures on either side of Red Willow Creek.

The fortuitous location for farming and trading along the stream from the sacred Blue Lake, part of the whole 95,000-acre reservation, also attracted an artist colony at the turn of the 19th century, and the Taos Society of Artists was founded in 1915. Home to under 6,000 people today, Taos, incorporated in 1934, delights art lovers and outdoor enthusiasts year-round, with attractions like Taos Ski Valley for winter sports. Fall is a delightful time to peep through the orange aspens and cottonwoods. Just a few miles west of Taos, the Rio Grande Gorge and the Rio Grande Gorge High Bridge offer rafting trips in the gorge, declared the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in 2013. The active can enjoy hiking and biking in the clear, crisp air from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains with a tinge of cedar wood smoke, ballooning over the Rio Grande Gorge, fishing, or ziplining at Angel Fire.

Touching Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, northern New Mexico, north-central Utah, and Alberta and British Columbia, each town was shaped by the regional Rockies landforms. Just a few miles east of the Rio Grande Gorge High Bridge, Taos is the extension of an ancient "Pueblo," built by Native American farmers along the stream from the sacred Blue Lake in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

The geographical location that played a major role in history lends a remarkable variety to adventures and makes no viewpoint ever the same. The locals enjoy yearlong outdoor activities like swimming, skiing, fishing, snowboarding, paddle boarding, camping, hiking, and mountain biking, but also farm-to-table dining, award-winning breweries, and entertainment like Glenwood Vaudeville Revue and the Riviera Supper Club & Piano Bar.

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