Aerial view of Salida, Colorado.

7 Most Charming River Towns In Colorado To Visit In 2024

The western state of Colorado is home to several charming river towns in the United States, blending natural beauty, historic charm, and small-town atmosphere. These river towns stretch from Buena Vista along the Arkansas River in central Colorado to Dolores, nestled along the banks of the Dolores River in the Four Corners region of the state. From experiencing the unique Paonia Cherry Days during the 4th of July holiday to exploring the stunning outdoor adventures in Ouray, a high alpine community, Colorado's river towns offer something for everyone. Whether searching for creative arts communities, Gold Rush history, or a tranquil escape, these seven river towns in Colorado are worth visiting in 2024.


Aerial view of Salida, Colorado.
The Arkansas River flowing through Salida, Colorado.

Nestled along the banks of the Arkansas River in the majestic Rocky Mountains is Salida, one of the best Colorado river towns to visit in 2024. Salida is renowned for its history, natural setting, and artistic flair. The historic town boasts Colorado's largest historic district, designated a "Certified Creative District." One of the best times to explore the area is October 11-13, 2024, during the Salida Art Walk. For outdoor recreation, Salida embraces its natural beauty with 400 acres of open space, 36 acres of lush parks, and 5.5 miles of scenic trails. Nearby is the Arkansas Hills Trail System, where hikers and mountain bikers can explore S-Mountain, the Ute Trail, and Deadhorse and Cottonwood Gulches. For incredible views, take the paved 57-mile Collegiate Peaks Byway along the Continental Divide, providing the highest concentration of peaks in the country.

Salida is also known for its incredible whitewater rafting adventures in the Arkansas River. The town is home to one of the most popular whitewater places in the country, Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area. The area is also renowned for its wildlife watching, kayaking, and world-class fishing for brown and rainbow trout. With its enthusiasm for whitewater rafting, it is no surprise that the town boasts the nation's oldest whitewater festival, FIBArk. The name stands for "First in Boating on the Arkansas" and takes place June 14-16, 2024, during the spring snow runoff.


Aerial view of Ouray, Colorado.
Aerial view of Ouray, Colorado.

Known as the "Switzerland of America," Ouray is a picturesque mountain town located along the Uncompahgre River. One of the best river towns to visit in Colorado, visitors can soak in the town's natural hot springs at the Ouray Hot Springs Pool while enjoying breathtaking views of the surrounding San Juan Mountains. The pool is part of Fellin Park, which will host the free annual Mountain Air Music Series every Thursday night in June of 2024. Ouray is also known for its charming Main Street lined with artisan shops, local eateries, and historic buildings, such as the Wright Opera House. Built in 1888, the opera house showcases live performances, art exhibits, and movies throughout the year, including the 5th annual Ouray International Film Festival to be held from June 20 to 23, 2024.

With an elevation of 7,800 feet and surrounded by mountain peaks of 13,000 feet, the town is an excellent location for outdoor adventures. Nature enthusiasts can explore the stunning 285-foot waterfall at Box Cañon Falls Park and Nature Center, which offers incredible wildlife viewing and three hiking trails. More hiking and waterfall views are available at Cascade Falls Park, a waterfall visible from nearly anywhere in town.


The Gunnison River is a great for outdoor adventures.
The Gunnison River flowing through the canyon. Image credit: Bureau of Land Management via

The charming town of Gunnison is one of the best river towns in Colorado to visit in 2024. Situated along the Gunnison River, the town is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. Visitors can explore some of the oldest rocks and steepest cliffs in North America at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. In September, the park will host the annual Black Canyon Astronomy Festival, also known as Astro Fest. More outdoor adventures await at the 8,000-acre Hartman Rocks Recreation Area. The area is renowned for mountain biking, hiking, rock climbing, and Nordic skiing. 

Gunnison's historic downtown boasts a variety of shops, local restaurants, and art galleries, including the Gunnison Gallery, which participates in the town's monthly First Friday's Art Walk. Gunnison also recognizes its ranching culture each year at the annual Cattlemen's Days, celebrating its 124th year in 2024. The longest continuous rodeo in Colorado and the fourth longest in the US, visitors can enjoy live rodeos, 4H programs, and livestock exhibitions from July 11-13 at the exciting event.


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

Tucked away in the San Juan Mountains along the Rio Grande River is Creede, a historic mining town with a rich heritage. One of the best river towns in Colorado to visit in 2024, visitors can learn more about Creede's western history at the Creede Historical Society Museum & Library. Located in a depot from 1892, the museum features the town's mining history and items that the pioneers used in the 1800s. More mining history can be explored at Last Chance Mine, a silver mine from 1891, beginning Memorial Day weekend 2024. For a mining adventure year-round, history buffs can take a guided tour of the Creede Underground Mining Museum, situated just north of the historic downtown.

Beyond its historical roots, Creede is known for its art community, theatrical productions, and outdoor adventures. Outdoor activities abound, with opportunities for fishing, hiking, and wildlife viewing in the surrounding Rio Grande National Forest. The Rio Grande itself offers Class II-IV whitewater rapids for rafting and kayaking. In town, Main Street is a great spot for art and entertainment, boasting local art galleries and the renowned Creede Repertory Theater. Housed in a vintage movie theater from the 1930s, the theater showcases performances throughout the year, with its 59th season opening on June 8, 2024, and a summer concert series on Wednesdays from July 24 through August 28, 2024.

Buena Vista

A scene from downtown Buena Vista, Colorado.
A scene from downtown Buena Vista, Colorado. Image credit: Japerso via 

Located in the Upper Arkansas River Valley, Buena Vista is a charming river town surrounded by 14,000-foot peaks of the Sawatch Range. Outdoor enthusiasts flock to Buena Vista for its world-class whitewater rafting, kayaking, and fly fishing opportunities in the Arkansas River. Buena Vista Whitewater Park is a favorite for rafting, hiking, and wildlife viewing. The river town also offers incredible views of nearby mountain ranges along with its natural hot springs. Visitors can enjoy the public hot springs at Charlotte Hot Springs and Botanical Gardens every day of the week.

Along with its incredible natural surroundings, Buena Vista is one of the best river towns in Colorado to visit in 2024 due to the town's historic Main Street and annual events. In the summer, history buffs can explore Buena Vista Heritage Museums, including the 1890s Depot and Caboose, the Historic Chaffee County Courthouse, originally built in 1882 and then rebuilt in 1932, and the early 1900s Historic Turner Farm & Apple Orchard. Buena Vista Heritage is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2024 and will host several events, including the annual Applefest in September. Buena Vista will also host the state's largest outdoor mineral show, the Contin-tail Gem and Mineral Show, from August 8 to 11. More celebrations continue on August 10 and 11 at the 74th annual Gold Rush Days, honoring the town's Old West and mining heritage.


Exterior of the Paonia Museum in Paonia, Colorado.
Exterior of the Paonia Museum in Paonia, Colorado. Image credit: Victoria -

Known for its scenic beauty and agricultural heritage, the charming town of Paonia is situated along the North Fork of the Gunnison River. The Paonia River Park offers ample fishing and kayaking opportunities in the river, as well as stunning views of the West Elk Mountains, a subrange of the Rocky Mountains. Outdoor enthusiasts can hike or bike through the nearby mountains in the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests. With more than three million acres to explore and 3,000 miles of trails to hike, the National Forests offer incredible views of rugged mountains, extreme canyons, and incredible wildlife.

Paonia is also home to a thriving arts community, with galleries showcasing the work of local artists in its charming downtown area. The North Fork Valley Creative Coalition hosts art events throughout 2024, including Final Friday Artwalks and the 23rd annual Mountain Harvest Festival in September. In the summer, Paonia will also host the 78th annual Paonia Cherry Days during the July 4th holiday. The longest-running community festival in Colorado, the event takes place at Paonia Town Park and features live music, a cherry pit spit contest, and a baking competition.


Main Street in Dolores, Colorado.
Main Street in Dolores, Colorado. Image credit: Jeffrey Beall via Wikimedia Commons.

Located along the Dolores River in southwestern Colorado, Dolores is a small town surrounded by rugged canyonlands and ancient ruins. One of the best small towns to visit in Colorado in 2024, visitors can explore the town's rich Native American heritage at the Canyons of the Ancients Visitor Center & Museum. The center showcases pieces from Ancestral Puebloan and ancient cultures of the Four Corners region of Colorado, UtahArizona, and New Mexico. The visitor center is a gateway to the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, home to more than 8,300 ancient sites. History buffs can view many of the historic sites along hiking trails at the National Monument.

The charming river town of only 945 people is also a gateway to the San Juan National Forest. Outdoor enthusiasts enjoy water skiing, boating, and fishing at the National Forest's McPhee Recreation Complex, as well as hiking, biking, and horseback riding along scenic trails. In town, Dolores offers small-town charm along with its annual events. From June through October, visitors can enjoy the weekly Farmer's Market at Flanders Park and the annual Dolores Harvest Fest and Car Show on October 5, 2024.

These charming river towns in Colorado offer the perfect getaway in 2024. From Salida's whitewater rafting adventures in the Arkansas River to the rejuvenating hot springs in the charming town of Ouray, Colorado's river towns boast incredible outdoor attractions. Whether discovering the region's mining history in Creede or experiencing the state's longest-running rodeo in Gunnison, these river towns do not disappoint. For those looking to explore western history, experience small-town charm, and enjoy the great outdoors, these Colorado river towns offer something for everyone in 2024.

  1. Home
  2. Places
  3. Cities
  4. 7 Most Charming River Towns In Colorado To Visit In 2024

More in Places