Scenic view panoramic landscape in Sedona, Arizona.

7 Most Scenic Small Towns in the Colorado Plateau

The Colorado Plateau stretches from Utah through New Mexico, encompassing Arizona and Colorado as well, and is an area rich in natural beauty, culture, and history. From old-world Indigenous settlements in Taos to famous national parks in Utah, the geographical landscape is something that needs to be seen to be believed. Soak up the sunset over the red cliffs, or go for a wild rafting ride through the rapids of the Colorado River. Each of these small towns is rich in history, culture, adventure, and cuisine. From idyllic camping spots, to cozy cabins of luxury respite styles, there is something for every traveler to enjoy in the Colorado Plateau's scenic small towns.

Moab, Utah

The Colorado River runs through Canyonlands National Park near the city of Moab, Utah
The Colorado River runs through Canyonlands National Park near the city of Moab, Utah.

Moab, Utah, is one of the most beautiful small towns in the Colorado Plateau. It also boasts excellent year-round weather, making it a great option no matter the season. The red rock formations and desert lands create a scenic backdrop for adventure lovers and outdoor enthusiasts.

Some of the most popular attractions include Arches National Park, with its impressive natural rock archways, Canyonlands National Park, which features hoodoos and a stunning gaping canyon, and Dead Horse Point State Park. The Colorado River winds through it all and is a great spot for whitewater rafting and kayaking. Hike through the parks, bask by the riverside, or camp in one of the many campgrounds in the area.

This desert town is a wonderful place to take in the dark-sky stars as there is limited light pollution from the town itself. Under Canvas offers unique yurt glamping experiences, or you can opt for one of the many resorts in the area.

Sedona, Arizona

Aerial view of Sedona and the surrounding spectacular landscape.
Overlooking Sedona, Arizona, and the surrounding spectacular landscape.

When thinking of the beauty of Arizona, many think of Sedona first. It boasts gorgeous red and orange sandstone formations that seem out-of-this-world. Take in the views on a gentle hike, or opt for a full-blown adventure among cliffs and peaks with one of the Sedona Secret 7 Trails. Be sure to visit Cathedral Rock, or take in one of the breathtaking sunsets as it fades across the red landscape.

Sedona is a mecca for artists as well, due to its abundant natural beauty. Art galleries and artist boutiques are common in town, and well worth a stop. Check out the historic Cowboy Club in town for western-inspired dining options, or take in the amazing views as you dine at Tii Gavo. Luxury accommodations with a view include Arroyo Pinion Hotel or Poco Diablo Resort, or opt for a cozy cabin or bed and breakfast.

Durango, Colorado

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

Durango is a small mountain town in Colorado with truly scenic views. It sits in the San Juan National Forest, part of the southern Rocky Mountain range. Outdoor recreation lovers can enjoy world-class skiing in the winter months at Purgatory Resort, or try horseback riding, mountain biking, or hiking the various forest trails, including the Colorado Trail.

For a leisurely view, ride the historic Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Train. This old-fashioned train travels along the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and offers truly awe-inspiring views of the natural landscape. It is also a great way to learn the history of the area. Another popular attraction in the area is the Durango Hot Springs. Soak in the natural hot baths, and even stay at the Durango Hot Springs Resort and Spa. In town, visit the Animas Museum for more history. The downtown area itself is a Nationally Registered Historic District.

Jemez Springs, New Mexico

House in Jemez Springs, New Mexico.
House in Jemez Springs, New Mexico. Image credit Cathy from USA - Jemez SpringsUploaded by PDTillman, CC BY-SA 2.0, File:House in Jemez Springs.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

Jemez Springs, New Mexico is an hour outside Albuquerque and is another scenic small town in the Colorado Plateau. Like Durango, it also has natural hot springs which are one of the main attractions to the area. For hundreds of years the mineral rich water of these natural springs has been associated with healing and relaxation. Hikers can explore the gorgeous Santa Fe National Forest and soak in the warmth of Spence Hot Springs, an open natural spring near Soda Dam. McCauley Hot Springs lies near Battleship Rock, and is another option for those looking for unaltered natural spring access. For a more refined experience, travelers can visit one of the commercial springs and bath houses such as Jemez Hot Springs which has four outdoor pools, Jemz Spring Bath House, or Cañon del Rio Retreat and Spa.

The town also has a rich history, including the Jemez National Historic Landmark. Join the interpretive walking trail for stories of the 700 year old village, and stop by all the historic landmarks.

Telluride, Colorado

The spectacular town of Telluride, Colorado.
The spectacular town of Telluride, Colorado.

Telluride is a wonderful example of a small Colorado town. Step back in time into a boom-town 1800s world of wonder and history. The downtown core is full of Victorian style architecture, with a number of buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. The town is backed by the stunning scenery of the Colorado plateau, with the majestic mountain range rising up behind it for truly awe-inspiring views. Ski, hike, or enjoy a meal with a view by riding up the breathtaking gondola to Mountain Village. Scenic dining spots include Allred’s Restaurant and Alpino Vino, or dine in town at French-inspired La Marmotte or Cornerhouse Grille.

Taos, New Mexico

Historic adobe San Francisco de Asis Mission Church in Taos, New Mexico.
Historic adobe San Francisco de Asis Mission Church in Taos, New Mexico. Image credit Vineyard Perspective via Shutterstock

Taos, New Mexico, sits at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and is a place full of culture and history. The region is named after the Taos people, and Tao Pueblo culture can be seen throughout the area. Traditional adobe buildings are a draw for many tourists and artists keen to take in the striking red buildings. The settlement has over 100 years of history and is the only living Native American community that holds both a Unesco World Heritage Site title and is marked as a National Historic Landmark. Toas is unique in that it has been home to Pueblo people for 1,000 consecutive years.

The history and striking architecture has drawn so many creatives to the area that a thriving art colony now exists in town, full of studios and galleries. Try a workshop while in town, or visit the Taos Art Museum. Other popular activities include hot air balloon rides, where visitors can experience iconic sunrises or sunsets over the Southwestern landscape, or drift over the dramatic Rio Grande Gorge. The gorge is also a great place to try rafting, rock climbing or hiking.

Gallup, New Mexico

Native Americans & Navajo at 98th Gallup Inter-tribal Indian Ceremonial, New Mexico Gallup, New Mexico
Gallup Inter-tribal Indian Ceremonial, Gallup, New Mexico. Image credit Joseph Sohm via Shutterstock

Like Taos, Gallup is another small town in New Mexico with iconic red-rock beauty. The town sits along the famous Route 66, and is a popular stopping point for road-trippers. Take in the red sandstone cliffs and golden sunrises in this charming town. Also like Taos, Gallup has deep roots in Indigenous culture and art. The vast majority of all Indigenous American art stems from this area, especially the silver and turquoise jewelry. Learn more about the history of the area at the Red Rock Park Museum, which has findings dating back to 300 CE.

Gallup also hosts a wide variety of festivals and events throughout the year. Watch the bright colors from dozens of hot air balloons fill the sky at the Red Rock Balloon Rally, or witness the dances and songs of the Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial. Nearby Red Rock Park arena also hosts an exciting rodeo including bull riding. Accommodations in the area range from beautiful campgrounds where travelers can sleep under the stars to the classic El Rancho Hotel.

Whether seeking adventure and outdoor recreation, or a town full of art and culture, each of these small towns in the Colorado Plateau is full of charm and charisma. From the red rock beauty of New Mexico to the snow capped mountain towns of Colorado, the golden trails of Sedona, or the riverside adventures of Utah, there is something for everyone to enjoy. Explore the natural beauty of this geographical wonder, from the water water rapids to desert plains. Come for a weekend or stay for an extended trip. Each getaway and town offers a unique experience full of history, culture, and natural wonders. Visit one of these scenic small towns, or check them all off your travel list. There is so much to do and see in the Colorado Plateau.

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