The gorgeous town of Telluride, Colorado.

7 of the Most Charming Small Towns to Visit in the Rockies

Imposing yet reassuring, overwhelming, and yet, also grounding, the sight of the Rockies is surreal for first-timers, and a perpetual privilege for its mountain-town residents. This mighty range (the longest, in fact, in North America) stretches for 3,000 miles from northwestern Canada down to north-central New Mexico, crossing parts of the Yukon, British Columbia, Alberta, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado en route. Within its many sizable shadows and abundant valleys, small towns of all sorts have gladly sprouted to capitalize on the beauty, resources, and recreation that the Rocky Mountains afford. Here are seven of the most charming to visit in the near future.

Bragg Creek, Alberta

Facade of stores at the Old West Shopping Mall in Bragg Creek, Alberta
Facade of stores at the Old West Shopping Mall in Bragg Creek, Alberta. Editorial credit: Jeff Whyte /

Bragg Creek is a charming hamlet that sits in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies, striking a nice balance in several regards. In terms of its geography, it is roughly halfway between the city of Calgary and the popular mountain towns of Canmore and Banff. As a former Calgarian, I used to love zipping out to Bragg Creek for a quick after-work trail run. In regards to its culture, here the Alberta cowboy life mixes with that of the indigenous Tsuu T'ina Nation. And as for its terrain, Bragg Creek enjoys softer, more approachable peaks, the soothing flow of the Elbow River (punctuated here and there by enchanting waterfalls), and loads of multi-use wilderness trails (including cross-country ski trails when winter descends). When the day's explorations come to a close, the core commercial plaza offers visitors coffee, sandwich, and gift shops, old fashioned saloons, an ice cream parlor or two, and supply outposts to fuel the next hike or front-country camping trip.

Whitehorse, Yukon

Whitehorse city in Yukon, Canada.
Whitehorse city in Yukon, Canada.

Jumping up to one of the northernmost communities of the Rocky Mountain range, Whitehorse combines the history and aesthetic of the Klondike Gold Rush, with hip, modern establishments, and the pristine, isolated beauty of northern Canadian. Though the capital of the Yukon territory and largest community along the Alaskan Highway, Whitehorse still very much retains its small-town appeal. For starters, there are only about 30,000 people living along this section of the Yukon River. Secondly, traffic and industry is so minimal that the World Health Organization put Whitehorse at the top of its 2011 list for cleanest air in the world (all the more reason to get out and explore the 700-kilometer/435-mile marked trail network). And finally, the city's basic grid structure makes it easy to peruse the museums, galleries, totems, and landmarks of Front Street, before ducking down Main Street to shop, sip, or sleep at the colorful, clapboard-style trading posts, independent shops, historic hotels, and saloons/craft breweries. Given its substantial latitude, Whitehorse also reveals different sides of itself across the year - from the charming and lengthy sunny days of summer, to introspective winter nights under the aurora borealis.

Taos, New Mexico

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

Dropping all the way from the northern tip of the Rocky Mountains to its southernmost aspect, the scenic and cultural town of Taos, New Mexico is quite the standout. When people think of the Rockies, they probably don't picture the high desert, but the Sangre de Cristo subrange bucks that trend. Here, the pastel infrastructure compliments the subdued, slightly verdant landscape and fiery sunsets - a scene that continues to inspire the Taos Society of Artists. But make no mistake, Taos, like the rest of the Rockies, has a generous ski season too, thanks to its proximity to Wheeler Peak (i.e. the highest in New Mexico). The town's most charming feature is surely the 1,000-year-old (at least), multi-story Taos Pueblo - a UNESCO World Heritage Site, National Historic Landmark, and one of the oldest continuously-inhabited communities in the country. The Puebloan/Red Willow inhabitants invite tourists to explore the impressive site, learn about their culture, and shop for authentic, handcrafted goods.

Telluride, Colorado

Historic architecture on the main street of Telluride, Colorado
Historic architecture on the main street of Telluride, Colorado. Image credit Kristi Blokhin via Shutterstock

Few places deliver that Rocky Mountain high quite like Colorado. Choosing between places like Leadville, Silverton, Durango, and Breckenridge is quite a task (all are well worth a visit), but in terms of charm, it's tough to top Telluride. Situated on the San Miguel River, within a box canyon and surrounded by 13 and 14,000-foot peaks, this mining town turned tourist hub is drop-dead gorgeous. Downtown Telluride ups the ante even further. This designated National Historic District is lined with Victorian-era homes, restored but still quintessential frontier-style establishments, and the iconic Sheridan Opera House. In the winter, Telluride is a vibrant ski resort. Come spring, cinephiles roll in for the annual Mountainfilm Festival. And when summer kicks into gear, the rugged backroads and hiking trails open up, while the nearby, 365-foot Bridal Veil Falls achieves peak appeal. Regardless of the season, the free gondola constantly shuttles spellbound visitors up to Mountain Village, where panoramic views await.

Dubois, Wyoming

The Black Bear Inn, a small motel in downtown Dubois, Wyoming.
The Black Bear Inn, a small motel in downtown Dubois, Wyoming.

Seemingly remote and undeniably peaceful, northwestern Wyoming's mountain town of Dubois is a hub for two of the top-rated national parks in America, and a fine destination unto itself. Perched on the Wind River, in the shadows of the Absaroka, Owl Creek, and Wind River subranges of the Rocky Mountains, and flanked on three sides by the Bridger-Teton and Shoshone National Forests, this Fremont County gem is a genuine four-season Eden. Retreat into the refreshing silence and traditional way of life with a stay at stay at one of Dubois' many historic ranches, engage with the tight-knit community during one of its Tuesday on the Town square-dances or Friday Night Rodeo sessions (summertime only), or enjoy the wilderness via horseback, with a rod in hand, or by visiting the National Bighorn Sheep Interpretive Center. But no matter what you do, make the hour (and change) drive west to Grand Teton National Park and/or Yellowstone National Park via a portion of the Centennial Scenic Byway - called (quite deservedly) "One of the finest drives in the Rockies."

Wallace, Idaho

Downtown Wallace, Idaho.
Downtown Wallace, Idaho.

When considering charming towns in the Rockies, don't overlook northern Idaho. Wallace, in particular, has a lot to offer. Unlike many historic communities within this mountain range, Wallace is still a thriving mining town. In fact, thanks to its 100+ year run as the largest silver producer on the planet, this seat of Shoshone County is the richest extant mining town. And though once infamous for its bordellos, Wallace has long since cleaned up its act. Exploring any corner of this town will put you in touch with exceptional history, as the entirety of Wallce is listed on the National Register of HIstoric Places. The opulence of the early 19th century architecture combined with the modern commercial and culinary scene is truly a timeless treat. Delve a little deeper by visiting the railroad, mining, and/or bordello museums, or better yet, take the Sierra Silver Mine Tour. As for the natural surroundings, over 1,000 miles of backcountry roads through the Coeur d'Alene National Forest have been converted into the longest multi-use (i.e. ATV, snowmobile, and mountain bike) trail system in the world.

Park City, Utah

Downtown street in Park City, Utah
Downtown street in Park City, Utah. Image credit Kristi Blokhin via

Northeastern Utah just barely gets in on the Rocky Mountain action, but does so in extraordinary fashion. Park City sits less than 35 miles east of Salt Lake City (the state capital), and belongs to the Wasatch Mountains - a subrange on the western edge of the Rockies. A crucial player in the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, Park City has a picture-perfect and engaging Historic Main Street (also built during the 19th century silver boom) that is accented by the brightly-colored hillside homes. This resort town also specializes in four-season fun and sustainable tourism - both of which align with mountain town sensibilities. In the winter, hit the slopes and then unwind with a hot chocolate at one of the many downtown cafes, or snag your ticket to the coveted Sundance Film Festival (held here, in part, each January). In the summer, side-trip to the lake at Jordanelle State Park before sipping some suds or locally-distilled whiskey at any of the handful of saloons.

Aside from the staggering beauty, one of the best parts about the Rocky Mountains is the four-season recreation opportunities that they provide. Heavy snows appeal to some, while forested alpine trails speak to others. But no outdoor adventure is complete without a worthy basecamp. Thankfully, these seven charming small towns in the Rockies have done an excellent job of accommodating all types, including those who just want to kick back on a patio, balcony, or in a hot tub, and absorb the amazing atmosphere. So go enjoy the relaxing mountain air and infectious mountain-town spirit.

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