Waterton, Alberta: RCMP station in Waterton Alberta, via Todamo / Shutterstock.com

8 Top-Rated Small Towns In The Rockies

The Rocky Mountains sprawl across the Western North American landscape, spanning approximately 3,000 miles.

The range ranges from Northern British Columbia in Canada to the southwestern expanse of New Mexico.

Inside the mountain range, you will find a beautiful assortment of glaciers and dramatic rocky peaks. You can discover pristine clean waters and snowy peaks towering overhead. Do not forget the wide collection of wildlife calling the region home.

With so many things to see, you will need to find the perfect place to start off your adventure.

These eight towns are some of the top-rated locations in the Rockies.

Estes Park, Colorado

Downtown Estes Park, Colorado.
Downtown Estes Park, Colorado. Image credit melissamn via Shutterstock

Come to Estes Park for the Rockies. Stay for the unforgettable spirit of the people and the charming town.

Downtown Estes is the heart of the town, with an eclectic combination of shops and eateries. The Riverwalk winds through downtown Estes Park, linking the Visitor Center to both Big Thompson and Fall Rivers.

The town acts as the gateway for the Rocky Mountain National Park, one of the busiest parks in the entire country. There is a good reason why.

The park has 415 square miles of incredible mountainous space to explore. This includes quiet meadows, hiking paths wrapping around alpine lakes, and of course, majestic peaks.

The town is home to the Stanley Hotel, a historic and possible haunted structure, built back in 1909. The hotel is famous for its white exterior and reddish roof and was one of the inspirations for Stephen King's novel, ‘The Shining.’ So, stay here, if you are brave.

Banff, Alberta

Scenic street view of Banff with cars and Cascade Shops Shopping Mall
 Scenic street view of Banff with cars and Cascade Shops Shopping Mall, via Nick Fox / Shutterstock.com

Banff has long been of the premier locations to see in Canada. The town is inside Banff National Park, Canada's first national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Discover an array of exciting activities in the town, from ascending Sulphur Mountain's summit with the Banff Gondola to indulging in the rejuvenating Banff Upper Hot Springs.

If you want to go skiing, Banff has both Lake Louise Ski Resort and Sunshine Village at its doorstep.

You might have seen photos of nearby Lake Louise. The breathtaking turquoise water sits perfectly still at the base of snowy mountains, with forests growing freely around the edges. It is like sitting and looking at a painting.

For a once in a lifetime experience, the Fairmont Banff Springs hotel will do the job. The castle-like structure rises over the surrounding forest, cutting an imposing scene in the middle of the mountains. The hotel is often called the ‘Castle in the Rockies.’

Jasper, Alberta

The beautiful town of Jasper, Alberta.
The beautiful town of Jasper, Alberta.

When you are in Jasper, it is not uncommon to wake up, go outside to get a coffee, and see a herd of elk walk on by.

Jasper is not as busy Banff, but the views and experiences are no less amazing, since Jasper National Park is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

When you drive through the Rockies near Jasper, crystal-clear lakes sit peacefully in between the mountain valley.

Maligne Lake is 50 minutes southeast of town, and while lately it gets fairly busy, its cyan-colored waters are still worth seeing.

Only a short drive away, the Athabasca Glacier is part of the Columbia Icefield. You can take guided tours on the glacier or you walk up to see the terminus of the glacier for free.

For a distinctively alpine stay, Pyramid Lake Lodge is only 4 miles north of town. These cabins are built right on the edges of the beautiful Pyramid Lake and offer peaceful mornings amongst the mountains.

Aspen, Colorado

Main street road in ski resort town city of Aspen, Colorado
Main street road in ski resort town city of Aspen, Colorado, via Kristi Blokhin / Shutterstock.com

When people think of Aspen, they envision a luxurious winter stop in the Colorado Rockies. It is accurate, as the town is renowned for its world-class ski resorts and fancy chalets.

Aspen has a different atmosphere than other small towns. Not many mountain towns have Prada and Gucci stores in their streets, but Aspen is not your typical small town.

First off, the skiing options are phenomenal. Aspen has top-tier ski resorts, including Aspen Mountain (Ajax), Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk, and Snowmass.

Aspen has impressive Victorian-era buildings and the downtown area is very walk friendly. Despite the luxurious present-day appearance, the city's history is tied to its mining past, and reminders of that era remain.

The town has a vibrant cultural scene with plenty of festivals. The Aspen Music Festival and School, the Aspen Ideas Festival, and the Aspen Film Festival are just a few examples.

It is not cheap, but the Little Nell in Aspen is a fabulous hotel option, located at the bottom of Ajax Mountain. Going skiing will never be easier.

Jackson, Wyoming

Jackson, Wyoming, at the local Playhouse
Jackson, Wyoming, at the local Playhouse. Image credit Randy Andy via Shutterstock.

The area around Jackson is famous for its beauty, with both Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park close by.

One of the most iconic landscape photos in the country is the old, rustic barn sitting in front of the Teton Mountains.

Jackson is a laid-back community, known for its traditional western theme, all set against the backdrop of Rockies. You will know when you reach the memorable town square, with elk antler arches at each corner.

There really is a splendour to the region, and the amount of wildlife really reflects this feeling. Get your camera ready to go because the area around town has elk, moose, bison, and bears.

The National Elk Refuge, situated just outside the town, is a protected area where thousands of elk gather during the winter.

For some added comfort in Jackson, the historic Wort Hotel, established in 1941, is a well-known landmark. The hotel has been a prominent part of Jackson's history since it was built.

Taos, New Mexico

Taos Pueblo in New Mexico.
Taos Pueblo in New Mexico.

Taos is a great reminder of how far south the majestic Rockies run. 

The town is a mix of Native American, Hispanic, and Anglo cultures, evident as you walk through it.

Everyone needs to see Taos Pueblo, recognized as both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a National Historic Landmark.The site is thought to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in the U.S.

You can also learn about both Taos's history and the famous frontiersman Kit Carson, by visiting his home. It has been turned into a museum teaching the region's history.

Visitors should take a drive to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge for breathtaking views of the Rio Grande River and the deep gorge below. It is particularly stunning during sunrise or sunset.

For a relaxing stay, the El Pueblo Lodge is a great option, with an outdoor pool and hot tub to relax in after a long day seeing the sites.

Whitefish, Montana

Street view in Whitefish, Montana
Street view in Whitefish, Montana, via Beeldtype / Shutterstock.com

Simply put, Whitefish is one of the best places to go skiing in the country. You can find small town in the north of Montana, only 60 miles south of Canada.

Several downtown Whitefish buildings trace their origins to the early 20th century, a period marked by fast growth with the arrival of the railway. Some of the structures have been painstakingly preserved to retain their historical charm.

The Whitefish Depot and Railway Park is one of these historical sites, reflecting the town's connection to the railroad. The park includes a museum and vintage locomotives to see.

Glacier National Park is situated within an hour's drive and is a great option for hitting the outdoors, with over 700 miles of hiking trails.

The park features prominent landmarks such as Logan Pass and Going-to-the-Sun Road, stunning lakes like Lake McDonald, and, of course, glaciers.

The traditional family-operated Lodge at Whitefish Lake offers homey stays in the core of town and is right on the shore. Waking up to the water outside doesn't sound so bad.

Waterton, Alberta

Views of the Main Street in Waterton, Alberta.
Views of the Main Street in Waterton, Alberta. Editorial credit: Todamo / Shutterstock.com

Waterton is likely the least-known on this list, but very much worth the inclusion.

Driving into Waterton, it is impossible not to notice the stark contrast between the flat grasslands and the dramatic peaks of the Rockies. There is a reason it is called 'Where the Prairies Meet the Mountains.’

The town sits on the edge of Waterton Lake and gives immaculate views of the surrounding lakeside and mountains.

It also sits inside Waterton Lakes National Park, part of the larger Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site. Along with Montana's Glacier National Park, they form the Waterton Glacier International Peace Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the world's first International Peace Park.

Visitors will be struck by the number of wildlife, especially bears. It is not unusual to go for a drive and see several black bears or a grizzly bear in the nearby forests.

The Prince of Wales Hotel sits proudly on the hillside, overlooking the town and lake from above. If you feel like splurging for an unforgettable stay, this is your hotel.

In Conclusion

When you come to the Rockies, you can really feel the overwhelming nature of the mountains the first explorers and settlers would have felt all those years ago.

From blue and turquoise lakes to ragged, towering peaks, the wildness of nature embodies the essence of the Rockies.

The towns are an important part of this spirit, as are the stories of the people who call it home.

So, if you are headed to the Rockies, bring a backpack and maybe some warm clothes. No matter what, get out and explore all the greatness of the mountains.

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