Aerial view of Glenwood Springs and the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.

9 Most Charming River Towns in The Rockies to Visit in 2024

The Rocky Mountains, often referred to as the Rockies, are a major mountain range in western North America. The magnificent range extends from the northernmost part of British Columbia, in Canada, to New Mexico, in the southwestern United States, over a distance of approximately 3,000 miles. While the Canadian Rockies have rugged, heavily glaciated peaks and pristine natural parks, the American Rockies feature a mix of high mountains, plateaus, and diverse geological formations.

Throughout the Rockies, numerous small river towns dot the landscape that are perfect to visit in 2024. From the Strawberry Days Festival in Glenwood Springs to the riverside activities in Steamboat Springs, there is plenty to do in these wonderful towns.

Glenwood Springs, Colorado

Aerial view of Glenwood Springs, Colorado.
Aerial view of Glenwood Springs, Colorado with the Rocky Mountains in the background.

Glenwood Springs, Colorado, is a town situated in the central Rocky Mountains. Established in 1883, it is located at the confluence of the Roaring Fork River and the Colorado River. The town's name is derived from its natural hot springs, which are among the largest and hottest in the world. Glenwood Springs also has historical significance due to its connection to Doc Holliday, a figure of the American Old West who spent the last months of his life there.

The Glenwood Hot Springs Pool is the world's largest mineral springs pool and is situated along the scenic Colorado River. The pool's mineral-rich thermal waters are naturally heated by the river's underground tributaries. For those seeking outdoor adventure, the Hanging Lake Trailhead leads to Hanging Lake, a geological formation known for its clear, turquoise waters and delicate ecosystem. The trail itself is a moderate challenge for hikers.

Visiting in 2024 is a great way to experience local culture, thanks to the Strawberry Days Festival, occurring from June 21st to 23rd, 2024. This long-standing event celebrates the season's bounty with an abundance of strawberries. Families and visitors of all ages can enjoy activities, including live music, booths with local crafts, interactive games, shopping opportunities, and the Miss Strawberry Days competition.

Sun Valley, Idaho

View of Sun Valley, Idaho and surrounding mountains during winter.
View of Sun Valley, Idaho and surrounding mountains during the winter.

Sun Valley, Idaho, is a resort town in the Northern Rockies region of south-central Idaho. It is nestled in the Wood River Valley, with the Big Wood River flowing through it. The river's abundance of trout and serene setting contribute to its reputation as a fisherman's dream. Sun Valley is celebrated as a ski destination in winter, whereas mountain biking and horseback riding are common outdoor activities in the summer.

For tourists interested in learning the art of fly fishing, Silver Creek Outfitters offers a one-day class, Fly Fishing 101. This introductory course teaches novice anglers basic skills for fly fishing on the Big Wood River. Meanwhile, Bald Mountain, known affectionately as "Baldy" by locals, has challenging ski slopes and expansive hiking trails. Back in town, the Sun Valley Arts & Crafts Festival is an annual event that celebrates the work of professional artists selected through a jury process. Taking place from August 9-11, 2024, attendees can explore a wide range of artistic creations, enjoy food from local vendors, and relax in a picnic area accompanied by live music.

Banff, Alberta

A street in Banff, Alberta at the base of a snow-capped mountain.
A street lined with stores in Banff, Alberta.

Banff, Alberta, is a town within Banff National Park, located in the Canadian Rockies. It is distinguished by the peaks of Mt. Rundle and Mt. Cascade, which contribute to the town's dramatic skyline and serve as a backdrop for numerous outdoor activities that draw visitors from around the globe. The Bow River, with its origins at Bow Lake within the confines of Banff National Park, flows through the town, extending over 365 miles (587 km) southward.

One notable river-related attraction in Banff is the Bow Falls Trail. This relatively easy route takes hikers through a scenic journey to the river's cascading falls. Another popular attraction is the Banff Gondola. Located on Mountain Avenue, the gondola takes visitors on an 8-minute journey to the summit of Sulphur Mountain. At the summit, visitors can discover interactive exhibits, dining options, and a boardwalk that leads to Sanson's Peak Meteorological Station.

For visitors interested in cultural events, the Banff Centre Mountain Film and Book Festival is an annual event held from October 26 to November 3, 2024. This competitive festival brings together the best films and books on mountains and the adventurous spirit. Attendees can enjoy screenings, author readings, and seminars.

Red River, New Mexico

Aerial view of Red River, New Mexico with surrounding landscapes.
Aerial view of Red River, New Mexico with surrounding landscapes.

Red River, New Mexico, is a small town in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, a subrange of the Rocky Mountains. The town derives its name from the Red River that flows through it. This region is particularly popular for skiing, snowboarding, and other winter sports, thanks to its elevation and snowfall. During the warmer months, the area transforms into a place for fishing and mountain hiking.

The Red River Nature Trail is a river-related attraction in the area. This trail follows the Red River, which is ideal for hiking, bird watching, photography, and experiencing the local flora and fauna up close. In terms of recreational activities, the Red River Ski & Summer Area serves as a year-round destination. Additionally, the Vino in the Valley Art & Wine Festival, scheduled for June 14-16, 2024, celebrates all things wine. Event activities include a welcome toast, paint and sip sessions, food and wine pairings, and wine tastings from regional vineyards.

Estes Park, Colorado

The Stanley Hotel and Rocky Mountains in Estes Park, Colorado.
The Stanley Hotel and Rocky Mountains in Estes Park, Colorado.

Estes Park, Colorado, is a town located in the northern part of the state and has become a tourist destination due to its location at the eastern entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park. To this end, the town is encircled by peaks of the Rocky Mountains. Integral to its landscape are the Big Thompson River and Fall River, both of which converge within the town.

Antlers Pointe On The River is a river accommodation in Estes Park, where guests can stay in cabins directly alongside the Big Thompson River. Take in the soothing sounds of the river and engage in activities such as fishing or riverside picnics. Rocky Mountain National Park is another must-visit attraction near the town. Spanning over 265,000 acres, the park has more than 300 miles (482 km) of hiking trails, scenic drives such as Trail Ridge Road, which is the highest continuous paved road in the United States, and opportunities for wildlife viewing, camping, and photography.

Culture is also abundant in Estes Park, palpable through the array of events, especially in 2024. For example, the Estes Park Elk Fest is an annual festival taking place on September 28 and 29, 2024, celebrating the elk rutting season in the region. Activities include elk bugling contests, educational exhibits, wildlife art displays, live music, and local food vendors.

Park City, Utah

View of Park City, Utah during autumn.
View of Park City, Utah during autumn.

Park City, Utah, is a mountain town in the Wasatch Range, a segment of the south-central Rocky Mountains. It lies between two significant rivers, the Weber to the north and the Provo to the south. Historically, Park City was established as a silver mining town in the late 19th century, but it has since transformed into a major ski resort destination and hosted numerous events during the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Utah Outdoor Adventures is a top provider of guided river rafting on the Weber River. The tour emphasizes safety and fun, where participants can experience the excitement of navigating rapids under the guidance of expert rafters. Another nature attraction is the Swaner Preserve and EcoCenter, a conservation area encompassing 1,200 acres of wildlife habitats. The preserve is for wildlife viewing, with opportunities to see a range of bird species, elk, and other native wildlife.

Those interested in having a more vibrant experience should visit on Sundays in June, July, and September, 2024. These are the dates for the Eco-Friendly Open Air Market and Street Festival, a place for live music, a farmers' market, eclectic vendors, and a beer garden. It emphasizes sustainability and supports local artisans, farmers, and musicians.

Fernie, British Columbia

A vibrant street in Fernie, British Columbia with a view of the Rocky Mountains in the backdrop.
A lively street with a backdrop of the Rocky Mountains in Fernie, British Columbia. Editorial credit: christopher babcock /

Fernie, British Columbia, is a small town in the southeastern part of the province, nestled within the Canadian Rockies. The Elk River flows through Fernie, which boasts swift currents that are a blast for water-based activities. To this end, Fernie's economy is largely driven by tourism; its natural environment attracts visitors year-round to experience the beauty and challenge of the Rockies.

Floating the Elk River between the North Fernie Bridge and Dogwood Park is a popular pastime in town. This stretch has calm waters suitable for a leisurely float. In the winter, Fernie Alpine Resort has an expansive terrain covering 2,500 acres, with 142 trails and five alpine bowls to cater to skiers and snowboarders. The resort operates from early December to mid-April for the winter season. On the other hand, non-skiers adore the Wapiti Music Festival, which is happening on August 9-10, 2024. While the lineup for the 2024 festival is forthcoming, attendees can expect a diverse lineup of artists focusing on Canadian talent across various genres.

Canmore, Alberta

A street in Canmore, Alberta in front of the Rocky Mountains.
A street in Canmore, Alberta in front of the Rocky Mountains.

Canmore is a town in the Bow Valley corridor within the Canadian Rockies in southwest Alberta, Canada. Nicknamed the “Queen Town of the Rockies,” the lively community lies centered within magnificent mountain landscapes. Meanwhile, the Bow River runs through the town, giving it the title of a river town. Canmore emerged as a coal mining town in the late 19th century but has since transitioned into a significant tourist destination due to its emphasis on outdoor sports and eco-tourism.

Be sure to also head to Canmore Nordic Centre Provincial Park, established for the 1988 Winter Olympics. It has over 40 miles of groomed trails for classic and skate skiing, biathlon facilities, and a disc golf course. In terms of events, the Canmore Highland Games are held from August 31 to September 1, 2024, to celebrate Scottish culture and heritage. Highlights include a pancake breakfast, a highland dance competition, piping and drumming contests, a drum majors contest, heavy sports (such as the caber toss), tug of war, and sheepdog demonstrations.

Steamboat Springs, Colorado

Aerial view of Steamboat Springs, Colorado during winter.
Aerial view of Steamboat Springs, Colorado during winter.

Steamboat Springs, Colorado, is a ski resort town resting high in the Rocky Mountains at an elevation of 7,000 feet. The town is also distinguished by the Yampa River, one of the few free-flowing rivers in the western United States, which meanders through the heart of Steamboat Springs. Home to 13,000 residents, the community combines its rich Western heritage with a commitment to conservation, which is great for visitors who want to experience the American West.

The Yampa River Core Trail stretches for over 7 miles along the Yampa River in Steamboat Springs. It connects several parks and recreational spots, ideal for exploring Steamboat Springs at a leisurely pace. Another attraction is the Steamboat Ski Resort. Known for its "Champagne Powder" snow, the resort has over 3,500 acres of skiable terrain across a variety of levels, from beginner slopes to expert runs. Along with skiing, this resort is the Steamboat Springalicious Festival site, an event marking the end of the winter season. It is scheduled from April 1 to April 14, 2024, with events including the Cardboard Classic, where participants race in homemade cardboard sleds, and the Splashdown Pond Skim, where skiers and snowboarders attempt to cross a pond on their skis or boards.

In Summary

The Rocky Mountains represent a significant geographical feature of western North America; the river towns scattered throughout the Rockies provide gateways to exploring the natural wonders of the region. Whether visitors head to fly fishing in Sun Valley, the summit gondola ride in Banff, or the Scottish festival in Canmore, these towns are integral to experiencing the full scope of what the Rockies have to offer in 2024. These destinations are not to be overlooked by those seeking to explore the majesty of North America's mountainous west.

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