The Rocky Mountains span an impressive 3,000 miles across several US states and parts of Canada. Many think of Colorado when they hear about the Rocky Mountains, partly because two of Colorado's largest cities are nestled within them. However, the Rockies also pass through Wyoming, Montana, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and Idaho.
The Rockies were essential to pre-Columbian American cultures, with tribes like the Blackhawk and Crow calling these mountains home. European settlers began exploring these Rocky Mountains primarily in the early 1800s, with Lewis and Clark being the most notable explorers to traverse these massive slopes. The vibrant history of this region of the US is best preserved by the local communities who call these mountains their home. These oldest towns in the Rockies offer both cultural variety and exciting events to experience and explore.
Boulder is one of the largest cities in Colorado, with over 100,000 residents and 27.366 square miles (70.88 square kilometers). It's a home-rule city, meaning it operates independently of Boulder County. Boulder rests 5,430 feet above sea level at the base of the Rocky Mountains. Although the city was officially founded in 1859, its history spans further. The pre-colonial era goes back thousands of years, with the Apache, Cheyenne, Pueblo, and other native tribes calling the region home.
Settlers began colonizing the area in the mid-1800s when gold was discovered. Boulder began as a mining community, although it quickly grew into its modern identity as a college town. The University of Colorado was founded in 1876, just a few years after the city's establishment. The Museum of Natural History is one of the best spots to visit to experience the history of Boulder. This large museum preserves the pre and post-colonial era of the city, with events for kids and adults alike. Additionally, visitors to this historic city should visit the many college campuses in town, which add to the rustic feel of the neighborhood.
Erie is in Boulder and Weld Counties near interstates 70 and 25. The population is just around 30,000 residents, and the area comprises 19.838 square miles (51.38 kilometers). Erie rests in the Rocky Mountains at 1,564 miles above sea level (5,157 feet).
Erie, Colorado, shares its name with a prominent city in Pennsylvania. This is not a coincidence since most of the original European settlers in the region moved there from Erie, Pennsylvania, due to its richness in coal and other natural minerals. Check out the Erie Historical Society to find the best sites in the area. Their historic walking tours allow visitors to experience the natural wonder of the region while seeing the town's rich cultural history.
Golden is in Jefferson County near a portion of the Rocky Mountains known as the Front Range. Its population rests near 20,000 residents with a surface area of 9.727 square miles (25.19 square kilometers). The name "Golden" comes from one of the town's earliest investors and founders, Thomas L. Golden. Thomas was an influential miner from Georgia who was fundamental in establishing this mining community. Even though Golden was originally a mining town, it quickly began farming and milling, expanding its economic influence in the area.
Visitors should see the Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave, and the Clear Creek Whitewater Park. Both sites reflect the incredible influence this deceivingly small town had on the development of the state.
Bozeman is a scenic town in Gallatin County, Montana. Visitors and locals alike often say their town is the most livable place in the US owing to the area's never-ending activities. Between cycling and hiking in the surrounding wilderness to exploring the downtown, there's always something to do.
Lewis and Clark traveled through the location of the future city of Bozeman in July of 1806. However, European settlers didn't start arriving until several decades later. Montana State University was a fundamental part of the town's establishment. Established in 1893, Montana State University is still in the city, giving it a small-town college vibe. The Museum of the Rockies allows visitors to fully experience Bozeman's history. After spending the day exploring the local wildlife in Custer Gallatin National Forest, stop and refresh at 406 Brewing Company.
Black Hawk, Colorado
Black Hawk is one of the oldest towns in the Rocky Mountains. It is in Gilpim County in the region known as the Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, Colorado Metropolitan Statistical Area. It has a rather meager population of just under 200 residents and a surface area of 2.653 square miles (6.87 square kilometers).
European settlers originally moved to the Black Hawk region in 1859 for gold. Some prospectors reported finding gold in the Gregory Gulch region, which isn't far from Black Hawk. Today the town is best known for its gambling industry which draws visitors from outside the state. Outdoor lovers will also enjoy the beautiful mountain views the city offers.
Taos, New Mexico
Taos is a town full of history, art, and culture nestled in the northern tip of New Mexico. While not officially founded until 1795, Taos' history spans over 1,000 years. Native people built Pueblo City, the region's most notable landmark. The Pueblo is both a recognized historical landmark and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The unique native village consists of 2 to 5-story adobe buildings all joined together as massive units scattered through the desert. While you walk through this ancient Pueblo, you’ll experience the 1,000-year history predating Columbus and European arrival.
Even though this landmark alone sets Taos apart, there’s still so much more to see and experience in this town. Visitors must visit the more than 200-year-old chapel in Ranchos de Taos, San Francisco De Asis. You’ll want to plan a few days when visiting this vibrant and unique town in the Rocky Mountains.
Longmont is a large town in Weld and Boulder Counties at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. It has approximately 99,000 residents and a surface area of 30.40 square miles (78.74 square kilometers). The region was originally named the Chicago-Colorado Colony because people from Chicago settled it. Longmont takes its name from Longs Peak, which is a large mountain outside the city's borders.
Visitors to Longmont should visit this beautiful peak and explore the surrounding wilderness. Also, be sure to check out the site of the first library in Colorado, built by Elizabeth Rowell Thompson.
Cañon City, Colorado
Cañon City is a somewhat larger town in the Colorado Rockies with approximately 17,000 residents and 12.404 square miles of surface area (32 square kilometers). It is near the Front Range of the mountain range and is close to the Arkansas River. Today it's a popular tourist destination for whitewater rafting enthusiasts.
Cañon City was established in 1860, although settlers first arrived in 1858. Starting first as a mining community, Cañon City became an important military space. The Downtown Historic District is a nationally registered historical landmark. Much of the town was built between 1870 and 1920, with many original buildings still in perfect shape.
Jackson is a vibrant community with a history dating to before the arrival of Europeans. Often known as Jackson Hole owing to the massive 60 miles valley by this name. While both share the region, Jackson Township only resides in the southernmost portion of this valley. Several native tribes, including the Blackhawk, Gros Ventre, Crow, and others, called this region home for centuries. John Colter, a Lewis and Clark expedition member, spent time in the area after breaking away from the group on their return journey. Jackson’s history includes other legendary figures of history, including a visit from Jedediah Smith and Bridger.
Jackson is one of the premier locations for vacationers, thanks to its proximity to Yellowstone National Park and exciting skiing locations. Immerse yourself in the historic landscape of this wild region while exploring the slopes of the Snow King Resort, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, or Grand Targhee Ski and Summer Resort.
Native tribes resided in the Rocky Mountains for thousands of years, with European settlers later arriving and establishing trade between the East and West coasts of the US. These massive mountains have a much deeper history that stretches back to before humanity's arrival. The Rocky Mountains arose from the Western Interior seaway during the Laramide Orogeny some 75 million years ago. Its history is well preserved in its cliff face, and visitors will undoubtedly enjoy experiencing all of these majestic mountain towns.