Aerial view of Ouray, a small Mountain Town with a Hot Springs Aquatic Center

9 Picture-Perfect Towns in The Rockies

The Rockies are one of North America's biggest attractions for a reason. Their size and scope astound all who visit—outdoor enthusiast or not—and demand the attention, intrigue, and genuine passion for exploration that make any visit worthwhile. Not only do they boast unparalleled natural beauty and landscapes, but it is also an area of vast cultural diversity. The Rockies range anywhere from small Canadian municipalities such as Waterton, Alberta, to even more remote remembrances of Spanish settler history in Taos, New Mexico; this list describes the most picture-perfect towns in the Rockies. 

Grand Lake, Colorado

View of the snow covered mountain tops of the Rocky Mountains from across the Grand Lake in Colorado.
View of the snow-covered mountain tops of the Rocky Mountains from across the Grand Lake in Colorado.

Grand Lake is the last touch of human settlement outside of Rocky Mountain National Park and has become an iconic small-town settlement known as the gateway to this magical mountain range. In the town is the tranquility of small life, best experienced from the wooden pier lookout of Point Park that contrasts the modesty of the town with the dramatic views of Mount Patterson and Longs Peak across the water of Grand Lake. It's popular to stay here at the Shadowcliff Mountain Lodge and the Grand Lake Lodge, but some visitors only stop in as they drive through the national scenic byway that cuts through the middle of town, Trail Ridge Road. In the summer, visitors should explore the rentals of the Grand Lake Marina and Boater's Choice or proceed on foot to popular nearby trails like the East Inlet Trailhead to Adams Falls.

Waterton, Alberta

Waterton Lake in the Waterton Lakes National Park.
Waterton Lake in the Waterton Lakes National Park. 

Waterton is remote and barely classified as a settlement — only 105 people officially live there — but its seclusion within the Waterton Lakes National Park of Canada only adds to its rugged and rural attractiveness. The settlement's signature symbol is the Prince of Wales Hotel, a majestic and idyllically located lodging offering unmatched views of Upper Waterton Lake, but the Waterton Lake Red Chair Marina Point on the lakeside coast below offers similarly enchanting panoramic views of the Emerald Bay, especially at sunrise and sunset. Visitors might enjoy the lake from a boat tour from the famous Waterton Shoreline Cruise Company or take the more demanding but equally rewarding Bertha Trailhead hike. 

Hamilton, Montana

View of the Bitterroot Mountain Range in Hamilton, Montana.

Hamilton is a small town along the rugged, barren, and beautiful mountainous backcountry of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness in Montana. The best of this natural beauty is explored with a long walk through River Park and Skalkaho Bend Park, while the Blodgett Trailhead provides an exceptional overlook over the small town and the large mountains like Ward Mountain and Castle Crag in the background. Within the town are all the amenities of a classic Mid-Western town, like the Red Rooster Artisan Bakery and Nap's Grill, and the Daly Mansion is a fantastic house of insight into the historical roots of the town and its settlers. Majestic country clubs like the Hamilton Golf Club and the Stock Farm Club also offer a calm refuge against the dramatic mountains. 

Ouray, Colorado

The gorgeous Rocky Mountain town of Ouray in Colorado.
The gorgeous Rocky Mountain town of Ouray in Colorado.

Ouray is surrounded by impressive mountain ranges and to unique and popular water features, rock formations, and trails. The town is most recognized for its Ice Park which welcomes ice climbers between December and March, offering special panoramic, snowy views of Colorado's Rockies. But the summer months are just as eventful: the barren red rock mountains and cascading waterfalls Box Cañon Falls Park are a special attraction to any visitor, and Cascade Falls Park is greenspace uniquely devoted to displaying the iconic and impressive flows of the snow melt, especially in the spring season. For unparalleled relaxation after daytime activities, visit the Ouray Hot Springs Pool and Fitness Center to enjoy a pool complex fed by natural hot springs. 

Jasper, Alberta

Glacier skywalk near the famous icefield parkway road from Banff to Jasper.
Glacier skywalk near the famous Icefield Parkway in Jasper. Image credit: Chantal de Bruijne/

Jasper is the quintessential Rocky Mountain experience and the home of Canada's most iconic mountain scenery. The town's heart is the Jasper National Park of Canada, known for crystal blue water like that accessible from the Medicine Lake Lookout or the dramatic views from Whistler's Peak. A less popular but equally magnificent attraction may be Pyramid Mountain, which rises to a stunning height of 2,766m and is accented below by the clear water of Pyramid Lake. The best lodgings for outdoor enthusiasts include the Alpine Village Jasper, the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, and the Pyramid Lake Lodge. Stop at the Jasper Park Visitor Information Center to fully grasp your opportunities and needs in this incredible stretch of the Rocky Mountains. 

Crested Butte, Colorado

Aerial view of Crested Butte, Colorado.
Aerial view of Crested Butte, Colorado.

Crested Butte is a championing town of winter sports. The headline attractions for most visitors are the snowboarding and skiing available at the famous Crested Butte Mountain Resort or at the Crested Butte Nordic for those who prefer cross-country. However, the town's pull in the summer months should not be underestimated. Kepler Pass offers spectacular scenic hiking opportunities, especially in the red and yellow foliage of the fall months. At the same time, the Center for the Arts and Crested Butte Museum keep travelers busy in the daytime. The Crested Butte Wildflower Festival is also a special summertime event in this town, which has been proclaimed as the wildflower capital of Colorado. 

Taos, New Mexico

The ancient village of Taos Pueblo new Taos, New Mexico.
The ancient village of Taos Pueblo, new Taos, New Mexico. Editorial credit: Gimas /

Taos, New Mexico, offers a stunning display of that portion of the Rocky Mountains that is red and brown, bare, and beautifully barren. It's surrounded by the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, most notably characterized by the nearby Wheeler Peak. Even more so than its natural scenery, Taos is defined by its unique cultural and historical symbols, museums, and architecture. The Taos Art Museum at Fechin House, the Harwood Museum of Art, and the Hacienda de Los Martinez Museum are all prime attractions with the full historical culture and sentiment of the Spanish colonial era and its modern connections on display. Staying at the Casa Gallina or the El Monte Sagrado is popular. 

Canmore, Alberta

The Three Sisters Mountain, seen from town of Canmore, Alberta.
The Three Sisters Mountain, seen from town of Canmore, Alberta.

Canmore, Alberta, is known best for its hiking trails and incredible backdrop of mountains like the Three Sisters Mountain Peaks, accessible starting from the Spray Lake Reservoir after traversing the Bow Valley Provincial Park. Within the town, it's easy to enjoy the majestic peaks from the Canmore Engine Bridge, a part of the Spur Line Trail that crosses over Bow River, or from the relaxed and small Quarry Lake Park that offers a contrast between personal relaxation and a tremendous mountain landscape above. In the winter season, it's popular to stay at the Canmore Nordic Center for world-class skiing and snow activities; the same space doubles as an epic system of trails and hikes in the summer months. 

Durango, Colorado

Main Street in Durango. Image credit WorldPictures via Shutterstock.
Main Street in Durango. Image credit WorldPictures via Shutterstock.

Durango, Colorado, is just south of the rugged and colorful San Juan National Forest and north of the Colorado-New Mexico border. While the mountain views from nearby peaks like the Animas City Mountain and Smelter Mountain are breathtaking for any visitor, this small town is more recognized for its culture, history, and unique energy. This allure is primarily provided by the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, a restored steam train that offers seasonal rides through the surrounding mountainsides, beaming with color and historic character. The Powerhouse is also a well-recognized interactive science museum perfect for family afternoons. For the real feel of Mid-Western settlers, stay at the quaint United Campgrounds of Durango. 

The Rockies are America's most majestic natural experience. Any exploration will amaze even the most unlikely outdoor hikers, boaters, bikers, and skiers. Start in the northern ranges that cover small towns such as Canmore and Jasper, then venture south through Hamilton, Montana, and towards the many hidden wonders of Colorado. The Rockies are guaranteed to offer an unforgettable experience in its picture-perfect towns, regardless of season.

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