Crested Butte, Colorado, via DOUGBERRY /

Colorado's Best Small Towns for a Weekend Escape

Colorado, formally admitted to the Union on August 1, 1876, is an eye-catching landlocked state in the Mountain West subregion of the American West. The ‘Centennial State’ stands apart for its diverse topography characterized by majestic snow-capped peaks, rugged cliffs & deep canyons, mesas, flat grass-covered High Plains, plateaus, and desert basins. Aside from the state capital Denver and the second most populous city Colorado Springs, both of which receive maximum tourist attention, the innumerable small towns dotting Colorado’s vivid 103,718 sq. mi. terrain captivate the hearts of vacationers seeking a more authentic and unforgettable experience during their short weekend escapades or long holidays with loved ones.

Crested Butte

Downtown street in Crested Butte, Colorado.
Downtown street in Crested Butte, Colorado. Image credit Kristi Blokhin via Shutterstock

A charming montane community, Crested Butte is on the Slate River Valley’s western side in the north-central part of Gunnison County. Nicknamed “the wildflower capital of Colorado” during summers and “the last great Colorado ski town” in winters, Crested Butte is a paradise for outdoor lovers. Winter sports fanatics from worldwide especially flock here in large numbers to witness the Crested Butte Mountain Resort’s premier snowboarding and downhill skiing facilities. Vacationers must also stop by the cross-country skiing trails and ice-skating rink of the town’s Nordic Center and the different hiking trails under the management of the Crested Butte Land Trust. Spend the night at Elevation Hotel & Spa - the sole ski-in and ski-out hotel in the town, and participate in any of the annual fun-filled events like Crested Butte Wildflower Festival, Crested Butte Bike Week, Crested Butte International Film Festival, Crested Butte Music Festival, and Butte Bash College Ski Week.

Steamboat Springs

Main street in Steamboat Springs, Colorado
Main street in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Image credit Tupungato via Shutterstock

Informally referred to as “The Boat,” this Routt County seat is set adjacent to the U.S. Highway 40 in the upper Yampa River valley, precisely to the west of the Continental Divide and Rabbit Ears Pass of the Rockies. A celebrated winter ski resort destination, Steamboat Springs houses the much-publicized Steamboat Ski Resort on Mount Werner, which spans an area of 2,965 acres and features 297 named trails of which 44% are for advanced, 42% for intermediates, and only 14% for beginners. Vacationers can hop aboard the Steamboat Gondola for unparalleled views of the surrounding areas, bike the Yampa River Core Trail, be entertained by a performance of the Steamboat Symphony Orchestra, go snowshoeing at the groomed trails of Haymaker Nordic Center, tour the Tread of Pioneers Museum and the Strawberry Park Hot springs, and relax after hectic explorations at Homewood Suites by Hilton Steamboat Springs.


The gorgeous town of Telluride, Colorado.
The gorgeous town of Telluride, Colorado.

Telluride, the administrative center of San Miguel County occupies a secluded spot at an altitude of 8,750 ft on the San Juan Mountains’ western side. Formerly a burgeoning silver mining camp by the 81-mile-long San Miguel River, this picture-perfect community provides adrenaline junkies the opportunity to take part in a wide variety of recreational activities such as mountain biking, rock climbing, river rafting, cross-country skiing, golfing, hiking, camping, and trout fishing. The Telluride Historic District which covers a major portion of the Telluride’s developed area comprises uncountable well-preserved Victorian-era mansions in Colorado Street - the town’s principal commercial avenue. Also, the Sheridan Opera House, the Telluride Historical Museum, and a plethora of independent shops, clothing boutiques, art galleries, bookstores, first-class restaurants like 221 South Oak, and luxurious accommodations like The Hotel Telluride in the Downtown must not be missed.


Main Avenue in Durango, featuring the oldest bank building in Colorado
Main Avenue in Durango, featuring the oldest bank building in Colorado. Image credit WorldPictures via Shutterstock

La Plata County’s seat, this serene home-rule municipality is set in the flourishing Animas River Valley at the La Plata Mountains’ base in the state's southwestern portion. Travelers visiting this settlement christened after the Mexican town of Durango, must stroll down the streets of the Main Avenue Historic District and take note of the several old buildings, boutiques, coffee shops, art galleries, brewpubs, contemporary restaurants like Chimayo Stone Fired Kitchen, and accommodations like Best Western Plus Rio Grande Inn. Embark on a scenic ride on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad that winds its way via forests, abandoned mines, and mountains, linking Durango and Silverton. Also, stop by the Mesa Verde National Park, Durango Wildlife Museum & Fish Hatchery, Southern Ute Tourist Center, San Juan Skyway, San Juan National Forest, Purgatory Ski Resort, and Durango’s other noteworthy attractions. Every year, thousands flock to the town to be there at the Snowdown Festival, Durango Ragtime & Early Jazz Festival, Music in the Mountains, and Iron Horse Bicycle Classic.


The historic main street of Ouray, Colorado.
The historic main street of Ouray, Colorado. Image credit Michael Vi via Shutterstock

The seat of government of southwestern Colorado’s Ouray County, Ouray is located in a deep valley of the San Juan Mountains at an elevation of 7,792 ft, roughly 40 miles south of Montrose. Dubbed the “Switzerland of America,” this ‘outdoor recreation capital of Colorado’ attracts travelers from all over the globe to participate in various recreational activities like ice climbing, trail running, hiking, and off-roading in four-wheel drive. Registered as a National Historic District, Ouray’s entire Main Street is chock-a-full of late 19th-century properties including the St. Joseph’s Miners’ Hospital currently housing the Ouray County Historical Society & Museum, Ouray City Hall & Walsh Library, Wright Opera House, and the historic Beaumont Hotel. Additionally, holidaymakers should visit Ouray’s five developed hot springs, and countless waterfalls, trek the Uncompahgre National Forest’s Yankee Boy Basin, enjoy a drive along the Million Dollar Highway, and unwind after an eventful day at the Ouray Riverside Resort.

Manitou Springs

Beautiful street view in Manitou Springs, Colorado
Beautiful street view in Manitou Springs, Colorado

Manitou Springs, an idyllic alpine community is situated at the bottom of Pikes Peak in the western portion of El Paso County. Initially established in 1872 by Dr. William Abraham Bell and General William Jackson Palmer as a “scenic health resort,” the town is acclaimed for its astounding environs and natural mineral springs dispersed throughout the town. The Manitou Springs Historic District considered one of the biggest National Historic Districts of the nation, features umpteen 19th-century Victorian frame structures, high-style buildings, museums, churches, and public libraries. The Cave of the Winds Mountain Park, Iron Springs Chateau Melodrama Dinner Theater, Manitou Springs Incline, Rainbow/Graffiti Falls, Manitou Cliff Dwellings, Broadmoor Manitou & Pike’s Peak Cog Railway are some prominent sites of interest. Have a comfortable stay at Villa Motel at Manitou Springs and try to be present in the town’s yearly events like Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, Commonwheel Arts and Crafts Festival, Mardi Gras celebration, summer concert series at Soda Springs Park, and Victorian Christmas at Miramont.


Salida Downtown Historic District in Salida, Colorado
Salida Downtown Historic District in Salida, Colorado. By Jeffrey Beall, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

This administrative center of central Colorado’s Chaffee County occupies the core of the Rockies and is abutted by the Sawatch Range, the Monarch Mountain, and the Arkansas River. Besides being the tourism, service, and supply mecca of the Upper Arkansas Valley, Salida is a widely known outdoor adventure haven offering myriad recreations for vacationers of every age. When visiting Salida, explore the Browns Canyon National Monument, hike the Sawatch Range, engage in whitewater rafting at the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, relieve your overtired muscles at the natural hot springs, fish in the upper Arkansas River, hit the mountain bike trails and ski at the Monarch Mountain Ski Area. Furthermore, stroll the streets of Salida’s Downtown and peruse the landmark properties, distilleries, art galleries, independent souvenir shops, artist-owned studios, breweries, eateries like Moonlight Pizza & Brewpub, and hotels such as Silver Ridge Lodge.


Paonia's Grand Avenue, looking south in Colorado
Paonia's Grand Avenue, looking south in Colorado

Home to 1,447 inhabitants as per the latest US Census, this statutory town in west-central Colorado is located close to the head of North Fork Valley alongside the North Fork Gunnison River, approx. 10 miles northeast of Hotchkiss. Primarily a hunting ground for Ute Indians, Paonia’s moderate altitude and suitable climate have lured farmers, miners, agriculturists, ranchers, artisans, and outdoor enthusiasts for years. The numerous orchards in and around the town provide residents and tourists with many fresh fruits including apples, pears, cherries, apricots, peaches, grapes, and plums. Scores of vineyards and notable wineries like Alfred Eames Winery, Stone Cottage Cellars, Black Bridge Winery, etc., have also been set up here to make the most of Paonia’s agricultural produce. While in town, soak in the high-spirited ambiance of Grand Avenue (Paonia’s Main Street) and tour the decorative buildings, shops, galleries, and eateries like Root & Vine Market. Rest for the night at Bross Hotel Bed & Breakfast, and find time to attend any one of Paonia’s annual events such as Paonia Cherry Days Festival, Mountain Harvest Festival, BMW Rally, Rainbow Gathering, Paonia Film Festival, and Pickin’ in the Park.

From the healing natural mineral springs of the paradisal Manitou Springs to Ouray - the “Switzerland of America,” the gorgeous under-the-radar hamlets showcase the real beauty and incredible culture of the 8th largest and 21st most populous state in the nation. With awe-inspiring vistas of the Rocky Mountain, mining-era downtowns, thriving cultural scenes, plenty of outdoor recreational activities, a welcoming atmosphere, and the friendly hospitality of Coloradans, these enchanting Colorado towns are perfect for a rejuvenating weekend.

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