Aerial view of Glenwood Springs, Colorado.

These Small Towns In Colorado Come Alive In Summer

Given its incredible alpine setting, the  Mountain State of Colorado is especially vibrant during the winter, welcoming guests from nearby states and beyond with the promise of dazzling ski lodges. But Colorado during the summer brings its own adventure and attractions, luring those same outdoor enthusiasts with the temptation of different recreation: hiking, biking, whitewater rafting, and so much more. But with such sublime natural beauty, from vibrant wildflower fields to alpine tundras, even the busiest outdoor adventurers may find themselves lulled into a lazy lake day. Conveniently, Colorado’s darling small towns offer the best of both worlds: stunning nature that is equally worthy of adventurously trekking or appreciating from afar as a scenic backdrop. To witness and experience the state’s natural splendor this summer, visit any of these incredible Colorado towns for the chance to be a part of their explosive and spirited summer atmosphere.


Scenic Silverton, Colorado nestled in the San Juan Mountains
Scenic Silverton, Colorado, nestled in the San Juan Mountains.

Once a thriving mining town, today, Silverton proudly maintains its history through attractions like the Old Hundred Gold Mine Tour, whose tours through the Galena Mountain tunnels allow visitors to step back in time. The tour, however, involves little walking as it is actually onboard a thrilling vintage mining cart, and guests can even end the experience panning for precious metals at an additional cost. But in addition to the town’s fascinating historical attractions, Silverton is arguably one of Colorado’s most sought-after destinations for its astounding views and strenuous yet rewarding outdoor recreation. 

With an elevation of 9,318 feet, this San Juan Mountain town is especially popular for outdoor enthusiasts looking for a challenge; while there are trails for varying degrees of difficulty, more experienced hikers flock to Silverton for its access to the more demanding paths whose breathtaking views make all the effort beyond worthwhile. Challenging excursions like the Ice Lakes Trail are considered more strenuous, with a 2,430 feet climb toward the awe-inspiring Ice Lake. The lake itself is a shimmering turquoise masterpiece surrounded by towering picturesque ridges, but the trip to the lake is equally serene, with colorful wildflower meadows and dazzling waterfalls along the way.

Crested Butte

The beautiful Colorado mountain town of Crested Butte.
The beautiful Colorado mountain town of Crested Butte.

For easier access to vibrant wildflower meadows similar to those on the hiking trails in Silverton, the Rocky Mountain town of Crested Butte is the place to be. Often referred to as the “Wildflower Capital of Colorado” due to the town’s abundance of spectacular wildflower-dotted meadows, it is unsurprising this resort town–beloved for its ski season–is also incredibly popular during the summer.

Nestled 8,909 feet high in the brilliant Elk Mountains, like Silverton, Crested Butte was once a mining town, but today, it thrives on its tourist attractions centered around the outdoors. Features like the Crested Butte Mountain Bike Park offer over 30 miles of scenic riding paths for beginners and experts alike, with trails like the Green Circle, whose views through the wildflower meadows and aspen woodlands make for a one-of-a-kind riding experience. Other famed attractions include hiking the beautiful Mt. Crested Butte summit or boarding a scenic lift ride through the alpine forest on the Silver Queen Express or the Red Lady Express.

Estes Park

The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado on a sunny day.
The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado on a sunny day.

Another Colorado mountain town whose community thrives off its wondrous natural landscape is Estes Park. Named after the man who settled the community (Joel Estes), the picturesque land was originally intended for farming but lacked success due to a short growing season. In the mid-1800s (and onward), the driving business of the town transitioned to tourism, and today, nothing has changed in that regard. Estes Park is famously known for its convenient access to the iconic Rocky Mountain National Park, which welcomes over 4.5 million visitors every year, making it one of the most popular national parks in the country.

Spanning 415 square miles within the Front Range mountains, the Rocky Mountains National Park is a world-famous destination for its stunning and sensational terrains, ranging from tranquil alpine forests to chilling mountain summits whose 60 towering peaks reach as high as 14, 259 feet tall at Longs Peak. In addition to the 355 miles of hiking trails, you can drive the spectacular Trail Ridge Road from Estes Park to Grand Lake for a chance to spot elk and other wildlife on a scenic drive along the highest paved road in the United States national park system. Along the way, make sure to pause for a pitstop at the Forest Canyon Overlook to take in the epic sights of Longs Peak, as well as the Hayden Gorge. At 11,716 feet, this overlook offers one of the most awe-inspiring views in the country.

Glenwood Springs

The town of Glenwood Springs, Colorado, in summer.

As far back as 1888, the spa town of Glenwood Springs has lured tourists from across the country as well as across the globe, primarily for its famous mineral hot springs. For example, the Glenwood Hot Springs Pool (a massive 405-foot-long body of water) is the largest mineral pool in the world and can be enjoyed by the public. Given that the town is also settled where the Roaring Fork and Colorado rivers meet, it is no wonder then that Glenwood Springs has been nicknamed Colorado’s “Land of Water”.

The Colorado River, popular for rafting during the summer, is a favored Glenwood Springs attraction due to its path through the gorgeous Glenwood Canyon. Also located along the Colorado River, you can also find Iron Mountain Hot Springs, a world-renowned resort known for its 16 tranquil natural springs, each with a varied temperature. Allow your body to unwind and uncoil in the soothing waters, surrounded by serene mountain backdrops, whether that means in one of the natural geothermal springs or in one of the resort’s freshwater pools. As of May 2023, there is even a new adults-only area equipped with two freshwater swimming pools (each with a waterfall) and ten additional pools designed to take inspiration from the world’s most iconic hot springs. 

Manitou Springs

Aerial view of Manitou Springs, Colorado.
Aerial view of Manitou Springs, Colorado.

Not far from the famous city of Colorado Springs, you can find Manitou Springs, a quieter resort town in comparison to the booming city, whose spirit and nature still attract lively crowds during the summer despite its smaller size. Like Glenwood Springs, the community thrives off of tourism due to its serene mineral springs, 8 of which are currently open to the public. Once believed to have had healing powers, these tranquil waters may not hold the mystical healing properties believed in so long ago, but the relaxation is nonetheless magical.

Another beloved attraction of the town is its access to Pikes Peak; once famous for its gold mining in the 1800s, this National Historic Landmark is one of the most popular peaks visited in North America. At a towering 14,115 feet, Pikes Peak is known for its breathtaking alpine views, whether that means hiking the majestic 13-mile Barr Trail from Manitou Springs or boarding a train for a blissful ride with the Broadmoor Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway.


The adorable town of Aspen in Colorado.
The charming downtown of the adorable town of Aspen in Colorado.

While Aspen is primarily world-famous for its skiing, this popular resort town (located in the White River National Forest and encompassed by the mighty Elk Mountains) offers even more outdoor recreation in the summertime, if you can believe it. Hiking is one of these main attractions, as the town offers a brilliant range of trails and paths for all experience levels, each with exceptional views, ranging from serene wildflower fields to rugged mountain peaks. 

Beginners, for instance, can give the Smuggler Mountain Overlook Trail a try; this short and moderately easy hike offers larger-than-life views of the town and surrounding Elk Mountains and is a great option for families or less experienced hikers. More experienced hikers, on the other hand, may wish to take on a more challenging multi-night journey along the Four Pass Loop, a 26-mile hike for campers and backpackers looking to experience the stunning Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. To cool down from this round-trip trek, adventurers can make their way back to Aspen, whose Roaring Fork river (flowing through the heart of the town) boasts waters that are equally scenic and spirited, perfect for kayaking or whitewater rafting.


Log cabins and modern condos in Breckenridge, Colorado.
Log cabins and modern condos in Breckenridge, Colorado.

Like Aspen, the charming mountain town of Breckenridge is another Colorado community famous for its world-class skiing but equally beloved for its irresistible nature when the snow melts. Hike popular paths like the Blue Lakes Trail (just a 20-minute drive from town), whose easygoing trek offers wondrous views of the Blue River and surrounding foliage and wildflowers. Many choose to set up camp near the trail for its picturesque backdrop and easy access to the water; the sparkling 65-mile alpine river is not only favored for its stunning beauty but is also a popular fishing spot.

Without its snow, the Breckenridge Ski Resort is also a lively spot for visitors and locals, luring adventurers and families alike. With family-friendly attractions at their Base Camp, such as bungee trampolines, mini golf, and gemstone panning, the resort is an excellent option for travelers with younger children or travelers who are still children at heart. The resort also prioritizes views of the breathtaking mountain, offering free rides up the mountainside on the BreckConnect Gondola, as well as equally epic views from their Scenic Chair Lift (the Colorado SuperChair).


Aerial view of Montrose, Colorado.
Aerial view of Montrose, Colorado.

With the picture-perfect Uncompahgre Plateau to the west and the equally beautiful San Juan mountains to the south, Montrose is another world-famous destination known for its outdoor recreation. The charming valley town embraces its dazzling setting and has been branded by many as the “Hub of Western Colorado,” even sporting the slogan: “Stay here. Play everywhere.” One of their countless outdoor recreation hotspots includes the Uncompahgre National Forest. Accessible from Montrose, this nearly 1-million-acre forest offers endless outdoor adventure; the hike-able Uncompahgre Plateau, for example, can be conveniently accessed from a pathway located in the heart of the town, going west from Montrose’s Main Street.

To the east of the town, you can also find the Black Canyon National Park, with views of the jaw-dropping 2,700-foot canyons overlooking the roaring Gunnison River. Hikes along the north and south rims are incredibly popular here, with varying degrees of difficulties; the Rim Rock Nature Trail, for instance, is considered a moderate 2-mile hike along a more flat path along the south rim. Alternatively, the 2-mile Oak Flat Loop Trail is more difficult, offering exploration deeper into the canyon, below the south rim. For those looking to explore Black Canyon National Park even further (including any of the three strenuous hikes leading to the bottom of Black Canyon: the Gunnison Route, Romichi Route, and Warner Route), camping is a popular option, with 88 individual campsites located on the south rim. 

With about half its land settled within the mighty Rocky MountainsColorado is a state whose outdoor adventure is unparalleled, making it unsurprising that its tourism is booming and continuously rising. With an impressive 13.6 percent increase in visitors between 2020 to 2021, the numbers only continued to increase in 2022, jumping from 84.2 million vacationers to a whopping 90 million. Evidently, travelers cannot get enough of Colorado–and for good reason. 

Whether you are looking to brave the striking alpine wilderness on a multi-day backpacking trip or melt into one of the countless tranquil mountainside mineral springs, Colorado is a state whose rugged terrain anchors its tourism. Even though many of the state’s small towns may seem to share similar amenities and attractions (thanks to their vast mountainous landscapes), it is worth noting that each town has its own local culture, natural views, and wondrous attractions, whether that be a mining tour unique to the community’s history, or an unbeatable gateway to a national forest. For your next summer getaway, consider any of these charming towns for the chance to experience some of the country’s most spectacular natural landscapes for the trip of a lifetime.

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