Colorado isn’t exactly lacking in natural beauty: With its gorgeous Rocky Mountains, miles upon miles of trails, and dozens of ski resorts, the state is a natural hot spot for lovers of the great outdoors. But there are also charming small towns at the heart of all of this, with quirky, friendly locals, great breweries, and art galleries honoring the state’s Native American culture. Read on for eight of Colorado’s best small towns, whether you’re coming for hiking, skiing, or peaches (yes, peaches).
Famous for its therapeutic mineral waters, Manitou Springs is located right at the base of iconic Pikes Peak. Its downtown area is charming, with tree-lined streets and shops offering Native American art and jewelry (the site of the town was originally settled by the Ute tribe). There are also eight mineral spring fountains still going, though architecture buffs might be more swayed by the Miramont Castle, which dates back to the Victorian era and boasts nine different architectural styles. Of course, given the 14,115-foot mountain in the town’s backyard, there’s plenty of hiking and other outdoor activities to do here, too. To stay, check out the luxury Cliff House at Pikes Peak, which is close to downtown, offers spectacular views, and has a “Buffalo Bill” suite that resembles a luxury teepee.
There’s almost no better base for those looking for a ski getaway without paying the high prices of in-town resorts than Dillon, which has access to seven amazing ski areas, including Keystone, Breckenridge, and Copper Mountain, and is situated just 10 miles east of the continental divide. Although it lacks a proper “Main Street,” the town makes up for it with gorgeous scenery, a lake with 26 miles of shoreline, landscapes of wide country and snowcapped mountains that are especially stunning under a setting sun. With only 900 residents, the rustic charm is real.
If you’re looking for a rustic and artsy escape, Nederland — known casually as “Ned” — is it. Located high in the mountains and a short drive west of Boulder, the eclectic town boasts great views, a great motto (“Life’s Better Up Here!”), and one of the area’s best local music scenes. Originally a mining town, Nederland now has a prominent spot on the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway and is close to Eldora Mountain Resort for skiing. For fans of exploring the great outdoors on trails instead of slopes, Rocky Mountain National Park and James Peak Wilderness, as well as Roosevelt National Forest and Indian Peaks Wilderness, are all at the town’s door. There’s a quirky side to the town, too: “Frozen Dead Guy Days” is an annual festival in March that commemorates a Norwegian man who was cryogenically frozen in town with events like coffin races and a costumed polar plunge.
Located close to the New Mexico border, Durango started as a silver mining town before blossoming into the quirky spot it is now (it’s generally seen as a the less-expensive sibling to Telluride two hours north). It’s a great base for those keen to see stunning Mesa Verde National Park, Chimney Rock, and Chaco Canyon. Not to miss is a steam locomotive ride on the Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, which runs daily in the summer along a beautiful track that curves along mountains and tree studded valleys. In the winter, there’s the wonderful Durango Ski Resort, which offers great skiing and snowboarding. If you want to stay close to down, the DoubleTree by Hilton Durango is a short walk from the center of the action.
Stop over in Denver and then head west to Evergreen, which sits high up at 7,200 feet. You wouldn’t know it was so close to the big city, however, with the mountains that surround the city. (The ice-skating rink has some serious views of them.) It’s also a hiker’s paradise, with miles of trails waiting to be walked or ran. That’s not to say that its downtown doesn’t have charm: Art galleries and great restaurants abound for culture vultures and the most dedicated of foodies.
Palisade only has around 2,600 residents, but you can expect a few more people in town when it comes to the annual Colorado Mountain Winefest in mid-September, which really put this little town on the map. But even outside of that, Palisade is worth a stop: The 25 wineries nearby are open year round (many of which you can visit on a bike or horse-drawn carriage tour). There’s also plenty of hiking to do and trails to conquer — and at the end of a day of activity, try one of the town’s peaches, another one of its claims to fame, thanks to a mild climate with 78 percent sunshine and a 182-day growing season. If you’re really into the fruit, come during August, where more than 100 vendors sell it.
With about 7,000 people living in the luxe ski town year-round, Aspen might be one of the fanciest small towns in America, never mind Colorado. You’ll pay the price — the posh resorts are always on the pricey side – -but there’s gorgeous scenery and wonderful trails to explore in the warmer months. Its downtown area also has plenty to do, with famous art galleries, great shopping, and nightlife that goes on whether it’s ski season or not. If you’re looking to take advantage of off-peak rates (or splurge during high season), it’s hard to go better than the opulently eclectic Hotel Jerome.
Founded in 1890 and once the headquarters of the Rio Grande Southern railway, Ridgway (no, there’s no typo there) is located in southwestern Colorado. If it seems faintly recognizable, that’s because it probably is: This scenic beauty of a town has been the backdrop for more than 100 Westerns, including “True Grit” and “How the West Was Won.” Beyond its good looks, the town is heaven for fishers, beer-lovers (there are five breweries in town) and those keen on watersports and hiking. After a full day, the area’s natural hot springs make for a revitalizing soak — and with just over 900 residents, there probably won’t be too much competition for a spot in the water. However, a small population doesn’t mean a lack of luxury: The Chipeta Solar Springs resort is a health focused spa with massages, yoga, and some of those famous hot springs.
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