The 10 Best Small Towns in Colorado
The New Yorks and San Franciscos of the world tend to get all the credit — and visitors — but it's often a state's small towns that offer a true feel for the place. In Colorado, for example, some of the best parts of the state can be found well outside large cities like Denver and Colorado Springs.
It's in Colorado's best small towns that you'll find the state's notorious mountain views, mining-era downtowns, cowboy and ranching culture, and of course, plenty of outdoor activities — from skiing and hiking to fishing and whitewater rafting.
So, when you're ready to see a different side of the destination, give this list a peek to find a small town that checks all the boxes for a dreamy Colorado adventure.
Two and a half hours south of Denver will put you in Salida, a small town that sits in the heart of the Sawatch Range. It's a great place to challenge yourself to hike a 14,000-foot mountain (the area has plenty), bike the Arkansas Hills and Methodist Mountain trail systems, or do like the locals do and hang by the shady shores of the Arkansas River, which runs through town. No matter what adventure you end up on, you'll want to wrap up your day on the Moonlight Pizza & Brewpub patio with a well-deserved slice and beer.
The climate in Colorado tends to be dry, but this little agricultural haven produces some of the state's best tree-ripened fruits — apricots, cherries, peaches, pears — and hosts a fall Ciderfest that celebrates all things apple with boot-stomping music and food. If local fruit doesn't get you excited, head to the town's well-regarded Creative District, an area full of shops, artist studios, and galleries, or visit one of the local wineries.
Crested Butte is one of the few Colorado ski destinations that has managed to retain its small-town feel. You won't hear Crested Butte mentioned alongside resorts like Vail and Aspen, and that's exactly what makes it so great. The skiing is steep, the town is extremely cute, and in the summer, it evolves into a go-to mountain bike destination with more than 750 miles of trails. If you time it right, you might even catch the wildflower season — yet another thing the town is known for.
If you don't want to stray too far from the city, head to Manitou Springs, which is an easy, 15-minute drive from Colorado Springs. Manitou is just far enough outside the city to provide that mountain-town feel without losing its accessibility. You can make your way up Pikes Peak (a 14,000-foot mountain) and visit the Manitou Cliff Dwellings just as easily as you can hit up Manitou Avenue's hip boutiques before grabbing a bite at Swirl, a local wine bar.
It may be just 15 minutes by car from Aspen, but Snowmass Village has a feel all of its own. In the winter, life revolves around its ski area, which is part of the four-mountain Aspen-Snowmass family. And in the summer, it's all about biking and hiking in the Elk Mountains, which is arguably the state's most beautiful mountain range.
Make the Limelight Snowmass (which is ski-in, ski-out in the winter) your home base and enjoy exploring the quaint village before jumping into the day's adventure.
In addition to high altitude (Silverton clocks in at 9,318 feet), you'll find high peaks surrounding this historic mining town, which has a population under 1,000. To do it right, arrive on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, which takes passengers on a picturesque journey from Durango to Silverton. Once you arrive in this Wild West town, make your way to Handlebars Food & Saloon for a basket of Rocky Mountain oysters (you may need to Google that one).
Estes Park isn't too far from the city of Boulder (around one hour by car), but thanks to its location among the protected lands of Rocky Mountain National Park and Roosevelt National Forest, it feels like a completely different world. Its position makes national park access easy, while wildlife lovers will enjoy visiting in the fall, when the town celebrates the annual elk rut — a mating ritual where the bull elk spar for mating rights.
Down in southwestern Colorado near the New Mexico border lies this small town, which is best known for its natural hot springs. Here, mineral-rich waters are a given. You can visit the town's year-round "official" springs — The Springs Resort & Spa, Healing Waters Resort & Spa, and Overlook Hot Springs — or you can make your way to the free, riverside hippie dip. Either way, don't miss a visit to the Pagosa Baking Company for your morning coffee and a sweet treat (or three).
Carbondale is a town full of people who live for outdoor adventure. The town makes it easy to pass a day fly fishing in the Roaring Fork River, biking the Prince Creek trail system, or cross-country skiing at Spring Gulch. But even the most adventurous need a rest from time to time, which is where a night at the Marble Distilling Co. & The Distillery Inn comes in handy — as its name suggests, it's a distillery and inn where you can enjoy a stiff cocktail and a good night of sleep under one roof.
Steamboat Springs is one of the few places in Colorado where you can soak your legs in geothermal hot springs after a full day of epic skiing. But in addition to natural hot springs and skiing, Steamboat is well loved for its distinct Western feel, Gold Medal fishing waters, and myriad hiking and biking trails.