There are more than 4,000 mountains in the state of Colorado. With the Rockies traversing the entire length of the state, you could visit a different mountain town and see a new mountain every day for more than 11 years—and you still wouldn’t have seen every peak in the state! But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, starting this winter. From winter hikes in Minturn to fat bikes and hot springs in the Roaring Fork Valley, even if you don’t ski, there’s a new winter adventure waiting to be discovered within Colorado’s many frontier towns and historic mining communities. Start with these seven unique mountain towns.
If you’re looking for a laidback mountain town that boasts serious Wild West chops, look no further than the hearty little town of Leadville. A former silver mining community that lies among the headwaters of the Arkansas River, Leadville was at one point the second most populous town in Colorado (behind only Denver). It sits at an elevation of 10,152 feet, earning it the title of “highest town in the United States.” A stroll down Main Street reveals many unique, locally owned shops, including City on a Hill coffee shop, the best place for a warm beverage and to-die-for baked goods. Get a history lesson at the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum before grabbing dinner at Treeline Kitchen. Or if you’re in the mood for a winter adventure, book a stay at the Mount Elbert Lodge, grab some snowshoes, and plan a hike up Mount Elbert—which, at 14,439 feet, is the tallest mountain in Colorado.
Surrounded by some of the most impressive nature in the state—Glenwood Canyon, the Colorado River, White River National Forest, and Hanging Lake —Glenwood Springs is the perfect retreat off of I-70. Book a stay at the Hotel Colorado, which was built in 1893 and has been used as a temporary White House for President Teddy Roosevelt, an infirmary for the U.S. Navy during World War II, and a hot spot for Wild West legends such as the Unsinkable Molly Brown and Diamond Jack Alterie. While in town, you can visit Doc Holliday’s gravesite before spending a day warming up and relaxing at the Iron Mountain Hot Springs or the Yampah Spa and Vapor Caves.
A former mining town through and through, Silverton offers a uniquely Colorado experience. We suggest visiting the Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum in the morning, then boarding the antique steam engine train towards the Cascade Canyon wilderness, where you can meet up with the team from Ice Pirates and Polaris Adventures for a 2-hour guided snowmobiling tour of the San Juan Mountains (which are some of the most rugged and impressive in the state). You won’t soon forget this experience.
As the crow flies, Crested Butte isn’t far from Aspen, but thanks to limited established roads and a preserved charm, it couldn’t feel further away from the glitzy glam of other ski areas. Rich in cultural heritage (the gorgeous, remodeled Scarp Ridge Lodge is a former Croatian saloon), this town is a Colorado classic. Learn a little more at the Crested Butte Mountain Heritage Museum before heading out on a magical sleigh ride from Lazy F Bar Ranch that ends in a five-course dinner in a tucked-away cabin overlooking the East River Valley. And if that’s not enough, endless fat biking, snowshoeing, and winter hiking is accessible from Main Street too.
There’s a reason Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the most popular national parks in the country. It’s home to postcard-perfect lakes, trails, peaks, and wildlife—and the Ridgeline Hotel in Estes Park is the gateway. But if you want to escape the hordes of visitors, there’s no better time than winter. Although the Trail Ridge Road is closed for the season, you can still enjoy a scenic drive within the park and access the Many Park’s Curve lookout, Devils Gulch to Dry Gulch Road, Bear Lake Road, and Fall River Road to the Alluvial Fan. After exploring RMNP and Estes Park, hop on a trolley for a brewery and distillery tour of the local juice joints—which are making some of the best beers and spirits in the West.
Nestled in a box canyon in the San Juan Mountains in southwest Colorado, Telluride is a former mining town that feels like a world away from everything else—in the best way. With its Victorian charm, there’s a reason why the rich and famous call Telluride home. To explore the San Juan backcountry in a unique way, book a dog sledding tour with Wintermoon Sled Dog Adventures. Take the (free!) gondola up from town to the resort-top Mountain Village, where you can enjoy a delicious dinner or ice skate at The Hotel Madeline.
Less than a three-hour drive from Denver is Steamboat Springs, the gem of Route County. In the wintertime, Steamboat (aka “the Springs) transforms into a winter wonderland. Take a ride in a hot air balloon for a bird’s-eye view of the Yampa River Valley. To warm up, there’s the natural Strawberry Park Hot Springs—which feel remote and cozy (and never too touristy), and a hearty meal from Table 79, a new hearth-style eatery that knows how to host. And for everyone’s entertainment, Steamboat hosts a winter carnival (complete with fireworks and the infamous skijoring competition) and the Winter Wondergrass bluegrass festival in February.
No matter where your winter adventures take you this winter, you’ll find something amazing in the crackling of a fire under a starry sky, a glimpse of a bighorn sheep from the roadside’s edge, or your new favorite song playing in a bar by a band you hadn’t heard of yet. And we’re here to help you discover it. Check out more insider tips and local guides for your next Colorado adventure here.