K.C. was a featured writer for Yahoo! Travel before joining trips to discover in 2013. She is the author of Best Travel Guide for First Time Visitors to Ireland, an Amazon bestseller every year between 2013 and 2016. She has been a featured expert on Newsweek, Travel + Leisure, Travelocity, among others.
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Colorado is considered the ultimate playground for adventurers, offering a wide variety of spectacular natural scenery that includes bucket-list hikes, gorgeous lakes, and the captivating Rocky Mountains. While the state has an array of exciting cities to explore, venture further to find charming towns that offer access to epic outdoor attractions, diverse wildlife, and scenic byways. If you want to experience some of the most picturesque towns in Colorado, be sure to put these on your list.
Many feel that Telluride is Colorado’s most beautiful town of all. Tucked deep into a box canyon in the San Juan Mountains, offering lots of serenity and seclusion, it has a storybook feel with streets lined with grand Victorian-era buildings. It manages to retain its charms of bygone days, with no billboards, neon signs, or even stoplights. Frontier-era facades and Victorian storefronts adorn the compact downtown area and there are a number of hip bars and eateries to enjoy after a day at play in the surrounding mountains. In the summer, visitors often enjoy hiking to waterfalls and mining ruins, while winter brings some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the state at Telluride Ski Resort. Located just above town, nearly spilling right into it, the resort is renowned for its uncrowded trails and famed terrains like Gold Hill Chutes, Revelation Bowl, and Palmyra Peak.
One of Colorado’s charming small towns, Victor was once home to upwards of 20,000 people, but today there are only a few hundred who live in this historic town on the west side of Pikes Peak. While nearby Cripple Creek is a booming tourist town filled with casinos, here it feels as if you’re stepping right into the late 19th century with the numerous period buildings, like the Victor Daily Record newspaper office, the Masonic Hall, and trolley depot. The 1899 Victor Hotel is still open for business, complete with a beautiful Victorian-style lobby and authentic birdcage elevator. Check out the Lowell Thomas Museum to learn about the man who made Lawrence of Arabia famous. Thomas was known around the world as an adventurer and writer and grew up in this high elevation mountain town that at 10,000 feet, offers a breath of fresh air in more ways than one.
One of the state’s best-known mountain towns is a playground for the rich and famous. Many Hollywood stars have homes here, including Kevin Costner and Jack Nicholson. If you want to rub elbows with celebrities in Colorado, this is definitely the place to be, but it offers a whole lot more than that, particularly when it comes to magnificent mountain scenery. There are four mountains in the area: Aspen Mountain, Snowmass, Aspen Highlands, and Buttermilk, and, all are within easy driving distance of one another. Across these four areas are over 5,000 acres of skiable terrain, which is what makes Aspen so popular in the winter months. During the warmer months, world-class recreation can be enjoyed too, including fly fishing, mountain biking, and hiking. The Maroon Bells are a highlight as the most photographed mountains in America and can be accessed easily during the summer months, just 12 miles from downtown. You can still capture it in the winter, but you’ll have to arrive on cross-country skis or by taking a snowmobile tour.
Set at the eastern end of the San Juan Mountain Range in a former volcanic caldera, and surrounded by sheer, dramatic cliffs that limit its physical growth, Creede has a long list of things to see and do. You’ll find 1890s storefronts that house unique shops, eateries, and lodgings as well as a couple of interesting museums: the Underground Mining Museum and Creede Historical Museum. While it does have a fascinating silver mining history, the main reason to come is for the views. No matter what time of year you visit, you’ll have access to a host of outdoor activities that will allow you to soak up the scenery. Enjoy hiking, biking, climbing, kayaking, rafting, and four-wheeling in the summer, and cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snow sculptures and more in the winter. Year-round, after a day of play, you won’t want to miss the chance to visit the Creede Repertory Theater.
Called the “Wildflower Capital of Colorado”, Crested Butte is actually made up of the Town of Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte, two municipalities. Like many Colorado mountain towns, you can ski the slopes in the winter and mountain bike or hike (over 750 miles of trails) in the summer, but it’s a standout for a number of reasons. It’s been called the Wildflower Capital of the State, and in July or August, you’ll find the meadows exploding with color, including paintbrush, columbine, lupine, and dozens of other beautiful blooms. Getting out on one of three rivers, the Taylor, Gunnison or East River, you can enjoy world-class trout fishing as well as kayaking and river rafting. While it offers all of the amenities of a place like Aspen, it’s totally isolated and far less busy, sitting about 30 miles north of Gunnison in the heart of the Rockies.
Breckenridge is most famous as a ski town, drawing many to its practically endless number of ski trails – and in the winter, it is truly spectacular with all of the twinkling holiday lights and glistening icicles, but there is plenty to do here all year long. All of that snow also brings the three-week-long International Snow Sculpture Championships in January, as well as the chance to go snowshoeing, sledding or join in on the “Race of the Santas.” In the warmer months, enjoy whitewater rafting, hot air balloon rides, fishing, hiking and more. Breckenridge has a rich history that goes back to fur traders and gold mining days, and as one of the state’s most photogenic towns, many of its original buildings that housed hotels, dance halls and saloons back in its heyday, still stand some 150 years later.
Sitting at the eastern edge of Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes Park provides some of the most breathtaking mountain scenery in the United States. There’s lots to do right in town, with a multitude of art galleries, shops selling Rocky Mountain-related souvenirs and an array of other items, eateries, and even a Family Amusement Park where kids and the kid-at-heart can ride a big slide, drive go-karts, and play miniature golf. You can even stay in the Stanley Hotel, a historic landmark for which author Stephen King based his novel, “The Shining.” Parts of the TV miniseries version of “The Shining” were also filmed here.Just minutes away in the national park, visitors can access miles and miles of hiking trails that wind through lush valleys and the edge of winding streams and waterfalls while providing views of craggy mountain peaks that tower over 14,000 feet into the sky.
It may not get the attention that places like Aspen gets, but once you discover Glenwood Springs, you may find that it’s your preferred choice. Take a stroll down Grand and Cooper Avenues, and you’ll feel as if you’ve walked into an old Western film. There are a wide array of restaurants, cafes, and shops that sell sweets, candles, and all sorts of gift items as well as mountain outfitters when you need gear for getting out and exploring that beautiful terrain. Be sure to check out the various signs around town that are dedicated to Doc Holliday, the legendary gunslinger and temporary deputy marshal, who died in Glenwood Springs. Steps away, visitors can enjoy whitewater rafting, hiking, fishing, and skiing, as well as the town’s famous hot springs. The Glenwood Hot Springs Pool and Spa houses the world’s largest mineral hot springs pool.
Tucked deep within a box canyon in the heart of the San Juan Mountains, Ouray is known as the “Switzerland of America.” The impressive mountains and cliffs that surround the town mean visitors can enjoy a range of outdoor adventures, like hiking, climbing, mountain biking during the summer, and ice climbing in the winter, with the world’s first ice climbing park created here in 1994. There is no ski resort nearby, but thanks to its relative isolation it has a much more authentic, down-to-earth feel than popular ski towns like Vail and Aspen. It also features hot springs, right in the middle of town, offering the chance to marvel at the jaw-dropping scenery while soaking in the warm waters. Ouray’s Main Street, lined with century-old Victorian buildings and old western mining town-style buildings, is registered as a National Historic District.
Just an hour’s drive north of Denver, this cool college town offers lots for visitors, with lively art and music scene, a ton of great restaurants, and a practically ridiculous amount of beer – in fact, many are now calling Fort Collins the “Napa Valley of beer.” Sip experimental beers at O’Dell Brewing Company from its pro-style tasting tray, and then, just steps away, check out New Belgium, the third-largest craft brewer in America. When you want to get active, there are lots of choices too, like Lory State Park, home to Colorado’s first jump/jump track park, and the Corral Center Mountain Bike Park, which boasts 69,000 square feet of space for mountain biking. The surrounding park has 26 miles of biking and hiking trails, some of which connect to Horsetooth Mountain Open Space. Horsetooth Reservoir is one of the state’s most scenic outdoor utopias and is just minutes from the heart of downtown.
Located in the southwest corner of the state on the southern side of the San Juan Mountains, Silverton is surrounded by towering peaks while its streets are filled with historic homes and buildings. It’s a National Historic Landmark that will take you back in time while immersing you in stunning beauty and opportunities for outdoor adventure year-round, including epic hikes and skiing at Kendall Mountain Ski Area and Recreation Center. One of the best ways to experience it is to arrive via the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, which takes passengers on a breathtaking journey from Durango. It’s considered one of the best train trips in the U.S.
Nestled in northern Colorado’s Yampa Valley, Steamboat Springs is most renowned for its ski resorts with geothermal springs and warm pools for swimming and soaking afterward, but the six dramatic peaks that surround it, including Mount Werner, are ideal for hiking, mountain biking, and other recreational activities during the warmer months. There’s a river that runs through town ideal for tube rides, while lush green landscapes are dotted with colorful wildflowers. In late June/early July, the annual Hot Air Balloon Rodeo and Art in the Park festival brings colorful hot air balloons that fill the skies along with some 50 artist vendors, live entertainment, food and drink vendors, and an interactive children’s art area.
Named after the many peonies that are grown in the area, Paonia offers mountain scenery and lush landscapes with fertile soil producing flowers along with fruits and vegetables. It’s a mecca of fresh farm-to-table food with some fabulous eateries for sampling it. There are many local wineries for tasting too – these are some of the highest elevation wineries in North America. In the Creative District, you’ll find artist studios, galleries, and many interesting shops. Combine wine with your love of art by visiting the Azura Cellars and Gallery which offers tasting of its exceptional varietals and galleries featuring world-class fine art created by artists Ty and Helen Gillespie, winemakers, and sailors along with spectacular views of the West Elk mountains.
Located at an elevation of 10,152-feet in the heart of the Rockies between Mount Massive and Mount Elbert, Leadville is the highest incorporated town in North America. Enjoy jaw-dropping views while taking part in recreational activities like hiking and when wandering through the picturesque downtown. Seventy square blocks of it are designated as a National Historic Landmark District of Victorian architecture with buildings that include a saloon where Oscar Wilde once imbibed, a church where “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” was wed in 1886, and the largest opera house west of the Mississippi.
Crestone is a tiny town in the San Luis Valley, situated at the foot of the western slopes of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range. The former mining town has become known as the “world’s new age religious capital” with everything from Tibetan Buddhist centers and a monastery to a Zen center and Hindu temple. Its architecture is impressive and it hosts a number of events worth planning a visit around like the Crestone Music Festival. In the surrounding forests, visitors can enjoy hiking, horseback riding, fishing, and more.
Tucked between Colorado Springs and Pikes Peak, Manitou Springs is a beautiful small town with a Historic District filled with impeccably restored 19th-century buildings housing art galleries, unique boutiques, gem shops, and New Agey retailers. It’s renowned for being home to The Broadmoor Manitou & Pikes Peak Cog Railway, the highest cog railway in the world. It makes a great base for exploring the Garden of the Gods nearby with its majestic red rocks that merge with forested Pikes Peak.