Colorado is filled with beautiful towns, but if you want to experience some of the most picturesque, be sure to put these on your list.
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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 hip bars and eateries to enjoy after a day at play in the surrounding mountains. In the summer, visitors often enjoying 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 terrain like Gold Hill Chutes, Revelation Bowl and Palmyra Peak.
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 bird cage 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 is oozing with appeal. 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, which hosts Boomtown, one of the best improv comedy troops in the state.
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. This small town also offers some of the best dining and drinking spots of any you’ll find, with farm-to-table experiences and plenty of good brew, like Brick Oven Pizzeria who offers more than 30 taps of craft beer. 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 entire country. 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, play miniature golf or even bungee jump. In Estes Park, you can even stay in the Stanley Hotel, an 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 beware that there have been numerous reports of hauntings.
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 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 means visitors can enjoy outstanding hiking, climbing and 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 a lively arts 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 bike. 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.