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Colorado’s striking peaks, dramatic canyons, and charming mountain towns have long made the state a hotspot for outdoor adventure.
Home to about 550 mountain peaks above 10,000 feet, Colorado is one of the most mountainous states in the U.S. With so many impressive peaks, it’s no surprise that Colorado is a favorite destination for hiking, skiing, mountain biking, and more. Pair that with the state’s unique Gold Rush history, stately resorts, and Rocky Mountain cuisine, and you have a unique and adventurous destination just waiting to be explored.
From the Rockies to the San Juan and Elk Mountains, these are the state’s best mountain towns. So, when adventure comes a-callin’, these charming Colorado destinations are the answer.
1. Estes Park
With the entrance only 5-10 minutes away from downtown, Estes Park acts as the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. Visitors come from far and wide to witness top attractions in the national park like Alberta Falls and the rewarding hike to Sky Pond. Outside the park boundaries, the sprawling expanse of the Roosevelt National Forest offers more to do and see.
Driving the famed Trail Ridge Road is another must when visiting Estes Park. It’s a winding mountain road with incredible views of the Rockies, surrounding forests, and, if you’re lucky, grazing elk. After a long day in the great outdoors, there are plenty of highly-rated breweries and restaurants to savor, like Rock Cut Brewing and Lumpy Ridge. Or, for a late-night excursion, why not take one of the night ghost tours at the famed Stanley Hotel and learn about the spirits that inspired Stephen King to write The Shining.
Related Read: 7 Best Things to Do in Estes Park in Winter
Historically a mining town dating back to the 19th century, today, Telluride is a beloved destination for outdoor sports. In the summer, visitors flock to relish the lush Telluride hiking trails that lead to mountain vistas and cascading waterfalls. However, the streets of this small but mighty mountain town truly come alive once the snow begins to fall.
Offering some of the most challenging ski runs in the country, Telluride appeals to avid skiers and snowboarders looking to experience expert-level runs and insane vertical drops in the San Juan Mountains. Outside of the Telluride Ski Resort, visitors can indulge in boutique shopping and fine dining in the town’s pristine Victorian-inspired downtown that’s perfectly framed by soaring peaks. This corner of Colorado is also home to Bear Creek Falls, the San Miguel River Trail, and the Black Bear Pass scenic drive.
Aspen is the Colorado mountain town that needs no introduction. This famous getaway boasts a reputation for skiing, boutique shopping, and luscious resorts. Skiers can hit the slopes at four epic ski areas (dubbed the Aspen Snowmass) and are treated to high-end lodging options like the Saint Regis – not to mention the endless list of exceptional dining choices found at establishments like the Woody Creek Tavern.
However, its glamor is far from the only thing that makes Aspen worth visiting. Just outside town, visitors can hike to the iconic Maroon Bells, two famed peaks of the Elk Mountains that are beautifully reflected in a lake below. History buffs can also venture to nearby Ashcroft Ghost Town, an abandoned silver mining town dating back to the late 1880s.
Related Read: 10 Exhilarating Things to Do in Aspen in the Summer
Situated less than two hours west of Denver, Breckenridge is one of America’s most popular ski towns thanks to its location at the base of the Tenmile Range of the Rockies. Breckenridge is particularly popular because of its five impressive mountain peaks and more than 185 ski trails that are within reach. In fact, the luxurious and insanely popular Breckenridge Ski Resort is one of North America’s most visited ski areas.
While there’s no denying it’s an ideal place to experience winter sports, history buffs will also appreciate the town’s historic charm that can be felt in every corner. From the classical Victorian homes to the retro saloons, and even a tour through an old gold mine, there’s a lot to love about this unique Colorado town.
5. Crested Butte
Nestled in the Rockies about four hours west of Colorado Springs, Crested Butte is one of Colorado’s most remote mountain towns. The scenic drives in and around Crested Butte are reason enough to visit. Those with time should cruise along the West Elk Loop Scenic Byway for spectacular views of alpine lakes, aspen trees, and historic mining towns.
No matter the time of year, there’s plenty to wow you in and around Crested Butte. In the spring, wildflowers dot the mountainside and can be best appreciated with a visit to the Crested Butte Wildflower Festival. As the summer hiking season transitions to winter, the surrounding forests shift to vibrant shades of reds and yellows. And last but not least, Crested Butte is known as the cross-country ski capital of Colorado thanks to the massive network of Nordic ski trails. Downhill skiers can also get their fix at the Crested Butte Mountain Resort.
Related Read: The 10 Best Hikes in Crested Butte, Colorado
Vail is another Colorado mountain town that tops the charts as one of the best places to visit in the state. While it’s most known for its incredible ski and snowboard runs at the Vail Ski Resort, there’s plenty to do off the slopes. It has roots dating back to America’s Gold Rush and is also brimming with classic European charm. From the traditional Bavarian architecture to the delicious European fare, visitors are treated to an international experience.
One especially unique thing to do in Vail is to dine at the AlpenRose, where guests are served Swiss fondue and cheesy raclette in an imported gondola-turned-dining hut. Other incredible things to do include visiting the Taste of Vail food festival during the spring and the summer’s various live music events. Nature lovers should also consider white water rafting down the Blue River and hiking along the Gore Range or to nearby waterfalls.
Sitting at nearly 8,000 feet, Ouray is a charming little town nicknamed the Switzerland of America due to the impressive peaks of the San Juan Mountains that encircle it. While Ouray isn’t particularly well known for skiing, it is home to incredible nature-based adventures, including ice climbing at the Ice Park and hiking the Ferrata trails. Natural wonders like Box Canyon Falls, Ouray Hot Springs, and Yankee Boy Basin promise breathtaking views and a lifetime of memories.
It wouldn’t be a Colorado mountain town without a vibrant brewing scene, and Ouray delivers. Nothing tastes better after a long day of exploration than a cold brew at local joints like Ouray Brewing and Red Mountain Brewing. Ouray is nestled in Southwest Colorado off the San Juan Scenic Byway, near other classic Colorado towns like Ridgeway and Silverton.
Related Read: 10 Classic Mountain Cabins in Ouray, Colorado
8. Glenwood Springs
An hour down the road from Vail, Glenwood Springs is a resort town in the Rocky Mountains. As one of Colorado’s larger mountain towns, it features many family-friendly attractions like Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park and the naturally heated Glenwood Hot Springs Pool.
Glenwood Springs is also surrounded by epic natural attractions like Hanging Lake, where waterfalls crash into striking turquoise waters. Not far from downtown, visitors can also indulge in the unique experience of sitting in vapor caves at Yampah Spa and enjoying a marvelous soak in the South Canyon Hot Springs. And last but not least, visitors can venture deep beneath the surface on a guided tour of the Fairy Caves, where you can wander amongst stalagmites and stalactites.
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