Special Thanks to purewow.com By Dan Koday
Clean, crisp air, sparkling river canyons and snow-dusted Rocky Mountain vistas are just a few of the things that make Colorado truly unique and a favorite destination amongst domestic and international travelers. Without reservation, you should focus a trip around all this intense, jaw-dropping nature and corresponding outdoor activities, but you’re also likely to make your way into town at some point, and when you do, you’ll want to carve out some serious time. The many adorable, small towns in this state cropped up thanks to their mining past, and today possess a decidedly Western charm with plenty of outdoor spirit. Here are some of the most charming towns The Centennial State has to offer:
COVID-19 Update: Whether you’re dipping your toe back into local travel, or just starting to plan your next vacation, these 15 small towns in Colorado should be high on your list. But if you do visit right now, remember to stay smart, mask up, keep your distance and adhere to all CDC and local guidelines.
1. VAIL, COLORADO
In addition to being a skier’s dream, the Vail Valley looks like an actual snow globe come to life. Nestled at the foot of sweeping mountains, Vail Village is steeped in European Alpine charms and is home to amazing bars, restaurants and shopping. For boots with the fur, our favorite fuzzy place in town to lay down some serious cash is Gorsuch, a ski meets fashion and home wonderland.
2. TELLURIDE, COLORADO
Yes, there’s quite a popular Kia SUV named after this town, and for good reason. For one, Telluride is renowned for its world-class ski slopes, hiking and golf courses. Once you're done with aforementioned physical activities, you won’t be let down by the Victorian-era mining village though, which is bustling with shops and popular places to pick up a slice and chill out with a beer, like Brown Dog Pizza and High Pie Pizzeria & Tap Room.
3. ASPEN, COLORADO
Already a world-renowned destination that’s favored by the jetsetter crowd, you too can enjoy the best views of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado from the comfort of your soon-to-be favorite town. Aspen is jam-packed with delicious restaurants, bars, nightlife, museums and high-end shopping, not to mention four distinct and wonderful ski areas—Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Aspen Snowmass, and family friendly Buttermilk.
4. GRAND LAKE, COLORADO
This resort town packed with cabins and summer homes surrounds the largest natural lake in Colorado and nestled against Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes Park. It’s the perfect town for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in the winter, and hiking or camping in the summer. An Insta-worthy lakefront setting and historic boardwalk boasting art galleries, shops and restaurants make it a gem for any Colorado-bound visitor.
COURTESY OF VISIT OURAY
5. OURAY, COLORADO
Ouray is nicknamed the Switzerland of America, and with sweeping, panoramic views of the San Juan Mountains, we can attest that it’s as close as you’ll get to that high mountain Alps feel without boarding a jumbo jet. Situated in a stunning river valley and sitting at nearly 8,000-feet in elevation, amongst its many handsome brick-faced buildings, there’s a local brewery, waterfall park, ice park, and popular mine tour nearby to keep you busy.
SHAWN OCONNOR/GETTY IMAGES
6. STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, COLORADO
Located in the Yampa Valley of northern Colorado, travelers can visit the Howelsen Hill and Steamboat ski resorts. Steamboat offers six peaks, including the iconic Mount Werner. Another amazing aspect of this town is that it’s home to a geothermal hot spring that offers swimming, soaking pools and even water slides. Go’head, unleash your inner child and get involved.
JOHN ELK III/GETTY IMAGES
7. DURANGO, COLORADO
This town that roughly 18,000 people call home is located in southwest Colorado and is surrounded by some of the state’s most dramatic and diverse landscapes. It offers the sandstone bluffs of the Animas River Valley, as well as the jagged, dramatic peaks of the San Juan Mountains. But maybe most notable are Durango’s unique shops—where you’ll find everything from cowboy boots to antler chandeliers to luxe beauty products and fine home furnishings. There’s a divine restaurant scene and a standout local art scene here, too. Another major draw: The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad—which in wintertime looks straight out of a scene of The Polar Express.
8. PAONIA, COLORADO
Paonia is named after the vast array of peonies that are grown in the area. The area features a lush landscape that produces fruits, vegetables and flowers, as well as an abundance of outdoor activities. Refinery is a popular store for what they describe as “upscale resale clothing for women and men” as well as gifts and other handmade items. There’s also an adorable wine-meets-art gallery in town that boasts incredible views and a more incredible Riesling.
9. PAGOSA SPRINGS, COLORADO
Pagosa Springs is also home to beautiful hot springs where you’re just as likely to find true relaxation as you are entertainment. With a small-town feel, this southwestern Colorado town will dazzle you with shopping and dining options in and around town. These include the Alley House Grill (serving American fare), Thai Pagosa, The Lost Cajun, and an experience you cannot miss, Sage Mobile Eatery—where comfort foods are served out of a trailer and you can socially distance at the outdoor picnic tables.
GLENWOOD HOT SPRINGS
10. GLENWOOD SPRINGS, COLORADO
Glenwood Springs is known as Colorado’s land of water and sits between the Colorado and Roaring Fork rivers. If bubbling hot water is your thing, you’ll want to check out the area’s few different hot springs, but you could also get involved in snow sports or Gold Medal fishing, and an array of other outdoor activities. The downtown has outdoor dining areas, key in these times, plus independently owned bookstores, boutiques, and thrift shops, but most importantly, the town website lists that there are several shops for those with a sweet tooth.
RONDA KIMBROW PHOTOGRAPHY/GETTY IMAGES
11. LOVELAND, COLORADO
If you’re looking for a romantic getaway, Loveland, which is near Fort Collins, is known as the Sweetheart City. It’s become famous for its love stamp program, which re-stamps and sends out envelopes from around the world from the city of Loveland. The town’s proximity to Denver makes it an obvious stop for those traveling through, and when they do, they’ll find primo public art and sculptures at Chapungu Park that will make them glad they did.
12. PALISADE, COLORADO
What’s not to like about Palisade, the wine country of Colorado? Sitting in the heart of Grand Valley, the town of Palisade offers acres of vineyards, stunning lavender fields and breathtaking orchards. One place that sticks out in this fantasyland is Anita’s Pantry & Produce, a farm stand that sells one-of-a-kind jams, jellies, salsa, syrups, fruits and veggies and more. In this town of almost 3,000 citizens, you can also have a top tier meal at Pêche, enjoy one of the state’s top craft distilleries (Peach Street Distillers) or get involved with a wine flight at Colterris Winery.
13. CRESTED BUTTE, COLORADO
Crested Butte is known as the wildflower capital of Colorado, and it draws just as many explorers in the summer for its mountain biking trails as it does in the winter for its sickening ski slopes. For breakfast, lunch, après ice cream—and some seriously out of this world, Cornish-style pasties—look no further than the adorable Tin Cup Pasty Co & Double Top, which is set in an updated miner’s cabin.
14. CRESTONE, COLORADO
Crestone is perhaps one of the more unique, special towns you’ll ever visit (with some of the most equally unique spots to stay at). It’s tiny, but it attracts lots of artists, outdoor-lovers and even those seeking a religious experience in its secret town called Shangri-La. For an intro experience that’s more spiritual than religious, simply climb to the top of Crestone Ziggurat. Or, get an otherworldly experience at the UFO Watchtower. It’s the kind of Americana kitsch you’ve been dreaming of.
JAMES ST. JOHN/FLICKR
15. LEADVILLE, COLORADO
Leadville sits at 10,152-feet, which makes it the highest incorporated city in North America. It sits in between Mount Elbert and Mount Massive and offers an array of outdoor activities and scenic views. What can only be described as a lawless mining town turned tourism hot spot, one of Leadville’s most attractive reasons to visit is the Leadville Railroad, which offers scenic Rocky Mountain rides that let you bask open air both in sunlight and Colorado’s natural splendor. This year, the train will open up for Memorial Day weekend with limited capacity and social distancing enforced.