Colorado, the Centennial State. It’s a place where you can experience everything from the dizzying heights of the Rocky Mountains to the bustling energy of Denver.
But amidst these well-known attractions, there lie hidden gems that are often overlooked.
They are the small towns of Colorado, each with its unique charm, history, and atmosphere. Let’s embark on an exploratory journey to discover seven of the most charming small towns Colorado has to offer.
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Nestled in the San Juan Mountains, Ouray, known as the “Switzerland of America,” is a small town that offers a big dose of charm. Its quaint Main Street is lined with colorful Victorian buildings, reminiscent of a time when the town was a booming mining community in the late 1800s.
While in Ouray, a hike on the Perimeter Trail is a must. This 5.9-mile loop offers awe-inspiring views of the town and the surrounding mountains. And after a day of exploring, what could be better than a relaxing soak in the Ouray Hot Springs Pool, a sulfur-free mineral pool with panoramic views of the mountains?
As we continue our journey, we arrive at Telluride. Once a booming mining town, it is now a well-known ski resort. But Telluride offers much more than just snow-covered slopes. The town itself is full of historic charm, with beautifully preserved Victorian buildings, boutiques, art galleries, and eateries lining its Main Street.
You simply can’t miss a ride on the Telluride-Mountain Village Gondola, a free, 13-minute ride that offers breathtaking views of the San Juan Mountains. And for history buffs, a visit to the Telluride Historical Museum is a must.
Housed in a converted hospital, the museum offers a glimpse into the town’s rich history, from its mining past to its present-day status as a ski resort.
3. Manitou Springs
Tucked at the foot of the famous Pikes Peak, Manitou Springs is a vibrant town known for its mineral springs, historic architecture, and artistic community. You can stroll around the downtown area, full of unique shops, galleries, and restaurants.
Or take the challenge and hike the Manitou Incline, a trail that gains 2,000 feet of elevation in less than a mile.
A visit to the Manitou Cliff Dwellings is also worthwhile, offering a fascinating look at the Anasazi culture. And let’s not forget about the Pikes Peak Cog Railway. This train ride takes you to the summit of Pikes Peak, offering stunning panoramic views.
4. Buena Vista
Next, we arrive at Buena Vista, a small town with a big heart. Nestled in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, Buena Vista is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise.
From whitewater rafting on the Arkansas River to hiking and mountain biking in the Collegiate Peaks, there’s no shortage of adventures to be had.
The town itself exudes a friendly, laid-back vibe. Its historic Main Street, lined with charming local shops and eateries, invites you to explore and enjoy a slower pace of life. Don’t miss a visit to the Buena Vista Heritage Museum, where you can delve into the town’s rich history.
Onward to Silverton, a former silver mining camp that is as rich in history as it is in natural beauty. Tucked in the San Juan Mountains, Silverton offers stunning landscapes at every turn.
Explore the remnants of the town’s mining past on the Million Dollar Highway, a scenic drive that will take your breath away.
While in town, take a ride on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, a vintage steam train that offers a unique way to take in the majestic mountain scenery. The town’s National Historic Landmark District, with its well-preserved 19th-century buildings, is another must-see.
Next stop: Breckenridge, a town that is synonymous with skiing but offers so much more. Its historic Main Street is a lively hub of activity, with local boutiques, craft breweries, and restaurants housed in colorful Victorian buildings.
The Breckenridge Welcome Center, located in an old schoolhouse, offers insight into the town’s past.
But it’s not all about winter sports in Breckenridge. When the snow melts, the town becomes a haven for hiking, biking, and fishing. And for the art enthusiasts, the Breckenridge International Festival of Arts, a multi-disciplinary event held every August, is a treat.
Our final stop is Creede, a former mining town tucked into a steep canyon in the San Juan Mountains. Today, this remote town offers a blend of natural beauty, history, and culture.
Despite its small size, Creede has a vibrant arts scene, anchored by the Creede Repertory Theatre, which draws performers and audiences from across the country.
While in Creede, make sure to explore the Bachelor Historic Loop, a 17-mile drive that takes you past old mines and ghost towns, offering a glimpse into the town’s silver mining past. For nature lovers, the Weminuche Wilderness, located just a short drive from Creede, offers countless hiking and fishing opportunities.
Say hello to Georgetown, the quintessential mountain town. You see, Georgetown has preserved its Victorian past better than most places. You might feel like you’ve traveled back in time as you explore the 200 historic buildings, including the Hotel de Paris, the Hamill House, and the beautiful old churches.
Also, don’t miss out on the Georgetown Loop Railroad. This old-school steam train offers a fascinating ride, taking you past stunning mountain landscapes and remains of the old silver mining days.
9. Estes Park
Estes Park, also known as the gateway to the Rocky Mountain National Park, is a destination that will charm the socks off of any nature lover. But the allure of Estes Park extends beyond its location.
The downtown area is buzzing with unique shops, delicious restaurants, and art galleries. Also, the Stanley Hotel, located in Estes Park, served as inspiration for Stephen King’s “The Shining.” You can explore the beautiful hotel, but let’s hope your stay is less eventful than the one in King’s novel.
Known as the “Double Gateway to the Rockies,” Lyons is a funky town with a love for music. Each summer, the town is alive with the sound of music thanks to its two annual music festivals, RockyGrass and Folks Festival.
And if you’re not a music junkie? No problem. Outdoor activities abound, from rock climbing and hiking to fishing and biking. Or, you can simply relax and enjoy the town’s local breweries and unique shops.
11. Manitou Springs
Nestled at the foot of Pikes Peak, Manitou Springs is a town bursting with charm. Known for its healing mineral springs, it’s a hub for wellness enthusiasts.
Explore the Manitou Cliff Dwellings, take a hike to the summit of Pikes Peak, or visit the charming downtown with its unique shops, art galleries, and delicious eateries.
Known as the “Heart of the North Fork Valley,” Paonia is a paradise for food and wine lovers. With its fertile soils, the town is home to several organic farms, wineries, and orchards.
A visit during the annual Mountain Harvest Festival is a feast for the senses. Be sure to also explore the nearby West Elk Loop Scenic and Historic Byway for breathtaking natural beauty.
13. Lake City
As the only town in Hinsdale County, Lake City is a true hidden gem. It’s a paradise for history buffs with over 200 historic structures, while nature lovers will appreciate the unspoiled wilderness that surrounds the town. Lake City is also a great base for exploring the Alpine Loop Scenic and Historic Byway.
Known as the “Heart of the Rockies,” Salida is a town with a vibrant arts scene and a historic downtown area. It’s also a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, with opportunities for white-water rafting, fishing, hiking, and skiing. And for the history buffs, the historic downtown is a National Historic District with beautifully preserved buildings.
Niwot effortlessly blends rural charm and suburban convenience. This little gem is just a short drive from Boulder, yet feels a world away. Niwot is proud of its vibrant arts scene, hosting summer concerts and art walks throughout the year. Moreover, it’s named after Chief Niwot, an Arapaho Indian leader, which adds a rich historical touch to the town.
Minturn is a quaint town nestled between Vail and Beaver Creek. This small but spirited community boasts an array of quirky shops, mouth-watering restaurants, and outdoor recreation opportunities. Plus, Minturn’s authenticity shines through its century-old buildings and the locals’ friendly demeanor.
Our final stop, Frisco, is a small town with a big personality. Located in the heart of Summit County, it’s surrounded by Colorado’s famous ski resorts. Beyond skiing, Frisco offers a plethora of activities from sailing on Dillon Reservoir to hiking on surrounding trails. And when it’s time to unwind, Main Street offers a selection of unique shops and restaurants.
Well, there you have it – 17 of the most charming small towns sprinkled across Colorado. Each one with its unique persona, historical roots, and beautiful landscapes. These towns might not make the international headlines, but they are undoubtedly worth a visit. So, why not shake up your usual travel plans and explore these charming spots on your next trip to Colorado?
1. How’s the weather in these Colorado towns?
Colorado experiences all four seasons, with significant snowfall in the winter. However, the state boasts about 300 sunny days a year, making it a great destination all year round.
2. What activities are there for non-skiers?
Beyond skiing, Colorado offers a range of activities including hiking, mountain biking, fishing, rafting, and exploring local history and art scenes.
3. How friendly are these towns for families?
These towns offer a plethora of family-friendly activities, making them great options for family vacations.
4. Can I travel between these towns easily?
While public transportation may be limited, these towns are accessible by car. Some, like Niwot, are also close to larger cities like Boulder.
5. What are the dining options in these small towns?
These towns offer a variety of dining options, ranging from local breweries and casual eateries to upscale dining experiences.