Top Mountain Towns to Visit in Colorado
by Emily Krempholtz
Skiing, snowboarding, ice climbing, dog sledding, hot springs… there’s so much to do in Colorado during the winter, and these authentic, historic mountain towns will help you do it all as you discover what Colorado is all about.
Breckenridge is a classic Colorado mountain town in the Tenmile Range, and a popular destination year round. It’s located in the heart of ski country, and has a world-class ski resort of its own as well as a charming Victorian downtown area, with a colorful historic district full of shops, restaurants, and art galleries. Breckenridge is home to several great breweries as well as Breckenridge Distillery, and throughout the year they host a ton of great local festivals and events, like the Viking-inspired Ullr Fest, and the International Snow Sculpture Championships.
This little mountain town is just downstream on the Roaring Fork River from Aspen, and upstream from Glenwood Springs. Carbondale rests in the shadow of gorgeous Mount Sopris, and is along the West Elk Loop Scenic Byway. Parks, trails, nearby ski resorts, sports, and a downtown area filled with shopping, restaurants, galleries, and a full calendar of fun events make Carbondale a must-see.
During the summer season, Crested Butte has a well-known reputation as the Wildflower Capital of Colorado. Home to Crested Butte Mountain Resort, this beautiful town has ski slopes in the winter and mountain bike trails during the summer, and downtown Elk Avenue is lined with quaint local shops, restaurants, and other businesses that will keep you busy during your stay.
In Durango, near the New Mexico border, the history of the railroad comes alive with the historic Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, as well as the Railroad Museum. Durango is also only a short drive from Mesa Verde National Park. Purgatory Resort offers some amazing winter sport opportunities, and nearby Trimble Hot Springs makes for a great place to relax and soak, or thaw out after a day on the slopes. In town, Durango is home to several local breweries, as well as a wide array of shops, restaurants, and entertainment that varies from movies to dog sledding.
Estes Park is the eastern gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, and it’s a popular town with tourists. Besides the park itself, downtown Estes Park has a charming strip of local souvenir shops, confectionaries, bars, breweries, restaurants and more, and it’s not uncommon to have to watch out for elk—massive herds of these beautiful animals regularly make themselves at home on the local golf course or even sometimes on the streets.
Located just off I-70, Georgetown is a historic little silver mining town in Clear Creek County that looks like it was taken right from a postcard, with historic buildings and a colorful history. It makes up one end of the Guanella Pass Scenic Byway, so you know it’s gorgeous, with dramatic peaks that rise above the town and are often frequented by Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep. The town is also home to the Georgetown Loop Railroad, a narrow gauge scenic train that runs through the mountains.
While most tourists coming from the Front Range enter Rocky Mountain National Park through the east in Estes Park, Grand Lake is the western gateway to this national treasure, but it’s a destination all on its own as well. The town is situated around the lake for which it is named, which is the largest natural body of water in Colorado and makes for tons of wonderful water activities, like boating, fishing, stand up paddleboarding, and more. In the winter, the land around Grand Lake turns into amazing terrain for Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling.
Idaho Springs is less than an hour’s drive along I-70 from Denver, making it a popular destination for a day trip. With hot springs and spas, old mines available for tour, and a historic downtown area (home to Tommyknocker Brewery and Beau Jo’s Pizza), Idaho Springs is the perfect place for those in the Front Range to get their mountain fix without dealing with the sketchy roads or bumper-to-bumper traffic that comes further along I-70. Nearby St. Mary’s Glacier makes for a pretty hike, and Mt. Evans is a great 14er to summit either on foot or from behind the wheel of your car.
At 10,152 feet above sea level, Leadville boasts its status as the highest incorporated city in North America. This charming mining town is proud of its history in the mining industry, and has many museums dedicated to the topic. Leadville is also home to two of the tallest mountains in the Rockies—Mount Elbert (14,439’) and Mount Massive (14,429’)—which tower over Leadville like imposing but scenic protectors.
Just a short drive from Boulder, Nederland is a quaint little mountain town perhaps best known as the home of Frozen Dead Guy Days, a unique annual winter festival celebrating an illustrious member of their town who was cryogenically frozen in a TuffShed after his death. But Nederland is also a great place to visit for its proximity to Eldora Mountain Resort for slopes that locals love, or Indian Peaks Wilderness, which has plenty of beautiful trails for snowshoeing, Nordic skiing, or hiking.
There are some out there who like to call Ouray the Outdoor Recreation Capital of Colorado for all the amazing nature it provides. Others call it the Switzerland of Colorado, and it only takes one look at the historic Victorian buildings and the stunning mountain peaks that rise up behind them to understand why. Ouray is home to the world-renowned Ouray Ice Park, and the annual Ouray Ice Festival that takes place there, as well as a number of other seasonal festivals.
Scenic drives in the Silverton area include the Alpine Loop, the Million Dollar Highway, and the San Juan Skyway, and the town itself is full of history and adventure. In Silverton, you can visit the Mining Heritage Center, explore the nearby ghost town of Animas Forks, or tour the Old Hundred Gold Mine. Silverton is also close to some amazing nature, where you can hike to the breathtaking Ice Lakes, rent an ATV along the Alpine Loop, or hit the slopes at Silverton Mountain Ski Area.
Telluride is located in a box canyon, meaning it is surrounded by forested peaks, jagged cliffs, and high 13ers and 14ers—all of which is to say, it’s simply breathtaking year-round, but especially in the winter, when the snow-frosted peaks set a winter wonderland backdrop to the entire town. The town itself might be small, with historic Victorian buildings and an authentic Wild West mountain town vibe, but skiers, snowboarders, adventure seekers, and outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds flock to Telluride for the amazing natural playground it provides.