Colorado is famous for a lot of things. Our people are some of the most easily stereotyped in the country and as winter rolls around, it becomes even easier. We all get our winter coats out of storage and reach for the ski wax. Then, we flock to the mountains, to some of the most beautiful snow covered hilltops and quaint towns in the US.
In Northern Colorado, we’re just hours away from many of these gems. Each one boasts world-class skiing, snowshoeing or ice climbing. But we can’t forget about the culture, history, people, art and bonuses they offer as well. When the ski day is over, don’t hop in your car and head home right away. Explore! Soak in a natural hot spring, grab a local brew, celebrate at an event or see a play.
Wherever you are in the Colorado Rockies, there’s a mountain town nearby that you have to see. We organized a list of some of our favorites so you can start planning your trip easily!
Aspen is one of the most popular mountain towns in Colorado — and in the country! It has the soul of a mountain town and the buzz of a city. Especially famous for its wintertime recreation opportunities, Aspen Snowmass has four mountains and caters to two towns — Aspen and Snowmass Village on the other side. Also, home to the Winter X Games, Aspen is a tourist and winter sports enthusiasts’ dream.
In town, arts and cultural offerings include everything from a world famous music festivals to ballet, celebrations of food and wine, gatherings for the intellectual and the environmentalist, as well as activities and inspiration for writers and poets. There are so many festivals and events throughout the year! Check their events website before you start planning your trip.
Avon is called “The Heart of the Valley” for a reason. Besides being filled with arts, culture and recreation opportunities all its own, the town is just eight miles from Vail and lies at the base of Beaver Creek Resort. No matter the season, it’s the perfect launching spot for all your mountain adventures. You can even take a gondola directly to the base of the mountain at Beaver Creek!
As soon as you enter town, you’ll notice the art and sculptures on display at every turn. A total of 29 bronze statues are on display. And many of them are right along the Main Street Mall for easy viewing. The art began in 1989 with the unveiling of “Checkmate” at the town’s 10th Anniversary Celebration. We recommend stopping in at one of Avon’s art galleries to see even more spectacular pieces in every genre. And while you explore the mall for art, you’ll find amazing boutiques and shops, perfect for treating yourself or snagging a few holiday gifts!
Basalt began as a railroad town. The original settlement was actually called Fryingpan Town, then Aspen Junction until 1985 when it was named after the basaltic rock formation of Basalt Mountain. The town’s most famous landmark are the Basalt Kilns, once used to satisfy the high demand for charcoal in the valley. They represent the earliest history of the village — way back when it was Fryingpan Town.
Today, the pristine mountain wilderness is the perfect winter recreation destination. You can venture out on cross-country skis, snowshoes, by foot or by bike in the warmer months. At the confluence of two Gold Medal rivers, the Frying Pan River and the Roaring Fork River, it’s also a world-class fishing destination.
In town, they’ve maintained a historic village atmosphere while integrating modern art, boutiques and restaurants for your enjoyment.
Photo courtesy of Breckenridge Tourism Office
Breckenridge is another of Colorado’s most popular mountain towns. The hardest part about visiting is deciding what to do because it’s impossible to fit everything in during a short trip! Year round it’s the perfect destination for outdoor adventure. This winter, catch early-morning turns at Breckenridge Ski Resort, explore miles of snowshoeing and cross-country skiing trails and hear the sleigh bells jingle on a starlit dinner sleigh ride. You can even hit the trails by snowmobile!
Year round, they celebrate Breckenridge and mountain culture with festivals and events. Don’t miss the Ullr Fest January 11 – 14. It’s an annual celebration of snow and tradition inspired by Nordic mythology and Viking history. For daily updates on the best of Breckenridge, check out their blog which covers local food, family fun, events and more!
Photo courtesy of Renee Graner / Baby Doe Studios
Buena Vista has a little bit of everything you want in a mountain town: the great outdoors, local parks, scenic drives, arts and culture, local grub and even natural hot springs! You can relax and rejuvenate at Mt. Princeton Hot Springs, Cottonwood Hot Springs or Treehouse Hot Springs year round.
That is, after you hit the slopes at Monarch Mountain or venture into the wilderness for a snowshoeing or cross-country skiing adventure. You can even go on a dog sledding trip with Monarch Dog Sled Rides. Referred to as the Banana Belt, Buena Vista sees less snow and milder temperatures throughout the winter, making it a great location to get outside.
Located eight miles from the entrance to Mesa Verde National Park, Cortez is often considered the cultural center of Mesa Verde Country. The history of the town and the entire valley is rooted in agriculture and Native American traditions. Ancient cliff dwellings, cowboys and farms mingle harmoniously below the surrounding mountains.
Inspired by agriculture history and ancient Puebloans’ practices, you’ll find plenty of local restaurants and markets with local produce as well as small brewpubs. We recommend making a stop at Main Street Brewery & Restaurant or J. Fargo’s Family Dining & Microbrewery before you head back home!
Creede merges historic architecture and culture with modern events and shops along Main Street. Here, you have the opportunity for a quiet mountain getaway or a day filled with fun, amidst the lights and sounds of the town.
For Main Street adventures, you can enjoy one of the many annual festivals throughout the winter season. It opens with the Chocolate Festival in November and wraps up in January with the “Golden Pick” Tommyknocker Pond Hockey Tournament. Don’t miss Cabin Fever Daze in February to shake off the cold and celebrate the last of the ice with sculpting, sliding, skating and more.
Year round, we suggest you stop by the Creede Repertory Theater. Named one of the top 10 places to see the lights way off Broadway by USA Today, they host comedic, dramatic and exciting productions throughout the seasons — including a festive play for Cabin Fever Daze.
Photo courtesy of VisitCrestedButte.com / Teresa Cesario
Crested Butte is a picture perfect Colorado town nestled into the base of the surrounding mountains. While you’re not skiing, hiking, biking, snowshoeing or snowmobiling outside, explore Elk Ave., the thriving heart of town. You can even see what’s going on right now on the avenue with The Cantina Cam provided by Donitas Cantina.
Before your shopping or entertainment expedition gets underway, stop at our favorite, Camp 4 Coffee to get your caffeine fix. The Elk Ave. location is a picturesque cabin-style spot perfect for warming up in the winter. Then venture out to see some of the cutest and most eclectic boutiques in the Rockies! For the most up to date happenings, follow View the Butte, the town blog.
In Cripple Creek you can still partake in the events and activities the town was founded on — gambling and mining. Along Main Street you’ll find the shops and art we’ve come to expect from Colorado mountain towns alongside both historic and modern casinos.
The holidays find the town’s historic buildings dressed to the nines in festive neon and LED lights. And mark your calendars for the 10th Annual Cripple Creek Ice Festival February 10 – 19. Downtown will be filled with ice carvings and demonstrations to celebrate winter. Past festivals have included Mythological Wonderland, Under the Sea, a Military Salute Carved in Ice, the Old West and Medieval themes. Check the website for updates on 2017’s theme!
Durango, the heart of Southwest Colorado, is home to Fort Lewis College and just down the road from Purgatory Ski Resort. The perfect mix of college town and small mountain village, it has plenty of live music, theater, arts, food and drink options to unwind after a day on the slopes. The first Thursday of every month, you can explore downtown during the gallery walk or make a trip this week for the Ice Climbing World Cup and North American Ice Championship.
Home to the famous Stanley Hotel, four miles from Rocky Mountain National Park and a wildlife and recreation haven all its own, Estes Park is a must-see mountain town. And it’s just over an hour’s drive from Fort Collins!
Year round there are art, shopping and recreation opportunities nearly everywhere you look — and plenty of dancing, live music, wineries, breweries and distilleries to enjoy. Stop by Estes Park Brewery for a little taste of it all or relax at Snowy Peaks Winery for a flight of local wines and Colorado artisan foods.
For a full guide to our Estes Park favorites and more things to do in the area check out our blog post, Escape to Estes Park.
There’s no shortage of winter activities in Georgetown. In fact, winter may even make the historic town even more beautiful and exciting. The Georgetown Loop Railroad runs from April 30th through mid-January every year, offering opportunities in the beginning of the winter season to rumble through the snow covered landscape of the Rocky Mountains. The trip ends just over three miles up the mountain in Silver Plume. Don’t miss Santa’s Lighted Forest and Santa’s North Pole Adventure this season!
In town, you can still fish and ice fish on Georgetown Lake; grab a pair of skates and head to Werlin Park; or jump in your car to race on the ice at Georgetown Lake! For a little history and culture, the whole family can visit one of the five unique museums in town or explore Downtown for boutique shops and local food.
Glenwood Springs was built around the hot mineral springs and the water that carved Glenwood Canyon into Iron Mountain. Today, you can soak in the town’s natural waters throughout the surrounding wilderness or in one of their resort-style pools. Many made our list of Colorado’s Best Hot Springs. Above the caverns and the water, there are roller coasters, canyon swings and incredible views of the Roaring Fork Valley.
When you eventually get out of the water, you’ll find the town is a shopping and winter recreation paradise as well. Ski at Sunlight Mountain Resort, one of Colorado’s hidden gems, and explore the area’s boutiques, galleries and markets.
Surrounded by ski areas, a national recreation area, national park, lakes, rivers, mesas and high-mountain sage that looks like it’s right out of a John Wayne western, Gunnison feels like a cattleman’s town. You’ll immediately be welcomed with open arms, as part of the family.
Just 30 miles from Crested Butte Mountain Resort and 45 from Monarch Mountain, you’ll be able to get plenty of skiing and snowboarding in. Right in town, you can hit the Gunnison Nordic Center’s groomed cross-country trails, snowmobiling routes, ice-skating and more.
The town is also home to Western State Colorado University, which brings a youthful and lively culture to the historic village. You’ll find plenty of local spots to pick up gifts, a cup of coffee, delicious food or a crafted libation.
Though it’s a popular destination year round, Lake City is best seen with a blanket of snow. The ice-capped lakes, dark, starry skies and glistening, snow-covered buildings are picture perfect. The area boasts over 100 miles of snowmobile and multi-purpose groomed trails, a local ski hill and terrain park, ice climbing, Hinsdale County Haute Route, backcountry skiing and snowshoeing, ice skating and ice fishing. And that’s just in the winter!
Don’t miss Christmas in Lake City when the whole town comes out to celebrate in mountain village style. Then, in February they’ll host the annual Winter Festival, a collection of fun weekend winter events that include an Ice Fishing Derby, Ice Climbing Festival, Matt Milski Ski Race, Snowmobile Rally — and even a snowshoe 5k/10k!
At 10,152 feet, Leadville is the United States’ highest incorporated city. Its mining history proves gold wasn’t the only thing that attracted settlers to Colorado (you know, besides the gorgeous mountain landscape). And at one time, it was almost named the state capitol.
In the historic heart of town, more than 50 buildings date back to the 1870s and, in total, Leadville has 70 square city blocks of Victorian buildings. Some are now home to shops and galleries, but others — like the Delaware Hotel and Tabor Opera House — have been kept historic and still serve their original functions.
Winter officially starts in Ouray with the beginning of the eight-week Winterfest celebration. Each weekend between Thanksgiving and the annual Ice Festival in January they host a different event to celebrate the season. From Ugly Sweater Dances to movies at Wright Opera House to Skijoring competitions, there’s something for everyone to love.
As one of the premiere ice climbing destinations in the country, the winter festival ends with the Ouray Ice Festival. For three days and three nights Ouray is an absolute ice climbing mecca; ice climbers, both novice and pro, travel from around the world to celebrate the growing sport and raise funds for the Ouray Ice Park. Between the festivities, make a trip to one of the natural hot springs pools — Ouray Hot Springs, Wiesbaden Hot Springs Spa & Lodgings or Twin Peaks Lodge & Hot Springs.
Come back to visit in the summertime and explore Ouray by Jeep. As the Jeeping Capital of the World, you can’t miss the views, the adventure and the fun of exploring the surrounding wilderness on four wheels!
Redstone is a small mountain town nestled between Glenwood Springs and Aspen in the heart of the Elk Mountains. You can explore the famous Redstone Coke Oven, the quaint Redstone Museum inside a one-room cabin, or the Redstone Castle, a luxurious getaway overlooking all of downtown. Main Street is filled with boutiques, antique stores and art galleries you’re sure to get lost in, hunting for treasures. If you continue past the shops, you’ll find adorable homes and a trail into the surrounding wilderness for hiking or snowshoeing, depending on the weather.
Just a few minutes up the mountain you can spend a day in historic Marble, Colorado as well. It was here that the pure white marble for The Tomb of The Unknown Soldier was mined. You’ll also find easy access from town to the Crystal Mill — the most photographed spot in the whole state!
Salida is an ideal destination for everyone — solo adventurers, couples looking for a getaway and families. To get an idea of the recreation possibilities, the town has over a dozen 14ers (mountains over 14,000 feet in elevation), surpassing all other Colorado regions. From A to Z, you can practice archery, biking, camping, climbing, fishing, four-wheeling, golfing, hiking, hunting, kayaking, picnicking, rock hounding, skateboarding, skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, and a world-class zipline tour at Captain Zipline Aerial Adventure Park.
Downtown, wander through tree-lined streets, adorned with lights for the winter season and explore the culture of Salida — complete with art, shops and food.
The town of Silverton is a National Historic Landmark and part of the scenic San Juan Skyway, highlighted in our best places to see Colorado fall colors. With the Weminuche Wilderness close by, Silverton is a recreational paradise in winter for snowmobiling, skiing (downhill, extreme, heli, snowcat, cross country), sledding, ice skating, ice climbing, and ice fishing.
And the historic town is the perfect place to relax and refresh after the adventures! Dining options range from mom and pop diners to classic western saloons and old favorites. And the shopping and educational opportunities alone could keep you busy for days!
Photo courtesy of Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association, Inc. / Shannon Lukens
Steamboat is a mountain biker’s’ paradise, a skier’s dream, and a getaway complete with hot springs and western culture. In the more modern outskirts you’ll find big city staples, while the heart of downtown is filled with unique, local spots. Hot Springs are at one end and a must-try family-owned Mexican restaurant on the other — with shops, food and drink opportunities along the way.
The Steamboat Winter Carnival is set for February 8 – 12 in the new year. It’ll include all the annual favorites like the parade, the fireworks and, most importantly, people being pulled down Main Street on horse-drawn shovels and skiers jumping through fiery hoops. Yes, you read that right. It’s a festival you don’t want to miss and the perfect opportunity to experience Steamboat!
Photo courtesy of Telluride Ski Resort / Brett Schreckengost
Telluride is a Colorado mountain town, but it has a character all its own. Yes, it’s skiing and it’s hiking and biking and mountain climbing, but it’s also bluegrass festivals and downtown poetry readings and down home community atmosphere. The ski runs are generally crowd-free; the views are breathtaking, but the welcome home at the end of the day is why people stay.
All winter long, you’ll find quaint backcountry huts, horseback and sleigh rides, ice climbing, winter fly fishing and art classes alongside all the winter sport classics. And if somehow you find yourself without something to do, you can always hop on the free gondola and ride up to Mountain Village.
Share your favorite Colorado mountain towns with us! And let us know where you go this season and all the adventures you embark on.