By definition, a small town has a population between 1,000 and 20,000 — which opens the door wide open when ranking the best in Colorado. Our state is home to some of the most charming mountain and valley getaways nestled around larger cities like Fort Collins, Golden, Aspen, Georgetown and Colorado Springs — which made it very difficult to narrow down our list!
Last year, we rounded up the 22 Colorado Mountain Towns You Have to Visit this Winter which includes villages, towns and cities both large and small. Now, we’re spilling the details on the top ten small towns in the state from Marble, a village of just 136 people, to Durango, a town of just over 18,000. Enjoy!
Why it’s on the list: Estes Park literally has something for everyone: history buffs, outdoor enthusiasts, foodies — the list goes on. The small town has been a year-round tourist destination for decades thanks to both Rocky Mountain National Park and The Stanley Hotel, a haunted hotel made famous by Stephen King’s The Shining. After you’ve had your fill of these renowned locales, explore the shops along Elkhorn Avenue and grab a bite to eat!
Where to eat + drink: For breakfast, you’re going to want to head to Notchtop Bakery and Café or Mountain Home Cafe. Later in the day, we definitely recommend stops at Twin Owls Steakhouse, located in a 1920s log cabin at the Black Canyon Inn, or The Rock Inn, a dance hall and restaurant. And a trip to Estes Park wouldn’t be complete without a coffee at Coffee on the Rocks, a beer at Estes Park Brewery, and a glass of wine at Snowy Peaks Winery!
Why it’s on the list: In 2016, Elevation Outdoors chose Lyons as Colorado’s top adventure town in the small town category. Situated just a few minutes southeast of Loveland, it’s the home of nationally-famous Dale’s Pale Ale from Oskar Blues Brewery as well as Planet Bluegrass, which produces the Folks Festival and the RockyGrass Festival, and Telluride Bluegrass in June!
Where to eat + drink: You can’t go wrong choosing a local joint in Lyons. Stroll down the streets until you run into the first irresistible, mouth-watering smells, which will likely be found at Smokin’ Dave’s BBQ, Lyons Dairy Bar, Lyons Fork or Julie’s Thai Kitchen. Craft beer and cocktail lovers, don’t miss Oskar Blues and Spirit Hound Distillers!
Why it’s on the list: With a population just at the high end of a small town, the growing city of Durango is full of residents who love skiing, hiking, biking, eating and sipping on craft beer. In short, it’s the perfect little Colorado town. With Purgatory Resort just down the road and Fort Lewis College at the top of the hill, a hip and bustling culture has developed — and we can’t get enough! Don’t forget to hop on the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad for a quick scenic trip to another beloved mountain town just a few miles through the wilderness.
Where to eat + drink: Durango made our list of The Best Local Beers in 10 Colorado Cities for local favorite Carver Brewing Company and their Colorado Trail Nut Brown Ale. While in town, you shouldn’t miss out on Durango Brewing Co., Ska Brewing, Steamworks Brewing Co. or Animas Brewing Co. Then, stop in at Oscar’s Cafe for breakfast, Brew Pub & Kitchen for lunch and Ore House for dinner!
Why it’s on the list: Located on the western slope, Paonia is a very small town home to bountiful annual crops of cherries, apricots, grapes, peaches, plums, pears, nectarines and apples. That’s why they celebrate every summer with the oldest continuous outdoor community celebration in Colorado: Paonia Cherry Days!
Where to eat + drink: A hidden gem for wine, Paonia and the entire North Fork Valley boasts delicious local wineries and tasting rooms, including Azura Cellars, Black Bridge Winery, Terror Creek Winery, and a whole lineup of other options through West Elks AVA. While you’re in town, we also recommend Revolution Brewing for craft beer and Flying Fork Cafe, The Living Farm Cafe for local food!
Why it’s on the list: Crested Butte is a picture perfect Colorado town nestled into the base of the surrounding mountains. When you’re not skiing, hiking, biking, snowshoeing or snowmobiling outside, explore Elk Ave., the thriving heart of town. To see what’s happening on the avenue at this very moment, check out The Cantina Cam provided by Donitas Cantina.
Where to eat + drink: Before your shopping or entertainment expedition gets underway, stop at 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 The Eldo, a brew pub with brewed in-house beers and delicious food! We also recommend Soupcon Bistro, Django’s and the world-famous Wooden Nickel.
Why it’s on the list: On Outside Magazine’s 2017 list of the country’s best towns (which includes Fort Collins), they named Salida the Best Unsung Mountain Town in the country! To get an idea of the recreation possibilities, the town has over a dozen 14ers (mountains over 14,000 feet in elevation) which surpasses 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. (What a list right?!)
Where to eat + drink: With so many year-round recreation opportunities, there has to be an equally impressive lineup of local foodie fuel spots. Stop by a few of our favorites: Amicas Pizza, Boathouse Cantina, The Bounty and The Firefly. Craft beer fans can stop by Soulcraft Brewing and Moonlight Pizza & Brewpub!
Why it’s on the list: Though it’s technically a village at only 136 people, Marble is a must-see in Colorado. Nestled between Glenwood Springs and Aspen, it’s a little-known spot for fishing, adventuring, horseback riding and hiking. It’s also home to the famous Crystal Mill. In the early 1900s, Marble boasted a population in the thousands as it played a major role in the architecture and marble monuments of America. Out of the Yule Quarry, residents mined huge slabs of pure white stone for monuments, including the Lincoln Memorial, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Denver Capitol Building! Today, workers still mine from the quarry and you can walk through the ruins of the marble buildings on the old quarry grounds. Get a complete and brief history here.
Where to eat + drink: Most of the food you eat in Marble will be grub you bring from home, buy from the local general store, or bring back from Redstone and Glenwood Springs. But in town, you will find what has been called the best barbecue in Colorado! Slow Groovin’ BBQ was originally opened in Marble and now operates during the summer season and year-round at their second location in Snowmass Village. We also recommend The Marble Hub for all your coffee needs. And since you’ll probably be looking for adventure after you fuel up, check out OutWest Guides for horseback rides, hunting trips and more!
Why it’s on the list: Indoors, outdoors and year-round, there is always something to do in Grand Lake. The western gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, it’s a hub for recreation, from hiking and boating to Nordic Skiing and snowmobiling. In fact, the town has been dubbed the Snowmobiling Capital of Colorado!
Where to eat + drink: Amongst the shopping and live music on Grand Lake’s main street, you’ll find Sagebrush BBQ & Grill, Pancho & Lefty’s and several other delicious local restaurants. Right on the water, you can grab a table at The Backstreet Steakhouse or get a meal at Sloopy’s Grill on your way into Rocky Mountain National Park!
Why it’s on the list: In 2015, before Lyons stole the crown, South Fork was the Elevation Outdoors small town winner of Colorado’s top adventure towns. It’s home to Wolf Creek Ski Area and the Rio Grande River, and it’s also just down the road from Rio Grande National Forest and Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. We suggest visiting no matter the season, but winter brings the most snow in all of Colorado to Wolf Creek and the surrounding wilderness!
Where to eat + drink: The best eats in South Fork can be found at Two Rivers BBQ, The Old Firehouse and Ramon’s Mexican Restaurant. Then swing by The Malt Shoppe in the summer, The Bear Claw Bakery for something sweet, and Feelin’ Good Coffeehouse & Cafe for a cup of coffee!
Why it’s on the list: Located just outside of Colorado Springs, historic Manitou Springs is known for its mineral springs and mountain landscapes, thanks in large part to Pikes Peak. Fitness and challenge enthusiasts come for the Manitou Incline, and history buffs come for The Manitou Cliff Dwellings — but we can all find something to love in this quaint mountain town!
Where to eat + drink: We recommend Balanced Rock Cafe for casual eats, The Mona Lisa Fondue Restaurant for fine dining, Pub Dog Colorado if you’re hoping to dine with your four-legged friend, and Manitou Brewing Company for all your craft beer needs!
There’s no way we could fit all of Colorado’s best in one blog post! In the comments below, let us know where you go to get a taste of small town adventure.