Known for its stunning nature and mountains, Colorado is the perfect place to explore and get off the grid. While Denver has a lot to offer as a metropolitan area, the true charm lies in the rural countryside. Grab your gear and get ready for a mountain vacation. Filled with underappreciated towns that have made a comeback from the mining years, why not take some time off and explore remnants of the Old West mining world and saloon towns? Whether you’re there in winter or summer, or whether you’re an active person or not, these town gems are sure to entertain you with their historic buildings and scenic surroundings.
Why not check out our list of the best small towns in Colorado:
1. Durango, Colorado
Founded in 1880 in the San Juan mining district, the town was named after Durango, Mexico by the governor at the time. He had visited Mexico on a scouting mission and liked the area. Durango is also an archeological site which stands on remnants from Basketmakers and Pueblo, ancient civilizations.
Even if you’re not as interested in archeology, still consider visiting Durango for its outdoors activities or festivals. Stay at the Purgatory Resort and ski if you make it there during the winter, or hike through Animas River Valley any other time of year. Durango also hosts a Ragtime & Early Jazz Festival in a lovely historic Victorian hotel or the Snowdown Festival in February. Whether you participate in any of these activities or just wander Main Street and soak in the sights (and fit in some shopping!), you’ll be thrilled with the natural beauty of Durango.
2. Silverton, Colorado
Silverton is located in San Juan County and is a former mining camp that has since been converted into the Silverton Historic District. It used to be linked on the Railroad to Durango but now is mostly a tourism-centric economy. Come visit to enjoy a small town that is tucked away in the mountains – its location is ideal for winter sports: Shaun White trained here for the 2010 Olympics!
Visit in the winter and test out the Silverton Mountain if you’re an experienced skier – it is an extreme ski mountain that recently opened nearby. Pretend like you’re Shaun White and race down the slopes! Otherwise, explore the quaint downtown area and Silverton City Hall, as well as the historic railroad depot. Take a Silverton Stagecoach Ride on Blair Street or hike along the Ice Lakes trail. You can relax at the Grand Imperial Hotel for a few days and enjoy nature in comfort – you won’t be disappointed.
3. Aspen, Colorado
If the name sounds familiar to you, you’ve already heard about the resort town located in Pitkin County. Aspen is up in a remote area of the Rocky Mountains and Elk Mountains, and used to be a mining camp during the Colorado Silver Boom. Named after the large abundance of aspen trees in the area, the town was given a facelift when Aspen Mountain was developed into a ski resort and brought renewed interest to the area.
Now, Aspen is a successful, flourishing town that is home to the Aspen Institute, the Aspen Center for Physics and the Aspen Music Festival and School. A popular retreat for celebrities in the winter or summer, the White River National Forest is a summertime alternative to the winter ski resorts. Enjoy a luxury vacation in the winter, or hike along the Maroon Lake Scenic trail if you’re here in the summer. Treat yourself to a few nights at The Gant and relax in luxury.
4. Burlington, Colorado
Burlington is the county seat of Kit Carson County, and was originally established 1 mile west of where the town is now. The man who founded the town, Lowell, miscalculated where the railroad would arrive, and anyone who had settled in Old Burlington was forced to move to the location surrounding the depot.
Visit “New” Burlington and explore their Old Town Museum. Stroll through Parmer Park or bring a book if you have one. The Kit Carson County Fair is hosted here; stop in if you coincide with it! Or, just ride the Kit Carson County Carousel that runs during the year. Don’t forget to try Essential Foods, a farm-to-table restaurant full of delicious dishes.
5. Crested Butte, Colorado
A former coal mining town, Crested Butte is still a destination for skiing, mountain biking and many other outdoor activities. Known as the “last great Colorado Ski town”, Crested Butte was actually once a summer residence for the Ute People before they were displaced by European fur traders. After mining declined, Crested Butte managed to survive as a trading center until they developed a ski area on Crested Butte Mountain.
The main attraction in town is skiing or snowboarding at the Crested Butte Mountain Resort. The town itself also has a Nordic Center with an ice skating rink and cross country skiing trails. If you’re here in summer, bring your bike and check out their mountain bike trails. Or, there are festivals year around: Crested Butte Bike Week, International Film Festival, Wildflower Festival, or the Fall Fest. You’ll always find something to entertain you!
6. Manitou Springs, Colorado
Manitou Springs is in El Paso County. Surrounded by lush nature and natural mineral springs, the town continues to draw in visitors. It was founded in 1872 by General Palmer and Dr. Bell, who intended to make the town into a “scenic health resort”. You can still have dinner at Dr. Bell’s home, now a fine dining establishment.
Visit Manitou Springs to try the healing waters that the Ute were drinking long before the arrival of the Europeans – the town’s mineral springs still function and are free. Or, wander through the Historic District and enjoy the scenic backdrop of the mountains. You can go hiking along Barr Trail, which winds up to Pikes Peak, and soothe your sore muscles at SunWater Spa after. Put your feet up at Blue Skies Inn and enjoy a pint at Manitou Brewing Company.
7. Golden, Colorado
Along the banks of Clear Creek lies Golden, in Jefferson County. Founded during the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush, the original mining camp was named Golden City. A true western mining town, western showman William “Buffalo Bill” Cody is buried close by on Lookout Mountain. Despite growth, Golden retains their small-town historic identity, and is a relaxing place for a weekend trip.
Whether you’re visiting Buffalo Bill’s grave or hiking up Lookout Mountain, this town will keep you in shape! Skiing is available in the winter or there are plenty of warmer-weather activities such as Ziplining or bike tours. Coors Brewery is based here and offers tours! Tuck into some comfort food at Windy Saddle Cafe before retiring for the night at the Table Mountain Inn.
8. Louisville, Colorado
Louisville is located in Boulder County. Originally a mining community, the first coal mine in Boulder was established here. Mining proved to be very lucrative, and more than 30 different mines ultimately operated in town until the 1950s, when the mines closed and the town transitioned to a residential community. It’s made the list of 100 best places to live in the US according to Money magazine!
Come visit Louisville to enjoy the high quality of life. The town has an impressive historic downtown area with buildings preserved from the 1800s. Walk around and explore, and be sure to stop by the Steinbaugh Pavilion, a concert venue during the Louisville Street Faire in the summer and an ice rink in the winter. Have a drink at the oldest tavern still in operation in Colorado, 740 Front Street.
9. Glenwood Springs, Colorado
Located at the confluence of the Roaring Fork River and the Colorado River, Glenwood Springs is the county seat of Garfield County. Originally called “Defiance”, the town used to be a camp filled with gamblers, gunslingers and prostitutes. The name was changed by the wife of the founder, Isaac Cooper, in an attempt to make the town more respectable. The town has since then continued to grow and smooth out its rough edges. Now it continues to draw visitors with its pristine air and mountain town environment as well as its proximity to natural hot springs.
An ideal getaway for nature lovers and those in search of relaxation, Glenwood Springs is one of the most walkable towns in America. Because it is located in a valley and its growth is constrained, there are many pedestrian and bike paths that run through the city, so bring your walking shoes or bikes! You can explore the surrounding mountains around Hanging Lake or raft down the Roaring Fork River, or relax in the Glenwood Hot Springs pools. Spend the night at the historic Hotel Colorado – Teddy Roosevelt slept here!
10. Breckenridge, Colorado
A historic town in Summit County, Breckenridge is a summer vacation destination located at the base of the Tenmile Range. Named after the 14th Vice President of the United States, the town hoped to curry favor with the government and gain a post office. Naturally, Vice President John C Breckinridge was flattered and a post office was built there, making it the first post office between the Continental Divide and Salt Lake City. If you’ve noticed the spelling of the town and his name isn’t the same, it’s because the vice president sided with the South during the Civil War, and the Union town decided to change the spelling to distance themselves from him.
Nowadays, people visit to hike along their many hiking trails, or see the wildflowers. You can fly-fish at the Blue River too, or go mountain biking. Why not rent a boat and head out on nearby Lake Dillon? Or, wander quaint Main Street to check out the historic buildings with clapboard and log exteriors, and to shop at the many different shops along the street. In the winter, you can ski at Breckenridge Ski Resort. Put your feet up for the night at Wedgewood Lodge and enjoy the mountain air.
11. Creede, Colorado
Creede is located in Mineral County, Colorado. First settled in the early 1800s by Tom Boggs, a brother-in-law of Kit Carson, the town didn’t take off until minerals were discovered in Willow Creek Canyon in 1889. Creede was the last silver town in Colorado, quickly growing to 10,000 residents. Several saloon and gambling club owners moved out here to escape the legal reform in Denver for some time and brought more organized crime to town.
Visit Creede to experience this history for yourself. The last scene in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford depicts the real-life event that occurred in town at a local saloon. Creede has preserved the Last Chance Mine to commemorate its history, and mine tours are now offered. If you’re there in the fall, walk along the Bachelor Loop. Hike up to the North Clear Creek Falls or have a massage at Turning Aspens Massage and Zero Balancing. Enjoy the quiet for a few nights at the House on Old Mill Road.
12. Gunnison, Colorado
Gunnison is the county seat of Gunnison County, and is named after John W Gunnison, a US Army officer who worked for the railroad in the 1850s. Gunnison was searching for a route and only passed through on his way to Utah; the town didn’t get settled until the 1870s with the mining surge. Gunnison is also the partial inspiration behind the novel The Last Town on Earth for how it barricaded itself against Spanish Influenza epidemic in the early 1900s – no one in town died from it as a result.
Gunnison boasts a vibrant cultural scene and natural resources. Visit Blue Mesa Reservoir, the largest body of water in Colorado and perfect for fishing. Hike through the Black Canyon in Gunnison National Park and bring your camera to capture the overlooks. Don’t forget to attend Colorado’s Oldest Rodeo, also held here: Cattlemen’s Days. Try the local restaurants, starting with Blue Table, and pamper yourself at The Vintage Inn Gunnison.
13. Buena Vista, Colorado
Buena Vista is located in Chaffee County in the Arkansas River Valley. It was first settled in the 1860s by people seeking to farm the land. A popular stagecoach stop and railroad depot, the agricultural economy helped isolate Buena Vista from the instability experienced in mining towns.
Enjoy this valley paradise and go river rafting or tubing at Wilderness Aware Rafting. Or, zipline at Arkansas Valley Adventures. Head out to hike at Buena Vista River Park or go horseback riding at Harvard City Riding Stables. You can try some local cheese at Jumpin’ Good Goat Dairy or have a drink at Deerhammer Distilling Company. Try the coffee at Buena Vista Roastery or turn in for the night at Surf Chateau.
14. Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Pagosa Springs is located in Archuleta County. Surrounded by the San Juan National Forest and South San Juan Wilderness Area, the town is a mountain resort destination with sulfur springs, including the world’s deepest geothermal hot spring! A perfect getaway for a couple or those in need of some serious rest and relaxation, Pagosa Springs will recharge your batteries and you’ll return refreshed and renewed to “normal life”.
In town, there are three local hot spring soaking locations, the largest of which is The Springs Resort & Spa that hosts the mother spring. The mineral water is said to have therapeutic powers and make for the perfect excuse to have a spa weekend! You can also ski in the winter at Wolf Creek Ski area or go snowmobiling in the National Forest. If you’re here in the summer, go fishing or hiking in the wilderness. Treat yourself to a resort weekend and some delicious food at Alley House Grille.
15. Ouray, Colorado
Located in Ouray County, Ouray was originally a mining town settled by those searching for silver and gold in the surrounding hills. Named after Chief Ouray of the Utes, at one point the town had over 30 active mines! Now the town is a nature retreat and historic location – the entirety of Main Street is a registered National Historic District.
Visit Ouray and head out to Yankee Boy Basin for some spectacular views. You can also check out Ouray Box Canyon Waterfall or explore the Perimeter Trail. ATV and Off-road tours are offered at Ride-N ATV Adventures, and you can always soak your sore muscles after at Ouray Hot Springs Pool. Relax at Hot Springs Inn and treat yourself to a night out at Bon Ton Restaurant.