Visitors who want to stay near the Rocky Mountains in Colorado without paying the steep price that comes with places like Aspen, head to the town of Carbondale in Garfield County.
Beautiful Mount Sopris towers over this small town of about 6,000 people along the Roaring Fork River in the Roaring Fork Valley. It’s mostly known for its growing culinary scene and abundance of activities to do in summer, but the world-class skiing and winter wonderland of Aspen is only 30 miles away.
Many visitors to the area make Carbondale their base for activities such as hiking, biking, kayaking, whitewater rafting, and fishing. The charming downtown is home to many restaurants, cafes, retail shops, and art and cultural venues showcasing the town’s heritage.
A number of events occur throughout the year, including the Carbondale Mountain Fair in July, the Potato Day Parade and Festival in October, and the 5Point Film Festival in April.
Below are 15 of the best things to do in and around Carbondale, Colorado.
1. Penny Hot Springs
The best way to unwind after your initial journey to Carbondale is with a soak in a natural hot spring. At Penny Hot Springs, which is only a short drive away from Carbondale and situated on the banks of the Crystal River, you can relax in the warm mineral waters of a two-foot deep pool that comfortably fits about ten people.
Big rocks block cold water from coming into the pool, so the water remains comfortable while you gaze at the stunning scenery consisting of canyons and snow-capped mountains.
2. Tee off at River Valley Ranch Golf Course
Golfers who find their way to Carbondale can enjoy an award-winning golf experience at the River Valley Ranch Golf Course. The course’s location in the Crystal River Valley at the foot of Mt. Sopris not only means you are surrounded by stunning scenery while you play, but you are exposed to a wide range of challenges as you make your way along the course.
Bunkers, sprawling greens, water features, and various elevation changes are some of the features you will come across. You will also find a driving range, putting green, practice area, and golf pro shop on site.
3. Marble Distilling Co. & The Distillery Inn
Situated in the creative district of Carbondale, the Marble Distilling Co. are certainly creative when it comes to their distilling practices. The craft spirits that are made here are filtered using renowned Yule Marble, and the process creates zero waste.
Some of the products that are available to buy by the bottle or to order on-site in a delicious cocktail include Marble Vodka and Hoovers Revenge Whiskey and Bourbon. Tours of the distillery are available. The Distillery Inn is the first in the world to be located in a working distillery.
Visitors who choose to stay the night are treated to luxurious rooms with fireplaces, spa bathrooms, martini minibars, robes, and spectacular views of Mt. Sopris.
4. Take a Scenic Drive Along the Independence Pass
There are many scenic drives around the Carbondale area, but the Independence pass is definitely worth it if you’re in the area during the summer months. This 20-mile picturesque route travels through the Sawatch Mountains and along the Roaring Fork River.
As you make your way along the Continental Divide, you’ll climb 12,000 feet above sea level. En route, you’ll experience some sharp turns, soaring cliffs, and lush forest. There are picnic areas and look-offs at various points along the way, and when you reach the top, you can stretch your legs on the walking trail that leads to a scenic look-off. At this point, you can turn back and go the way you came or keep driving past Twin Lakes.
5. Powers Art Center
Located in Carbondale, the Powers Art Center showcases the life and times of John G. Powers, who was an avid collector of works by the renowned contemporary artist Jasper Johns. A collection of limited edition works is on display, and it includes many of the iconic artist’s pop culture and classical iconography pieces. The main focus of the center is to educate people about contemporary art through the works of Jasper Johns.
6. The Goat Kitchen & Bar
American and Mediterranean cuisine is served in a casual, relaxing environment at The Goat Kitchen & Bar in Carbondale. Enjoy a variety of delicious dishes, including Veggie Penna, Seafood Pasta, Lamb Shank, and Parmesan Crusted Chicken. Handcrafted beer and cocktails are also available.
7. Take in a Show at the Thunder River Theater Company
Spend an evening being entertained with world-class theater at the Thunder River Theater Company in Carbondale. This venue is open all year round and features a variety of classic and contemporary works.
In the past, the theater has hosted many productions from renowned playwrights, including Shakespeare, Miller, Mamet, Vogel, and Chekhov, so you can be assured of some quality entertainment.
8. Enjoy the Scenery Along Frying Pan Road
Starting in the town of Basalt, Frying Pan Road travels along the Frying Pan River for 42.3 miles to the Ruedi Reservoir. The scenery through this section of the White River National Forest is beautiful and includes canyons and red rock walls.
The road is closed in the winter, but it’s well-maintained at all other times. The Frying Pan River is well-known for being a top trout fishing spot, and there are plenty of places to stop along the way where you can cast your rod. If you wish to enjoy even more seclusion and remoteness, the road keeps going past the reservoir.
9. Tour Redstone Castle
The prominent Redstone Castle, which was constructed by John Osgood, is a grand 42-room structure situated just outside of the town of Redstone in a rural area of the Crystal River Valley. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places, and the guided tours offer an exclusive look into the style and culture of the country’s elite in the early 1900s.
Visitors have the option to stay the night in one of the boutique guest rooms that feature fireplaces, Wi-Fi, and stunning views of the mountains and river. Complimentary breakfast is served each morning, and free parking is available on-site.
10. Mt. Sopris Historical Museum
Visitors to Carbondale who wish to learn more about the town and its people can head to the Mt. Sopris Historical Museum. Various historical items, including tools, photos, and household things, are on display and showcase the area’s past.
11. The West Elk Loop Scenic and Historic Byway
The best way to get a taste of the spectacular scenery of this area without having to traverse into the backcountry on foot is with a scenic drive along the West Elk Loop Scenic and Historic Byway. At 205 miles long, it takes about six to eight hours to drive this route, but it’s well worth it.
The voyage starts in Carbondale and goes through the Crystal River Valley. Along the way, you will see stunning scenery, with mountains, fields of wildflowers, sprawling farmlands, and ranches.
If you have a lot of time and want to really indulge in the great outdoors, many activities are popular along this route, including hiking, rock climbing, and wildlife viewing.
12. Explore the Restored Coke Ovens
A great way to get an interesting look into the mining history of nearby Redstone is with a visit to the Coke Ovens, which are located along Highway 133.
These historic remnants were left in a state of neglect for many years before being restored and added to the National Register of Historic Places. Today, 90 of the original 249 coke ovens can be viewed.
13. The Guest House Restaurant and Lodge
For an exclusive foodie experience with a mix of exquisite hospitality and old and new ways of doing things, The Guest House Restaurant and Lodge just outside of Carbondale serves up a variety of experimental farm dinners.
These dinners are served in an outdoor setting surrounded by 1,200 acres of pastures and stunning scenery. The food itself is inspired by the landscape and traditional way of life with some modern twists. Deer Sausage, home-made cheese, and delicious desserts are just some of the items served.
After your meal, you can stay the night in one of the on-site cabins.
14. Embark on an Alpine Angling and Adventure Tour
If fishing is your thing, Alpine Angling and Adventure Travel has just the excursion for you. The company offers fly-fishing trips to the four major rivers in the region, including the Roaring Fork River, the Colorado River, Frying Pan River, and Crystal River.
Saltwater and freshwater adventures are available, and the expert guides know the best spots. The company also has two shops which carry all the gear you need for your fly-fishing adventures.
15. The Maroon Bells
The two mountain peaks known as the Maroon Bells are the most photographed mountain peaks on the continent, and they are only a short drive away from Carbondale. These must-see peaks tower over the stunning landscape at 14,000 feet and are known for their unique shape and color.
Depending on the time of year, you can drive right to Maroon Lake, or access may only be available via a shuttle bus.