Best Colorado Mountain Towns: My 13 Favorite Towns to Explore
After a hike or climb in the mountains, there’s nothing like a visit to one of the state’s amazing mountain towns for a burger and a cold beer. The Colorado Rockies are littered with small mountain towns that date back to the silver mining era more than 130 years ago. I thought I’d share some of the best Colorado mountain towns I’ve visited, along with a little bit of their history and highlights.
A Sample of the Best Colorado Mountain Towns
Here are 13 of the best Colorado mountain towns. It’s not an exhaustive list – there are many other great towns to visit. This is just a small sample to get started with. Enjoy!
1) Telluride, Colorado
When you think of mountain towns, Telluride immediately comes to mind. Nestled in box canyon in the San Juan mountains, the town was founded in 1878 as a mining camp. Over its early history it saw major labor disputes and violence, and eventually was powered by the first AC electric generator in the world. Today, it hosts a popular ski resort and a thriving local business community including theaters, cafes, stores and breweries. A visit to Wilson Peak or Mount Sneffels is paired well with a visit to Telluride, one of the best Colorado mountain towns for certain.
2) Idaho Springs, Colorado
If you’ve ever taken I-70 west from Denver, you’ve passed by Idaho Springs and its famous Argo Gold Mine and Mill. The town is worth your time, with some great breweries and dining options perfect for a refill after a fourteener or camping trip. It’s also the exit for the Mount Evans road – make a quick stop on your way up to the summit to see some great historical remains from the Silver mining era. The town is a quick 45 minute drive from Denver, perfect for a day trip when you’re looking for someplace new to visit and explore.
3) Aspen, Colorado
Aspen is a bit of a controversial town with a rich mining history that took a hard turn with the invention of the modern ski resort industry. In the wake of the mine’s closure in the 1930’s, industrialist Walter Paepcke helped found the Aspen Ski Company. The resort not only revitalized the town, but helped popularize skiing in the United States more broadly.
Today, the town is famous for its international superstars and high real estate prices, but there are still great places to grab a cheap bite if you know where to look. It’s a great pitstop following an Elk Mountain climb, even if some question if it’s still one of the best Colorado mountain towns given all the recent commercialization.
4) Leadville, Colorado
Leadville is the gateway to a number of the Sawatch 14ers for most people approaching from the east. If you’re climbing Mount Elbert, Massive, Belford or others, you’ll pass through this mining town and one-time epicenter of the silver mining boom in Colorado. The town’s Tabor Opera House downtown stands as a haunting reminder of Leadville’s past role as a place of luxury. Today, it has charming breweries and cafes, along with stores and motels. It’s a great base camp for climbing the Sawatch Range in the winter months.
5) Buena Vista, Colorado
South of Leadville, Buena Vista rises in the Arkansas River Valley in the shadow of Mount Princeton. Because of the agricultural activity in the valley, the town avoided the boom and bust cycles that struck many other Colorado mining towns. Today it’s the gateway to many of the Collegiate Peaks and hosts great dining options, a brewery and other amenities. I also make a stop here when I’m passing through the Arkansas River Valley.
6) Winter Park, Colorado
In the Front Range, Winter Park is located on the west side of the continental divide, separated from I-70 by Berthoud Pass. Home to a ski resort that shares its name, it leads south. to middle park and eventually to Rocky Mountain National Park. By Colorado standards, Winter Park is youngest of the best Colorado mountain towns, founded in 1978. It lacks the mining history of most other mountain towns, but still has plenty of charm. James Peak and Byers Peak are both worth climbing objectives near Winter Park.
7) Silverton, Colorado
As you can probably predict from the name, Silverton is an old mining town in the San Juans of southern Colorado. It’s one of the smallest towns on the list with only 630 full-time residents. It connects to Durango via the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, a relic from its mining years which also offers access to the Chicago Basin fourteeners. Add a night in Silverton before or after your climbs for some great food and fun in a charming mountain town.
8) Salida, Colorado
Salida anchors the southern edge of the Arkansas River Valley, close to Mt Shavano and Antero along with Monarch Pass. The town is home to a thriving artist community, as well as being home to several natural hot spring areas. They’re perfect to soak sore muscles following a hike or climb in the the Sawatch Range. The Sangre de Christo mountains are only a short distance to the south as well. They call Salida the “Heart of the Rockies” for a reason!
9) Ouray, Colorado
A lot of people call Ouray the Switzerland of America, thanks to its sheer cliffs and peaks overlooking the town. This mountain community is a hub for adventure, with Mount Sneffels and numerous thirteeners a short distance away, along with other great hiking and camping destinations. The town features great ice climbing during winter months right downtown, it’s a real treat to watch, and cements its place as one of the best Colorado mountain towns.
10) Glenwood Springs, Colorado
Further along I-70 you’ll come to Glenwood Springs, just beyond the similarly named Glenwood Canyon. It’s also a short drive from Hanging Lake and many other outdoor destinations. In the town you’ll find many great amenities, like a natural hot spring and large resort dating back nearly 100 years. You can even take the Amtrak train to Glenwood Springs from Union Station for a unique weekend trip through the heart of the rocky mountains. It’s a trip ever Coloradan should experience.
11) Golden, Colorado
Some people don’t consider Golden one of the best Colorado mountain towns… or a mountain town at all, but I have to disagree. Surrounded by Lookout Mountain, North Table and South Table Mountain, it’s nestled in a valley on the far outskirts of the Denver metro area. It’s home to the Coors Brewery as well as great dining options and hotels for those looking for a base camp on the edge of the Front Range. Clear Creek offers great rafting and tubing, while its canyon while are home to world class climbing routes. It’s worth a visit!
12) Georgetown, Colorado
Georgetown is the gateway to Mount Bierstadt and Guanella Pass when approaching from I-70. Unlike many other old mining towns, its downtown district avoided large fires and remains largely intact today. It’s a great town to park your car and walk around the old businesses and homes, many dating over 130 years old. Next time you visit Mount Bierstadt, take some time to drop in to Georgetown – it’s definitely one of the best Colorado mountain towns.
13) Nederland, Colorado
Nederland is north and west of Denver, nestled in the foothills below the continental divide. If you’re visiting Rocky Mountain National Park or Brainaird Lake Recreation Area, Nederland is the perfect place to stop for a burger and beer on your way home. The locals couldn’t be nicer, and the prices are hard to beat as well. It’s a great last addition to my list of the best Colorado mountain towns.
The Best Colorado Mountain Towns
Colorado’s mountains are full of charming towns and cities with a diversity of history. The locals are welcoming, the food is great, and the beer is always available. These local communities do a great deal to maintain the mountain areas we love. Help give back with a visit to one of these best Colorado mountain towns the next time you visit the rocky mountains. Enjoy!
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About the Author: Alex Derr
Alex Derr is a mountaineer and blogger based in Denver Colorado. He is working to climb Colorado’s highest 100 peaks, and the 20 tallest peaks in California. He created The Next Summit to share advice, stories, history & reflections from the Colorado Rockies & Sierra Nevada. When not climbing, he is managing the Communications strategy at Visible Network Labs.