Scattered around the peaks and valleys of mountainous Colorado are several towns that enjoy a picturesque backdrop, complementing their historic town centres and the array of exciting activities on offer nearby.
The western US state of Colorado is a magnet for visitors thanks to its combination of bustling urban centres, quaint towns and a diverse landscape of arid desert, river canyons and snow-covered Rocky Mountains. There are popular skiing destinations, former mining towns and artists’ havens, all of which have their own unique character and appeal. We’ve selected 12 of the most charming small towns that the state has to offer, choosing only towns with populations under 10,000.
Once a mining town, Breckenridge has in recent decades become a renowned skiing destination thanks to its challenging ski runs and Vail Mountain’s legendary Back Bowls. After a day on the slopes, many visitors head to historic Main Street, tailor-made for relaxed strolls and lined with quaint shops, top class eateries and historic buildings, while a sprinkling of museums offer a glimpse into the town’s past.
Sitting in the heart of the Rio Grande National Forest in southern Colorado, Creede too was a burgeoning mining town until the late 19th century when its main industry began to decline. But the town itself certainly didn’t go the same way, thanks in no small part to the beautiful landscapes that have continued to entice people here. Furthermore, a burgeoning winter scene sees cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and ice-skating enthusiasts arrive in their droves while lovers of the great outdoors can also enjoy fantastic hiking, biking, kayaking and wildlife spotting opportunities. Back in the town, the Underground Mining Museum and Creede Historial Museum pay homage to its rich heritage.
Yet another former mining town on this list, Crested Butte is often described as the “Wildflower Capital of Colorado” thanks to the wild blooms that proliferate here during the more temperate months. But the town’s major draw is the abundance of activities available to adventure seekers nearby, ranging from skiing and mountain biking to climbing and hiking. Yet there’s no shortage of man-made attractions either, with the picturesque downtown area an officially designated National Historic District thanks to its array of kaleidoscopic Victorian-era buildings.
Sprinkled with lush meadows, stunning vistas of the Rockies, and diverse wildlife, Estes Park is a quintessential mountain town. Indeed, it’s the kind of place where you may spot an elk pottering along a street uninhibited by humans or cars. But beyond such quirky charm, Estes is also a wonderful jumping off point for exploring the best that Colorado has to offer, serving as the eastern basecamp for the Rocky Mountain National Park and with a beautiful alpine lake at the edge of town where you can go boating and fishing. Downtown, meanwhile, buzzes with activity thanks to its numerous shops and restaurants.
When it comes to Glenwood Spring’s main characteristic, the clue’s in the name. This scenic mineral spring town on the banks of the Colorado and Roaring Fork Rivers offers visitors the chance to take a restorative dip in its hot springs – the perfect antidote to a busy day enjoying some of the area’s more physical pursuits such as skiing, hiking, paragliding or rafting. The town also benefits from a vibrant arts scene as well as its community college which adds to the youthful, energetic vibe.
Another town that’s home to natural mineral springs, Manitou Springs is a magnet for those seeking health and wellbeing. It also attracts culture vultures thanks to the array of galleries, sculpture displays and performance spaces scattered around town. The heart of the action is in the Historic District, where many of these cultural venues are joined by upscale, independent boutiques and eateries. Popular nearby excursions include the unique landscape of The Garden of the Gods with its red rock spires and scrublands.
The funky town of Nederland has enjoyed a modern renaissance since its days as a booming silver and gold mining town. Today it has a reputation for being home to an eccentric, fun community of residents, business owners and employees, and visitors whose lives revolve around art, culture, the great outdoors and all that .. nature has blessed it with. Oozing with charm, the town emanates a distinctively laid-back atmosphere, with its downtown district awash with shops, boutiques, restaurants, museums and coffee houses. Within reach you’ll find verdant parks, forests, and wilderness areas to explore.
Any town bestowed with the nickname the “Switzerland of America” will almost by default make it onto a list like this. But let there be no doubt, the moniker is fully justified. Surrounded by sublime natural scenery, its sulfur-free hot springs tempt people here for an invigorating dip, while a breathtaking ice park offers intrepid types the chance for a serious climbing challenge. In the town centre, charming Victorian architecture is set against the backdrop of jagged snow-capped peaks.
A historic former mining town tucked away in the mountains, Silverton is a harmonious fusion of past and present. The town has National Historic Landmark status thanks to the efforts gone to preserve its heritage and seen in its Narrow Gauge Railroad Train, log cabins and historic buildings. In turn, the hordes of visitors this legacy attracts has led to a boom in more contemporary amenities such as hotels and restaurants. The town is also known for its abundance of snow, making it a popular destination for winter sports fans.
Set within a canyon and surrounded by stunning peaks, Telluride sees thousands of visitors descend here every year. Combining picture-postcard natural landscapes with well-preserved historic buildings and a thriving cultural scene, the town has something for everyone. It also hosts several prestigious music and film festivals, while for adventure-seekers. there are exceptional skiing facilities just a short hop away along with plenty of other outdoor recreation.
Pretty brick-lined streets, eye-catching Victorian buildings and picture-perfect alpine surroundings characterise the artsy town of Trinidad, located between the New Mexican border and Denver on the historic Santa Fe Trail. Formerly a Spanish and Mexican colony, the town goes to great efforts to celebrate its past, with several galleries and museums featuring art and exhibits dating back to its foundations, helping make Trinidad something of a mecca for history aficionados.
An iconic skiing destination surrounded by snow-capped mountains, glassy lakes and lush pine forests, Vail is a veritable feast of natural wonders. Capitalising on the majesty bestowed on it by nature’s blessings, the town has also become a buzzing hub of commerce, with several craft breweries, spa resorts, and other upscale amenities to be found here. A casual amble through the delightful town centre sees visitors captivated by its old-world look and feel.