When it comes to traveling around the United States, there are certain places that always get top billing. Certain cities, towns, and states get all the credit, and much bigger price tags to go with it. Going on vacation does not need to cost a fortune to be fun. You never know what kinds of treasures you will find in the frequently overlooked parts of the world.
Take Colorado for example, which has a handful of major tourist locales like Denver, Boulder, and Aspen. This mountainous state also has its fair share of charming smaller towns, some of which you may never have heard of. Besides saving you some travel money, you could very well discover a new favorite destination. Small town does not mean small experiences, after all!
Here are 18 small towns in Colorado worthy of your next big adventure!
TOO OFTEN OVERLOOKED IN SUMMER
Colorado’s reputation for wintertime sports destinations doesn’t stop when the snowfall does. These towns have a lot more to offer than just fresh powder. Not only will they be less crowded during the summer months (which means they’ll be less expensive too), but there are also offerings you wouldn’t find in the winter.
Known for its ski resorts, Crested Butte’s scenic surroundings make this town an outdoor enthusiast’s heaven any time of year. From fishing, hiking, biking, and camping, to cultural activities like the annual summer art festival, Crested Butte can be a summertime retreat for all.
If high adrenaline activities are less than your speed, there is nothing wrong with some serene yoga or nature trail exploring either. Go at your own pace, nature is everywhere.
More than just Colorado’s beloved ski area (and home to more Olympians than any other place in the country), the mountain town of Steamboat Springs is full steam ahead, even in the summertime. Take a dip at Burgess Creek Beach or tour the local hot springs to ease the troubles away. Or kick things into high gear with some whitewater rafting, hot air balloon tours, or high-going gondola rides.
You can head over to Saddleback Ranch for a wagon ride and dinner excursion, or see the landscapes from the back of a paddleboard. You can also learn more about Western American culture at the Tread of Pioneers Museum. At the museum, you can learn all about the people and events that lead to the town that is here today.
Sitting amongst the San Juan Mountains, Telluride is a beloved winter sports haven, but this town, which is also noted as a National Historic Landmark District, has so much more to offer.
With its gondola system, you can hop over to Mountain Village to see more of the region or hang back to hit the golf course. The warmer months bring with them a series of events, like the annual Telluride Balloon Festival or the Mountain Village Festival of the Arts. Major festivals or other events take place all year round here.
Spend some time with local Indigenous cultures at the Anasazi Heritage Center, the Hovenweep National Monument, or at the Canyon of the Ancients National Monument. See the sights at one of the several area national parks or hop aboard the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.
To say there is a lot to see here would be an understatement. Telluride is truly one of the best small towns in Colorado.
Vail is considered one of the premier ski destinations on Earth, but don’t let that fool you. Despite the petite population of just 5300, Vail is home to myriad activities that help maintain its status as one of the best destinations to visit in summer.
Performing arts events abound in this little mountain town. From their summer concert series, to art in public spaces and the annual Vail Dance Festival, this artistic community will not be outshone.
If you’re looking for outdoor adventures, you can take to one of the many trails by horseback or try rock climbing. See the panoramic views from the gondola or indulge in some much-needed pampering at one of the area spas.
With a charming downtown area you can only find in a small town, you may forget that Breckenridge is known as a winter destination. Sure, the slopes here are incredible, yet the summertime brings its own variety of fun. Whether you love fly fishing, rafting, golfing, ziplining, or biking, there are outdoor adventures aplenty here. They even have their own summer dog sledding — you can’t see that everywhere!
Sled dogs can be found a few miles outside of the town at The Good Times kennel. You can meet the pups (they house over 150 Siberian Huskies) and even take a trail ride with the dogs via dogsled! Who said you needed to freeze to enjoy a dogsled adventure?
TOO OFTEN OVERLOOKED. PERIOD.
The towns above may spend half the year being underutilized as a destination, however there are plenty of towns in Colorado that don’t get any limelight of their own — ever.
Often outshined by a neighboring city or resort town, these small Colorado towns deserve to be recognized for what they have to offer. Each one is special in its own right and would welcome travelers who can appreciate their unique sets of small-town charm.
Believe it or not, the town of Ouray is also known as the “Outdoor Recreation Capitol of Colorado.” Also known as the Switzerland of America, Ouray’s unique landscape makes you feel as if you really have traveled abroad. You may find yourself listening for yodeling. Known for its ice climbing and Box Canyon Falls Park, Ouray is worlds away from what you’d expect a Colorado town to look like.
The area hot springs here don’t have sulfur! So you can enjoy a relaxing soak without the lingering stench, and who wouldn’t love that? Check out the historic Wright Opera House or the Ouray International Film Festival in between your nature-seeking endeavors.
If you are feeling especially brave, you can check out the Via Ferrata cableway at The Uncompahgre Gorge. One of less than ten in the country, this gravity-defying cable route will test even the bravest adventurers in your group.
Also known as the “Heart of the Rockies,” Salida is a central Colorado town within the Upper Arkansas River Valley. Milder than some other parts of the state, you can still get a taste of mountainous Colorado with more vacation-friendly temperatures. Home to beloved events like the Salida Film Festival and JazzFest, there are concerts throughout the summer, as well as other arts events. Be sure to check out the Creative District while you’re here.
Plenty of outdoor spaces welcome you in Salida too, from trails to parks and other spaces for all kinds of outdoor exploring. Take a dip in a private soaking pool, check out the local aquatic center or take part in the FIBArk Whitewater Festival — the country’s oldest whitewater festival.
You can also check out the Annual Brewers Rendezvous in July or the Salida Wine Festival to get a real taste of the libations from all over the state and the world.
Durango really sets the tone for southwestern style within the state of Colorado. Given its name, that only makes sense. Whether you want to get down to earth in the San Juan National Forest or Mesa Verde National Park or see the sights from a different angle on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, Durango has you covered. There are also several scenic drives in the area where you can go at your own pace from the comfort of your vehicle or bike.
Besides an abundance of art galleries or showcases, Durango also carries a rich history, which you can learn all about at the several museums in town. Originally founded in 1880 by the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad, this town has a storied history to tell. Take one of several walking tours to learn more about the town’s history or check out the Roundhouse Museum, the Southern Ute Cultural Center & Museum, or one of the other cultural institutions in the area.
Not to worry, Durango isn’t just a history buff or outdoorsy locale either. Here you will also find several places to indulge in relaxation. There are hot springs to enjoy, spas to check out and other ways to really find your bliss.
Home to Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes Park is also home to some of the most photographed spots in the state of Colorado. With such vast natural vistas in the area, Estes Park is, without a doubt, a nature playground. Rock climbing, whitewater rafting, fly fishing, off-roading, hiking, biking — you name it, it can all be found here! Recreation enthusiasts will have a hard time leaving this heavenly destination for sure.
Don’t think the fun is over when the sun sets either. Live music is abundant in Estes Park, with a particular penchant for Celtic or Irish music too. Some places have open mic nights or karaoke, so if the events of the day have you feeling bold, why not give it a try?
There are also art shows throughout the year, galleries to peruse, and art studios to visit. Every month, the town holds the First Friday Art Groove to celebrate the local artists, the annual Plein Air Rockies event each August promotes outdoor painting, and in the summer you can enjoy various arts events too, like the Estes Park Jazz Festival and Art Walk.
In the heart of the San Juan Mountains, you will find the town of Pagosa Springs. Its name comes from the Southwestern Ute word for “healing waters,” which is “Pagosa.” The area’s geothermal hot springs have long been known for their healing qualities. In fact, the Mother Spring for the pools in this town was even named the World’s Deepest Geothermal Hot Spring Aquifer!
You can learn more about the Native cultures that originally inhabited the area by visiting the Cortez Cultural Center in nearby Cortez or by visiting the Pagosa Springs History Museum.
With the nearby national forest, there are tons of outdoor activities to enjoy in Pagosa Springs all year round. Tubing, boating, and backpacking are among the favorite activities travelers love when visiting this town.
Sure, Paonia has Paonia State Park, a ton of natural spaces to explore or wildlife to enjoy, but it’s also the pinnacle of state cherry culture too! Cherries are a big deal in this Colorado town. So much so that the beloved Paonia Cherry Days Festival each July celebrates the little fruit in a big way!
While you’re here, you can check out Western Culture Farmstead and Creamery or Orchard Valley Farms to really get a feel for agricultural life in Paonia.
If Cherry Days isn’t sweet enough, Paonia is also known as an artistic town with a Certified Colorado Creative District. Here you will find the town’s galleries, art events, and other shops to partake in some handmade goodness.
Great Sand Dunes National Park and the San Luis Valley reside here in Alamosa. A unique vista here creates wondrous activities of all kinds that guests can enjoy while they visit.
Because of the giant dunes, sandboarding is a popular sport here, along with climbing, hiking, cycling, and star gazing. In fact, for stargazing enthusiasts, Great Sand Dunes National Park is a Dark Sky Park. That means you can see the night sky better here than in most other places in the country.
According to the Alamosa tourism website, the earliest peoples are known to have inhabited the regions were the Clovis and Folsom, who were here at least 11,000 years ago. Since then, the region has seen its share of conquest and development. There are several places to learn about Alamosa’s unique history or the history of the surrounding areas while you visit.
By now, it sounds like a broken record to say that there are myriad outdoor activities to enjoy across the countless Colorado towns. Carbondale is no exception!
Cross country skiing is among the favorite activities you can find here, but what makes this town especially unique is its agritourism. There are several farms where you can visit to really get to know the land. Cedar Ridge Ranch, for example, will give you an up-close look at their Alpacas, or you can head over to Sustainable Settings to learn about beekeeping.
At the end of the day, why not enjoy a field dining experience or one of the several farm-to-table restaurants in town?
Just 15 minutes outside Colorado Springs is the Pikes Peak town of Manitou Springs. Here you can find the ancient Manitou Cliff Dwellings and Museum, the Cripple Creek & Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad, and Seven Bridges Trail.
You can take up some Echo Canyon River rafting expeditions, go on a scenic drive around Pikes Peak or just sit back at Flying W Ranch. There is a lot to take in here, where the modern world meets the ancient one.
Set against the San Juan Mountains, Silverton is a National Historic Landmark. Located along the San Juan Skyway, many visitors might pass through here without realizing how much the town has to show.
In the summer, you can enjoy the Silverton Arts Festival or annual concert series after taking a break from mountaineering around the region. If you’re a fan of Jeep-ing, you will enjoy staking out some of the local ghost towns or abandoned mining camps in the Alpine Loop, or just hitting the road in general.
There was a time when Trinidad almost became the capital of Colorado. According to the town’s tourism website, the intricate 1800s architecture found around Trinidad showcases how hard the town tried to get that capital designation.
Nearby, you will find Trinidad Lake State Park, a variety of monuments, and vast opportunities to enjoy the natural scenery. There are also several cultural institutions to help you better understand the culture of Trinidad today as well as the past.
Go check out the Trinidad History Museum, which encompasses a whole city block, or see what’s on offer at the A.R. Mitchell Museum of Western Art. If you want to get really ancient, you can go see the Louden-Henritze Archaeology Museum and learn about what kinds of creatures roamed the region millions of years ago.
The Colorado town that “Unsinkable” Molly Brown called home, Leadville is full of historical artifacts, like Brown’s legacy.
Unsurprisingly, this town was once a thriving mining town, where folks came from all over to mine the land. Come here to learn more about the country’s vast connections with mining at The National Mining Hall of Fame & Museum, or tour the area to hear more about how instrumental Leadville was to the industry.
Make time to enjoy the vast nature all around Leadville as well.
Flanked by the Colorado and Roaring Fork Rivers, Glenwood Springs is rightfully known for its water. Home to the famous Glenwood Hot Springs Pool, as well as the Iron Mountain Hot Springs, there are many unique natural elements in this little town.
Yampah Vapor Caves waits for eager explorers, and you’ll also find amazing shops and restaurants here. You’ll even find the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park here, along with Instagram-able wings paintings to find and document.
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO COLORADO
- BEST OF COLORADO: 38 Phenomenal Things To Do In Colorado
- HOT SPRINGS: 17 Best Hot Springs In Colorado You Must Visit
- AURORA: 19 Fun Things To Do In Aurora CO You Can’t Miss
- TRAIN RIDES: 11 Fun Train Rides In Colorado (+8 Rail Museums)
- PAGOSA SPRINGS: 23 Best Things To Do In Pagosa Springs, Colorado
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