If there’s one thing that makes the Rocky Mountain State so unique it’s an impressive lineup of the best mountain towns in Colorado. There are literally countless amazing small towns nestled in the mighty mountain ranges throughout the state.
These popular destinations feature amazing mountain scenery and are absolutely bursting with local businesses. With so many different activities and scenes, it’s easy to find the best Colorado summer towns to suit your adventure needs.
Every year, people flock from all over the world to experience the best mountain towns in Colorado. From lively downtowns to stunning cabins nestled deep in the wilderness, there’s a lot to get excited about when it comes to exploring these slices of mountain paradise.
Oftentimes, even the biggest adventures require you to set up a base in a quaint mountain town. Colorado hosts a variety of different flavors when it comes to mountain escapes. There are the bigger, established bases and the tiny one-street towns that force you to slow down and enjoy mountain life.
I’ve spent the last 12 years traveling all across Colorado. This place is my home and I live to explore here. It’s my mission to pass on my wealth of knowledge to you. So if you’re looking to explore the best mountain towns in Colorado like a local, not a tourist, then you’ve come to the right place.
About this Guide to the Best Mountain Towns in Colorado
Visiting Colorado mountain towns requires local insight to make your stay truly special. That’s why I created this mega-extensive guide to the best mountain towns in Colorado. Inside, you’ll find:
- A list of amazing mountain towns in Colorado
- The best mountain towns near Denver
- Local tips and tricks about what to see, where to eat, and where to stay in each location
- Additional Colorado travel planning resources
The Best Mountain Towns in Colorado
Colorado has countless little towns and villages situated snuggly in the Rockies. When it comes to uncovering the best mountain towns in Colorado, you’ll have to visit these top hits.
Crested Butte is just so cute! It certainly makes the list of the best mountain towns in Colorado thanks to it’s incredible charm nestled in a stunning setting. The quaint main street is filled with restaurants and shops – stop by The Alpineer for any gear needs and Chopwood Mercantile for fun clothes and outdoor lifestyle products.
Then hit one of the many miles of trails in the area for a bike or a hike. The trail through aspen groves from Caves to Lookout Point is an especially incredible fall hike in Colorado.
- Where to eat: The porch at The Last Steep is the perfect place to chill for a pint and a meal (try the curry shrimp & coconut salad!).
- Where to stay: Kebler Pass and Hartman Rocks Recreation Area are prime spots for finding awesome free campsites. If you’d rather stay right in town, Purple Mountain is a B&B full of mountain town charm.
Maybe the most famous mountain town in Colorado, Vail is located in the Rocky Mountains about two hours west of Denver (if you’re lucky enough not to hit the notorious traffic on I-70). Vail is a mecca for skiing, but you’ll find plenty of things to do in Vail in the summer as well.
- Where to eat: The Slope Room at Gravity Haus is a contemporary mountain lodge featuring modern takes on local meat and produce.
- Where to stay: Most accommodations in Vail are super pricey, but the Cohabit in Avon is cute and affordable.
Telluride is a picture-perfect mountain town in southwestern Colorado with a jaw-dropping backdrop of the San Juan Mountains. The skiing is world-class, but there’s so much more to Telluride. One of the best hikes in Telluride is Bridal Veil Falls, which starts right from the end of town.
And for a unique adventure, don’t miss the Telluride Via Ferrata, where you can traverse along rock faces using iron rungs and cables. Trust me, it’s a truly awesome experience!
- Where to eat: If you’re in the mood for margaritas, head to Esperanza’s Tequila Restaurant or check out Smuggler-Union Brewery for delicious burgers and beer.
- Where to stay: You can find tons of dispersed camping off of the dirt roads near Telluride, or head to nearby Ridgway for more budget-friendly options.
Leadville will take your breath away, and not just because it’s the highest incorporated city in the US at an elevation of 10,152 feet. Just under two hours from Denver, Leadville is right near Mount Elbert and Mount Massive, the two highest peaks in Colorado and a couple of the best 14ers near Denver.
This mountain town also is home to tons of excellent mountain biking trails. You can also discover some Colorado history at Camp Hale, where the 10th Mountain Division used to train.
- Where to eat: Treeline Kitchen is a real treat after you’ve been playing outside. Both the contemporary American meals and the creative cocktails will hit the spot, and the atmosphere is just the right amount of classy for a mountain town.
- Where to stay: Leadville has some of the best free camping in Colorado at Half Moon Road, Twin Lakes, and Turquoise Lake. If you want a real bed, rest your head in a cabin named after Leadville’s “women of the night” at the Slumberyard at Freight.
Located along the Million Dollar Highway, Ouray is a must-visit Colorado mountain town in any season. In the summer, you can take an incredible hike to Ice Lake or backpack sections of the Colorado Trail. This area is also home to some of the most beautiful wildflower hikes in Colorado like the hike to Island Lake. If you’re into off-roading, you’ll find some sick 4×4 roads to get rowdy on in Ouray.
In the winter, Ouray transforms into the epicenter of the ice climbing world. Climbers with ice tools and crampons flock to the Ouray Ice Park for some frozen fun, and the pros join in at the annual Ice Climbing Festival. If you’re intrigued by ice climbing, you can join in the fun with a guided trip to the ice park.
- Where to eat: Ouray Brewery has a menu of hearty fare to go along with their great beer. And for a memorable experience, pay a visit to Mr. Grumpy Pants Brewing.
- Where to stay: The Ouray Inn is a cool, quirky little spot to sleep in comfort. You can also find free dispersed camping on one of the nearby National Forest Service roads.
The main attraction in the Colorado mountain town of Glenwood Springs is Hanging Lake. The hike to this incredible lake has become so popular that permits are now required, but it’s totally worth the hassle to see Hanging Lake at least once. In fact, this incredible destination should be on every Colorado road trip itinerary.
The other highlight of Glenwood Springs is that it is home to several Colorado hot springs. Glenwood Hot Springs is family-friendly, while Iron Mountain, right on the Colorado River, has a good vibe and a more relaxing ambience. This makes Glenwood Springs one of the best mountain towns in Colorado if you’re looking for unique things to see and do.
- Where to eat: Scarf down some tasty snacks of tacos and hot dogs at Slope & Hatch or indulge a little at The Pullman.
- Where to stay: The Rio Grande Bed & Breakfast hosts several properties, so you can choose between a loft downtown, a cozy cabin, or a cottage on Red Barn Ranch.
If you’re looking for one of the best Colorado summer towns for adventure, look no further than Buena Vista (pronounced “Bewna Vista”)! The variety of outdoor activities put this mountain town at the top of the list of best weekend getaways in Colorado.
Whether you want to summit a 14er in the Sawatch Range, shred the gnar on some single track, hike to an alpine lake, or raft Browns Canyon, you won’t run out of things to do in Buena Vista.
- Where to eat: Eddyline, a local brewery, has both a taproom and a restaurant in Buena Vista, serving awesome burgers, BBQ, and pizza along with their brews.
- Where to stay: There’s so much free camping around here, believe me, you can definitely find a nice spot to pitch your tent. Check out Cottonwood Pass, Chaffee County Road 390, and Browns Creek for some of the options.
If you’re looking for a posh mountain experience, look no further than Aspen, Colorado. As one of the best mountain towns in Colorado for the luxury-inclined, Aspen is the place to be seen.
Fancy designer boutiques and incredible dining options aside, Aspen is pretty darn beautiful too. The Maroon Bells put this town on the map as one of the most scenic places in Colorado. Head out for a sunrise hike on the Maroon Lake Scenic Trail to catch all of the highlights.
Local Tip: In 2021 reservations are required to visit the Maroon Bells Scenic Area. You can opt to make a reservation for a personal vehicle ($10) or take the bus ($16) if you’re visiting between 8 am and 5 pm.
- Where to eat: Francesca’s Past Market and Empanadas features homemade pastas and empanadas to satisfy those post-hike carb cravings.
- Where to stay: Silverbell and Difficult Campgrounds provide an option to pitch a tent right near Aspen. But if you want to up the luxury, check out the Limelight Hotel Aspen or the Little Nell.
Best Mountain Towns Near Denver
Some of the most incredible mountain towns in Colorado happen to be located right near Denver. If you’re looking for a quick getaway from Denver, then you’ll want to check out some of these beautiful mountain towns less than two hours from the Mile High City.
A great weekend getaway from Denver, Breckenridge is an epic place to visit for all kinds of outdoor adventures. In the winter, you’ll find incredible skiing and snowboarding, and the list of things to do in Breckenridge in the summer is long.
Hit the trails for one of the amazing hikes in Breckenridge, such as Mayflower Gulch for one of the most spectacular Colorado wildflower hikes or Mount Quandary to summit a 14er. And be sure to visit the Breckenridge troll at the end of the Trollstigen Trail before you leave town!
- Where to eat: The porch at Motherload Tavern is a local favorite for yummy comfort food in a festive atmosphere.
- Where to stay: Splurge on a stay at Gravity Haus and you can enjoy a Japanese bath house with soaking tubs and a sauna.
Drive time from Denver: 1 hr 45 mins
Known as the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes Park is definitely one of the best mountain towns near Denver. Brave the crowds and check out some of the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park, including Emerald Lake, Sky Pond, and, if you’re more experienced and looking for an epic challenge, Longs Peak.
You can also check out some of the easier hikes in Estes Park, such as Lily Lake, which is especially lovely when the aspens turn gold in the fall.
- Where to eat: Bird & Jim serves “modern mountain” cuisine with intriguing cocktails and an extensive wine list, but the atmosphere is welcoming so you won’t feel underdressed in your best Patagucci.
- Where to stay: The best place to stay in Estes Park is camping in RMNP, but you have to get lucky to get a reservation. If you don’t mind ghosts, you could stay at the Stanley Hotel, the infamous inspiration for Stephen King’s The Shining.
- Drive time from Denver: 1 hr 25 mins
While it’s an easy day trip from Denver, you could easily spend a long weekend exploring around Nederland. This mountain town just north of Boulder is home to Eldora Mountain and Eldora Nordic Center, so you can get your skiing fix.
Hessie Trailhead is the start to a lot of the excellent hikes near Denver in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. But Nederland might be most famous for Frozen Dead Guy Days, a weird winter festival with strange events like coffin racing and ice turkey bowling.
- Where to eat: Pizza always hits the spot after an outdoor adventure, and Crosscut Pizzeria is the place to be après ski or hike or bike for piping hot wood-fired pies.
- Where to stay: The historic Goldminer Hotel will transport you back to the 1890s – and there are rumors that it might be haunted with spirits from that era!
- Drive time from Denver: 1 hour
Granby is the place to go if you want to splash around on the water in one of the best mountain towns near Denver. Lake Granby is a massive lake on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park where you can boat, fish, or just hang out by the water.
You can also go for a hike from Monarch Lake Trailhead which takes you to the gorgeous Lone Eagle Peak. In winter, you can ski at nearby Winter Park as well.
- Where to eat: Grab coffee and breakfast at Java Lava Lounge, and dine on the outdoor patio at Granby Garage for drinks and dinner, which comes with a complimentary basket of tasty homemade Doritos.
- Where to stay: Base Camp One is a splurge-worthy resort, or you can save some money at Lone Eagle Lodge or the Canyon Hotel. Sunrise Point, Arapaho Bay, and Big Rock are a few of the paid campgrounds nearby.
- Drive time from Denver: 1 hour 50 mins
For the mountain town experience super close to the city, make the just over half an hour drive from Denver to Idaho Springs. From here you can explore Clear Creek, either by rafting down the river or climbing the rock walls of the canyon.
- Where to eat: Beau Jo’s is a classic in Idaho Springs for its Colorado-style pizza, and Tommyknocker Brewery serves local beer and pub grub.
- Where to stay: The Bearadise Motel is an adorable and affordable old-school inn that is also pet-friendly.
- Drive time from Denver: 40 mins
Georgetown is a former mining town at the base of Guanella Pass. The byway to the top of the pass is one of the best scenic drives near Denver as you head through aspen groves and alpine terrain and take in amazing views of Mount Bierstadt.
Guanella Pass is also one of the very best places to see the fall colors in Colorado, but that makes it incredibly crowded during leaf-peeping season. If you want to check out the fall foliage, try to go during the week or expect to wait in some serious traffic.
- Where to eat: Cabin Creek Brewing has exactly what you want after a day of playing in the mountains – delicious hearty food (they have two kinds of loaded tots!), draft cocktails, and beer flights.
- Where to stay: There is lots of camping available near Georgetown, both dispersed and developed paid campgrounds. But be aware that there are new no-camping restrictions on Silver Dollar Lake Road due to an overload of visitors. Wherever you camp, always be sure to Leave No Trace!
- Drive time from Denver: 1 hour
Additional Colorado Travel Resources
Planning a trip to Colorado? Here’s how you can explore the best of the Centennial State like a local, not a tourist.
- The Complete Guide to Visiting Colorado Like a Local
- Your Colorado Bucket List
- How to Hike in the Mountains Like a Pro