There are few winter memories better than experiencing a quaint mountain village in the height of its season. Take off to the mountains to experience the charm, beauty, and activities of one of Colorado’s amazing mountain towns. These cities nestled between the Rocky Mountains not only boast activities for skiers and snowboarders, but also for a relaxing getaway, including things to do like hot springs, amazing museums, music venues, and gourmet restaurants!
Located along the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway, Nederland originated as a mill site for silver ore. Seventeen miles west of Boulder and 5 miles away from skiing at Eldora Mountain Resort, Nederland is close to outdoor amenities. With a small but friendly population of roughly 1,500, Nederland simultaneously has a small-town vibe and hosts an internationally-renowned festival, “Frozen Dead Guy Days,” a quirky festival with unique activities, including coffin racing, snowy human foosball, an ice sculpting contest, a frozen salmon toss, and more! Even when there’s not a huge festival happening, Nederland has quite the music scene, including unique venues and event centers like the one and only Caribou Room.
Most well-known for its 2,908 acres of skiable area at Breckenridge Ski Resort, Breckenridge is a classic Colorado ski village. If hitting slopes isn’t your preference or the lifts are closed for the evening, soak in the mountain village vibe by strolling down the historic Main Street and exploring the shops, boutiques, and restaurants. Breckenridge is home to Colorado’s most unique arts district, hosting festivals and events year-round, including the International Snow Sculpture Championships. With plenty of winter activities and sights to see, keep your camera out to capture all of the photogenic moments that this captivating town has to offer.
In the 1940s, Aspen was changed from its roots as a silver-mining town into “The Aspen Idea” by the arrival of Walter and Elizabeth Paepcke. The idea was the Paepcke’s vision for a community focused on the mind, body, and spirit; this idea is still alive in Aspen as the underlying energy of the city. With its fair share of historical locations, arts, entertainment, and four ski mountains, it’s no wonder that Aspen is a Colorado favorite. A retreat and home for many celebrities and Hollywood stars, Aspen boasts luxury recreation and impressive mountain views. Have you ever wanted to see the infamous Maroon Bells laced in fresh powder? While the road is closed in the winter, the most photographed mountains in America can still be accessed by cross-county skiing or by taking a snowmobile tour.
Rightly called the “Switzerland of America,” Ouray’s scenery expands from the charming Victorian buildings lining the town’s streets into the majestic San Juan Mountains. To soak in views and natural minerals alike, check out the natural hot springs located in the middle of the town. Originally a mining town with over 30 active mines, the town is now an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise and is registered as a National Historic District. Ouray may have a small population of only 1,000, but the town certainly knows how to put icy winters to good use. It created the world’s first ice climbing park, Ouray Ice Park, in 1994 and now hosts an international ice climbing competition every year. The nearest ski resort is Telluride, but if you’re looking for back-country skiing, Nordic skiing, or ski mountaineering terrain, Ouray has you covered.
5. Estes Park
Estes Park is a popular destination for both locals and visitors alike since it’s not far from Denver, but is a perfect mountain town getaway, or a great place to stop for a fantastic meal on your way to or from Rocky Mountain National Park. Driving into Estes Park is a sight in itself with 14,000-foot peaks, like Long’s Peak, towering on every side. Sightings of elk, moose and other wildlife become more frequent as you near Rocky Mountain National Park. Even though parks of Rocky Mountain National Park may be closed during the winter, there’s still snowshoeing or winter hiking for those who don’t mind bundling up and braving the weather. Estes Park’s quaint downtown is a wonderful place to explore, shop, and dine, with plenty of entertainment for the whole family. The historic Stanley Hotel, where the novel, “The Shining,” by Stephen King is based, is also worth a visit.
Looking for a place for a non-active adventure or a way to relax after a long day of skiing? Glenwood Springs is home to the world’s largest hot springs pool. While the hot springs may be the most well-known part of the Glenwood Springs experience, the adventure doesn’t stop there: the “Most Fun Town in America,” as dubbed by USA Today, has a plethora of downtown events and activities, including the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, the iconic Hanging Lake, and of course, skiing.
One of the larger mountain towns, Steamboat Springs is a quintessential western town that happens to have some of the best skiing around, including night skiing. With sleigh ride dinners, snowmobile tours, horseback rides, snow tubing, and more, you can have a winter experience tailored to you. As the name implies, there are also multiple different hot springs to enjoy while the snow is falling down around you. Since the area is so picturesque, there are winter photography tours, where a professional photographer guides you either via snowshoeing or driving to picture-perfect locations and shows you how to best capture the moment and the natural beauty. If you want to soak in more of the mountains but don’t have a camera, scenic gondola rides are available to enjoy the sights from higher up.
Located about an hour and a half drive from Four Corners Monument, where the borders of Arizona, Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico meet, Durango is the perfect spot for the locals of western Colorado, or for those who don’t mind a bit of a drive if you’re coming from the Front Range. It’s small city days are coming to an end, as it’s now the largest city in southwestern Colorado, steadily growing in population. Durango is becoming more accessible and well-known, and now has an airport and Fort Lewis College. Don’t worry, there’s still a quaint downtown, a historic Victorian hotel, and fun festivals. The San Juan National Forest is right there at your fingertips, providing extensive views of the jagged 14,00-foot peaks and endless opportunities to experience the outdoors, including skiing and ice climbing in the winter. If you want to see some of the best preserved archaeological sites in the country, stop by Mesa Verde National Park to experience the ancient civilizations of the Ancestral Pueblo people.
9. Buena Vista
The views of Buena Vista are not merely “good” like the Spanish name says, they’re quite astounding! With the Collegiate Peaks on one side and the Arkansas River on the other, the city is another well-known place for its natural hot springs combined with supernatural views. This is the perfect place to relax and gaze up at the numerous 14,000-foot peaks that envelope the city. While Buena Vista is known as the capital for whitewater rafting in the United States, the many winter activities include cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice fishing, and snowmobiling.
Perfect powder in North America’s most beautiful ski town? That’s Telluride. The breathtaking San Juan Mountains set the backdrop of this small, Victorian-era, silver-mining town, with Telluride Ski Resort just above town. Besides skiing, all of your winter fun is waiting for you: winter fly fishing, ice climbing, sledding, and big tire bike rides are just a few. The downtown is filled with boutiques, eateries, and art galleries, so you can start or end your day taking in the magical downtown. What are you waiting for?