From the Great Plains, to the dramatic Rocky Mountains and the red rocks of the desert southwest, Colorado’s diverse scenery mirrors the varied experiences offered by its many small towns. There’s more to this state than just hiking up a rocky mountain. You can dance at a harvest festival, ride an ol’ west locomotive through a river valley, sample some natural mineral water, or jam to some bluegrass in a meadow. If you’re thinking about a Colorado adventure, here’s a list of seven cities and towns where you can do all that and more.
Known as the “Mile High City,” Denver stands as the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park and multiple ski resorts. Although Denver’s proximity to spectacular natural features has made it a premier adventure tourism destination, the city itself is also a popular draw for cultural, culinary and family travelers.
One of the best ways to explore is with Denver CityPASS tickets, which save travelers up to 34 percent off admission to their choice of any three, four or five top attractions. Enjoy the urban oasis in the heart of the city at the Denver Botanic Gardens, discover huge dinosaurs at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, find more than 50 iconic aircraft and space vehicles at the Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum and explore fascinating marine ecosystems around the world at the Downtown Aquarium. Mobile tickets are emailed to the buyer and, once activated, are valid for seven consecutive days. Get your tickets at CityPASS.com.
Nestled at the end of box canyon in the jagged and snowcapped expanse of the San Juan Mountain Range, Telluride is a small town surrounded by dramatic scenery. Already at 2,667m, the town sits at the foot of steep cliffs and tree-covered mountains that rise thousands of additional meters into the sky.
All this scenery makes it an outdoor adventurer’s paradise and offers experiences for all seasons including skiing, mountain biking, river rafting, and hiking. Popular among visitors are Bridal Veil Falls and Ingram Falls east of town and the free gondola that gives riders stunning mountain views as it takes them to Telluride’s companion town of Mountain Village.
But there’s more to this town than just the beauty surrounding it. Food lovers will be happy to know it’s been ranked as one of the top U.S. food cities on many restaurant lists. It’s also known for its many popular summer festivals such as the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, Jazz Festival, Blues and Brews Festival, and the Telluride Film Festival, just to name a few.
With the the golden glow of the aspen trees in the fall, the snowcapped mountains in the winter, and the blanket of wildflowers in the spring, it’s hard not to fall in love with Crested Butte during any season.
This quiet town of 1,600 people surrounded by wilderness and cattle ranches in the Elk Mountains is known as “Colorado’s Last Great Ski Town.” This is due to its small town feel, locally-owned businesses, and lack of trendiness and overcrowding found in Colorado’s more popular ski towns.
Visitors come to Crested Butte for its renowned mountain bike trails, diversity and quality of restaurants, and wildlife viewing- especially in early fall to see migratory birds on their way south. The town is also known for its Vinitok Fall Harvest Festival – a pagan-inspired festival that celebrates nature’s bounty.
Due its surrounding scenery and natural mineral springs, Manitou Springs was established in the late 19th century as a relaxing health resort town. The small town of about 5,000 people is known for grand architecture and pleasant city parks, all thanks to its original planned wellness vibe. You can still drink from the eight original mineral springs to sample some of those naturally-occurring healing minerals!
Located in central Colorado, it’s the doorway to Pikes Peak, the highest summit of the southern Front Range of the Rocky Mountains at 4,302m. If that elevation doesn’t steal your breath away, the view from up top just might.
While in Manitou Springs you can also check out the nearby Cave of the Winds and the Manitou Cliff Dwellings, which are 800-1000 year old Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings that were reassembled in the early 20th century. There’s a museum on site that will explain all about this fascinating ancient culture.
Framed by peaks nearly 4,300m high, Estes Park stands as the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. With the National Park on three sides, and National Forest on its fourth, Estes Park and the surrounding area is a prime spot for wildlife viewing. Visitors come to see black bear, elk, mule deer, bobcat, as well as beavers, otters, marmots, and pikas.
It’s an all-season destination with art galleries showcasing the work of painters, glass blowers, sculptures and jewelry makers. It’s also home to many independently-owned shops and boutiques, a thriving night-life, and jazz and bluegrass festivals in the summer.
Ride the Estes Park Aerial Tramway, which connects to the small town of Prospect Mountain, to take in the amazing view of the valley and mountains. But Estes Park is probably best known for the sprawling and spooky Stanley Hotel, Steven King’s inspiration for his 1977 horror novel, The Shining.
Situated at the base of the San Juan Mountains in southwestern Colorado, Durango’s history as a former mining and railroad town lends this small town its wild west feel.
Visitors can catch a glimpse into the ol’ west by taking a ride on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, a heritage railway with a steam-powered, coal-fired locomotive that winds through the canyons and wilderness between Durango and the neighboring town of Silverton.
Durango is a great jumping off point into nearby Mesa Verde National Park- a World Heritage Site- as well as a host of other archeological sites that document Ancestral Puebloan culture. You can indulge your outdoor adventurer side with whitewater rafting, kayaking, and canoeing along the Animas River that runs through downtown Durango.
Boulder ranks high for citizen well-being and quality of life on many national lists and it’s not hard to see why. Conveniently situated where the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains meet, it’s a town surrounded by lots of open space and opportunities for outdoor recreation. Rock climbing is popular here, especially on the Flatirons, unique rock formations outside of Boulder that have become a beloved symbol for the city.
This city of 97,000 is home to the University of Colorado Boulder, which has the Fiske Planetarium and an impressive Museum of Natural History. Take a break from exploring at one of the city’s 24 craft breweries or browse through the many art galleries, boutiques and popular restaurants, particularly along the historic four-block pedestrian mall, Pearl Street Mall.
While checking out this Rocky Mountain college town, be sure to buy some produce or a bouquet of freshly cut flowers at its large and popular farmers market. And don’t forget to relax with a cup of tea at the Dushanbe Teahouse, an authentic Tajikstan teahouse that was shipped from Dushanbe, Boulder’s sister city, and assembled in Boulder.
Your Colorado adventure sorted!
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