12 Best Small Towns in Colorado

Main Street Telluride Colorado
Photography by Deb Snelson / Getty Images

In Colorado, some of the least-populated towns have attractions that are anything but quaint, with spectacular features like record-setting hot springs, unruly whitewater rapids, and mountain biking trails that skirt cliffsides. Then, throw in some sultry boom-and-bust mining town lore and elk that roam the streets each fall, and it’s apparent that small-town charm looks different in the Centennial State.

From an up-and-coming destination in Western Slope wine country to a blip on the map where you can hike to a ghost-town resort, here are 12 of the very best small towns worth visiting in Colorado.

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Georgetown, Colorado

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In the late 1800s, Georgetown was considered the “Silver Queen of the Rockies'' because of its rich silver veins that lured miners. An easy 45-minute drive from Denver, daytrippers today will find colorful Victorian buildings housing gift shops, ice cream parlors, and restaurants. Buy tickets for the Georgetown Loop Railroad's steam-powered train ride, during which you'll sit onboard open-air train cars, breathing in the crisp mountain air and taking in unobstructed views. The route runs between Georgetown and Silver Plume, another one of Colorado’s famous mining towns. Those fascinated by the Old West can also take a mine tour that includes a stop to pan for gold, and, yep, it’s finder’s keepers if you turn up some of the precious metal.

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Wine Vineyards, Book Cliffs Mountain Range, Grand Valley, Western Colorado
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You know Colorado for its beer. But the state also has an up-and-coming wine scene on the Western Slope. Sample wine in a former peach packing plant at Ordinary Fellow, try sparkling wines true to Colorado’s terroir at Sauvage Spectrum, and get a solid overview of the Grand Valley AVA at Carboy Wineries, where charcuterie and vino come with views of the Book Cliff Mountains. If you’re visiting in the summer, pop by a fruit stand for juicy Palisade peaches and tart cherries. In addition to the famed fruits and crushed grapes, Palisade recently became a destination for mountain bikers, with the debut of the Palisade Plunge in 2021. This daring 32-mile, alpine-to-desert singletrack ride includes a 6,000-foot descent.

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Cañon City

Royal Gorge Bridge
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This adventurous pocket in southern Colorado is a basecamp for some of the state’s best whitewater rafting. Book a guided trip with an Arkansas River outfitter and enjoy the fast flows, Class IV and V rapids, and canyon views along the Royal Gorge. For a different perspective, check out the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park, which bills itself as the highest suspension bridge, dangling 1,000 feet above the Arkansas River. After a day of thrill-seeking, hit Cañon City’s Main Street, where you'll find pizza shops, restaurants, and breweries.

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Silverthorne and Dillon Colorado
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Once a stopover on the way to ski resorts, Silverthorne is emerging as its own mountain-town main character. Shop for outdoor gear, name-brand threads, and artisanal products at the Outlets at Silverthorne mall before settling in for a meal at Bluebird Market food hall, where you will find everything from wood-fired pizzas to empanadas and tacos. Opened in 2022, The Pad, a boutique hotel/hostel constructed from shipping containers, provides an affordable stay for those dispatching to nearby ski resorts. Meanwhile, the Art Spot Silverthorne Makerspace art hub is set to make its debut this winter; housed in an old fire station, it will feature a gallery, retail space, studios, and classrooms. Silverthorne also neighbors Dillon, an equally fun mountain town that has a lakeside amphitheater with a busy summer concert calendar.

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Steamboat Springs

Panoramic View Of Landscape Against Clear Sky During Winter
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Don’t let the trademarked name “Champagne Powder'' at Steamboat Ski Resort mislead you. This mountain town shrugs pretensions to preserve a laid-back, Wild West feel, complete with a summer rodeo. After schussing down the slopes or hiking the trails, take a leisurely soak in 102-degree Fahrenheit geothermal water at Strawberry Park Hot Springs (reservations are required). The rock-rimmed soaking pools are especially pretty in the winter, when steam rises from the water and nickel-sized snowflakes fall. Steamboat Springs is also a destination-worthy mountain biking spot, with the Steamboat Bike Park offering a 40-mile trail network and lift-assisted downhill trails.

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Glenwood Springs

Iron Mountain Hot Springs

Courtesy of Iron Mountain Hot Springs

A popular hot springs destination, Glenwood Springs has plenty of places to soak in mineral-rich waters. Iron Mountain Hot Springs is set on the banks of the Colorado River and features 16 soaking pools, including the Experience Pool, whose rotating mix of mineral water recipes mimics famous hot springs around the world (think added silica to recreate a small-scale replica of Iceland's Blue Lagoon). Another option is Glenwood Hot Springs Resort, its 450-foot-long mineral hot springs pool allegedly the world's largest. And, at the Yampah Spa Vapor Caves, hot mineral waters flow through cave floors, creating a unique subterranean steam bath. Glenwood Springs is also an ideal launch pad for one of Colorado's most treasured hikes: Hanging Lake. In fact, it's so popular, permits are now required.

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Estes Park

Herd of elk in the early morning light in the fall in Rocky Mountain National Park near Estes Park, Colorado
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There’s no wrong time to visit Estes Park, a mountain town at the entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park. But autumn is probably the most spectacular time of year to make the trek—and not just because of the fall foliage. October (known as Elktober) is mating season for elk, meaning that you can spot these majestic creatures meandering around town and hear them bugling. Plus, a ghost tour at The Stanley Hotel (the lodge that inspired Stephen King to write “The Shining”) feels just right leading up to Halloween. If you're traveling with kids, Estes Park has dueling taffy and souvenir stores, including the Ore Cart Rock Shop, which is stocked with geodes and meteorites. Or, head to the alpine Mustang Mountain Coaster, its 2,000 feet of track treating the whole family to tame thrills and awesome mountain views.

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Winter Park

Aerial View of popular Ski Town of Winter Park, Colorado
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Winter Park is a powderhound’s playground, with more than 3,000 acres of terrain and lift-served tubing runs at the ski resort. In the winter months, a ski train runs between Denver’s Union Station and Winter Park, a great option for those looking to bypass all the high country highway traffic. If you’re staying in town, hunker down in Winter Park's newest hotel, A-Frame Club, which opened in January 2023. Featuring a collection of—you guessed it—two-story, A-frame cabins, the hotel is styled with 1970s après-ski culture in mind, and offers Malm fireplaces and onsen soaking tubs in every cabin. Those coming to Winter Park in the summer months can hit the links, zip down an alpine slide, or go fly fishing in the trout-filled Fraser or Upper Colorado Rivers.

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Planet Bluegrass

Planet Bluegrass / Facebook

Find mountain-town quirk at its finest in Lyons, located just outside of Boulder along the route to Rocky Mountain National Park. Known for its artist edge, Lyons hosts music festivals at its outdoor Planet Bluegrass concert venue every summer, with the popular RockyGrass and Rocky Mountain Folks Festival having drawn the likes of Brandi Carlile and Gregory Alan Isakov in past years. The town is also filled with public art, including a new color-saturated mural from Lyons native Android Jones, whose work has been commissioned by the Sydney Opera House and Burning Man. Overnight stays in Lyons are as unique as the town, with options like Wee Casa, a tiny home resort, and Big Tree Farmstead, a lavender farm with lodging. If you're looking for something to eat, Lyons recently welcomed its first destination dining spot, Marigold, a 40-seat restaurant serving northern Italian and southern French dishes.

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Twin Lakes

Autumn Sunrise over Pond at Twin Lakes Inn - Colorado Aspen Trees
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Twin Lakes—a spot for boating, fishing, and enjoying some R&R—has a one-block downtown with a general store and saloon. Rent a kayak or paddleboard from a local outfitter and float around the placid, glacial lakes that bear the reflections of the surrounding mountains. One of the coolest ways to explore Twin Lakes, though, is by hiking through the Aspen trees along the Interlake Trail. The 4.6-mile, out-and-back trek leads to the abandoned Interlaken Historic Resort, a turn-of-the-century hotel complex. Take a peek at the two-story Interlaken Hotel and step inside the Dexter Cabin, built as a vacation home in the late 1800s by wealthy miner James V. Dexter. Be sure to climb up to the cupola for lake views before making your way back.

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Telluride, Colorado small town Mountain Village in summer 2019 with view of San Juan Mountains and modern resort lodge apartment condo architecture
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Enveloped in a box canyon and surrounded by 13,000- and 14,000-foot mountain peaks in the San Juan Mountains, Telluride is filled with natural beauty, Victorian-era homes, and uncrowded slopes. Outdoors lovers can find plenty of adventures here, including a via ferrata route, a waterfall Bridal Veil Falls hike, and custom heli-skiing tours. The town also keeps a busy calendar, hosting festivals that celebrate a number of things like hot air balloons, horror movies, jazz music, comedy, and yoga. Catch a performance at the historic Sheridan Opera House, which was built as a vaudeville theater in 1913 by miners and is now part of Colorado’s new historic opera house circuit. As a bonus, visitors to Telluride can take a 13-minute free gondola ride to Mountain Village, home to luxury hotels, shops, and restaurants.

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Pagosa Springs

Pagosa Springs Colorado
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Pagosa Springs’ claim to fame is that it’s home to the world’s deepest geothermal hot spring aquifer, which runs at least 1,000 feet under the surface. The mother spring provides mineral waters to hot spring resorts throughout this southwestern Colorado town, including The Springs Resort, where visitors will find 25 pools of varying sizes and temps that range from a 45-degree cold plunge to a 114-degree lobster pot. If you’re coming for a hot springs vacation, stay on theme and grab a beer at Riff Raff Brewing, an “earth-powered brewery” powered by spring-fed geothermal heating. The area also has lots of hiking trails, including an easy 1-mile, round-trip hike to Piedra Falls, a waterfall that cascades down volcanic cliffs.