As a Colorado local and adventurer, I spend pretty much all of my time in our mountain towns (no, seriously, even my job as an adventure elopement photographer has me in the mountains on the regular). I’ve had the pleasure of wandering through and working in several of our mountain towns out here. From those experiences, I’ve come up with this list of what I believe are the 5 best mountain towns in Colorado.
I’m big on transparency. There are definitely pros and cons to each of these mountain towns. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows. So I’m going to give it you real here. I’ve spent enough time in these places to know the pros and cons of each. I’ll let you know what exactly makes each of these mountain towns Colorado’s best of the best, but I’ll also share some info you’ll want to be aware of when deciding where to travel to in our great state.
We have a lot of mountains out here in Colorado, and a plethora of mountain towns to choose from. There are many amazing runner-ups that didn’t make the list because of this high level of competition.
The best mountain towns in Colorado are the towns that consistently take my breathe away, every time I visit them.
Personally, I love it when mountain towns allow for maximum seclusion, but I also know the importance of having things to do nearby, especially if you’re traveling with family.
Each of these towns have nearby restaurants, adventures (whether it’s white water rafting, climbing, etc.), and town attractions to keep you busy when you’re not out on the trails.
Yes, some of the classics will be on the list. But so will a couple of my personal favorite spots that are less traveled but arguably more epic.
As a local Coloradan, I’ve had the pleasure of not just seeing the major mountain towns, but the ones in between, too. And those towns deserve a spot on the list as well.
Let’s break them down. What are the coolest Colorado mountain towns? What makes them so special? And why should you bother visiting them?
The underrated, yet absolutely incredible Buena Vista is my favorite Colorado mountain town. If you don’t want to deal with the crowds that come with visiting a place like Breckenridge, and you don’t want to pay for the obscene lodging fees of Aspen, but you still want the epic views and cool hikes (and to be frank, much more privacy and seclusion), BV is the go-to.
Some of my absolute favorite hikes, overlooks, and mountain roads are in Buena Vista, Colorado. It’s not here to be bougie or pretentious. It’s a simple place for people who love adventuring and experiencing solitude.
Buena Vista does a really great job of having good hikes for newbie hikers and more advanced adventurers alike, which I think is one of the most special parts of this mountain town: there’s something for everyone.
If you’re into mountain ghost towns, you’ll want to venture out of town up to St. Elmo. If hot springs are more your vibe, there are plenty in the area.
Cottonwood Hot Springs are a short drive out of town, as is Mt Princeton Hot Springs. These are both more resort-like hot springs with swimming pool vibes. If you want a more primitive and private hot spring, Colorado is full of secret spots. You’ll have to do a little big of digging and exploring to find them, but trust me when I say they’re well worth tracking down.
All of that said, Buena Vista is a smaller town. There’s great options for white water rafting on the nearby Arkansas River. And there’s one of my favorite boutique hotels in the state (The Surf Hotel), but the town itself is on the smaller side, and there won’t be as much to do if you’re looking to spend more time in town than in the mountains.
Personally, I think one of the most special things about Buena Vista is its central location. Drive an hour or two in any direction, and you’ll end up in another amazing mountain town. If you want to see as much of Colorado as possible, I think Buena Vista is a great jumping off point.
I definitely sat at my computer going back and forth with myself, debating on whether Crested Butte could hold the #1 spot for the best mountain town in Colorado, but my love for Buena Vista is too strong. That said, Crested Butte is an amazing place, and for sure deserves a spot on this list.
Whenever I visit CB, I am reminded of how friendly a place it is. It truly feels like all people are welcome. It definitely has some hippie vibes and the classically laid-back Colorado feel to it. But at the same time, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a little bit bougie (I mean, it’s a top ski destination after all).
CB has some of the most gorgeous fall colors you can see (the drive from Gunnison to CB in the second half of September is afire with aspen leaves changing), some of my favorite alpine lakes, and the wildflowers in the summertime are to die for (there’s a reason CB is called the wildflower capital of Colorado, and they even have a festival for the flowers).
If you want a laid-back Colorado adventure, camping in CB is an awesome way to experience the area, without having to blow your budget on expensive ski lodges or rentals (which are popping up like weeds in the area).
If you like the mixture of a town with lots to do, along with plenty of mountain adventures, CB is the perfect mountain town. Every time I’m in town, without fail, I grab a few slices of pizza from Secret Stash.
The downside of Crested Butte? It has grown quite a bit in popularity, which means it can get pretty busy. Drive up some of the nearby mountain passes and dirt roads, though, and you can escape the rush. The popularity of CB also means lodging can get pretty pricey. My personal solution for this? Book a hotel in nearby Gunnison, CO.
Let’s not kid ourselves. If you’ve been scouring lists for the best mountain towns in Colorado, I’d be willing to bet Telluride is a town you’ve seen ten times over. And hey, I’m not here to disagree. Telluride is a stunner. Truly, the San Juan Mountains are incredible. While not always the easiest place to get to, Telluride is well-worth the trek.
If you’re into skiing, Telluride skiing is world class. If cutesy little mountain towns with adorable architecture are your vibe, you’ve hit jackpot. If boutique restaurants and cafes are your style, Telluride kills it. And if you’re the type of person who wants to hop in your Jeep and take on some of the most rugged 4X4 trails in the state, welcome to your paradise. For all of these reasons and more, Telluride makes the list.
I know, I know. Your’e thinking, “come on girl, Telluride is overrated.” I hear you. It’s not the secret it used to be. But I dare you to take the free gondola up near the San Sophia Overlook at sunset, look at the alpenglow and the tiny little town down below and tell me that it wasn’t worth the trip.
I’ll be honest, I think a lot of Coloradans like to act like they’re too good for Telluride now that it’s so popular, but here’s a little reality check for you: if you want privacy and seclusion you can still find it in Telluride. Sometimes you simply have to hiker farther. Sometimes you have to drag your butt out the door at sunrise, before everyone and their kids rush to the mountains.
But as an elopement photographer who documents adventure weddings in places like Telluride and Aspen, where people love to visit during the busy season, I’ve been able to find seclusion. It’s simply a matter of getting up at sunrise (ideally on a weekday). And trust me, the mountains are even prettier at sunrise and sunset than they are in the middle of the day, anyways.
As with all of these mountain towns in Colorado, there is a downside. For Telluride, it’s the crowds (I mean, try and find a parking spot in town during open hours) and the prices. Lodging costs are quite frankly ridiculous. That said, there are some epic campsites nearby, and you can look into lodging in nearby Mountain Village as well.
And also, the town of Ridgway is only a little under an hour away and Montrose is about 1.5 hrs away if you need some more budget friendly lodging and are cool with driving a bit to get into town.
Silverton is another Southwest Colorado gem, also nestled in the San Juan Mountains. I like to joke that it’s Telluride’s more casual, laid-back sister, just right over the other side of the mountain. If you like the epic, expansive mountain views and amazing mountain passes and dirt roads of SW Colorado, but want something a little more relaxed than Telluride, Silverton is your gal.
The section of Million Dollar Highway that connects Ouray to Silverton is one of my favorite stretches of road in the state. There are so many epic places to pull off and enjoy the views (and some epic off-roading paths are right off the road as you approach Silverton).
There are several camping options right outside of town, and if you’re looking for a boutique hotel experience, you have to book a stay at the Wyman.
As with Telluride, Silverton is a trek to get to. Beware, if you aren’t super comfortable with winter driving on dicey, shelf-like roads, I’d avoid Silverton in the winter months. Million Dollar Highway is no joke to drive, and it’s even more intense in the winter. That said, I personally love Silverton in the summertime and early fall. Silverton is home to some of the most epic high alpine lakes in the state, and the best time of year to hike to those will be late July and August.
Frisco and Breck are only at 15-20 minutes away from each other, so you can totally visit both of them easily in one trip. But if you ask me, Frisco is the cooler, but less popular sister of the two. Some of my favorite hikes are in Frisco, and Frisco’s proximity to i70 makes it super accessible if you’re flying in through Denver.
Breckenridge is beautiful, don’t get me wrong. But it’s easy to feel claustrophobic in town, especially with the crowds. Not to say Frisco isn’t also a busy place. It is (pretty much the whole Breckenridge and Frisco area is a top spot for out-of-state visitors and local adventurers alike). But I personally feel like you get more bang for your buck with Frisco, while also being so close to what Breckenridge has to offer.
As with all the best mountain towns in Colorado, though, crowds can easily become an issue. While not as busy as neighboring Breckenridge, Frisco sees its fair share of tourists. As a general rule, the best way to avoid crowds is to start your day as early as possible. This is especially pertinent on busy trails where trailhead parking fills up by the early to mid-morning.
Outdoors enthusiast and advocate. Adventure elopement photographer. Dog mom extraordinaire. Girl who lives for the sounds of dirt beneath her hiking boots.
Sheena is a Colorado-based elopement photographer who believes in being the go-to adventure wedding resource for the couples she works with. Interested in working with Sheena for your elopement?
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