Updated: Dec 16, 2021
When you first come to Colorado you’re probably hitting up the biggest most popular cities you’ve heard about like Denver, Vail, or Aspen. But what if I told you the small towns of this state are so much more fun than some of those big famous cities?
I’m always surprised with every little town I visit in Colorado, the quint main streets, and the surrounding outdoor activities give these towns a lot to offer. From epic National Parks to beautiful fall leaf shows, these towns give you everything you’re looking for in a perfect Colorado location for half the price and with half the people! Here is my list of some of the most exciting and beautiful small towns for your next big Colorado vacation.
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One of my favorite towns in Colorado, Steamboat Springs is one of those classic cute little ski towns that is filled with local Colorado charm. This is a town that is beautiful to visit any time of the year for all kinds of adventures. You have skiing in the winter, hiking in the summer, and beautiful leaves in the fall, not to mention hot springs year-round!
If you’re looking for great camping in this area you can find it at Buffalo Pass. A popular area, but a beautiful drive up a mountainside where you can park and camp for free. As for hikes the best one is Fish Creek Falls, a quick walk down a hill leads you to one of the tallest waterfalls in Colorado, continuing from there is a 5-mile hike to the upper falls, and you can even continue from there to join other hikes in the area.
One of the most famous Hot Springs in the state resides in Steamboat Springs, Strawberry Hot Springs. While I haven’t personally gone, this is supposedly an amazing spot to relax and take in the mountain views. You can hike into this spot or camp at their resort in multiple different unique accommodations.
One of the smallest towns on the list has one of the biggest attractions in Colorado. While the town itself doesn't have much of interest to talk about, the surrounding natural areas are the reason to visit this spot. Alamosa is home to The Grand Sand Dune National Park. This is a super unique National Park that is pretty unheard of, I have a blog post all about this park and the surrounding area you can check out here if you want to learn more.
Besides the Great Sand Dune National Park, this town has the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge, a beautiful natural area with a short hike a drive through nature road, Zapata Falls, a short hike up to a gorgeous slot canyon waterfall, and the Blanca Wetlands, a very important piece of freshwater that serves as habitat for migrating sandhill cranes. Not to mention two breweries and a small hot spring park, so feel free to spend at least a day or two checking out all of the local sites.
About 2 hours from Alamosa is Pagosa Springs, still a small-town feel, but a bit more modern than Alamosa, Pagosa Springs is home to the world's deepest hot spring! Also, multiple natural hot springs and a short Waterfall hike (Treasure Falls) on the way into town.
Knowing I wanted to enjoy some of these springs, but also being on a tight budget for this trip, I decided to go for the free natural hot spring option instead of one of the expensive resorts in town.
For natural hot springs, you have the choice to do either a long 10-mile hike into the woods for the Rainbow Hot Springs, where you can camp out and stay the night or a short 2-mile hike to Piedra River Hot Springs where you also have the option to camp overnight. I chose to do the quick and easy Piedra Hot Springs and I was not disappointed. With several pools to choose from at varying degrees and cleanliness levels, this spot was a natural paradise that I had all to myself. The pools are placed just down the river bank from a large backcountry campsite and are right on the river, separated by a wall of well place rocks.
I highly suggest camping somewhere either by the river if you're backpacking equipped, or in one of the many sites along the North Fork Road leading up to the Sheep Creek Trail where the hot springs are located. Also, note that Google maps will take you past the trailhead, so make sure you backtrack and pull into Sheep Creek Trail parking.
Canon City is a town that has genuinely kept that classic small-town feel. With quirky museums to visit, happy locals, and small mom-and-pop stores lining the main street. Not to mention what is supposed to be one of the best burger spots in the state, "Big Burger World", it was unfortunately closed when I visited, but their burgers and shakes look so good!
Some of their major attractions include the Royal Gorge Dinosaur Experience, a super cool dinosaur museum where you can see actual life-size models of the creatures on a guided tour, the Royal Gorge Route Railroad, and the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park. This giant suspension bridge was built in 1929 across the Royal Gorge to bring in tourists to the small town and still invites thousands of visitors a year to this day. Not to mention the park is also home to one of the scariest sky coasters in the world! Definitely worth the ride if you’re brave enough!
If you want to learn more about the bridge and railroad, check out this post on Colorado Bucket list Experiences.
If you’re looking for a taste of an old west mining town that never left the 1800’s, this is the town for you. While there have been a few updates since the old cowboy days this town gives you some of that feeling of having a drink in a saloon and having a shootout on the streets. With their old wooden buildings and dirt roads, this is a great place to snag some pictures and enjoy a step into history.
For a more exciting trip, you should check out some of the world-class off-roading in the area. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to ride out there personally but Silverton is well known for its amazing backroads. You can search for abandoned mines, ghost towns and view epic vistas.
For a more relaxing time, there is a train that travels from Durango to Silverton and back to Durango giving you 2 hours to enjoy Silverton on this 7-hour train ride through the San Juan mountain range.
If you want to learn more about the train, you can check that out on the Colorado Bucket list post here.
That is my list of some of the most unique and fun small towns of the state of Colorado. So, while I still encourage you to visit some of the most popular spots if it's your first time in Colorado, it may be a more fun and exciting time to go visit some of the less crowded cities of the state. Plus, you get to say you traveled ethically by supporting all of Colorado’s great local businesses and state parks!
Have you been to any of these small towns in Colorado? Would you add any more to this list?
Until next time,