Updated: Dec 16, 2021
When most people imagine Colorado, they may think of hiking the Rocky Mountains or strolling along Denver's cityscape, but the most unique and beautiful areas of the state lie more Southwest of these iconic places. In these great towns of Colorado, you get to see some of our greatest treasures, from the million-dollar highway to backcountry hikes through the San Juan Mountains, these cities are home to the most spectacular views in the country.
This is why I went on a two-week road trip to explore this area of the state and see all that it had to offer. I took beautiful hikes and drank delicious craft beer all in the name of discovering some of the most unique and adventurous towns of Colorado. If you like intense hikes, 4-wheeling, climbing, zip-lining, white water rafting, and trying all things fun and outdoorsy, then you need to check out these amazing Colorado towns.
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Starting in order of my trip, the first town I hit was Salida. While I'm probably going to say this about almost every town, this was the cutest little mountain town. With a few modern touches, this small town kept the brick facades and classic charm of their historic old town. Walking along the streets there were so many people wandering around, with a live jazz concert playing on stage at the park and locals surfing at the local whitewater park in town, everyone seemed to be so happy here.
Salida is pretty well known for its
amazing whitewater, with whitewater festivals, whitewater paddleboarding, and their own whitewater park flowing right through town, it's no wonder people visit for it. But I wasn't there for the water, I was there for the mountains.
After exploring the town I camped in my car up at Browns Creek Dispersed Camping, where I got to enjoy the beautiful Browns Creek Waterfall Trail the next day. But Salida has hundreds of more hiking trails to offer from mountain biking to summiting 14ers, there is plenty to do around the city.
One of the more unique experiences that I got to attend gave some of the best views that Salida has to offer, all from horseback. I scheduled myself a horseback riding tour through Mt. Princeton Riding Stables, the 2-hour sunset ride took me through the backwoods and mountainsides of Salida. I saw a heron nesting area, spectacular local flora, and the most beautiful landscape views, all with the excitement of riding horseback through private trails. I can't recommend taking a horseback riding tour enough, it is such a fun and unique way to explore the natural settings of the area that you wouldn't be able to see otherwise. Plus, the resort down the way has some hot springs that you can try out after the ride if you're needing to unwind.
This area is a lot more modern, but that doesn't mean the surrounding views arent still naturally beautiful. Their main street is huge, going on for 7 blocks, and is chock full of delicious restaurants boasting about their green chili sauces, along with craft breweries and local shops to buy anything you could possibly need.
I had the pleasure of taste-testing Steamworks Brewing Company and the famous Ska Brewing Company which is located off the main strip but is well worth the trip. But on the main street is the Durango Diner that supposedly has the best green chili sauce in town, while I didn't get to taste it, it comes highly recommended by many people.
Durango is also home to one of the most famous train rides in Colorado, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad which takes you on a 7-hour long train ride (round trip train time) through the San Juan Mountains between the towns of Silverton and Durango. This is supposedly one of the most beautiful train rides in America, especially if you're lucky enough to go when the fall colors are popping.
On this train, you also have the option of a once and a lifetime backpacking trip where the train drops you off at a trail that is only accessible by train. From there, you can stay overnight at the base of multiple 14ers for summiting. Just be warned these spots fill up months in advance, I couldn't even get one for 2 months ahead of departure.
I feel like I should also mention that I ended up not taking the train ride because I knew I would be driving North to Silverton after Durango anyway, so I didn't think it was necessary to do it twice. Plus, the drive to Silverton is still beautiful since you're on the San Juan Skyway.
Durango also offers unique sites, like Mesa Verde, a National Park the holds cliffsides full of ancient Pueblo homes. Along with other sites around Durango that preserve the indigenous culture. Not to mention the 4 corners are close by allowing you to stand in Colorado, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico all at once!
Driving into Ouray on the Million Dollar Highway (one of the most beautiful drives in the US) you really start to see what Colorado is all about. Some of the tallest, most beautiful mountain ranges surround what is called "The Switzerland of America", and for good reason, the gorgeous San Juan mountain range creates the beautiful valley that is Ouray Colorado.
Here is where you can start finding a lot more intense outdoor adventure. From 4 wheel drive jeep tours to Via Ferrata climbing expeditions to epic mountain hikes, Ouray is your gateway to some ultimate Colorado adventures.
You can also find great quick trips right in town such as Box Canyon Falls, where a short hike can take you to a beautiful waterfall that includes families of rare black swifts living in the walls of the surrounding canyon. You can also walk to the top of the falls and look over the town from a bridge above it all. Another small hike across town can take you to Cascade Falls, a tall waterfall that you can actually walk behind!
If you want to see all of the sites of Ouray at once, I highly suggest the Ouray perimeter hike. This trek takes you 6.5miles around the entire perimeter of the town of Ouray, allowing you to see every side of this amazing spot. You also get to cross all of the major sites in town such as Cascade Falls and Box Canyon Falls, along with backcountry mountain views and the best views of the city. This trail is pretty strenuous at spots but absolutely worth how beautiful and unique it is.
In all of this excitement, don't forget to check out Ouray's great little downtown full of only local shops and restaurants. Plus, their local craft beer and delicious green chili burgers are the perfect fill-up after a long day of adventuring in Southern Colorado.
Telluride is probably one of the most popular adventure destinations in all of Colorado. With their world-famous ski resort and world-class hikes and 4 wheel roads, it's no wonder why just the drive into town will leave you speechless.
For hikes in town, Bridal Veil Falls is a must-do! It's a 2-mile hike that takes you along multiple waterfall stops on the way up to the tallest waterfall in Colorado, Bridal Veil Falls. If you decide to continue this hike you can make it all the way over to Blue Lakes Trail, one of the most beautiful hikes in the entire Southwest Colorado area.
While I did take the Blue Lakes hike, I did it from the regular trailhead about 30min out of Telluride. And holy crap, this is now my most favorite hike of all time! Not kidding, it was challenging, and beautiful, with a lake that was the color of turquoise, just the most amazing hike I've ever done, highly recommended.
While Telluride is one of the most beautiful and sought-after destinations on the list, it wasn't actually my favorite city. The main town area was huge, and because of that, there were tons of people walking around and no real charm to the city. Most of the stores are chains and more expensive unlike the more local shops of the smaller towns on this list, and it all seemed out of place in the natural setting of the surrounding mountain range. Not to mention they had so little option for backcountry camping around the city that it was difficult to stay anywhere near town.
Besides the minor downsides, Telluride is definitely worth a visit if you want to have an adventurous trip. If you're into mountain biking, in the summer you have the option of taking the free gondola up to the Telluride Ski Resort and biking down their many ski slopes for an exciting ride. I personally just rode the gondola for fun, the views of the mountains are just spectacular from the sky and the resort is a great place to hang out and grab some lunch or a local craft beer and soak up the wonderful sites.
Also, try out one of their hundreds of other activities, such as ziplining, horseback rides, paddleboarding, Via Ferrata climbs, golfing, offroading, and so much more. Telluride is just one big mecca of adventure that you'll want to take your time exploring everything they have to offer.
On the western side of Colorado, you'll find Glenwood Springs, another fun adventure-filled location with endless outdoor possibilities to explore.
As the name suggests, Glenwood Springs is best known for their hot springs, which you can enjoy from three different locations: the Glenwood Hot Springs Resort, Iron Mountain Hot Springs, or the Yampah Spa and Vapor Cave.
I had the pleasure of enjoying the Yampah Vapor Cave, a super unique experience where you can try their all-natural geothermal steam bath. Basically, a dimly lit cave where you can sit in the hot natural steam, which is definitely a bit creepy and strange at first but ultimately relaxing. Plus, only $17 a person for a 2-hour session, so one of the cheaper options in town for relaxing activities. I did also try their private hot spring bath which was a normal bathtub in your own private room filled with natural mineral water, but it was way too hot for me and you could hear the cars from the nearby highway. But I would definitely suggest the caves and message, which were both top-notch.
The best hike to do in the area is the famous Hanging Lake Trail, which is so popular you need reservations for it. Unfortunately, when I visited that hike was closed due to a major mudslide in the area, but if you get the chance I've heard hanging lake is one of the most beautiful hikes in Colorado.
The hike I ended up doing instead was the Glenwood Springs Boy Scout Trail. This 6-mile trail gives you great views over the city of Glenwood Springs and the Colorado River as you look over the nearby gorge. While you may have to park far off from the trailhead to start, adding a big hill to this hike, it's a great alternative if you can't get into Hanging Lake.
Another special and fun activity to try in Glenwood Springs is the gondola up to Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, an amusement park that has the highest rollercoaster in North America and some of the scariest rides you've ever been on. Being on top of a mountain gives this park its special edge, with rides that take you off the edge, down the side, and straight into the mountain with a sudden plunge. You really can't miss this super unique attraction, or at least take the gondola up to see the views and take one of the cave tours at the top, the caves are how this park got started and are really interesting tours to take.
Just like the other towns on this list, Glenwood Springs also offers tons of other outdoor activities such as mountain biking, ziplining, paragliding, whitewater rafting, flyfishing, golf, climbing, and almost anything else you can think of.
These 5 amazing towns are a big part of what makes Colorado such an amazing place to live in and visit. Each one their own special slice of great outdoor adventure to be had with unique activities like mountain top amusement parks, ancient ruins, choice whitewater, you really can't have a bad time at any city.
Have you been to these cities in Colorado? What are some of your other favorite towns that I might need to check out? Let me know in the comments below or by contacting me on Instagram or by E-mail. Also, feel free to message me with any other questions, such as places to camp or the best spots for craft beer, I'd be happy to answer whatever questions you may have!
Until Next Time,