The miners who built up Telluride, Colorado, in Victorian times had an artistic bent — whether they knew it or not. They wedged a collection of fine Victorian buildings along a (still extant) main street as deftly as a jeweler sets a precious gem into the cradle of a ring. Walking the historic downtown to peruse the unique shops (not one chain business among them) after a ride on the free gondola, I marvel at the way this posh ski town manages to forever exude the aura of that yet undiscovered secret place that’s so sublime you balk even at the thought of sharing its existence with friends. Never crowded, rich in amenities (including the aforementioned gondola that connects riders to elegant Mountain Village in 13 minutes, a complimentary bus system, countless ski in/ski out accommodations, a respectable culinary and festival scene, and a range of slope options for all levels), Telluride is where Butch Cassidy robbed his first bank long before celebrities from Ralph Lauren to Oprah sang its praises.

Telluride Today

telluride colorado
Courtesy, Visit Telluride

Today, remote but accessible, it has non-stop flights from 11 different hubs around the country (into Telluride and Montrose Regional Airports) or can be reached by 6-hour car ride from Denver. Known for eclectic citizens and an earthy approach to life, Telluride keeps things real in a way most ski towns don’t manage. From hole-in-the-wall bars to soul food-style stores like independent bookseller, Between the Covers, Telluride caters to mavericks and free spirits with a penchant for living the good life. “There’s no in group here,” says former Telluride Town Councilman and inveterate publicist Tom Watkinson. “It’s Telluride!”

A haven composed of two mostly pedestrian towns that bookend a world-class ski resort, southwestern Colorado’s Telluride has as much to offer visitors in summer as winter, with skiers and boarders trading their snow gear to partake of hiking, biking, hot spring soaking, and rafting adventures. 

Where to Stay: Madeline Hotel & Residences, Auberge Resorts Collection for its prime location in Mountain Village and chic ambiance. 

More Colorado Small Towns We Love

With its spectacular scenery, athletic opportunities, plethora of ski resorts, numerous hot springs, bold mountain landscapes, and rich Old West history, Colorado is best explored by car where its characteristic towns can be accessed on a slow travel pace ideal for discovery and recreational research.  Here are some others where we love to hang our hats.


scenic rail ride in durango colorado
Courtesy, Visit Durango

The sort of community that tempts you to imagine yourself living in every single one of its myriad gingerbread-adorned houses, lovely Durango with its college-town ambiance and location at the threshold of the Four Corners Region flaunts a heady history as a mining boomtown. Visit to ride its famous Narrow Gage Railroad, hike its trails, dip into its hot springs, and peruse its galleries. Base here to visit sights such as Mesa Verde National Park. Don’t miss The Bookcase & Barber, a clever speakeasy located downtown. 

Where to Stay: The Rochester Hotel allows you to live your dream of moving into an old house in Durango. Both chic and hip, it serves gourmet breakfast and local wine. 


Cool Carbondale, an artsy haven in the scenic Roaring Fork Valley, promises an alternative infusion of laid-back hippiedom to time spent in nearby Aspen’s ritzier realms. With galleries galore, unique shops, a nostalgic main street, and one of my favorite yoga centers in the world (True Nature Healing Arts), it lies near hot springs, has a distillery that makes gin and vodka with water filtered through local marble, and is the kind of place where you may end up at dinner at an understated farm-to-table restaurant next to Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell. (We did). 

Where to Stay: The Marble Distillery Inn sports a handful of luxuriously appointed rooms within the Marble Distillery, situated right on Main Street. Opt for the roomy Moonlight Suite for its large terrace and sleek design.

Crested Butte

eleven's scarp ridge lodge
Courtesy, Eleven’s Scarp Ridge Lodge

Quaint, yet vivified, Crested Butte stands alone. In southwestern Colorado, part of the Elk Mountain Range, this mountain hideaway bears the apt moniker “Colorado’s Last Ski Town” for its further flung location, feeling of uncommercial development, and dedication to Colorado-style authenticity. A former flourishing coal mining town that dates from 1880, Crested Butte embraces its Victorian heritage, which gives the town gravitas and a palpable nostalgia. Locals care more about snow than trends, celebrating nature with a passion. Visit to take advantage of  the more than 1,000-plus skiable acres, complete with 2,775 vertical feet, serviced by 15 chair lifts in winter — and to hike through summer meadows aflame with gobsmacking carpets of wildflowers. 

Where to Stay: Eleven’s Scarp Ridge Lodge, nestled into the heart of downtown Crested Butte, offers easy access to the mountains and a range of uber-luxe amenities. The flagship of the prestigious global adventure lodge group’s collection of guide-driven hotels, Scarp Ridge Lodge was formerly Croatian Hall, a saloon beloved by miners.


This alluring small town on Colorado’s Western Slope beckons to peach lovers. With thousands of peach trees, Palisade — and its fertile environs — harvests what many consider to be the world’s juiciest, tastiest peaches though it also grows a bounty of other top-of-the-line fruits and vegetables. The region even has wineries. Needless to say, fruit stands, foodie festivals, and farmers markets reign as epic experiences here. Positioned in the shadow of Mount Garfield and near the Grand Mesa (the world’s biggest flat-top mountain), tiny Palisade ensures visitors can embrace every manner of athletic pursuit in season. Don’t miss dinner at gastronomic, but casual, Pêche, the lair of an award-winning chef team. 

Where to Stay: Perfectly in tune with Palisade’s cool, sustainable vibe, vintage Spoke and Vine Motel thrills as a redone motor inn, built originally in 1955. 

Fort Collins 

armstrong hotel in fort collins
Courtesy, Visit Fort Collins

Call it FoCo. In Northern Colorado, this lesser known tourist town ends up on a host of  “best of” lists every year. With a cityscape that inspired Disneyland’s festive Main Street USA’s design, a slew of craft beer makers (Fort Collins brews up 70 percent of the state’s production), a coffee and culinary culture, a buzzy music scene, and loads of intrepid biking devotees happy to pedal alongside you, this college town also lays claim to the state’s only nationally designated “Wild & Scenic River,” which incorporates year-round bird and bison watching, rafting, and hundreds of miles of hiking and biking paths. Root into authentic Colorado living here, seizing a low-key alternative to the state’s swanky ski resort hedonism. 

Where to Stay:  Glamorous but understated, a 1923 landmark, The Armstrong Hotel was redone to the nines just before the pandemic. Its peerless location downtown allows for supreme FoCo fun. 


Nicknamed the “Switzerland of America” by late 19th-century wellness seekers who gamboled among its high-altitude alcoves for their health, Ouray is a mountain oasis of  pure alpine air and salubrious sulfur hot springs. Still a draw for health buffs today, this former mining town in southwestern Colorado vaunts a captivating downtown that bears National Historic Status — not to mention a bevy of shops, galleries, restaurants, and breweries. Your nose will lead you to the healing water, which can be found at a variety of venues including Ouray Hot Springs Pool and Fitness Center. 

Where to Stay: Box Canyon Lodge and Hot Springs is built into the mountain with mineral hot tubs woven into the slope.

Buena Vista

colorful rooftops in buena vista colorado
Courtesy, ColorfulColorado

At 8,000 feet, Buena Vista defines Colorado Rocky Mountain High moodiness. On the Arkansas River, two hours south of Denver, this charming town manages to be both enlivened and lost in time. Renowned for its white-water park, this chill outdoor lover’s destination attracts kayakers who surf its frothy rapids, but Buena Vista also stands out as a mecca for cross-country skiing, ice fishing, and snowshoeing in winter. Hot springs beckon nearby for year-round wellness. Don’t miss the Rock Run Gallery and Sisters Remembered Fine Gifts on Main Street.

Where to Stay: Contemporary and boutique, Surf Hotel and Chateau pampers after long days outdoors. Watch the experts do aerials on the river, which burbles just steps from your room.


A hamlet for all-season fun and blessed with an idyllic Victorian downtown, Breckenridge was once the domain of gold prospectors. Their independent, optimistic spirit continues to manifest in the atmospheric ski town’s committed desire to remain unique and uncommercial even as it upgrades and expands its ski mountain and facilities. Historic, and surrounded by jaw-dropping mountain peaks, the town sits just 40 minutes (or a bike ride away in summer) from Vail. Home to ski races, bike races, snow sculpting championships, next-level backcountry skiing, divine eateries, and the riveting Breckenridge Arts District, Breckenridge sets the standard for eco and sustainable tourism.

Where to Stay: Gravity Haus Breckenridge, a sleek boutique stay with a European ambiance, for its Japanese inspired onsen, dry sauna, dog friendliness, and expert-led fitness classes. 

Featured image courtesy of Eleven’s Scarp Ridge Lodge

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