12 'Alternative' Colorado Mountain Towns to Visit This Winter
Millions of visitors and residents hit the slopes in Colorado throughout the #winter, but if you're looking for a break from #ski towns this season, or just want to discover somewhere new, we rounded up a dozen alternative options. Whether they are nestled at the base of a mountain or right in them, these are some of our favorite places to get away from it all this winter.
One of the most picturesque towns in Colorado, #Ouray is located in a narrow canyon in the San Juan Mountains. Dubbed The Switzerland of America, Ouray is heaving with natural beauty thanks to the surrounding mountains and in winter the town turns into an #iceclimbing mecca.
Do: On top of spectacular scenery, most visitors come to Ouray in the winter to soak in the several hot springs in town or to try their hand at ice climbing in the world-renowned Ouray Ice Park. If you’re an ice climbing novice or need a refresher course, there are several companies in town, among them Peak Mountain Guides, that offer a variety of courses at the park and in the backcountry.
Eat and drink: Apres-ice climbing refreshments can be found at the three breweries in town: Ouray Brewery, Red Mountain Brewing and Ourayle House Brewery (aka The Mr. Grumpy Pants Brewing Co.). For something a bit stronger try KJ Wood Distillers. When it’s time to refuel, there is no shortage of places to fill up. Brickhouse 737 and Bon Ton Restaurant are popular for those looking for something a bit more upscale, but if you are on the lookout for a quick, casual bite try Ouray Wing Co. They offer wings with nearly a dozen different sauces as well as salads, fries and funnel cakes. For a sweet afternoon treat and a caffeniated pick me up, look no further than Mouses Chocolates and Coffee. Be sure to try a ‘scrap’ cookie.
Stay: The historic Beaumont is a great place and it is right in town, but if you’re up for a short trek, Red Mountain Alpine Lodge, a brand new property on the top of Red Mountain Pass just outside town, is an upscale lodge with a modern, clean design and amenities that include underfloor heating and satellite wifi.
Photos: Rob McGovern / Period Comms; Ouray Brewery; Rob McGovern / Period Comms
Just north of Ouray, #Ridgway is as charming as it is historic. It also has more than a few connections to the world of entertainment. Ridgway humorously calls itself the “Home of the Grammys,” although seeing as the statuettes are actually made in town by local artist John Billings, the designation is technically correct!
Do: Work up an appetite by cross-country skiing or snowshoeing at Top of the Pines, a recreation area run by a local nonprofit. Top of the Pines offers stunning views and seven kilometers of groomed Nordic skiing tracks just outside of town. On warm days it is usually best to ski between 10 am - midday or 3:30 pm - 5:30 pm as it can be very icy earlier in the morning and too soft around noon. Fans of Westerns, and John Wayne in particular, will love Ridgway thanks to its supporting role in several well-known movies, perhaps most notable among them is the Duke’s “True Grit.”
Eat and Drink: For a small town, Ridgway offers a good selection of places to get a great meal. The True Grit Cafe, which overlooks Hartwell Park (which is where the hanging scene from Wayne’s “True Grit” was filmed) is essentially a shrine to Wayne with good burgers and the like. Taco del Gnar (which also has outlets in Telluride and Salida) is very popular and very good; Provisions at the Barbershop offers a great brunch; while Kate’s is where locals go to eat comfort food, especially on weekends. There is also Colorado Boy Pub and Brewery which offers a cozy atmosphere and some fantastic locally-crafted beer along with good pizza. For tasty winter comfort food with a gourmet twist try Eatery 66.
Stay: Soothe tired muscles at the clothing-optional Orvis Hot Springs (the resort also has accommodation options). The beautiful Chipeta Solar Springs Resort and Spa is a few minutes’ walk from town and has more than two dozen rooms of various types in addition to two solar thermal pools.
Photos: Daniel Pittman & Melissa McChristian; Gnar Tacos; Brent Bayless / Orvis Hot Springs
Built in the late 19th century by industrialist and coal mining entrepreneur John Cleveland Osgood, #Redstone is full of charm and is a great choice for a few days of solitude.
Do: Just nine miles from Capitol Peak, a 14er in the Elk Mountains, the area around Redstone offers plenty of opportunities for Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling and ice climbing. The town also has a small outdoor ice skating rink (with free skate rentals) and a few unique shopping opportunities including Tiffany of Redstone - Picking 2 Repurpose, a vintage shop that has anything and everything you could ever imagine. The entire town is on the National Register of Historic Places so take the time to walk down Redstone Blvd. to admire the well-preserved ‘cottages.’
Eat and Drink: Redstone Inn offers lunch every day during the off season and dinner on Friday and Saturday only. There is also Propaganda Pie, a pizzeria that is scheduled to open sometime this winter if all goes as planned.
Stay: As for where to hunker down for the night, there are a few options but Redstone Inn and the newly-renovated Redstone Castle are the two main options. The former was originally built for John Osgood’s bachelor employees and today offers comfortable rooms in a historic setting, while the latter was built by Osgood to be his own home. Recently refurbished and now open for overnight guests, you can stay in one of the seven suites at the castle. There is also a 90-minute tour available for a fee during select days of the week.
Photos: Redstone Castle (left and middle); Redstone Inn / Ghalya M via Yelp
Another historic mountain town, #Creede has managed to maintain its quaint mountain town vibe while making sure visitors have plenty of places to shop and eat.
Do: Winter brings with it lots of outdoor activities in and around Creede, from snowmobiling on mountain trails to fishing for trout on frozen lakes and reservoirs. For something a little different, visit the Underground Mining Museum to see how the painstaking work of mining was done. In winter, the museum is open Tuesday to Saturday from 9:30 am - 3:00 pm. Main Street also has plenty of boutique shops and art galleries. Throughout January Creede hosts ice hockey games and a statewide tournament on the ponds just north of town (the town even owns a Zamboni).
Eat and drink: Kip’s Grill offers up Tex-Mex and burger options along with fresh margaritas and a daily happy hour; Tommyknocker Tavern’s restaurant, the BBQ Bistro, is the place to go for house-smoked meats; while Arp’s offers globally-inspired dishes like Szechuan Lo Mein as well as sandwiches and burgers.
Stay: Windsock Acres is a collection of three beautiful cabins – the Magnolia, the Cajun and the Boathouse – on half an acre not far from downtown Creede. The Magnolia cabin is closed for winter, but the other two are open. Low season rates apply between now and May, but there is a two-night minimum stay.
Photos: Windsock Acres via Yelp; Matthew Inden / Miles; Arp's / Brent D via Yelp
5. Lake City
The only town in Hinsdale County, which is made up of 96 percent public land, #LakeCity is a designated National Historic District with over 200 historic structures. With no stop lights or elevators, Lake City is the perfect place for peace and quiet this winter.
Do: In winter, Lake City maintains an outdoor ice rink as well as an ice park making the town Colorado’s other ice climbing center (with Ouray being the other). You can read more about ice climbing and the annual ice climbing festival in Lake City in issue two of West of 105 magazine by clicking here. There are also plenty of options for snowshoeing, snowmobiling and ice fishing.
Eat and Drink: Lake City may not have an elevator, but it does have a brewery. Lake City Brewing Company has more than half a dozen beers available as well food including gourmet brats and no less than six kinds of devilled eggs, among other things. Confluence and Lake City Cafe are good for breakfast and lunch while CLIMB promises an elevated experience.
Stay: Lake City has a wide range of accommodation options considering its size including a pair of yurts courtesy of the Hinsdale Haute Route (read more about the yurts and others West of 105 in issue two of West of 105 magazine by clicking here).
Photos: Lake City Ice Park; Climb / Keli F via Yelp; Lake City Brewing / Tim D via Yelp
This unique Colorado town is located at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Range. Due to the numerous spiritual centers that are located in the Baca Grande, just up the road, #Crestone is a big draw for those on all kinds of spiritual pilgrimages.
Do: Explore the Baca Grande. Just southeast of Crestone, the Baca is a 200,000-acre tract of land that is home to lots spiritual centers and temples. Much of the Baca was acquired more than two decades ago by businessman and United Nations Under Secretary Maurice Strong and his wife. The Strongs shaped the development of the Baca with a vision to transform the area into a unique spiritual community and haven for those choosing a contemplative lifestyle.
Eat and Drink: Grab a locally-crafted pint at Crestone Brewery (they also have kombucha on tap and a menu made up of burgers, salads as well as several vegetarian and vegan options). Desert Sage, located on the fringe of town and in the Baca, offers a menu of staples including a few different kinds of burgers and sandwiches. Bob’s Place is a popular breakfast spot.
Stay: There are a of couple hotels in town, but most people who journey to Crestone are on a spiritual retreat and book in at one of several centers in the Baca. Try the Haidakhandi Universal Ashram, Crestone Mountain Zen Center, Vajra Vidya or the Retreat Center Crestone.
Photos: Crestone / Nikki M via Yelp; Crestone Mountain Zen Center via Yelp; Crestone Brewing Co. / Nikki M. via Yelp
7. Estes Park
Do: Less than four miles from the Beaver Meadows Entrance Station on the east side of Rocky Mountain #NationalPark, #EstesPark offers a plethora of winter activities including backcountry skiing, ice climbing, snowshoeing, Nordic skiing and fat tire biking. If you’re new to winter sports, there are a few companies in town that offer guide and tour services. For something slower paced, take a stroll downtown and browse (or peruse) the 200 plus shops, restaurants and attractions downtown.
Eat and drink: Offerings run the gamut from casual to upscale, with the latter offering one of the highest-rated offerings in town, Seasoned. A small bistro that offers dinner and Sunday brunch, the menu at Seasoned may be small, but the reviews speak for themselves. For something more casual for breakfast there is Cinnamon’s Bakery while Scratch Deli and Bakery offers breakfast and lunch made from scratch, naturally. With three breweries, a distillery and a winery, there is no shortage of places to warm up with a drink or two. Whisky connoisseurs will want to check out Whisky Bar at The Stanley Hotel, which claims to have the largest selection in the state with around 1,400 bottles.
Stay: As for where to stay, the historic Stanley Hotel is a must. Just a mile from downtown, the hotel is of course famous for being the inspiration for Stephen King’s “The Shining.” King and his wife stayed in an almost deserted Stanley Hotel in the 1974. Thanks to the book and subsequent film (although Stanley Kubrick’s movie version used the Timberline Lodge in Oregon as its exterior), the Stanley Hotel is a popular spot for King’s fans and lovers of historic hotels.
Photos: The Stanley / Elliott W via Yelp; Scratch / Ian L via Yelp; NPS
8. Grand Lake
Do: With a Colorado Creative Industries-certified creative district, it’s no surprise that the town has some fantastic art and cultural offerings including the Rocky Mountain Repertory Theatre. For outdoor enthusiasts there are 35 km of outstanding Nordic ski, snowshoe and dog-friendly trails. #GrandLake is also known as Colorado's snowmobile capital, so if you prefer something more adrenaline inducing, this is the place to get it. There is also ice fishing, dog sledding and fat tire biking available. The town is also just one mile from the Kawuneeche Visitor Center in Rocky Mountain National Park (check out winter offerings here).
Eat and drink: Squeaky B’s offers burgers and shakes and is a popular spot for lunch and early dinners (they close at 7 pm). Squeaky B’s also offers breakfast. For a real fill up before you set off of on a day of activity, try Fat Cat Cafe where an indulgent breakfast buffet is on offer Thursday - Sunday. For a typical western town atmosphere, saddle up (literally - the bar stools are horse saddles) at the bar at Grumpy’s Saloon. For a sweet afternoon treat stop in at Grand Lake Chocolates.
Stay: Winding River Resort has a range of accommodation options, some of which are open through winter. Three miles outside Grand Lake, the resort also offers horse and snowmobiling options. There is also the Historic Rapids Lodge and Restaurant that is right in town and offers several kinds of rooms, including pet-friendly cabins and river-facing condominiums.
Photos: Fat Cat Cafe / Randini S via Yelp; Mn T via Yelp; Squeaky B's / Jose V via Yelp
9. Buena Vista
Part of Colorado’s Arkansas River Valley "banana belt," a name that refers to the typically warmer weather than the surrounding region, #BuenaVista is surrounded by a dozen 14ers that see plenty of snow and is therefore a great base for those who want to explore outdoor pursuits in the winter months.
Do: As for activities, try ice fishing, snowshoeing, Nordic skiing and snowmobiling. Buena Vista Mountain Adventures is a great resource for guided adventures. Because Buena Vista is a big cycling community, it’s no surprise that fat tire biking is popular throughout winter. Rent a bike at either Boneshaker Cycles in town or Absolute Bikes in Salida and explore the Four Mile Trail System. Even in the depths of winter, it can be surprisingly warm on the sunny east side.
Eat and Drink: Beer lovers will want to visit Eddyline. The tap room at the brewery is open every day while the Eddyline Restaurant is a mile away on South Main Street. If you prefer spirits, Deerhammer Distillery is right in the middle of town and offers great spirits alongside free tours. (Read more about Deerhammer and other spirits produced West of 105 in issue one by clicking here).
Stay: Soothe your aching muscles and then get a good night’s sleep at both Cottonwood Hot Springs and Mt. Princeton Hot Springs & Resort, the former being more on the humble side and the latter being more luxurious.
Photos: Deerhammer Distillery; Mt. Princeton Hot Springs & Resort; Eddyline Brewery / Mara S via Yelp
Located at the southern end of the Arkansas River Valley and close to Buena Vista, #Salida is surrounded by mountains with the Collegiate Range, which has the highest concentration of 14,000-foot mountains in the country, nearby. With the Arkansas River running through town and a wealth of creative people, Salida is a quintessential Colorado town.
Do: Salida offers all the winter activities you might expect from a Colorado mountain town, but it is also just 30 minutes from Monarch Mountain ski resort (read more about Monarch and every other ski resort in Colorado in issue two of West of 105 magazine by clicking here). It is also one of Colorado's 23 designated state Creative Districts (read more here) and it has one of the biggest historic downtown regions in the state. Salida also has a wealth of history, galleries, interesting places to pick up souvenirs and plenty of places for drinks and dinner. The Salida Hot Springs Aquatic Center is downtown if you need a soak.
Eat and drink: Wood’s High Mountain Distillery (read more here) offers locally-crafted spirits and a fun atmosphere while The Biker and The Baker is a wine bar with desserts and charcuterie. Five miles away in Poncha Springs is winery and meadery Vino Salida. Stop by for either a charcuterie plate or other tasty tidbits and some good wine. Back in town, Amicas and Moonlight both offer pizzas and beer.
Stay: The Poor Farm is a recently-renovated historic farmhouse located near the Arkansas River and Mt Ouray Wildlife Refuge. The five-bedroom property offers private river access and beautiful sunsets over the Collegiate Peaks. Minutes from downtown, the Poor Farm can be booked via Airbnb. Amigo Motor Lodge is also a great choice and offers chic, modern accommodation along with several vintage Airstreams.
Photo: The Biker and the Baker; Amigo Motor Lodge / Crista L via Yelp; Wood’s High Mountain Distillery
In the heart of the North Fork Valley, #Paonia is a great place to visit, particularly in the summer. But even in winter, when the town is a little more sleepy, there is plenty to do. While many of the wineries and farms are closed until spring, the vibrant arts community that the area is becoming increasingly known for remains active.
Do: The Blue Sage Center for the Arts has events throughout winter including everything from Tai Chi to writing workshops. There are plenty of events and classes on offer elsewhere, too, including at Cirque Cyclery - a single space that houses a boutique and Remedy Juice Bar Cafe. Events, bike rentals and juice come together at the Cirque. While you’re there be sure to order a golden milk to warm you up. Elsewhere there is the Paradise Theater and the Cabin Fever Film Series which runs between Jan. 25 - March 7.
Eat and drink: On top of Remedy Juice Bar Cafe, Root and Vine Market offers locally-roasted coffee from Rubicon Roasting, locally-produced wine and local cheeses, while Paonia United Brewing has at least half a dozen of their own beers at their tap room.
Stay: Even when it is blanketed with snow, the normally verdant area around Paonia has several places to stay in winter. Electric Mountain Lodge is good for those who want to go snowmobiling, while Agape Farm and Retreat is a quaint bed and breakfast with a three-acre forest and a Pinot Gris vineyard just a few miles outside town. Right in town, Bross Hotel is a B&B located inside a beautiful century-old building. Wisehart Springs is a beautiful property.
Photos: Rob McGovern / Period Comms; Root Vine and Market / Julie B via Yelp; Wisehart Springs
With two ski resorts within close proximity to this quaint mountain town, #Gunnison is a great base for a ski vacation without the often pricey accommodation that is part of ski experiences at other resorts. Gunnison also offers plenty of other opportunities to get outdoors close to town.
Do: On top of being close to the slopes, Gunnison Nordic Club grooms local trails including at the well-located Jorgensen Park. There are also free public waxings and a nordic room at the Jorgensen Complex for all to use. If you want to try fat tire biking, Hartman Rocks is arguably the best pick. Trails are groomed primarily for Nordic skiing (make sure conditions are okay prior to your ride), but user-maintained singletrack is also available if you park at the Gold Basin Road parking lot. The Signal Peak trails behind Western Colorado State University are another great place to get a fat bike ride in.
Eat and Drink: High Alpine Brewery is the place to go for a pint. We recommend trying a porter or stout to warm you up. Happy hour is from 4 pm to 6 pm and the brewery also offers food. The Gunnisack is somewhat of a local institution with a down-to-earth atmosphere. Food is made from scratch and has a southwestern flair. Grab a coffee at Double Shot Cyclery to energize for the day.
Stay: Waunita Hot Springs Ranch is located east of Gunnison off Hwy. 50. On top of accommodation, the ranch has a hot spring for guests; day passes are available for visitors but they are limited so call ahead to be sure there are some available on the day you want to visit. The ranch is also well located for outdoor pursuits including snowmobiling.
Photos: High Alpine Brewing; Waunita Hot Springs Ranch; Double Shot Cyclery / Cathie C via Yelp