Framed by the rockiest of mountains and topped in powdered sugar-like snow, Colorado’s mountain towns certainly know how to put on a winter display. At the same time, when you throw in the crowds, traffic, and headaches of some of Colorado’s biggest ski resort towns, those mountain communities can seem to lose their charm. However, not all is foul’s gold when it comes to Colorado’s mountain towns in the winter.
Read on because we’ve rounded up some of the cutest towns you’ll want to venture to this winter that pack in the charm!
Tucked away in the San Juan Mountains, Creede assumes its perch on the site of a former volcanic caldera. Surrounded by cliffs, this small mountain town seems almost like a secret the surrounding mountains keep. Creede divvies up the cute factor with plenty of intact 1890s storefronts where you can shop, dine and stay awhile. Travelers visiting year round can explore the Creede Historical Museum to learn all about the town’s silver mining history or even take things underground at the Underground Mining Museum. In the winter months however, you are rewarded by Creede’s positioning in the state with a wealth of activities at your disposal. You can go on a snowmobile tour throughout the surrounding untouched wilderness, go cross-country skiing or strap on some ice skates. In fact, Creede hosts its annual “Golden Pick” Tommyknocker Pond Hockey Tournament each winter which brings amateur hockey players from the western U.S. to Creede. You can also take part in Cabin Fever Daze in which the town fills with activities and events like ice sculpture creations along the hockey ponds north of town and shuffleboard-like games on ice.
When fur trappers first visited the area that would become Steamboat Springs in the late 1800s, they heard a bubbling sound from the local hot springs and thought it very well could be a steamboat coming down the Yampa River. The name Steamboat Springs was born and to this day you can still explore the area’s 150 natural mineral springs. Settled into northwestern Colorado, Steamboat Springs is the sort of town where skiers adorn cowboy hats. Its western heritage can be felt while walking through downtown, popping in an authentic western wear store or two. Skiers, including nearly 90 Winter Olympians, frequent the slopes of Steamboat Springs’ two ski areas, Steamboat Ski Resort and Howelsen Hill, the oldest continuously used ski area in the state. Other winter activities in this decidedly western mountain town include sleigh ride dinners, a mountain coaster, and snowmobile tours.
Located along the Silver Thread Scenic and Historic Byway, Lake City sits in the heart of the San Juan Mountain range. Just minutes from San Cristobal Lake and 55 miles south of Gunnison in southwestern Colorado, the town exudes a small town spirit. In the winter, Lake City shines with the opening of its Lake City Ski Hill. Around since 1966, this ski resort lends a more intimate and affordable vibe with just four runs with one lift. If you aren’t into hitting the slopes, you can take advantage of Lake City’s over 100 miles of snowmobiling and multipurpose groomed trails or try ice climbing at the Lake City Ice Park. Other winter activities include ice skating, ice fishing and snowshoeing. Lake City also hosts loads of winter events like an Ice Climbing Festival, Snowshoe 5k/10k Race, and an Ice Fishing Derby.
Nestled into the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado, Ouray appreciates its position at the narrow head of a valley at 7,792 feet. On three sides of town, 13,000-foot snowcapped peaks look down on Ouray’s original Victorian structures, many of which have been restored to their turn of the century glory. This small town community lends anything but small winter activities. You can venture to the Ouray Ice Park, a venue with more than 200 ice and mixed climbs where you can learn how to ice climb or just fine tune your stills. Ouray also boasts idyllic surroundings for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. You’ll find legendary Nordic trails in Ironton Park and Top of the Pines, all in Ouray County. Snowmobilers delight in the miles of snow covered roads and trails, ideal for snowmobile tours throughout the colder months.
Roughly 100 miles from Denver lurks what could have been Colorado’s capital city. While Leadville wasn’t ultimately named the capital, it is still special nonetheless with its 70 square blocks of Victorian buildings, many of which are part of the National Historic Landmark District. In addition, Leadville is home to 20 square miles of the preserved mining district. The past is ever-present in Leadville where more than 50 buildings date back to the 1870s like the Tabor Opera House. Right in the geographic center of the state along U.S. Highway 24, Leadville sits at 10,152 feet, making it the highest incorporated city in the country. And due to its position near the highest peaks in the Rockies, winter is the perfect time to visit. You can ditch the crowds of other Colorado ski areas and take your skis to the nearby ski area, Ski Cooper. Leadville also offers Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, fat biking, and snowmobiling in the town’s East Side Mining District. With nearly 100 miles of groomed trails, you won’t grow tired of the views of the Mosquito and Sawatch ranges.
With its Registered National Historic District, it is no wonder Crested Butte tends to be described as cute. The quaint 1880s mining town boasts loads of locally owned shops and restaurants set up in late 1800s era storefronts. Located in a remote valley in the Rocky Mountains, some 4.5 hours drive from Denver, Crested Butte lends the feeling of being far removed from the rest of the world. In the winter, Crested Butte’s main attraction is the Crested Butte Mountain Resort. Skiers relish in the 1,000 acres of terrain and the 14 chairlifts. It is easy to see why Crested Butte is known as “Colorado’s Last Great Ski Town.”
Colorado lends no shortage of cute when it comes to small mountain towns. And just because they are small communities doesn’t mean they don’t go big for winter.
Headed to Colorado this winter? Where do you intend to play in the snow? Share your pick with us in the comments below.