Colorado is definitely adventure central—but it’s more than just a place to play and find deep meaning in big mountains. It’s a state that embraces outdoor recreation and conservation as key building blocks to sustainable communities. That’s why the Outdoor Retailer trade show decided to move to our state. That’s also why so many athletes, entrepreneurs, forward thinkers and general outdoor junkies and loafers come here. But which towns in Colorado truly embody this independent spirit? To determine that, we asked the people who know best: our readers. Here they are, the three towns you voted best for outdoor adventure in the Centennial State in our annual online readers’ poll.
WINNER | WINTER PARK
Winter Park crushed this contest. Credit that popular vote win to both the 1,000 souls who call this mountain hideaway home, and weekend warriors and loyal fans who come back throughout the year (and wish they lived here full time). Surrounded by over 765,000 acres of public lands, Winter Park is an adventure basecamp—and you don’t have to brave the soul-sucking, slow drive through Eisenhower Tunnel traffic to reach it. Of course, the beloved ski, snowboard and downhill mountain bike resort stands out as the crown jewel here, but you can find any adventure you seek surrounding the mountain, too. Fly fishing, backcountry touring, Nordic schussing, trail running, sport climbing, backcountry huts—that ability to access easy adventure made Winter Park a big winner in the eyes of our readers.
Can’t Miss: Winter Park has trademarked the moniker Mountain Bike Capital USA for good reason: There’s 600 miles of trail and Trestle Bike Park serves downhillers. Come winter, there’s 3,060 feet of vertical drop (1,766 at sister hill and experts’ fave Mary Jane), with some of the best tree skiing in the state. Want to eschew the lifts for lungpower? Berthoud Pass and Jones Pass hold backcountry powder just a short drive from downtown Denver. Or book a trip with Powder Addiction Cat Skiing (powderaddiction.com) to smugly repeat untracked run after untracked run. Come summer, set up at St. Louis Creek Campground and explore the trail system on fat tires. There’s cragging outside Tabernash at Hurd Creek and easy-to-access fly fishing on the Fraser River or via a short hike in on the Williams Fork. Hire a guide with Winter Park Flyfisher (fraserflyshop.com). Not to mention, the town is festival central and just opened the lovely, new Hideaway Park Stage venue.
What’s New: The resort is embracing ski culture and hosting an Uphill Ski Mountaineering Race and Demo Weekend in February.
Enjoy It: Just in time for ski season, Crazy Mountain Brewery will open in the middle of Winter Park Village with craft concotions and food. If you’re looking for cocktails, stumble over to Idlewild Spirits Distillery.
Inside Info: Want to commune with your inner viking? Don’t miss the annual Tommelfest Nordic Ski Festival on December 9 at Devil’s Thumb Ranch just outside of town. The revelry includes free lessons, keg tossing, glog and similar activites that get Nordic hearts pumping.
RUNNER UP | EAGLE
No Colorado town has jumped at the promise of the outdoor recreation economy (which Outdoor Industry Association research claims creates $887 billion in impact) with more gusto than Eagle. Once an afterthought in the shadow of Vail and destinations farther West, the town has become a prime destination for mountain bikers and other fun seekers. That’s because Eagle has taken adventage of its location surrounded by 1,020 acres of town-owned open space, BLM land and public parks, by building an outstanding trail system with over 100 miles of singletrack and paved rec trails straight out of town. Open mid-April into mid-December, the trails, many built by and for bikers with flow in mind, take in a wide expanse of terrain from desert to high mountain aspen groves. It’s also a town where the locals are more or less the readers of this magazine: outdoor diehards who charge hard when they play, but still want to chill out with a craft brew and enjoy down time. As the EO Road Team observed this summer: “There’s a bike rack on every corner, and bike stands for working on your bike on every other corner. There’s really no reason to drive, because the town is so bike friendly.” The town has even put together an excellent adventure guide on its website: eagleoutside.com.
Can’t Miss: Don’t shy away come winter: You’ll find groomed cross-country ski trails at the golf course and plenty of backcountry on the 10th Mountain Division Hut system straight out of town. And in summer seek water: Brush Creek, running through Eagle Ranch, provides prime trout habitat, and the new Eagle River Park breaks ground in 2018. It will make the town as popular for paddlers as it is for pedalers.
What’s New: The “LOV Connection” trail honors late local Nate Picklo, an Eagle businessowner and community leader who founded LOV Bikes and Yeti’s Grind in Eagle and spearheaded the town’s outdoor resurgence. LOV stands for Love Our Valley, in honor of Nate’s bike brand.
Enjoy It: Need a jolt? Color Coffee (colorroasters.com) grinds its own.
Inside Info: The real sign that the town supports an outdoor future: The Colorado High School Cycling League (coloradomtb.org) holds its mountain bike championships here every fall.
RUNNER UP | FRUITA
“Trying to describe Fruita is like trying to describe an orgasm,” says Binky McSmithers, a.k.a. George, who used to manage Fruita’s legendary Over The Edge bike shop and now manages Bestslope Coffee. This is the fourth year in a row that Fruita has made it into the finals of our Top Colorado Towns reader polls. Why? It starts with the locals, who have a long tradition of finding adventure in the desert farming community on the far western edge of the state. Think Troy Rarick who founded the Over the Edge bike shop (named for the first famous ride here, which required a rappel with your bike to complete) and built many of the trails that now draw hordes of fat tire faithful to the town. Or seminal climber Pat Ament who used to hop trains here to head out climbing in Yosemite. These days, Fruita has become a global leader when it comes to transitioning communities away from boom-and-bust extractive industries to sustainable recreation economies. The mayor and town manager have been traveling to industry shows such as Interbike US and Europe and Outdoor Retailer to learn and preach how a town can become a big outdoor winner. And don’t pigeonhole Fruita as just a bike town. There’s also rafting and SUP on the Colorado River, backcountry backpacking in the redrock and climbing in Colorado National Monument.
Can’t Miss: With such a strong community vibe, Fruita’s festivals make for the best time to visit: Don’t miss the 24th Fat Tire Festival (fruitafattirefestival.com), held May 4-6, 2018.
What’s New: The the 4.5-mile paved Colorado Riverfront Trail, which will connect town to the singletrack should open in May. It will also pass by the Imondi Wake Zone, opening spring 2018 as well, which will be Colorado’s first-ever cable wakeboarding park.
Enjoy It: The owners of the famed Hot Tomato Pizza have brought that same bike friendly vibe to their Bestslope coffee shop (bestslopecoffeeco.com).
Inside Info: Bring that pizza over to beers at Copper Club and party with the locals.