Elevation Outdoors Best Colorado Mountain Towns

We thought it was too much to simply ask our readers to vote for the best single mountain town in the state. So we broke it down a bit into all the aspects that make living in the mountains so important. We put the poll up online and watched the winners slowly assert their dominance. And it ends up that we did find a single most popular mountain town, as Crested Butte took three out of the five categories. The only loss is the towns that didn’t win. Because just being in the mountains is best.

EO_BestBikeTown_LogoBest Bike Town: CRESTED BUTTE 31% of vote

Why It Won
It’s sort of unfair to include Crested Butte in a “best bike town” poll. After all, this is one of two places in the world which claims to be the birthplace of the mountain bike (Marin County, Calif. the other) and the town’s whole identity seems to revolve around the famous 401 Trail. But, as the USA Pro Challenge continues to raise Colorado’s profile in the cycling universe and so many other towns in the state have made cycling a staple of their economy and identity, Crested Butte has still managed to lead the pack.

Take it From a Local
“I really can’t put a finger on the reason why this is such a great bike town. You just have to be here and see it in July. Proximity to multiple great trail networks. Townies everywhere all the time. Healthy happy people loving riding bikes. It’s fun to be part of it for sure,” says John Chandler, president of the Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association. “There are simply too many great trails around here to narrow it down into any one recommendation. There all great for different reasons and for different riders.”

Don’t Believe Us?
Head to the The Alpineer or Big Al’s Bicycle Heaven for beta.

Runners Up: Fruita (24%), Steamboat (15%), Durango (10%)

EO_BestRiverTown_LogoBest River Town: SALIDA 25% of vote

Why It Won
Colorado’s other most famous river, The Arkansas, which drains the eastern side of the Continental Divide runs right through town, and as the city has grown into the 21st century, it has followed that water course into an economy that’s just as much whitewater rodeo as it is cattle ranching and irrigation. Of course, the biggest river party of them all the FIBArk festval takes place here every summer and you would be hard pressed to find a local who doesn’t own at least one boat. But what has really set Salida above an impressive field of river towns is how it has held on to its authenticity—it doesn’t look or feel too much like a New-West recreation mecca—while also providing all the comforts modern-day hipsters crave, like a tapas bar.

Take it From a Local
“The recreation opportunities in and around Salida are endless and stupendous, and it all surrounds the lifeblood of the community, the Arkansas River. Salida is located in the middle of a 100 mile long stretch of the most popular river in North America, and just down stream from Brown’s Canyon, a proposed wilderness area,” says a guy who has it in his best interest to sing the praises of the town… Mayor Don Stephens, who is a big-time boater. “Most telling of our river centered recreation is the annual pole, pedal and paddle race that starts with a ski leg starting on the Continental Divide, continues with a mountain bike ride to the Arkansas River and finishes with a paddle to downtown Salida with festivities at the finish line. This race is a rite of spring that celebrates the end of winter and the onset of the biking and boating season, a true adventure that encompasses the essence of our towns broad recreation culture. We also get to fish a fabulous trout fishery year round. Salida’s riverside plaza has four man-made surf waves that also attract hundreds of kids to its gentle swimming holes daily. I myself spend numerous days on the Upper Arkansas on a year round basis, and I have over 400 trips through Brown’s Canyon. I have yet to tire of the experience, and it is one of many reasons I have chosen to raise my family in Salida, Colorado.”

If we lived in Salida, we would vote for him.

Don’t Believe Us?
Run the class IV and V gauntlet in Brown’s Canyon with AVA (coloradorafting.net).

Runners Up: Durango (22%), Buena Vista (19%), Steamboat (12%)

EO_BestClimbingTown_LogoBest Climbing Town: OURAY 35% of vote

Why It Won
The obvious answer is the ice park. You will not find another town on the planet that dedicates itself to ice climbing like Ouray. But the climbing here is not confined just to frozen water. There’s crags just outside of town and numerous nearby peaks to scale like 14er Mount Sneffels or the 13,119-foot Lizard’s Head, one of the few truly difficult summits to climb in the state. Beyond the physical goods, the climbing community here continues to evolve. The ice park makes climbers welcome visitors to the town and the two local guiding companies that run trips and instruction in the park, San Juan Mountain Guides and Peak Mountain Guides, are working hard to develop a European-style guiding culture that’s far more than a few dirtbags with a rope. That effort is helping the town gain international cred, too.

Take it From a Local
“One word, access,” says Nate Disser who runs San Juan Mountain Guides, an American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) accredited operation that gets folks of all abilities out climbing and peakbagging in town. “Ouray offers the highest concentration of easily accessible ice climbing in North America. Combine that with a plethora of local rock climbing crags and host of other classic alpine climbs and you’ve got a pretty unbeatable combination.“ Sign us up.

Don’t Believe Us?
Get out and climb. We suggest you join Disser for a traverse along the Mt. Wilson/El Diente ridge, a classic knife edge between 14ers. Or try canyoneering in Portland or Oak Creeks.

Runners Up: Boulder (26%), Estes Park (9%), Eldorado Springs (8%)

EO_BestTrailTown_LogoBest Trail Town: CRESTED BUTTE 32% of vote

Why It Won
With all the focus on mountain biking, you forget that CB is also a damn fine place to just walk. You start in town and just keep going. The same trails that bikers love can be even more enjoyable when you stop to smell the wildflowers and Crested Butte is surrounded by two major roadless Wilderness ares—the 64,922-acre Raggeds and the 176,172-acre West Elk—with the 31,534-acre Fossil Ridge Wilderness to the south. It’s possible to hike from Crested Butte to Aspen. There are 14ers to climb, alpine lakes to fish and numerous quiet spots where you will not see a soul, despite how many tourists are in town. Beyond all that, a good trail network should find ways to accommodate multiples user groups and the system around Crested Butte does just that with plenty of places where hikers, mountain bikers and motorcycles all make use of the same dirt in relative harmony. But you can still hike where they can’t go.

Take it From a Local
“CB isn’t called the ‘Wildflower Capital’ of Colorado for nothing,” says local photographer Matt Berglund. “We have the best trails because so many options are conveniently located.”

Don’t Believe Us?
How about a trail that brings together Crested Butte and Aspen, hiking town and party central? The Conundrum Trail begins near Gothic and climbs over Triangle Pass to reach Conundrum Hot Springs, which is pictured quite nicely on the cover of this very magazine. It’s an 18-mile round trip, so we suggest you camp out near the springs and make some new friends.

Runners Up: Steamboat (16%), Durango (13%), Aspen (9%)

EO_BestPartyTown_LogoBest Party Town: ASPEN 27% of vote

Why It Won
Much as Crested Butte was the original mountain bike town, Aspen was the place where folks came from all over the planet in the ‘60s and ‘70s to get it on… And though Hunter S. Thompson is long deceased and real estate prices have pushed the people who actually work here into the (excellent) public bus system, that vibe of living life to its fullest is still strong here. But it’s not just the party scene—you can catch a good buzz and dance with beautiful people plenty of places—it’s the ability to go cycling and climbing up Independence Pass, rip lips on the Roaring Fork, bomb the Government Trail singletrack and then go out and do Jägerbombs with reality TV stars.

Take it From a Local
“Aspen has a big city vibe in a small mountain town. I’m constantly meeting cool new friends who like to party and shred. There’s endless good music and epic outdoor parties. Belly Up is the place to get down. Pre-game with the locals at the Red Onion or the Aspen Brewery,” says local hero and telemark ski champ Nick Devore. If you somehow find yourself howling at the moon and banging drums at Devore’s geodesic dome, you know you have arrived.

Don’t Believe Us?
The party scene of all flavors usually revolves around the iconic J Bar. And be warned, there may be no party more insane than Gay Ski Week.

Runners Up: Boulder (20%), Breckenridge (11%), Durango (11%)

EO_BestDogTown_LogoBest Dog Town: CRESTED BUTTE 35% of vote

Why It Won
Because dogs count as family members here. To wit, the local paper, The Crested Butte News, runs dog obituaries, which usually outnumber those of humans, despite the penchant for extreme sports in this town. Many hotels and vacation rentals are pet friendly. Most trails are open to dogs and the Crested Butte Nordic Center allows dogs on its trails in the winter. That’s not to say dogs have free run here. Do be very aware of the local laws regarding where dogs can go, when they need to be on leash and be sure to clean up after your best friend.

Take it From a Local
“If you were to come back to this world as a dog, there’s no place you would rather be,” says Evan Kezsbom, owner of Mountain Tails, the town’s pet boutique. “There’s no dog park because Crested Butte is one huge dog park. They enjoy the same lifestyle humans come here for. It’s paradise for dogs and their owners.”

Don’t Believe Us?
The high-end Ruby of Crested Butte bed and breakfast actually offers spa treatments for dogs as well as other canine treats.

Runners Up: Durango (19%), Steamboat (11%), Telluride (7%), Nederland (7%), Denver (7%)

Related Stories


Play Every Day With Kelty

Kelty: noun | kel-tee (1) activity engaged in for enjoyment and recreation. (2) something way more fun than work At Kelty, pranks on the boss,...

How to Incorporate Nature Into Your Fitness Routine

There was once a time in most of our lives that our parents sent us outside to play in the morning, and didn’t see...


Written by: Bri Golden, Outdoor Educator and BVMA Guide It’s winter in the Rocky Mountains! Framed by 13-and-14,000-foot mountains sits the beautiful town of Buena...

YMCA of the Rockies, Colorado Perfect Winter

At Two Beloved Locations—Estes Park Center and Snow Mountain Ranch— YMCA of the Rockies Offers Up Top-notch Programming for the 2022–23 Winter Season That...