We asked our readers to choose the places that exemplify a dedication to the outdoor lifestyle, the towns with big hearts, full lungs and a dedicated love for the precious lands that surround them. Here are the winners.
If you love to go outside and play, you put down roots in a town that makes having fun easy—but also invests in its community and cares for and protects the public lands that support it. But what towns best represent that ethic? Every year, we ask our readers to answer that question online in our Top Adventure Towns Poll: The contest pits the best towns in Colorado against each other to find out what places truly resonate with our readers. Since it doesn’t seem fair to put small towns and bigger cities in the same bracket—and since they often have have different mindsets—we broke it down into two categories: towns with a population under 7,000 and those over 7,000. In the past, we have limited the poll to the Centennial State but this year we added a new category open to towns (of all sizes) in Utah, New Mexico, Montana, Idaho and Nebraska, too. So here they are, the three towns you voted best for outdoor adventure in the Mountain West. Now get out and enjoy them.
COLORADO SMALL/MEDIUM TOWNS
Winter Park rose to the top of the pack with readers this year after finishing as a finalist last year. Perhaps it’s the easy access that makes Winter Park so popular with our readers: It’s close to the Front Range (and you don’t have to brave the Eisenhower Tunnel to get here) but it feels like Shangri-La, safe over the other side of Berthoud Pass and surrounded by over 765,000 acres of public lands. The thousand souls who live here truly embrace the Colorado outdoor vibe—supposedly they work, many in the ski and bike industries but you are most likely to see them shredding, cycling or casting to fat trout. But maybe the town won readers over because it’s an old-school Colorado tradition. If you grew up here, it’s where you went to play. If you just moved here, it’s time you made it your favorite mountain town.
TOP ADVENTURES: In the summer, there’s 600 miles of mountain bike trail here and the Trestle Bike Park serves downhillers. 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). Come winter, there’s 3,060 feet of vertical drop (1,766 at sister hill and experts’ fave Mary Jane) on the mountain, with some of the best tree skiing in the state. Want to eschew the lifts for lung power? 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.
COMMUNITY: Founded by former Winter Park Resort CEO Jerry Groswold, the non-profit Grand Foundation (grandfoundation.com) has provided $8.6 million in grants to needy organizations across the county via transferable ski and golf passes.
INSIDE INFO: The U.S. has never won an Olympic medal in biathlon. You can train to be the first U.S. skier/shooter to stand on the podium if you take a biathlon experience course at YMCA of th Rockies Snow Mountain Ranch (snowmountainranch.org), one of few places in the country that offers it.
Tucked in at 9,318 feet in the heart of the San Juan Mountains, Silverton is surrounded by public lands and populated with core mountain freaks who appreciate the splendid isolation of their high-mountain hideaway. In the summer, it’s the perfect basecamp for big mountain jaunts.
TOP ADVENTURES: Entire families can ski at beginner friendly Kendall Mountain for the price of a single lift ticket at larger resorts, while extreme skiers can fuel their stoke with the advanced terrain and heli skiing at Silverton Mountain. In summer, Silverton is the perfect jumping off point for hiking, backpacking, camping, mountain biking and four wheeling adventures. Iconic day hikes like Ice Lakes and Highland Mary offer abundant wildflowers and pristine alpine lakes, or backpackers can ride the Silverton & Durango Narrow Gauge Railroad to Needleton to access the Weminuche Wilderness and summit area peaks like Eolus, Sunlight and Windom.
INSIDE INFO: Gas up your jeep: The Alpine Loop provides a full day of four wheeling and touring historic mine sites and ghost towns. Black Bear Pass is a technical route for thrill seekers that connects Silverton all the way over to Telluride.
COLORADO LARGE TOWNS
Glenwood Springs made a splash by winning for the first time this year—but that should not be a surprise. There are many secluded mountain towns where you think you might want to live. Glenwood is the place where you should live since it has easy access to so much—hop on the Interstate to catch a Rockies game in Denver, head down the road for crowd-less, deep skiing and snowboarding at the Aspen resort, make a quick escape to Utah’s desert canyons and slickrock. Or just soak (bad pun, we know) it all up in town with paddling and climbing adventures in Glenwood Canyon or some unpretentious laps at Sunlight Resort.
TOP ADVENTURES: When we say Glenwood Springs, you think hot springs, right? That’s good because who doesn’t want to soak and unwind after a big day in one of the in the geothermal waters of Glenwood Hot Springs or Iron Mountain Hot Springs. As far as getting after it goes, the town’s home to two rivers and a world-class whitewater park. Glenwood Springs has countless opportunities for fishing, rafting, kayaking, canoeing, and stand up paddleboarding. After a scenic tram ride up to Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, thrills await, including a high alpine coaster traveling down the mountain side, a giant canyon swing launching riders 1,300 feet out over Glenwood Canyon and the Colorado River, and tours exploring the underground caverns.
INSIDE INFO: To catch a truly stellar view of the sinking sun, take the ten minute tram ride up to the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park and grab one of the best views in the house from the park’s viewing deck. At the park, thrills await, including a high alpine coaster traveling down the mountain side, a giant canyon swing launching riders 1,300 feet out over Glenwood Canyon and the Colorado River, and tours exploring the underground caverns.
Fruita makes it into the finals every single time we run this contest. So we don’t feel bad recycling a quote from last year: “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.
TOP ADVENTURES: Oh, where to start? The hardest part of a visit here is deciding if you are going to rid on the Mary’s Loop side or over on 18 Road. You can’t go wrong either way. But we are partial to Rabbit Valley, where you can camp or pull up your van, and ride nice quiet epics like the Zion Curtain.
COMMUNITY: With such a bike-is-life vibe, Fruita’s festivals make for the best time to visit: Don’t miss the riding and frolicking at the 25th Fat Tire Festival (fruitafattirefestival.com), held May 3-5, 2019.
INSIDE INFO: Bring that pizza over to beers at Copper Club and party with the locals.
THE REST OF THE WEST
Visitors from around the world come to the town of Moab to experience sunrise over the towering depths of Canyonlands National Park and then follow it up with sunset in the otherworldly red rock landscape of Arches National Park. This is multi-sport central. Mountain biking is king, of course, followed closely by climbing at Indian Creek or the Fisher Towers but there’s also world class paddling, canyoneering and even skiing here, too.TOP ADVENTURES: Take a bite out of an epic like the Whole Enchilada (a trail system of 25-miles of downhill mountain biking from the La Sal Mountains to the Colorado River), or try new classics like Captain Ahab. But there’s more than mountain biking here: Arches National Park boasts some of the most rewarding hike-to views in the country. If you want the perfect family hike, explore the sandstone formations and slots in the leisurely Windows in Arches.
INSIDE INFO: The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages 24 campsites in the Moab area, and six state park, national park and national forest campgrounds. These campsites fill quickly and most don’t take reservations, so arrive early to guarantee a spot. Visit discovermoab.com for a full list of campsites in the area.
TEN SLEEP, WYOMING
It tells you just how hardcore this tiny Cowboy State town plays that it almost won this category. “The vast amount of public land featuring world-class climbing, hiking, fishing, and more that surrounds Ten Sleep, along with all the services provided by the town, make it one of the best adventure towns in the West,” says local climber, writer and yogi Alli Rainey (who is pictured above).
TOP ADVENTURES: Ten Sleep Canyon’s limestone draws adventure-minded climbers from across the planet. The 18 miles of dolomitic cliffs and over 800 bolted sport climbing routes will keep you entertained—but it can be gnarly for the uninitiated. Prepare yourself for steep, footwork-intensive technical routes. Or simply find your kicks hiking 13,167-foot Cloud Peak, the highest in the Big Horns, or Bomber Peak, where you will find plane wreckage from the 1940s. Bring the fly rod and you can seek out big trout with Ten Sleep Troutfitters (tensleeptroutfitters.com).
INSIDE INFO: Grab a craft brew, recount war stories, gather local beta and support the community at the dog-friendly Ten Sleep Saloon.