Colorado’s 2015 Top Adventure Towns

Photo by Bjorn Bauer

THE VOTES HAVE BEEN TALLIED. Elevation Outdoors readers have Spoken and PICKED the top adventure towns in the state. Meet The winners: These towns embody real community alongside a native taste for outdoor fun. Here are five reasons why each spot won—and why you should visit them soon.

(Photo above: Leadville won’t change for hipsters. By Bjorn Bauer.)

Colorado boasts countless towns with vibrant outdoor scenes and access to world-class adventure. This fall, we chose 48 of our favorite communities across the state and asked readers to narrow down the field to determine their three favorite small, mid-sized and large adventure towns in the state. Get out and visit the winners:

TOP Small Town


Population 604; Elevation 8,209′

It’s no surprise South Fork won this category. The tiny San Juan town is surrounded by wilderness and not yet trampled by hordes of tech geeks looking to cash out early.

1) The most snow in the state is right up the road. Wolf Creek resort averages a whopping 430 annually. It’s also a privately owned gem—a vibe you appreciate best tucking into the green chili and enjoying a Ska True Blonde at the base area after wearing yourself out in untracked all day. Wolf Creek Pass is also an ideal spot for backcountry touring—plus, you can stay overnight at the cozy Pass creek yurt.

Duncan Adams skiing on Wolf Creek Pass, Colorado.
Duncan Adams skiing on Wolf Creek Pass, Colorado. Photo by Jeff Cricco.

2) World-Class Fishing. With the Rio Grande running right through town, South Fork lays claim to the title of one the best angling destinations in the state, so much so that the Colorado Division of Wildlife designated 20 miles of the stream here as Gold Medal Waters.

3) There’s great rock climbing in the San Juan Valley. Try Limekiln, where you will find bouldering, sport, and  trad routes. Our local informant recommends you try the sport climb Journey to Ixtlan (5.12a). Find more beta here. (Note: In the print version of this story we recommended La Garita, which is no longer open.)

4) Encompassing a ridiculous 499,771 acres of untrammled peaks, forest, streams and alpine lakes, The Wemenuche Wilderness is what truly defines the character of this town. South Fork is an ideal launching point for hiking and backpacking. From here, there’s access to the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) and one of our favorite hikes, the seven-mile jaunt along the CDT up to 11,720-foot Archuleta Lake.

5) And don’t forget the possibiilites for big road biking tours straight out of town on Wolf Creek Pass. Head up to the resort and back down or maybe even all the way over to Pagosa Springs, which came in second place to its neighbor South Fork in this category.

Top Mid-Sized Town


Population 2,602; Elevation 10,152′

Leadville is indeed the highest (incorporated) town in Colorado. Ok, ha ha. It’s also one town in Colorado that has manged to hold onto some semblance of what crusty, cynical mountain freaks feel is the real, and fading, Colorado. It was a big coup that the town won this spot in our poll, beating out other supercharged outdoor-sport burgs. You want authentic? You got it. Leadville plays hard old-school style (after all it’s home to the uncompromising Leadville Trail 100 races).

1) The soul (and history) of the sport at Cooper. Sure, there are bigger, steeper, more famous ski and snowboard resorts in the state, but if you want credence over condos, Cooper is the spot. The best bet if you are seeking powder is a trip on CHICAGO RIDGE SNOWCAT TOURS,  which operates on 2,600 acres above the resort. You also must make a pilgirmage to CAMP HALE where the storied 10th Mountain Division trained for combat during World War II. The soliders who returned (the 10th suffered heavy casualities in Europe) founded the modern ski industry in the U.S.

2) Snow Biking. Seemingly a fad, snow biking has become a top sport in Leadville (hey, check out the cover of this issue!), with groomed trail right in town. The local (and badass) CLOUD CITY WHEELERS cycling club has embraced the sport and recently purchased a singletrack groomer implement and snowmobiles to pull it. And, if you have something to prove, be here for the groups’ winter bike race series—just $20 and procedes pay for Cloud City’s advocacy efforts.

3) If you do want to go a bit upscale, but still earn your epicurianism, head to the Tennessee Pass Cookhouse for a four-course, gourmet dinner in a backcountry yurt. It’s a short snowshoe or ski in to a one-of-a-kind restaurant. You can work up an appetite before dinner on 25K of trails at the TENNESSEE PASS NORDIC CENTER. Plus, the area boasts more than 50 miles of free, groomed trails. Because of the altitude, it’s one of the longest winter seasons in the state, starting a little sooner and lasting well into spring.

4) What’s a top Colorado town without beer? Two new breweries are in the works in Leadville: Periodic Brewing plans on opening November 14 ( and Two Mile Brewing is set to open in 2016 ( Leadville also kicked off its first annual BBQ & brewFEST in 2015. It’s the highest-elevation sanctioned barbecue competition in the world, and it will return in June of 2016. (

5) Hit the Mineral Belt Trail. All too often, adventure for the disabled is left off these type of lists. This 11-mile loop winds through town, it’s ADA-accessible and it’s fun for all.

Top Large Town

Population 12,646; Elevation 4,514′

I t’s tempting to write Fruita off as nothing more than a mountain bike destination, and though fat tires will always be the heart of the place as an adventure town, the real story is that of an agricultural and energy-extraction-based city rethinking itself as a true community of the New West. Fruita’s famed singletrack only exists because the community (starting at Over the Edge Sports) built and supported it. Now, the place is booming beyond biking. Here’s what we like best in this Colorado town that’s a model for the world.

1) Duh, the mountain biking. We could run down the countless classic trails here, but we are betting you know most of them already. So check out something new. The rollicking, eight-mile Sarlacc Trail opened up last May. Plus, 20 campsites were added in 2015 to the 18 Road Trailhead camping area, making it easier to find a spot if you are coming in late on a Friday.

Fruita being Fruita. Photo by Devon Balet.

2) Colorado National Monument just does not get the love it deserves. The place harbors one of the best campgrounds in the state, red-rocks hike away from bike crowds, classic multi-pitch climbing and the perfect early season road bike loop. Also new this year, the Rim Rock Marathon—which runs across the monument—will end in downtown Fruita November 7th.

3) The 25-mile paddle down the Ruby-Horsethief section of the Colorado River may be the best family float in the state. While it was becoming very crowded, the BLM has added a campsite permit system, which ensures you will have a spot on the river. You can rent boats and gear (and launch) right in town at Rimrock Adventures. (

4) Looking for a true epic? Consider biking the entire 145-mile Kokopelli trail from Fruita to Moab, Utah. Unsupported freaks bang it out in a day. A more casual ride is three days with support.

5)  COMMUNITY: The annual FAT TIRE FESTIVAL hosted by Over the Edge in April continues to grow and offers up new bikes to demo, new friends to ride with, new trail building sessions and one hell of a party.

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