Looking for ‘Postcard Colorado’? Skip Denver and Check Out These Awesome Towns

If you’re interested in visiting or living in the postcard version of Colorado — the one with snowy peaks and rugged mountain views — here's where to find it.

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Colorado
iStock Photo/wisanuboonrawd

Since moving to the Denver metro area six years ago, I’ve heard my fair share of comments about what it must be like to live in Colorado.

“I could never live there — there’s so much snow,” people always say.

Or, “It must be so nice living up in the mountains!”

But when friends and family come to visit me, they are invariably surprised by what they see and feel.

You see, while Denver is technically located a mile above sea level, hence the name Mile High City, it’s really part of the high plains, which means the landscape is actually relatively flat, and honestly? A little boring. The air is dry and you can literally see for miles if you look east (I always joke that you can see straight into my neighboring home state of Nebraska).

If your mental picture of Denver consists of snowy evergreen trees and cozy cabins with smoking chimneys nestled atop rugged mountains, I hate to ruin your fantasy, but that’s just not what it looks like.

There are tall buildings, highways packed full of cars and sprawling suburbs — it’s a lot like any other mid-sized city. Plus, the winters here are actually fairly mild — we get nearly 300 days of sunshine and lots of 60-degree days in January and February. Since there’s almost no humidity here, even when the temperature does drop, it never actually feels like bone-chilling cold (Midwesterners, you know what I’m talking about here).

If you’re interested in visiting or living in the postcard version of Colorado — the one with snowy peaks and rugged mountain views, here are nine cities you should check out instead.

1. Nederland

Aside from having some stunning scenery, Nederland truly has its own unique flair and vibe. It’s about 15 miles west of Boulder, though you’ll gain roughly 2,900 feet in elevation as you head up Boulder Canyon to Nederland. This tight-knit community is home to just 1,500 people, so chances are you’ll develop close relationships with your neighbors (which is super important during wildfire season or after a heavy winter snowstorm).

Nederland is tiny, but you can still order a mean espresso or a bike tuneup at Tin Shed Sports and Salto Coffee Works, a combination coffee shop/bicycle repair shop that’s become an important community gathering space in recent years. Plus, when you live in Nederland, you can get in a few quick turns before work at Eldora Mountain Ski Resort (where you can also cross-country ski, snowshoe and uphill ski). There are also so many unconventional and fun events and festivals in Nederland, including the NedFest music festival, the High Peaks Art Festival and, perhaps most importantly, Frozen Dead Guy Days. This annual spring festival celebrates Grandpa Bredo Morstoel, who has been frozen since his death in 1989 (yes, literally a frozen dead body).

Ouray CO
Photo Courtesy of Sarah Kuta

2. Ouray

Ouray is one of Colorado’s best-kept secrets, so don’t give too many people your new address if you move here (kidding … sort of). This old mining town, located on Colorado’s Western Slope about six hours from Denver, has managed to maintain that true Colorado feeling everyone is looking for — it’s quaint and charming, yet there’s so much to do and see here. Ouray is nestled down in a valley in the San Juan Mountains, so you’re surrounded on all sides by rocky crags and trees. If you need to unwind, you can soak in the Ouray Hot Springs Pool or grab a cocktail at KJ Wood Distillers. For the best people-watching, hit up pretty much any restaurant on Main Street, but the rooftop patio of Ouray Brewery is a locals’ favorite.

The Ouray Alchemist is an incredible hidden gem with quirky, historic pharmacy artifacts, and there’s a delightful local bookstore downtown called Buckskin Booksellers. Plus, you can really feel the sense of community Ouray residents have when you visit the Wright Opera House, which is being lovingly restored. Locals like to go Jeeping in the summer (you’ll catch the best wildflowers starting mid-July) and hit up the Ouray Ice Park for ice climbing in the winter. During the warmer months, you’ll want to drive the Million Dollar Highway over to Silverton and back for amazing views.

Glenwood Springs
Photo: Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association

3. Glenwood Springs

Glenwood Springs is a hidden oasis in both the winter and summer months. It’s best known for its hot springs and vapor caves, which will keep your muscles nice and toasty on any cold Colorado day (the views of the snow-covered mountains behind the steam rising off the hot springs are truly postcard-worthy). But Glenwood Springs also has some incredible history. It’s where outlaw Doc Holliday is buried, and the hike to his gravesite is a quick jaunt you can easily do from downtown. The stately Hotel Colorado, built in 1893, has seen its fair share of famous visitors, including President William Howard Taft, President Theodore Roosevelt, Al Capone and other gangsters.

The city is situated in a valley at the confluence of the Roaring Fork and Colorado rivers, which means you have stunning views of the mountains all around you. Plus, you can really feel the pride residents have for their community when you walk past their stunning flower gardens and immaculately maintained historic homes. The downtown is totally walkable (and adorable), plus Glenwood Springs is on the Rio Grande Trail, a 42-mile paved walk and bike path that you can ride to Carbondale, Basalt or Aspen.

Fraser CO
Photo Courtesy of Sarah Kuta

4. Fraser/Winter Park

The twin cities of Fraser and Winter Park are located off the beaten I-70 path in Grand County, a little more than an hour west of Denver. During the colder months, you’ll find picture-perfect snowy peaks and rolling hills, all the skiing and snowboarding you could ever dream of at Winter Park Resort and delicious apres ski drinks and fare at Idlewild Spirits Distillery. In the summer, there are far fewer tourists visiting Fraser and Winter Park, so you’ll practically have local hangouts like Sharky’s Eater and Hideaway Park Brewery to yourself (not to mention all the hiking and mountain bike trails).

The two towns are also near Devil’s Thumb Ranch, a sprawling resort where you can actually rent a picturesque (and dog-friendly) log cabin, then go snowshoeing or cross-country skiing and take in the postcard-worthy views.

5. Durango

Since it’s in the far southwest corner of Colorado, Durango often gets overlooked – but it’s truly like an adult playground. Some of the state’s best mountain biking is here, plus the Animas River runs through the center of town, so residents can run, walk or bike right along the water. Downtown is full of locally owned shops and restaurants, and it’s super dog-friendly, so you won’t have to leave your beloved fur-child at home when you go out.

One of the most popular activities here is the historic Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, which you can ride nearly all year round between the two towns. The train, which has been running since 1882, offers seriously amazing views (not exaggerating) of the San Juan National Forest. Depending on your preference, you can time your train trip with the changing fall leaves or for postcard-esque views of the route’s snow-dusted trees and canyons.

Manitou Springs
Photo Courtesy of Sarah Kuta

6. Manitou Springs

Drive just six miles west from Colorado Springs and you’ll find yourself transported to the quirky, charming mountain town of Manitou Springs. One of its biggest attractions is the Manitou Incline, a trail that gains 2,000 feet of elevation in less than a mile (it’s brutal — you will get super sweaty). Manitou Springs is also home to the historic Miramont Castle, a 123-year-old castle where you can have afternoon tea or take a guided tour (Glen Eyrie Castle is just up the road if you’re really into castles).

Downtown, you’ll find lots of cute coffee shops and boutiques, an entire block of arcade games and The Cliff House restaurant, which makes a truly incredible dessert souffle (it takes 20 minutes for the chef to make, but it is so worth the wait). There are also eight mineral springs where you can fill up your water bottle with fresh spring water.

7. Frisco

Frisco is right in the middle of all the ski and snowboard action — you can hop in the car and easily get to Breckenridge, Keystone, Vail, Copper and Arapahoe Basin ski resorts in just a few minutes. But Frisco itself doesn’t really feel like a ski town. Instead, you’ll find a charming community with a beautiful mountain backdrop. In the winter, there are Christmas lights everywhere, snowy eaves and plenty of places to pop in for a nightcap downtown — Frisco looks like something straight off a Christmas card.

In the summer, you can run, walk, bike, boat, stand-up paddleboard, fish and do all sorts of other activities in Frisco Bay, a part of the large Dillon Reservoir, which provides water to the city of Denver. Frisco Adventure Park offers tons of family-friendly activities, including romantic sleigh rides, a tubing hill, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Plus, since it’s open year-round, you can check out the bike park, skate park, disc golf course and athletic fields when the temperatures heat up (which in Frisco is only a few months out of the year!).

8. Evergreen

Just the name of this small Colorado town conjures up images of dark green trees dusted with snow on a mountainside. Evergreen offers that scenic Colorado postcard experience while being just a few minutes from downtown Denver, which is why it’s a popular place for tourists and locals alike. With a population of roughly 10,000 permanent residents, Evergreen offers a good mix of active, outdoor recreation experiences and more relaxing options. Evergreen Lake makes the perfect backdrop for walking, running, boating, fishing and picnicking (as well as ice skating in the winter!).

Evergreen’s downtown is small, but is good for a leisurely stroll during any season. There are several art galleries, boutiques and antique stores to peruse, plus a winery and restaurant called Creekside Cellars that offers relaxing views of Bear Creek, which runs right through downtown.

9. Steamboat Springs

Though ski towns like Vail and Aspen along I-70 tend to get more attention, Steamboat Springs should not be overlooked. Since it’s a bit secluded in the northwestern part of the state, the people who live here year-round are really invested in making the city a great place to be. Steamboat has a little bit of a Western flair to it, too, so don’t be surprised if you end up buying a pair of cowboy boots from F.M. Light & Sons if you move here.

In addition to world-class skiing and snowboarding, you’ll also find two hot springs, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, horseback riding, fly fishing, hiking, beautiful golf courses and an impressive tennis facility. One of the best parts about living in Steamboat is the Yampa River Core Trail, a 7.5-mile paved path that runs through town along the Yampa River. Even in the winter months, you’ll find people walking, running and biking along the path, which stops at the serene Yampa River Botanic Park. The fall foliage in Steamboat can’t be beat and, of course, it has some fantastic restaurants, bars and breweries.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sarah Kuta is an award-winning Colorado writer and editor. She regularly writes about travel, nature, education, personal finance and other topics. more

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