Crested Butte & Gunnison
This region of Colorado’s southwest is a playground for outdoorsy types, with skiing dominating in the winter and hiking, river-rafting and mountain-biking popular in summer. Fly-fishing is another activity that draws both locals and domestic tourists in waders to the icy waters of the great Gunnison River.
An archetypal old Colorado mining town, Durango is a regional darling that's nothing short of delightful. Its graceful hotels, Victorian-era saloons and tree-lined streets of sleepy bungalows invite you to pedal around soaking up all the good vibes. There is plenty to do outdoors.
Surrounded on three sides by mastodon peaks, exclusive Telluride is quite literally cut off from the hubbub of the outside world. Once a rough mining town, today it’s dirtbag-meets-diva – mixing the few who can afford the real estate with those scratching out a slope-side living for the sport of it.
Montrose is an agricultural center and a wholesale supply point for Telluride, 65 miles to the south. With the lofty San Juan Mountains to the south, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park to the east, the Grand Mesa to the north and the Uncompahgre Plateau to the west, it's a handy starting point for adventure.
Long ago Ute tribes hunted on the plains surrounding the present-day town of Gunnison in summer. Now this western town – nondescript and functional for the most part – is home to the handsome campus of Western State College of Colorado, which opened in 1911. The giant W on the hill southeast of town is a reference to the college.
In truth, Grand Junction is as utilitarian as its name suggests. Near two major rivers, its intersecting highways are built over centuries-old trading routes. It's admittedly not much to look at. Amid one of Colorado’s most fertile agricultural zones, Grand Junction is a cow town at heart – despite being western Colorado’s main urban hub.
Powder-bound Crested Butte has retained its rural character better than most Colorado ski resorts. Ringed by three wilderness areas, this remote former mining village is counted among Colorado’s best ski resorts (some say the best). The old town center features beautifully preserved Victorian-era buildings refitted with hip shops and businesses.
Mesa Verde National Park
More than 700 years after its inhabitants disappeared, the mystery of Mesa Verde remains unsolved. It is here that a civilization of Ancestral Puebloans appears to have vanished into thin air in the 1300s. Today their last known home is preserved as Mesa Verde, a fascinating, if slightly eerie, national park.
Ouray & the Million Dollar Hwy
With gorgeous icefalls draping the box canyon and soothing hot springs dotting the valley floor, Ouray (you-ray) is one privileged place, even for Colorado. For ice climbers, it’s a world-class destination, but hikers and 4WD fans can also appreciate its rugged and sometimes stunning charms.
Ringed by snowy peaks and steeped in the sooty tales of a tawdry mining town, Silverton would seem more at home in Alaska than the Lower 48. But here it is. Whether you’re into snowmobiling, biking, fly-fishing, beer on tap or just basking in some very high altitude sunshine, Silverton delivers. It’s a two-street town, but only one is paved.
Pagosa Springs may seem to be a large slice of humble pie, but it has the bragging rights to the biggest snowfall in Colorado – at Wolf Creek Ski Area – nearby. Pagosa, a Ute term for ‘boiling water,’ refers to the other local draw: hot springs. Natural thermals provide heat for some of the town’s 1900 residents.