With so many amazing resort towns in Colorado, it’s easy to overlook the smaller, less glamorous hamlets that dot the Centennial State. Which is a shame because these enclaves offer outstanding outdoor recreation, quaint main streets, unique lodging, mom-and-pop restaurants, and genuine doses of Western hospitality. We spent time exploring our favorites so we could tell you the best ways to enjoy 36 hours in each of these seven splendid small towns.
Drive Time from Denver: Roughly six hours
Claim to Fame: The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad—originally built to haul silver and gold ore—has hosted passengers on scenic trips through the San Juan National Forest via coal-fired, steam- powered trains since 1882.
With more than 17,000 residents, a four-year liberal arts college, a world-famous railway, and more restaurants per capita than San Francisco, you might argue Durango doesn’t sound like that small of a town. But from old friends hugging at the Saturday morning farmers’ market to your waiter telling you he’ll see you at tomorrow’s Oktoberfest party (September 26 to 27), it feels like one. Even better, the bellowing of steam engines and open spaces straight out of a Louis L’Amour novel—the author penned part of his Sackett series at the Strater Hotel—set an Old West backdrop for all the modern-day pleasures that await in this 5.6-square-mile southwestern Colorado town.
Durango is a haul from Denver, which means for a two-day escape, you’ll likely arrive in the dark. This low-light scenario is no big deal if you’re staying at downtown’s historic Rochester Hotel, where you’ll find your quarters by looking at the marquee-light-framed movie posters outside the doors. Each of the hotel’s 14 guest rooms is themed after a different Western filmed in the area. For a bedtime snack, wander a block north to Steamworks Brewing Company, where the kitchen stays open until 11, for a pizza and a pint of Colorado Kölsch.
Passengers on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad; the historic Strater Hotel
The big reveal will come in the morning when you walk outside and find yourself transported to the set of Old West classics such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and City Slickers, both of which have scenes shot in and around the bucolic Animas River Valley. But as you stroll down Main Avenue after grabbing a steaming cup at Durango Coffee Company, you’ll realize this is not a city stuck in the past. Five-year-old Studio &, a hip, white-walled gallery that features pieces from Four Corners–area artists, would feel at home in any major city. You won’t be able to leave Urban Market without picking up a funky gift (napkin rings made from old-school keyboard letters, perhaps?). And spurs and chaps are nowhere to be found at trendy clothiers Silk Sparrow and Renae Marie.
Durango Coffee Company on Main Avenue; mountain biking the Rim Trai, just outside of downtown Durango
A few blocks north, you may notice a line forming outside the Durango Diner. Bypass the wait for a table and seek out spots at the counter, where you can watch owner Gary Broad douse breakfast standards with his signature green chile. You’ll work it all off on your next adventure, a two-wheeled brewery tour on cruiser bikes from the Rochester (free with your stay). Pedal a few blocks to merge onto the seven-mile Animas River Trail at Ninth Street. About a mile north, you’ll find Animas Brewing Company, the newest addition to Durango’s craft-beer scene. Families could while away hours here: suds and Colorado spirits for the adults, rolls of coloring paper for the kids, and pretzel sticks for everyone. Or, if you’re up for a longer ride, take the trail south toward Ska Brewing Co. for live music and the on-site Container of Food restaurant’s garlic “pigbread” (a flatbread with smoked pork and sweet-and-spicy barbecue sauce).
A shower back at the hotel will be in order, but luckily dinner is just across the street at the Cyprus Cafe, where you’ll enjoy exquisitely crafted Mediterranean dishes on an expansive patio. Locals know to check the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad schedule to beat the tourist rush for dinner. (FYI: If you have an extra day, there’s no better way to see fall foliage than the nine-hour trip to Silverton and back through the San Juan National Forest.) For a nightcap, drop by the 128-year-old Strater Hotel’s Diamond Belle Saloon, which is just as hokey—ragtime piano players, servers costumed as dance hall girls, period-dressed barkeeps—and fun as it sounds.
Once you’ve slept off your whiskey, find your way to the Rochester’s repurposed train car for a complimentary, made-to-order entrée plus a buffet with homemade oatmeal scones. Then head to the Horse Gulch trailhead at the east end of Third Street, about a mile away, and choose your mode of transportation: Horses, mountain bikes, and hiking boots are all welcome on 2.1-mile Meadow Loop’s winding single-track, where it feels as if Butch Cassidy could appear around the next corner.
To spot a real cowboy, however, requires a field trip north on Highway 550. After about 20 minutes, you’ll reach James Ranch, where you can take a short, self-guided tour of the working ranch, with cattle, chickens, ecologically sound biodynamic gardens, free-range pigs, and more. From Monday to Saturday through October, you can order a grass-fed beef burger at the ranch’s Harvest Grill & Greens for lunch. Across the road, Honeyville’s recently renovated retail shop and adjoining Honey House Distillery offer tastings of jams and sauces and honey-infused whiskey and vodka, all of which offer sweet ways to end your trip. —Jessica LaRusso
In The Neighborhood
Since you’ve already traveled 334 miles to get to Durango, why not tack on a few more to visit these bucket-list-worthy spots?
35.5 miles to Mesa Verde National Park
47.3 miles to Chimney Rock National Monument
84.9 miles to Four Corners National Monument
Drive Time from Denver: Four-and-a-half hours
Claim to Fame: As early as 1883, the railroad began delivering hot springs tourists to Creede. A luxurious bathhouse—which still stands on the property of the upscale 4UR Ranch—was built to accommodate the soakers.
Even though it’s located along the Rio Grande River and sandwiched between the La Garita and Weminuche wilderness areas, the tiny town of Creede has a lot more going on than just outdoor fun. Rich in silver mining and railroad history, the town saw booms and busts (like the Silver Panic of 1893) but managed to subsist on the extraction of lead and zinc. Today, the town survives by other means: namely, summer tourism fueled by a small downtown with boutiques and art galleries, a smattering of eateries, and a robust theater scene.
As you sit on the wooden front porch of Coffee on the Fly with a Mexican mocha in hand, you’ll begin to reconsider your dependence on big-city hair salons. After all, every local who strolls by seems unaffected by her au naturel gray streaks. While you’re at it, you’ll decide your Denver mortgage is ridiculous, your need for Indian takeout is really just a want, and your desire to fly-fish every day is more important than you realized. As you wander next door to Rio Grande Angler—where owner Kevin Leggitt will help you locate public fishing access on the Rio Grande—you’ll begin to wonder what you could do for a living in Creede.
Small towns are like that: They draw you in with their charm—and downtown Creede is long on charm. After a lunch at three-month-old Arp’s, take a few afternoon hours to browse the petite retail strip. Not only does Main Street have tasty options like year-old Sweet Spot ice cream shop and the Creede Olive Oil Co., where you should pick up a bottle of traditional 18-year balsamic, there are also more shops and galleries to wander through than you’d expect from a town of 400. Don’t miss works by Kris Gosar and Aaron Brown at C. Waters Gallery; Jenny Inge’s handmade jewelry at Rare Things Gallery (a spot Johnny Depp reportedly frequented while in the area in 2012 shooting The Lone Ranger); and stunning landscapes from water media artist Stephen Quiller at his Quiller Gallery.
Above, right: The view of North Clear Creek Falls is worth the 30-minute drive from Creede
By late afternoon you’ll want to check into your local lodging: Windsock Acres is located one block off Main on West Fifth Street. Owned by architect Avery Augur and his wife, Catherine, Windsock Acres comprises three boutique cabins. The Boathouse, the Cajun, and the Magnolia (rates start at $150 per night) are strikingly different in design, but they’re all more than comfortable accommodations.
For your evening itinerary, be sure to wear your best cowboy boots and a clean pair of jeans. An early dinner reservation at the Creede Hotel and Restaurant—where the expertly grilled medium-rare steak and creamy mashers entrée will wow you—will ensure you’ll be on time for the opening act at the Creede Repertory Theatre. It’s difficult to imagine that such a compact community could support a theater, but for 50 seasons CRT has been bringing economic vitality to Creede and magic to its stages. This month, theatergoers can see rom-com Good On Paper and August: Osage County.
The Creede Repertory Theatre’s Ruth Humphreys Brown Theatre; the interior of the Cajun cabin at Windsock Acres
You’ll be tempted to sleep in the next morning, but set your alarm and make your way to North Creede—a smattering of old mining cabins along East Willow Creek Road—for a hike on what locals call the Up and Over. There is no trailhead sign, just a makeshift bridge over Willow Creek. You’ll know you’re in the right spot when you see a parking pullout and a green Creede City Limit sign on the right. This 45-minute hike goes straight up for the first 150 yards, flattens out through a lovely wooded area, and then brings you to a sweeping overlook of downtown.
Once you’re back in Creede, drive out Highway 149 to Freemon’s General Store. It may not look like much, but ordering a cheeseburger and fries from this ramshackle roadside restaurant is a (delicious) Creede rite of passage. While you’re out that direction, drive another 15 minutes on 149 to gaze at 115-foot North Clear Creek Falls.
Back in town, a patio table at Kip’s Grill is a great spot to grab a happy hour beer and some fish tacos before seeking out evening entertainment. Depending on the night, you could saunter down to Wall Street for live music at Tommyknocker Tavern or, if you’re lucky, Courtney La Zier might be putting on a show at Big River Music. Five bucks gets you entry to the back-room studio and an intimate concert put on by local musicians. —LBK
Rooms For Rent
Creede is a really small town, which means finding a place to sleep isn’t always easy. Here, a few other options.
Antlers Lodge and Restaurant: With rustic cabins and tidy motel rooms tucked right along the river, this reasonably priced lodge has one of the largest portfolios of accommodations you’ll find in Creede.
Broadacres Ranch: This riverside property is geared toward fly-fishermen, but you don’t have to own waders to enjoy the cozy cabins and the stunning timber-frame lodge.
Mountain Views RV Park: If you’ve got a motor home, this RV resort is your home base; if you don’t have a house on wheels, the park has a handful of cabins for rent.
Population: 8,400 (including students at Western State Colorado University
Drive Time from Denver: Roughly three-and-a-half hours
Claim to Fame: The Black Canyon of the Gunnsion—a 2,700-foot-deep chasm and one of the steepest canyons in the country—sits 60 miles west of town.
Situated about 30 miles from skiing and mountain biking mecca Crested Butte, Gunnison is often bypassed as the town you go through on the way to the West Elk Mountains’ famous peak. But this gorgeous ranching town, located in the verdant Gunnison Valley, offers those who stop for more than gas a slice of Americana—and a stash of outdoor adventures.
After three-and-a-half hours of driving, your first priority is a little leg stretching. Find it about 15 miles west of Gunnison at Blue Mesa Reservoir, the largest body of water in Colorado. If it’s still early in the day, rent a kayak or stand-up paddleboard from the Blue Mesa at Elk Creek Marina for a splash session in the chilly water. If the sun’s already past its high point, opt instead for the moderate, four-mile round-trip hike to the 600-foot-tall Dillon Pinnacles, a funky volcanic rock formation created about 30 million years ago.
Sun-tinged and sweaty, drive back to town to check into the Vintage Inn, a few blocks from Main Street, where proprietor Beth Marcue will meet you with a glass of wine. Marcue transformed the 1880s abode into a part-time (May to September), one-bedroom B&B in 2010. Your impeccably decorated room won’t have a TV, but it will have a queen bed outfitted with a quilt so cute you’ll consider trying to stuff it in your suitcase. Grab a quick dinner at Twisted Fork, an Asian-influenced eatery that serves dishes made with veggies grown in the four-year-old restaurant’s garden.
From left: Blue Mesa Reservoir; Double Shot Cyclery is part cafe, part bike shop; breakfast at the Vintage Inn
Marcue won’t let you leave in the morning without a full belly, so choose between an egg sandwich, smoothie, or fruit, and save room for a cup of locally roasted joe at Double Shot Cyclery. Retired pro cycling mechanic Dan Crean debuted the half-cafe, half–bike shop in 2013. This is the place to tune your fat-tire ride before pedaling five miles southwest to the Hartman Rocks Recreation Area, which boasts more than 40 miles of single-track, from wide, mellow rides to gnarly jump parks and technical steeps. When you’re ready to wash off the trail dust, hit the Gunnison Whitewater Park near town. The rapids top out at Class III but feel like a Class V thrill if you try them in an inflatable kayak rented from Scenic River Tours.
Refuel for an afternoon of shopping at downtown’s Añejo Bistro & Bar. You can’t go wrong with anything on the taco menu, but we love the juicy carnitas. And since you’re on vacation, throw in a house margarita—or visit the brand-new High Alpine Brewing, just down the street, for a pint. Sated, wander across Main Street to the Gunnison Art Center, which holds a 75-seat theater for community shows. This month, you’ll catch 8×10, a series of eight 10-minute-long plays in a single showing.
Continue your amble along boutique-laden Main Street, pausing at the funky Corner Cupboard or women’s shop Tango. You’ll find your best bet for a souvenir inside the Local Market, which sells—surprise!—local foods, quilts, and other goodies. Shopping is hard work, so when you get peckish, head to Blackstock Bistro, a year-old New American restaurant that’s a locals’ favorite for its Wednesday sushi nights. On the way out of town the next morning, stop by Niky’s Mini Donuts for a bite-size treat. —Kasey Cordell
Since the Vintage Inn only has one room, the chances it’ll be occupied are good. Try Inn at Tomichi Village as an alternative: You’ll be a little farther from Main Street but closer to another locals’ fave, the on-site Blue Mesa Grill.
Drive Time from Denver: About two hours
Claim to Fame: In 1879, locals voted on the “correct” way to pronounce the town’s name. It’s “Byoona Vista,” not “Bwayna Veesta.”
With the snowcapped summits of the Collegiate Peaks and Sawatch Range towering above and the Arkansas River raging below, Buena Vista lives up to its name, which translates to “beautiful view” in Spanish. BV, as locals know it, has long drawn travelers seeking world-class white-water rafting and easy access to fourteeners (the county holds a record 12 such peaks). But a new multiuse development is improving the one-stoplight town’s dining and shopping scenes, setting up the former railroad hub to attract more visitors—from Colorado and beyond—than ever before.
Having grabbed a beef brisket sandwich to go at Al’s Pits Barbecue in Grant for lunch, you should arrive in Buena Vista in plenty of time to pick up your wheels at ATV/Jeep Mountain Adventure Rentals for a half-day of off-roading fun (starting at $125). You’ll follow owner Randy Wagner in your car to the trailhead in the Fourmile Travel Management Area, a 100,000-acre spread of Forest Service/BLM land a few miles back up U.S. 285. He’ll show you how the machine works, hand you a marked-up map, and send you on your way. As you zoom (or creep) over rocks and thick roots and through muddy puddles for the next three hours—don’t worry, the trails are well-marked—make sure to stop and look around. The Collegiate Peaks form a striking backdrop to the area’s softly rolling hills.
From left: Eddyline Restaurant, an anchor of the South Main development; White-water rafting on the mighty Arkansas River
Back in town, you’ll luxuriate under the Surf Chateau’s sublime raindrop showerheads long after the trail grime has disappeared down the drain. Located on the banks of the Arkansas River, this year-old boutique hotel (rooms start at $149 per night) has other desirable touches—locally sourced stone, high-thread-count linens, twinkle lights in the courtyard, and riverside patios—that make it feel like a true getaway. That the 20-room inn is situated in the newly developed South Main neighborhood is no accident. Siblings and BV locals Jed Selby and Katie Selby Urban bought the land more than a decade ago. They donated the three-acre river corridor to the town for public access and are in the process of building an environmentally friendly, walkable neighborhood along its banks.
From the Chateau, amble past colorful, Southern-inspired townhomes to the corner of South Main Street and River Park Road, where you can explore locally made wares—like Golden artist Jesse Crock’s bright landscape paintings and handmade pieces by Good Things Candle Company—at Sundance and Friends while waiting for a table to open at Eddyline Restaurant at South Main nearby. The sister business of a local brewery by the same name—which sits on the other end of town and has live music on the weekends during the summer—serves delicious pecan-wood-fired pizzas and cold pints. The Jolly Roger Black Lager goes down particularly well on a crisp fall afternoon. If the weather’s not too chilly, visit the recently opened Midland Stop cafe for a gelato nightcap.
Awaken your senses in the a.m. with Brazil Poco Fundo fair-trade organic coffee and freshly baked quiche on the patio at Buena Vista Roastery. Hiking a fourteener is an obvious choice for the day’s activity—the Decalibron Loop near Fairplay allows you to summit three peaks (plus a fourth if you’re into trespassing on private land) in quick succession—but if you’re visiting in the warmer months, you’ll want to play in the mighty Arkansas. River Runners is one of the oldest rafting companies in the area, offering myriad outings through early September. If the water is running high, opt for the splashy, half-day Browns Canyon National Monument trip ($60 per person), a thrilling ride through Class III and IV rapids. Once you’ve dried off, grab a picnic table by the river and refuel with an order of mahi mahi tacos and a margarita from the on-site cantina.
After experiencing the Arkansas’ chilly waters, drive 5.5 miles west of town to the Cottonwood Hot Springs Inn & Spa (day passes $15 to $20), where you can soak in five pools that range from 83 to 110 degrees. The moment might seem set for an adult beverage, but the property is booze-free. For a quick nip, pop into Deerhammer Distilling Company’s tasting room on Main Street and order the High Roller. Made with the distiller’s Whitewater Whiskey, pineapple juice, almond syrup, and lime juice, the cocktail is a much-needed cool-down after marinating in hot water. Sit back and relax. The only other thing on your agenda is a reservation with the beef and broccoli udon and spicy tuna–macadamia nut Eddy Roll at the Asian Palate, the best restaurant in town, just across the street. —Daliah Singer
Drive Time from Denver: About five hours
Claim to Fame: The Great Pagosa Hot Spring is known as one of the hottest and deepest natural mineral flows in the world.
Located 30 miles from the New Mexico border, this bigger-than-you-might-think burg has a distinct resort-town vibe. With the San Juan River flowing right through town, two distinct retail districts with great restaurants and bars, and renowned hot springs, it’s easy to see why. You could while away 36 hours doing nothing but relaxing in this vacation-worthy destination, but with so many other activities to enjoy, you’d be remiss not to check out a few of them.
Although it’s not a stressful drive from Denver to Pagosa Springs (if you come down U.S. 285, it’s actually quite pleasant), five hours in the car can mean an aching back. Fortunately, if you’ve booked a reservation at the Springs Resort and Spa—ask for an EcoLuxe room if you can swing it (starting at $309)—you can soak away the strain in one of 23 mineral pools, which range in temperature from 89 to 114 degrees, any time of the day or night.
Fight the urge to jump into the pools upon your midday arrival and choose instead to walk across the river to have lunch downtown. Although there are a few boutiques along Main Street to the left, take a right from the Hermosa Street bridge and walk a quarter-mile to Riff Raff Brewing Company. Find a table on the shaded patio, ask for a pint of Hopgoblin American IPA, and order the Big Lambowski, a juicy lamb burger with tangy cucumber-feta relish. Next, pop across the street to peruse the eclectic home furnishings at Handcrafted Interiors—the wall art, pottery, and woven baskets are particularly enticing.
The Springs Resort and Spa; tubing on the San Juan River
After wandering back to your room and changing into some wicking threads, drive to the Hub Bike Shop in Uptown, just a few miles southwest on U.S. 160. Located in the City Market plaza, the Hub rents mountain bikes, kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards. You can snag a mountain bike to hit the Turkey Springs mountain bike trail system, often accessed by locals at Gate 5, just off North Pagosa Boulevard. Or, if water is more your thing, pick up a kayak or paddleboard and tool around on Echo Lake, Williams Creek Reservoir, or Navajo Reservoir.
Riff Raff Brewing Company; the golden beet salad at the Alley House Grill
If you’re spitting sand after all that exertion, stop by Wolfe Brewing Co. for a swig of the sessionable Pagoslow Palezner before heading back to the Springs Resort to enjoy an early evening swim. Kids are welcome in the pools, but if you want a moment of peace, check out the five adults-only pools secluded at one side of the resort. Shower off the sulfur smell before walking back downtown for a glass of white wine and upscale eats at the Alley House Grille. If you can score a patio table, do so—and then order the golden beet salad and the Colorado half chicken with creamy pan sauce.
Start the next morning at Pagosa Baking Co. downtown. Don’t let anyone tell you dessert isn’t for breakfast, because a slice of fresh apple pie is a perfect way to begin a day. Of course, so is a green chile–doused breakfast burrito. Either way, make sure you’re sated because you’ve got a long day of tubing with Pagosa Outside ahead of you. Depending on water flow, the San Juan River is often floatable into mid-September. If that’s the case, $25 will get you a river tube and a full-day pass on Pagosa Outside’s shuttle, which takes you back upriver for another run (and then another!).
After playing like a kid all day, a little adult relaxation will do you good. You can book spa treatments at the Springs Resort, but locals like getting facials with Lynne Killey at Queen Bee Organic Skin Care, an in-home spa.
As the day winds down, you’ll have to decide on dinner plans. Two great options to choose from: Thai Chilie for simple but delicious plates of curry, or Side Street Sushi for sashimi, nigiri, and rolls. Remember: An early dinner means plenty of time for a final soak—and a nightcap from the resort’s Canteen. —LBK
The Four Corners Folk Festival—featuring more than a dozen bands—lands in Pagosa Springs from September 4 to 6. Along with live tunes, this festival offers music workshops, kids’ programs, food vendors, and a tent city for those who want to immerse themselves for the weekend.
Drive Time from Denver: Five-and-a-half hours
Claim to Fame: The Ouray Ice Park is a free ice-climbing area with more than 200 routes. (Of course, you’ll have to visit in the winter to check it out.)
You don’t arrive in Ouray by accident. Tucked along the Uncompahgre River inside a box canyon, the former mining town only has one way in and one way out: Highway 550, which at the south end of Ouray turns into the Million Dollar Highway, a 25-mile stretch of asphalt with beautiful but precipitous drop-offs. It’s an appropriate byway for a town built on adventure. Whether your brand of excitement calls for boots with good tread or a vehicle with high clearance, Ouray’s escapades won’t disappoint you.
Backdropped by a ring of 12,000-foot peaks east of town, Hotel Ouray provides an apt introduction to the tiny burg of Ouray. The 14-room inn was built in 1893—the same year the repeal of the Silver Act spelled doom for many of Colorado’s mining towns—but got a recent face-lift from new owners Patty and Patrick Biolchini. With its five domed windows and two bedrooms, the modernly appointed Corner Suite (starting at $159) proffers the best view of Main Street.
Even if you didn’t leave Denver until lunchtime, you’ll still have enough daylight for a much-needed leg-stretcher on the short but rewarding hike to Cascade Falls. Not as famous as nearby Box Canyon Falls, but free and just as pretty, the half-mile hike up to a tunnel behind the spray is an invigorating welcome to town. Once refreshed, meander over to Mr. Grumpy Pants Brewing Co. for a well-deserved brew. Then wander four blocks south for a slice of pie from MineShaft Pizzeria.
Finish easing into vacation mode with a soak at the Wiesbaden Hot Springs Spa & Lodgings ($15 for three hours) near the courthouse building that cameoed in John Wayne’s True Grit. The public hot springs at the north end of town are cheaper, but they don’t come with a vapor cave (an underground hot springs). In this otherworldly chamber, cool water flows across a natural rock wall and hot water pipes into a pool at 108 degrees. Since these hot springs are sulfur-free, you’ll come out feeling refreshed—not reeking of rotten eggs.
Alpine Scenic Tours takes visitors high into the San Juan Mountains; Sam Rushing hard at work at Ouray Glassworks and Pottery
In the morning, rise early to make it to Mouse’s Chocolates & Coffee, a Ouray institution, when it opens at 7 a.m. so you’re sure to get one of the famous scrap cookies. These sugary delights are jammed with leftover ingredients from the previous day’s candy-making. Stash one in your bag and grab a cup of locally roasted coffee and a breakfast burrito before meeting Michael Lane, owner of two-year-old Alpine Scenic Tours and your guide to the aspen-draped San Juans for the next four hours. Lane delights in relating local lore while expertly maneuvering his tricked-out off-road vehicle (clear rain flies and heated bucket seats) along Yankee Boy Basin or Imogene Pass.
Lane’s half-day trip ($55) will have you back in town in time for lunch at Timberline Deli & Sandwich Factory, where the Avocado Delight, packed with turkey, bacon, Swiss, and avocado, promises to keep you stuffed until supper. Walk it off with a tour of Main Street’s shops. Just don’t be surprised if your wallet also ends up a little lighter after visits to Ouray Glassworks and Pottery, where Sam Rushing creates beautiful baubles, and Blue Pear, a closet-size boutique showcasing an international collection of goodies (shearing scissors from India, anyone?).
After dropping some cash, head to Buen Tiempo Mexican Restaurant, a locals’ favorite serving nine margaritas and some of the tastiest spinach enchiladas you’ll ever have. You’ll have to pay a dollar to find out how the cantina gets all of the bills to stick to the ceiling, but it’s worth it: Over the past 15 years, owner Michael Lingenfelter has donated more than $30,000—all of it from Buen Tiempo’s ceiling—to local nonprofits.
And since no stay in Ouray is complete without sipping a beer while perched on a swing seat at Ouray Brewing Co., make your final act of the day a stop at this alehouse, conveniently located directly across from your hotel. Translation: Bluegrass Pale Ale to pillow in two minutes flat. —KC
Take A Hike
Four treks if you have more time.
1. Uncompahgre River Walk — 2 miles, easy
2. Perimeter Trail — 5 miles, intermediate
3. Upper Cascade Falls Trail — 5 miles, difficult
4. Twin Peaks Trail — 6.4 miles, difficult
Drive Time from Denver: Three hours
Claim to Fame: The one-time potato capital of the coun- try, Carbondale developed the Red McClure potato, which was sent to top-tier eateries such as New York City’s Delmonico’s.
Carbondale may have been founded as a farming community in the late 1800s, but the town is known for something else these days: access to outdoor adventure. Situated at the confluence of the Crystal and Roaring Fork rivers, Carbondale offers thrills—mountain biking, rock climbing, fly-fishing, kayaking, and hiking—to satisfy a weekend warrior’s every whim. Visitors will also discover a quaint main street with thriving eateries, a lively arts community, and a friendly population that’s attracting national attention. In fact, Men’s Journal included the mountain hamlet in its 2015 list “The 10 Best Places to Live Now.”
A day and a half in Carbondale means striking a careful balance between calorie ingestion and energy exertion. Get out ahead of the former with a hike to Mushroom Rock, the trailhead for which sits conveniently at the turnoff to Carbondale from Highway 82. There are multiple ways to reach the fungus-shaped rocky overlook, but the 0.6-mile Outer Loop Trail’s steep path through red clay gets you to the panoramic view quickest.
Bird’s-eye view of Carbondale from Mushroom Rock
From Mushroom Rock, you probably can’t see the five-month-old Distillery Inn, Carbondale’s first boutique hotel—but it’s there, and it’s easily the most sought-after reservation in town. Each of the inn’s five rooms (starting at $250 per night) features a king-size bed, Italian linens, and bath products from Steamboat’s Ranch Organics. It’ll be difficult to pull yourself away from your private balcony with views of Mt. Sopris, but bellying up to the marble bar at the in-house Marble Distilling Co. tasting room downstairs is a worthy excuse. Marble Distilling currently offers three spirits—vodka, Gingercello, and Moonlight Expresso, a coffee liqueur—with gin and whiskey in the works. Soak up the alcohol with a meat and cheese plate served on a…wait for it…marble slab.
You’ll be glad you didn’t overindulge at the distillery because just two blocks away awaits Allegria, chef Andreas Fischbacher’s ode to Italian-European cuisine. Local ingredients—harvested in the same hills you’ve been staring at—pepper the ever-changing menu. Order the linguine and clams with a glass of super Tuscan. The elegant food and low lighting are the perfect prelude to relaxing in front of the gas fireplace back in your room.
An 8 a.m. alarm calls for a trip to Bonfire Coffee, where you’ll do well to order a pour-over and the bacon-hummus-arugula-tomato-avocado breakfast bagel. It’s a 25-minute drive to Two Rivers Park in Glenwood Springs to meet Shaine Ebrahimi and Mary Sundblom of Carbondale-based Shaboomee Stand Up Paddleboarding for a private two-and-a-half-hour white-water lesson on the Colorado River (starting at $200). After a short skills overview, you’ll make your way downriver on Ebrahimi’s custom-designed boards. Get ready to feel new muscles as your core strains to keep you balanced on the rushing water. If your legs are feeling stable, try standing through small sets of rapids. Worst-case scenario: You fall in and pull yourself back on the board. More likely: You’ll reach the Whitewater Park pullout and ask if you can do it again.
Beef rib-eye steak with lemon spinach and oven-roasted tomatoes at Allegria; the stills at Marble Distilling Co.
Refuel after the SUP lesson on the patio at Fatbelly Burgers on Carbondale’s Main Street; nothing on the small but mouthwatering menu exceeds $9. Then make quick work of the five-block main drag’s antique shops and boutiques (don’t miss the flirty women’s wear at Lulubelle or nature-influenced pieces at Harmony Scott Jewelry Design). Along the way, view the dozen or so sculptures on various corners, part of the area’s blossoming commitment to the arts. You’ll need your car to visit the most esteemed cultural spot in town: The year-old Powers Art Center, a two-story minimalist structure with massive windows, is a showcase for a rotating selection of American printmaker Jasper Johns’ collection of works on paper.
Chat about Johns’ artwork over dinner at Silo, where the menu is written on a chalkboard wall and breakfast is available all day. Thirty-five-year-old chef-owner Lacy Hughes worked for venerated Roaring Fork Valley chef Mark Fischer for years before opening her own upscale but casual restaurant 11 months ago. The menu changes frequently, but expect dressed-up versions of your favorite foods, like a pear, Gorgonzola, honey, and thyme pizza. Before retiring to the inn, walk two doors down to Roaring Fork Beer Company. A pint of Freestone Extra Pale Ale makes for a not-too-heavy nightcap. After all, you won’t want to be hazy during a stroll through True Nature Healing Arts’ peace garden the next morning. —DS
Got the whole crew with you? Book a spot at Avalanche Ranch Cabins & Hot Springs (starting at $150 per night) 12 miles south of Carbondale. With 13 cabins, three guest wagons, three natural hot springs pools, and zero cell service, this is a true escape.