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Bird's-eye view of Carbondale—with Mt. Sopris looming in the background—from Mushroom Rock on a mild March day.

First-Timer’s Guide: Carbondale

It's no wonder why Men's Journal recently proclaimed Carbondale one of "The 10 Best Places to Live Now." Plan your weekend escape with this guide. 

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When Men’s Journal named Carbondale one of “The 10 Best Places to Live Now” earlier this year, it clued the rest of the country in to something Colorado adventurers have long known: There’s no shortage of things to do in this mountain hamlet. Located between Glenwood Springs and Aspen, at the confluence of the Crystal and Roarking Fork rivers, Carbondale offers easy access to skiing, mountain biking, rock climbing, fly-fishing, and more. Combine that with a stellar dining scene, a charming downtown, and an up-and-coming arts scene, and you’ve got the perfect spot for a weekend getaway. Take our word for it.


The Odometer: 170 miles, one way

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This could be you, warming up chilled bones in Penny Hot Springs

Get Outside: Skiing or snowboarding is an obvious must-do during the winter: Aspen‘s four mountains are just 30 miles away, and Sunlight Mountain (12 miles from downtown) offers guided backcountry tours of Williams Peak. Non-downhillers can explore 12 miles of nordic joy with the Spring Gulch Trail System seven miles west of town. Skiing not your thing? Aloha Mountain Cyclery recently started renting fat bikes ($35 for half-day, $50 for full-day); take your wheels to the new—groomed!—fat bike-specific trail system in Crown Mountain Park, or check out Aloha’s regularly updated trail report for other spots worth your time. Whatever’s on your agenda, make sure to warm up afterward with a visit to the Penny Hot Springs (pictured), just off the east side of Highway 133 near mile marker 55 (in other words: it’s free). For a more traditional hot water dip, drive 11 miles south of town to Avalanche Ranch Cabins & Hot Springs ($15 to $18 for day visitors) for three natural pools and Instagram-worthy views.

Find Silo’s constantly changing menu on a chalkboard wall

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Eat: For a town with a population that hovers just over 5,000 people (by the last official count in 2010), Carbondale has one heck of a dining scene. If you’re in an a.m. rush, grab a doughnut from Town‘s counter or swing into Bonfire Coffee for small-batch java and a bagel sandwich (add an egg to the Om’s combo of hummus, arugula, tomato, cucumber, and avocado) to-go. Having a more leisurely start to your day? Do as the locals do and grab brunch at Village Smithy (expect a wait). When the sun goes down, you can’t go wrong with Phat Thai from acclaimed Roaring Fork Valley chef Mark Fischer (this is the original outpost of his now-closed Denver restaurant of the same name). Or opt for the year-old Silo, where farm-to-table is the focus and the ever-changing menu is listed on a chalkboard wall. Psst: A Texas-style barbecue joint, Shorty’s BBQ, is slated to open in January.

Roaring Fork Beer Company

Sip: Besides Marble Distilling Co.’s smooth spirits (see “Stay,” below), beer reigns supreme here. Roaring Fork Beer Company is a great stop before or after dinner at Silo (it’s next door); the Slaughterhouse Lager is a solid winter brew. On a sunny day, pull up a seat on the patio at Carbondale Beer Works, where there’s always a crowd of locals and visitors alike—especially on game day. Not a boozer? Look for Carbondale Soda Company’s refreshing, local, and organic offerings on menus around town.

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The studio of Colby June Jewelry; photo courtesy of Brent Moss

Get Artsy: Carbondale is a Candidate Creative District, meaning it has plenty of arts and culture offerings. Check the schedule at the Launchpad, a small fine art gallery and performing arts space, to see what’s happening while you’re in town. Save time to make the short drive to the year-old Powers Arts Center, a two-story showcase of works by American printmaker Jasper Johns; the view out its front door is worth your time alone. Back in town, walk the five-block main drag to vierw the dozen or so public art sculptures. While you’re in the area, check out local jewelry designer Colby June‘s three-year-old studio and store—and maybe take a bit of (wearable) art home with you.

A room with a view at the Distillery Inn; photo courtesy of the Distillery Inn

Stay: Sleeping where you drink is typically frowned upon. Not so at the eight-month-old Distillery Inn, a distillery and boutique hotel in one. Unwind at the gorgeous marble bar in the main floor tasting room while sipping on Marble Distilling Co.’s refreshing Gingercello before retiring to your Italian linen-covered king-size bed. With its location on the east end of Main Street—within walking distance of downtown—you’ll be in no hurry the next morning. If you’d rather stay outside of town, Element by Westin opened its eco-minded doors in Basalt (seven miles away) on December 8. Perks: complimentary hot breakfast, a daily wine hour, and an in-house ski and bike concierge team. (Colorado residents receive 10 percent off rooms through May 31.)

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If You Do One Thing…: Take a selfie from Mushroom Rock, with Mt. Sopris and the Roarking Fork Valley in the background (pictured, top). The trailhead is conveniently situated at the turnoff to Carbondale from Highway 82, and you can choose-your-own-adventure from the myriad trail options leading up to the well-known rock formation.

—All photos courtesy of the author unless otherwise noted

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