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Dillon Reservoir— Denver Water's largest water storage facility—is the heart of Dillon. Take in panoramic views from the Oro Grande Trail. Photo by Joey Reuterman

First-Timer’s Guide: Dillon

You've likely considered Dillon a pass-through on the way to mountain towns with more name recognition. But it's time to give this small Summit County enclave its due.

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It’s pretty easy to drive right through Dillon or grab a quick bite within its borders and not even realize it. The Summit County town has less than 1,000 residents, and its boundaries blend into neighboring Silverthorne (locals say you’re in Dillon once you pass the OfficeMax on U.S. 6, headed east). But there are plenty of reasons to purposefully seek out the mountain community. Dillon, which was originally incorporated as a stagecoach stop, has upped its cultural and digestible offerings, and it’s a gateway to endless high-country adventures. Take a look.

The Odometer: 66 miles from Denver, one-way

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Dillon Reservoir
Winter ice boating on Dillon Reservoir. Photo by Elaine Collins

Get Outside

Dillon Reservoir is the heart of the town, and it’s a year-round playground. In the winter, test your skills snow kiteboarding, ice boating, and ice fishing. When the weather warms, rent boats, paddleboards, or kayaks at the Marina—the highest in the world—and spend the day basking in the sun.

There are a variety of trails in and around Dillon (for panoramic views, check out Sapphire Point), and, just outside of town, there’s the Keystone Nordic Center. The venue is run by a former Olympian and offers access to more than nine miles of groomed trails. Rent Nordic gear or snowshoes and explore on your own (if you already have gear, you’ll just need to pay the trail fee), or sign up for a lesson with one of the knowledgeable and easygoing instructors. There’s also a tubing hill for the little ones. Whatever your activity of choice, be sure to make it back to the Center before 2 p.m. for homemade soups.

Four nearby resorts—BreckenridgeKeystoneCopper Mountain, and Arapahoe Basin—offer plenty of other ways to sneak in some extra outdoor thrills, including alpine skiing, mountain biking, zip lining, and golf.

Dillon Amphitheater
You won’t find a bad seat at Dillon Amphitheater. Photo courtesy of Jenise Jenson

Arts & Culture

Red Rocks may have some competition. OK, not really, but Dillon Amphitheater does have some jaw-dropping views. An almost $10 million facelift was unveiled last summer, and the venue has had a packed calendar ever since. As you might guess, summer is busy season, with a lineup of free and paid concerts (check out the 2019 calendar), as well as fun, regular events like Women & Wine On the Water and Sunday Movies on the Water. The summer farmer’s market is also held near the amphitheater every Friday, from June through mid-September.

Technically, the Lake Dillon Theatre Company, the only professional theater troupe in Summit County, performs out of the Silverthorne Performing Arts Center, but we can’t fault them for finding a shiny new home (SPAC opened in summer 2017). You can find the 2019 theater schedule here.

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Chimayo
Shrimp taco deliciousness at après-hot spot Chimayo. Photo by Daliah Singer

Eat & Drink

It’s never difficult to find a hearty meal in the mountains. In Dillon, you’ll want to start your day—or end it—at 16-year-old Arapahoe Cafe & Pub. The family-owned eatery cooks up classic a.m. fare and is known for its south-of-the-border grub (think: huevos rancheros and chilaquiles). The restaurant also serves lunch and dinner, and there’s a downstairs pub that’s ideal for catching the game. Fun fact: The restaurant is housed in an 1800s-era building that was relocated in the 1950s when Old Dillon was flooded to create the reservoir and Dillon Dam.

For a quicker morning option, grab coffee and a house-made bagel sandwich at the Pour House; the eatery’s location is ideal for adventurers headed to Keystone Ski Resort or the Keystone Nordic Center.

Midday, or post-outdoor adventuring, dig into a heaping portion of grilled shrimp tacos (pictured, above) or oversized burritos at Chimayo Grill. There’s regularly a line out the door, but no need to fret: At this fast-casual spot, most people are grabbing food to-go, and the queue moves quickly. Another favorite is Jersey Boys Pizza and Deli, which serves some of the best sandwiches in the state—without, it’s worth noting, the East Coast attitude.

Pug Ryan’s Brewing Company is an award-winning brewery (order whatever beer your server recommends) that also dishes up elevated pub grub. Start with the blistered shishito peppers before moving on to the bison-and-beef meatloaf. In the summer, Pug Ryan’s also operates a super-fun tiki bar at the Marina; fish tacos are the way to go there.

Or, check out the tiny Cafe Profusion, which serves delectable, house-made Asian eats that fall on the pricier end considering it’s still order-at-the-counter. The chicken curries and chocolate sorbet are both winning orders (though maybe not together).

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Everything Colorado
Find the perfect memento at locally owned Everything Colorado. (There’s gelato, too!) Photo by Daliah Singer

Shop

Shopping isn’t one of Dillon’s draws (head to the Outlets at Silverthorne if you’re looking to lighten your wallet), but there are a couple of places worth checking out. Sisters Ariel and Alison Johnston own and operate Everything Colorado, a souvenir shop that sells more than just the same-old T-shirts you can find anywhere. On a recent trip, we spotted Karmalit candles from Denver, wood bottle openers, and mountain-themed mugs and plant holders from Sage & Stone (pictured, above). There’s also a gelateria inside the store; order the blackberry-Cabernet sorbet, if it’s available. Across the parking lot is a fantastic REI with a decent-size sale section—just in case you forgot to pack your swimsuit or base layers.

Stay

Airbnb or other vacation rental sites are your best bet for overnights in Dillon, which doesn’t have any boutique hotels or cute B&Bs. If you’d prefer a spot where someone else will clean your room, though, the Best Western Ptarmigan Lodge is locally owned and operated. It features a hot tub, pet-friendly rooms, complimentary breakfast, and lockers to store your gear. We’re also excited about the forthcoming Homewood Suites Lake Dillon Lodge, an extended-stay hotel that’s expected to open later this year and will bring a rooftop bar to Dillon.

If You Do One Thing…

Get on the water. Yes, you can rent your own boat or paddleboard, as we mentioned above, but if you don’t want to take the wheel, sign up for a boat tour. There are sunset offerings, fall color trips, and even historical tours run by the Summit Historical Society.

Summer Guide

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