Yes, flocking to the mountains is something we all do to escape the Denver heat and recreate on the plentiful trail, rivers, and lakes. But in recent years, Colorado’s mountain towns have also become hubs for one-of-a-kind, under-the-radar cultural offerings. From opera to trail art to secret Shakespearean festivals and one-stop cultural oases, here are five high-country communities that are doing art right this summer.

Courtesy Crested Butte Center of Arts Culinary Arts

Crested Butte

Who it’s for: One-stop shop for every kind of art-seeker

Crested Butte has doubled down on its cultural stamp—quadrupled down, actually—as its new Center for the Arts, which opens July 1, is four times the size of the former venue and boasts improved and expanded galleries, visual arts areas, and performance venue. This summer, the Center will host around 300 diverse classes (everything from basket weaving to Henna Designs), a new Literary Arts Program with writing classes (such as songwriting and nature writing), and presentations from touring authors, as well as live music, theater, and an ever-growing Culinary Arts Program. Don’t miss the free and ticketed concerts hosted throughout the summer, including the Alpenglow free music series every Monday through August 19 (Grammy winners Rebirth Brass Band will play at the grand opening on July 1). The Center is also home to benchmark events like the Crested Butte Music Festival, the Crested Butte Film Festival, the Crested Butte Wine and Food Festival, and the 18th annual Tour de Forks.

Steamboat Springs

Who it’s for: Opera hounds

Most of us know Steamboat as a polestar for winter Olympians and a hotspot for hiking, biking, and soaking in the hot springs, but not many are aware of the Boat’s status on the globe’s operatic radar. Although it’s been around since 2002, Opera Steamboat (aka Emerald City Opera) has, as of this summer, hired a full-time executive director and joined the ranks of companies in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Philadelphia as a recipient of the prestigious Opera America grant for female composers, which will help fund the forthcoming Cookie by native Coloradan Leanna Kirchoff (premiering in 2021). This summer, in addition to hosting up-and-coming booming vocalists in its workshops and classes, Opera Steamboat will see a trio of world-class performances, including Frida on August 9 and 16, Hansel & Gretel on August 10 and 13, and Rusalka on August 16–17.

Vail/Beaver Creek

Who it’s for: Music lovers

The Vail Valley has been firmly etched on music lovers’ calendars for years, as evidenced by the longevity of  iconic events like the Vail Jazz Festival, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year with more than 85 performances, including free concerts every Friday in Edwards, and the valley’s classical music tableau, Bravo! Vail, notching its 32nd season. But there’s also newer series to seek out, like Whistle Pig Vail, which returns this summer with big names like Bon Iver (September 2) and Gary Clark Jr. (September 5.) Also, Beaver Creek’s year-round venue, Vilar Performing Arts Center, is often overlooked but worthy of fresh attention this summer with a slew of A-listers on the schedule, like country rompers the Mavericks on July 7, legendary guitarist and eight-time Grammy winner Buddy Guy on July 30, and poignant singer/songwriter José González on August 24.

BIFA’s free Trail Mix performance. Photo by Joe Kusumoto


Who it’s for: Outdoor adventurers

Most outdoor enthusiasts see nature as its own work of art, but encountering an organic sculpture–say, an incredibly realistic giant troll made from thousands of pieces of wood—in the middle of the trail is a surreal experience. This summer, the Breckenridge International Festival of Arts (BIFA), which runs from August 9 to 18, is taking its outdoor installations to another level—specifically, to the edge of a cliff somewhere (location to be announced)—with the local debut of BANDALOOP, a “vertical dance company” that specializes in dance art on the sides of buildings and in public places around the world. This summer’s BIFA will also feature free Trail Mix performances, in which musicians play live from the treetops and alongside local trails, the return of Isak Heartstone (the aforementioned troll) in a new location, and a brand new exhibit, the Golden Shelter, which raises awareness about preserving woodlands.


Who it’s for: Shakespeare buffs

Aspen doesn’t hold many secrets as far as its cultural offerings are concerned. Housing one of the most striking arrays of exhibits in any alpine environment, the Aspen Art Museum celebrates giant milestones this year–its 40th anniversary (from when it was originally opened in the town’s old power plant as the Aspen Center for Visual Arts) and five years at its current downtown location. Other cultural headlines include the return of the beloved Shakespeare in the Park series after a three-year hiatus. The resurrection of the series, founded and operated by the Hudson Reed Ensemble, will be held outdoors at the Basalt Regional Library and feature a trio of scenes from Romeo and Juliet, Taming of the Shrew, and Richard III. The free performances are on July 12, 13, 14, 19, and 21 at 7 p.m. Picnics are encouraged.