A ski-in, ski-out condo on your favorite hill. A log cabin along a stream full of trout. A cozy A-frame nestled in evergreens. Daydreaming about owning a mountain getaway is a classic pastime for many Denverites. “To me, it’s one of the best things you can do, or even aspire to, living in Colorado,” says Bob Graham, a real estate attorney and founding partner at Denver law firm Foster Graham Milstein & Calisher who co-owns a townhome in Winter Park with friends.

There are, of course, many metro-area residents who can only fantasize about buying a first home on Centennial State soil. Various reports rank Denver’s housing shortage as one of the worst in the nation, with the biggest gaps on the entry-level end of the spectrum. “Even just to attain a home in the city, people are going in [together to buy]—unmarried couples, friends, siblings,” says Keri Duffy, an agent with Kentwood Real Estate.

In response to similar inventory and affordability issues across the United States, in 2022 the Federal Housing Finance Agency hiked fees on second home loans sold to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Rising interest rates have made the cost of borrowing money—or tapping into the value of your primary house via a home equity line of credit—much higher. Cities and counties across Colorado, particularly in popular resort destinations such as Breckenridge, have enacted regulations aimed at dramatically curtailing short-term rentals (STRs) via digital platforms such as Airbnb and VRBO. And a much-buzzed-about bill currently making its way through the state Legislature could reclassify certain Colorado STRs and raise their tax assessment rate. (Sponsor and state Senator Chris Hansen of Denver says he expects the final, revised version to apply only to units rented 180 to 200 or more days per year, which equates to just three to four percent of STRs in the state.)

Whether it passes or not, the volatility of regulations around STRs—which have proliferated over the past decade as a way for middle-class second-home owners to pay their mortgages—combined with other financial hurdles of the moment means it’s a particularly tough time to make the math work, especially in Colorado’s hottest markets. Still, “if you have an open mind,” Guide Real Estate’s Bret Weinstein says, “you can have a second home.”

Below, we outline how locals are getting creative to achieve their mountain home ambitions—and how you can, too.

Strategies for Buying a Mountain Home In Colorado:

1. Buy In the Mountains First

When they couldn’t afford to own in their ideal Denver neighborhood, two transplants decided to get a place up the hill instead—and soon made Granby their full-time residence.

Great room with 2 people
Photo by Aaron Colussi

Layne and Leigh Litteer were sitting in Platt Park—during the fourth trip to Colorado the Texas couple had taken in a year—when one of them said it out loud. Why don’t we just move here? So, in early 2019, they did. Although they’d owned a house for the previous five years in Houston, they decided to sign a lease in Washington Park. “We thought we would just let the market cool while we decided where we would want to live in Denver,” Layne says.

Of course, the market did exactly the opposite, and by the time the Litteers had gotten hooked on living blocks from one of the city’s best green spaces, real estate prices there were difficult to rationalize. “Since we loved Wash Park and didn’t want to spend $800,000 on a tear-down,” Layne says, “we decided, You know what, if we’re gonna buy something, let’s buy something in the mountains and keep renting in Denver.”

With the help of their agent, Monica Graves of eXp Realty, they zeroed in on Granby, one of the more affordable spots in the greater Winter Park area. Because the couple planned to use the property only on select weekends and to short-term rent it, they got a second-home loan that required 20 percent down—but the fact that they weren’t carrying a primary mortgage resulted in a more favorable interest rate and a higher approval amount, Graves says. In summer 2021, they closed on a $695,000, 1,800-square-foot duplex in Granby Ranch, a community built around a small ski resort and an 18-hole golf course.

By then, Layne’s construction management job had gone mostly remote, but Leigh was still working on-site at King Soopers pharmacies. A month before they intended to list the duplex on Airbnb, however, Leigh got a text from her boss: The pharmacist position at the Granby grocery store was available. Did she want to apply? “I think we made the decision in 24 hours,” Leigh says. “We can always move back to Denver. That was the easy part. Getting up here was the hard part.”

Three years later, Layne skis or mountain bikes on his lunch breaks and Leigh documents baby deer and foxes from the deck of the four-bedroom, $1.1 million Granby home the couple upgraded to in January 2023. In addition to getting the perks of a primary home mortgage, when the Litteers sold their duplex, they benefitted from steep equity gains between 2021 and 2023, years Granby saw 36 to 50 percent appreciation, per Graves.

“Sometimes I miss good food,” Leigh says. “But if I want a Denver weekend, I can go have a Denver weekend.” Otherwise, entertainment includes friends from the neighborhood coming over for happy hour with Continental Divide views, ogling the Milky Way from the hot tub at night, and reveling in the landscape that made them leave Texas for Colorado in the first place.

2. Split a Ski House

A Colorado Springs real estate agent capitalized on an opportunity to go in with neighbors on a trailside duplex in Breckenridge.

Breck interior, family gathered in family room
From left: Sumer Liebold enjoys her shared Breckenridge duplex with her children, Claire, Bennett, and Jack; her husband, Eric; and co-owner David Angelidis. Photo by Aaron Colussi

Sumer Liebold is no stranger to juggling properties: The Gunnison native operates multiple rentals in Colorado Springs, and she and her husband, Eric, own a gas station on the way to Breckenridge. But until October 2020, they’d never had a getaway of their own. Even with the income from those side hustles, her job with 8z Real Estate, and Eric’s work running a trucking company, buying the kind of mountain place they’d want to take their three kids (ages 13, 10, and six) to on the weekends didn’t seem practical financially.

Then, in the first fall of the pandemic, another couple in their neighborhood—friends with similarly aged children—told Sumer that the two families they co-owned a duplex with in Breck wanted to sell their portions of the share. “We were like, Well, it is a stretch, but let’s make it happen,” Sumer says, noting that the property (currently estimated at nearly $2 million on Zillow) had gained a lot of equity they would need to buy out in cash. After selling one of their rentals, the Liebolds took over one-third of the mortgage with their neighbors, Matt and Sallie Kate Angelidis, and Matt’s brother, David Angelidis.

Breck exterior cabin
Photo by Aaron Colussi

The home is on the south side of the resort, meaning the Liebolds can make the door-to-door trip from the Springs in about two hours, and the group recently renovated the garage into a beetle-kill-pine-clad gear closet, making it even easier to hop on the adjacent tree trail to Peak 9. The home’s large footprint—3,500 square feet, with four bedrooms—means there’s plenty of space even if everyone decides to show up at once, which sometimes happens because the owners don’t have set weeks.

“It was the best decision ever, but you gotta trust who you’re with,” Liebold says. Her group uses a shared Google calendar to let one another know when they are planning to visit (friends and family are welcome, too, but they don’t rent the home out). A professional cleaner comes once a month, but, Liebold says, “the place stays cleaner than any of our homes because none of us want to leave it a mess.”

The laid-back nature of the Liebolds’ arrangement—not always the case for such splits—only adds to the feeling that the home is a true vacation destination they just happen to be able to visit whenever they want. “It’s so nice to retreat up there and play cards with the kids or dig into a puzzle,” Liebold says. “You leave the stress of your house, and you don’t have a lot of clutter or to-dos or anything up here. It’s so relaxing.”

3. Go (Way) Off I-70

Priced out of Summit County, a Denver couple took a chance on a quaint, unknown-to-them mountain town northwest of Colorado Springs.

Florissant exterior, drone
Andrew (left) and Christine Hall take in views of Pikes Peak from the back porch of their Florissant cabin. Photo by Aaron Colussi

As Christine and Andrew Hall began searching for a mountain getaway in 2022, their wish list was short but firm: They wanted a quintessential Colorado log cabin with enough room to host family and friends, plus the ability to open the home to short-term renters to help cover their mortgage payments. But the Denver couple knew that finding those attributes within their $550,000 budget meant they needed to broaden their search geographically. “We looked pretty much everywhere besides Summit County because we were already priced out of that area,” Andrew says. “I would love to be at the bottom of Peak 7 in Breckenridge, but our price point would’ve only gotten us a 300-square-foot studio anywhere near there.”

While perusing Zillow one evening, Andrew stumbled upon a three-bedroom cabin set on five acres in Florissant. He and Christine had never heard of the town northwest of Colorado Springs, so they initially dismissed it. But after two offers they had submitted on other homes were rejected, the Halls scheduled a showing.

“We immediately fell in love with it,” Andrew says of the 1985 log home with a recently renovated kitchen, stargazing-ready skylights, and views of Pikes Peak. They bought it fully furnished for $545,000 in April 2023.

Since then, the Halls have gotten better acquainted with Florissant. Although it’s not Breck’s bustling Main Street, the sleepy town (population: 174) is perfectly sufficient for the couple. “You have access to everything you need—maybe not everything you want—within a 10-minute drive,” Andrew says. “And obviously, there’s plenty of access to nature.” When the couple feels cabin fever setting in, they head to Woodland Park, 20 minutes away, which has a wider variety of restaurants, shops, and activities.

Florissant interior, couple with wine
Photo by Aaron Colussi

If anything, the Halls consider their vacation home’s remote setting a perk. Located in Teller County, Florissant has no short-term rental restrictions, which allows the couple to recoup some of the cabin’s costs when they’re not staying there. Without having to battle I-70 traffic, they can count on the drive along I-25 from their primary residence in Platt Park to take no more than two hours. And like on many lots in Florissant, there’s not a neighbor in sight. “We have chairs and a fire pit set up outside where we watch the sunrise and sunset,” Andrew says. “Even though Breck is more desirable in terms of being in the thick of [the mountains and ski resorts], it’s great to have a place where we can truly unplug.”

4 Mountain Towns Away from the I-70 Corridor

For most Coloradans, a vacation home near the beloved slopes along I-70 is a budget-breaking nonstarter. “There’s still a huge demand for Summit County homes, but that demand diminishes when we talk about prices,” says James Carlson, who co-owns Denver-based Erin & James Real Estate with his wife, Erin Spradlin. According to Carlson, these four mountain towns, accessible via other major corridors, have prices that are more likely to be right.

Cripple Creek
  • Median home price: $419,000
  • Drive time from Denver: 2 hours
  • Selling points: If fourteeners and slot machines are both on your getaway bingo card, Cripple Creek might be your ideal base camp. Situated beneath Pikes Peak, the casino town off I-25 offers entertainment on and off the trails as well as accessible home prices. “There’s a lot of money going into that area, so it has a lot of potential,” Carlson says, noting that Las Vegas–based Full House Resorts recently opened its Chamonix Casino Hotel in the former mining town.

Median home price: $509,000
Drive time from Denver: 1.5 hours
Selling points: What the tiny town of Como lacks in nightlife and dining, it makes up for in natural splendor. “If you could calculate a beauty-per-dollar ratio, this area would be your best investment,” Carlson says of the former railroad town 13 minutes northeast of Fairplay on U.S. 285. “You can get views similar to those in Summit County for less than half the price.” Plus, a scenic 45-minute drive to Breckenridge, over Boreas Pass, makes a daytrip to the resort town more than doable.


Median home price: $670,000/$929,000
Drive time from Denver: 1 hour
Selling points: Tucked in the foothills south of U.S. 285, Pine and Bailey offer “the benefits of the Colorado mountain experience—the pine trees, the views—but for slightly less money than Summit County,” Carlson says. With Lost Creek Wilderness Area as its backyard, “there’s hiking all over the place there.”

Grand Lake

Median home price: $794,000
Drive time from Denver: 2 hours
Selling points: Yes, technically you have to hop on I-70 for a stretch of the drive to Grand Lake (before exiting onto U.S. 40), but the town’s waterfront access makes the jaunt worth it. “I’m surprised prices aren’t even higher there,” Carlson says, noting that the area’s lakeside recreation and proximity to Rocky Mountain National Park make it an ideal vacation spot year-round.

4. Build On Undeveloped Land

Struggling to find a mountain escape that fit his vision, Golden resident Daniel Bedell decided to create it himself.

Blackhawk interior, family inside
Daniel Bedell relaxes with his wife, Jenny Presswalla, and kids, Reisz and Lilia, in their shipping container home near Black Hawk. Photo by Aaron Colussi

It started with an Airstream parked below his home near North Table Mountain. Daniel Bedell, a freelance photographer, put the trailer on Airbnb to make a little extra cash and was shocked by how many people wanted to stay in his Golden neighborhood. The success got Bedell thinking bigger—and higher.

After spending the first half of 2020 searching for a unique, marketable mountain home, Bedell began to take more seriously his father-in-law’s offhand suggestion that he just build something. Using county websites, Bedell found publicly available addresses for the owners of undeveloped lots in an idyllic lake community he’d discovered between Black Hawk and Nederland and began mailing heartfelt letters offering to buy them out. At first, his hopes for a prime locale on the shore that had been owned by a couple in Oregon for nearly 40 years seemed dashed by an email response: “The area…is truly magical…. Our land there was a birthday present for my wife in the 1980s. We…are not planning to sell.”

Bedell threw out a number anyway. After some negotiation, the lot was his for $170,000 and a promise to give the previous owner’s family a free one-week stay every year for the next decade. Then, the hard part: construction. Research led Bedell to a Canadian company called Honomobo that produces modular shipping container homes. Charmed by the cozy, modern vibe, Bedell placed his order for a three-bedroom, 1,530-square-foot unit. He soon learned Colorado allows owners to serve as their own general contractors and pull permits, which was a good thing, because Bedell was unable to find anyone willing to work on the remote site.

Blackhawk container house exterior
Photo by Aaron Colussi

Between subcontractors and YouTube videos, Bedell prepped the plot. Among the many to-dos were clearing trees, engineering a septic system, drilling a 420-foot well, and pouring the foundation. Meanwhile, time was getting short for Bedell’s plans to fund the project via short-term rentals. Gilpin County had tightened its restrictions, and although Bedell scored the last license available in his category, it was only good if he could pass the required inspection within 30 days—which he did, on the last possible day.

From there, Bedell’s wife, Jenny Presswalla, scoured Facebook Marketplace for deals on decor and Bedell custom-built furnishings using milled wood from the property. Bedell shared the process via @stillwaterluxe on Instagram and has hosted influencers to promote the Airbnb listing, which went live in November 2023. Eventually, Bedell hopes the extra income will give him the cushion to pursue a writing career and help Jenny grow her interior design business. “I want to build memories of my family here—and it has to be an investment property,” Bedell says. “We don’t have the money to have a second house if it’s not.”

How Much It Cost a Front Range Resident to Construct an A-Frame in Kremmling

In July 2020, Janice Stitzer came across a Dwell article about Den Outdoors, a New York–based home design startup that sells building plans for small homes, cabins, and ADUs. “It spoke to me,” Stitzer says of the modern A-frame cabin featured in the writeup. “The architectural design and the remote setting were breathtaking, and I immediately felt a calling to make this [my] reality.” Over the next two years, Stitzer—who owns Westminster-based roofing company CIG Construction with her contractor husband, Kelly—bled, sweat, and even broke a toe to realize her newfound dream.

After securing a large swath of land in Kremmling (about a half hour west of Granby), she used plans from Den Outdoors to kickstart the build of a two-bedroom, approximately 1,400-square-foot A-frame nestled in the foothills of the Gore Range—and documented the entire process on Instagram through @backcountryaframe. When followers flooded her with questions about building their own remote getaways, she founded Uncommon Developer, a consulting company that guides clients through the ground-up construction process.

Here, Stitzer breaks down the money matters of the A-frame that started it all, which has become a retreat for her family and a short-term-rental income stream that grossed $85,000 in 2023.

Budget Breakdown
  • Initial building plan from Den Outdoors: $299
  • Building plan revisions from local architect: $3,400
  • Structural engineer: $2,400
  • Seven acres of land in Kremmling (Stitzer originally bought a 12-acre parcel for $111,000 but sold off five for $79,000): $32,000
  • Site tests, topographic surveys, and permits: $6,802
  • Construction (materials and labor): $348,847
  • Total cost: $393,748

More Second-House Hacks

Get a DSCR Loan

Unlike conventional loans for primary homes, which can require as little as three percent down with lower-end interest rates, second home and investment property loans generally necessitate at least a 20 percent down payment and come with higher rates. And that’s if you can even get one after lenders evaluate your debt-to-income ratio to determine if you can cover both mortgages.

An increasingly popular option for people who intend to rent out their additional properties (short or long term), however, is a debt service coverage ratio (DSCR) loan. For DSCR loans, lenders basically ignore your income and appraise the rent potential of the listing instead. “We’re not qualifying you, as the buyer,” says Kate Higgins, loan officer with Denver’s BW Mortgages. “We’re qualifying the property.” DSCR loans still require 20 percent or more down but significantly lower the barrier to entry for real estate investing—and for scoring at least a part-time mountain home.

Form an LLC

The first thing Bob Graham—a real estate attorney with Denver’s Foster Graham Milstein & Calisher who has co-owned multiple mountain properties over the years—tells clients considering going in with friends or family? “Especially if you’re renting these properties out to help defray costs,” Graham says, “you want to hold them in an LLC [limited liability company].” That way, if anyone were to, say, slip on your wet-with-snowmelt tile, break their leg, and sue you, Graham says, “the only thing at risk is the assets of that entity. It’s not your personal home or your other personal assets.”

Beyond that, Graham recommends using the LLC’s operating agreement to set house rules: Can owners bring friends or pets? Who pays for cleaning and when? What happens if someone loses their job and can’t make their portion of the mortgage? And, when one party inevitably wants to sell, how much notice do they have to give, do co-owners get first dibs, and what will the appraisal process be?

Add an ADU To Your Primary Home

One way to pave the financial path to achieving your vacation-home-ownership dreams? Generate extra income by adding a rentable accessory dwelling unit (ADU) to your lot—a supplemental income strategy that was made more accessible after Denver’s Department of Community Planning and Development updated the city’s ADU zoning codes this past summer. (In short, the rules no longer mandate uniform sizes, resulting in ADU designs that are more tailored to individual lots and, thus, easier and more cost-efficient to build.) “An ADU is one of the highest-ROI home improvement projects you can undertake,” says Jeremy Nova, co-founder of Boulder-based Studio Shed, which creates prefabricated backyard ADUs. That reward comes with time, patience, and yes, up-front costs: Studio Shed’s finished units start around $130,000. But for those willing to take the long road to a mountain home, investing in a city ADU to rent out, short or long term, is a smart stepping stone.

Evaluate a Raw Plot

Spend $13,900, and you can get a .33-acre lot in Idaho Springs near Saint Mary’s Glacier. Drop $48,000, and 4.55 acres close to Nederland’s Hessie trailhead could be yours. But should you? “The very first thing is diving into the vision of what you desire,” Kelly McCallister, an agent with 8z Real Estate who specializes in Boulder County, says. “Do you want to park an RV? Build a tiny house or container house? Buying a log cabin kit is always very romantic, but you have to check with the county; some, because of fire hazards, won’t allow those.” Septic, electric, well drilling, natural or propane gas: The costs of developing a rural property can add up quickly, which is why McCallister recommends a longer due diligence period than you’d have buying in the city.

Janice Stitzer, owner of consultant company Uncommon Developer (which offers a free Raw Land Due Diligence Checklist on its website), agrees: “Take your time when buying land. If the land is ‘cheap,’ you’ll pay dearly by having to prep the site and install utilities.” Have a local general contractor, architect, and/or structural engineer evaluate the terrain’s limitations and possibilities, and research applicable HOAs and short-term rental restrictions. “It’s an endeavor, and you have to have quite a bit of grit and perseverance,” McCallister says. “I’m not saying it’s not possible. I’m just saying that it’s a longer road than you would expect.”

Consider Co-ownership (But Not a Timeshare)

If you’ve visited any of Colorado’s marquee resort towns, you’ve probably gazed at the stunning mansions perched on the hillsides and wondered (perhaps with a tinge of bitterness) how often anyone’s actually home. “When I started in real estate up here, the saying was $10 million, 10,000 square feet, 10 days a year,” says Heidi Trueblood, a managing broker with 8z Real Estate in the Vail Valley. “Nothing is worse than having a behemoth of a home like that sit empty most of the time.” So when Pacaso came calling for help finding luxury properties in Vail, Trueblood was happy to assist.

Founded in 2020, the international company employs an innovative co-ownership model: It purchases multimillion-dollar homes in vacation destinations around the world, redecorates them to fit its standards and modern aesthetic, then divides them into eight equal shares. Once it finds buyers, Pacaso basically becomes the property manager. Monthly fees cover things like professional cleaning services, the app that owners use to book their stays, and maintenance. Whenever someone wants to sell, Pacaso also handles that transaction—but unlike in a traditional timeshare, that owner pockets any equity the home gained.

The concept has proven popular in the Rockies, says Pacaso spokesperson Chrissy Bruchey: Compared with the 40 markets Pacaso is currently in, “we always run out of inventory in Colorado mountain towns quickly.” Shares available in the Centennial State have included $267,188 for a two-bed, two-bath Snowmass Village condo and $13 million for a 60-acre ranch in Aspen. While those prices don’t exactly scream “middle class,” a recent economic impact study Pacaso commissioned found that benefits from its model do, in fact, trickle down. Here, two key takeaways.

1. Higher use benefits local businesses. The average Pacaso home is occupied 89 percent of the year, while the average second home is empty more than 10 months. “Our owners have their favorite coffeeshops in town,” Bruchey says. “They have their favorite restaurants.” In the Colorado mountain market, the study found the average Pacaso home generates $49,650 more household spending annually than the average second home.

2. Concentrating second-home buyers into fewer, more expensive properties relieves demand on the rest of the market. The median Pacaso home in the Colorado mountain market is 10.2 times the price of a typical second home and 13.9 times the cost of a year-round home. So instead of snapping up eight homes in the $600,000 to $800,000 range, for example, eight Pacaso buyers only take one $8 million property off the market.

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