When it comes to choosing a filming location, scenery can’t compete with tax breaks. They’re why Toronto has doubled for New York City and Washington, D.C., and why Colorado’s film industry is struggling: Our rebates don’t cut it. But as the COVID-19 vaccine rolls out, there’s a pandemic-size backlog of content that has to be shot somewhere. Even with its meager incentives, Colorado could start to look pretty attractive to plenty of productions, especially when you consider that its varied terrain likely boasts the perfect stand-in, no matter the setting.

The Grand Canyon

Stand-in: Rattlesnake Canyon
Because: You thought we were going to suggest the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, didn’t you? It’s certainly steep, but if you’re looking for the Big Ditch’s rosy hues and iconic horizontal striations, Fruita’s Rattlesnake Canyon is the better choice.


Stand-in: Western Slope wineries
Because: Spaghetti Westerns, those sepia-toned cowboy flicks starring the likes of Clint Eastwood, were filmed in Spain and Italy, so let’s flip the script. The Western Slope boasts two federally recognized wine-producing regions: West Elks and Grand Valley. Wine Enthusiast even declared the latter a must-visit in 2018.

The Alps

Stand-in: The San Juan Mountains
Because: While there’s no way the hulking mass that is Pikes Peak will pass for the craggy Matterhorn, Mt. Sneffels in southwestern Colorado’s famously rugged San Juans just might. The range is even home to several luxe backcountry huts reminiscent of Italy’s fabled Alpine rifugi.

Any small town

Stand-in: Old Town, Fort Collins
Because: As part of the inspiration for Disneyland’s Main Street, U.S.A., attraction, downtown Fort Collins can easily swap in for hometowns everywhere.

Silicon Valley

Stand-in: Boulder
Because: Home to outposts of Google, Amazon, Twitter, and Apple, plus plenty of local startups (the city ranks fourth in the country for venture capital funding), Boulder is a doppelgänger for San Jose or Cupertino—as long as you stay indoors.


Stand-in: Denver
Because: If Cleveland, Toronto, and Liverpool, England, can all be New York City, so can Denver. We’ve got our own Flatiron Building (the Brown Palace Hotel); City Park’s design was inspired by Central Park; Larimer Square is like a one-block West Village; and 17th Street has enough high-rises to play the part. Just make sure to paint a few ride-shares yellow and don’t pan up.

The Sahara

Stand-in: Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
Because: It’s right in the name.

This article was originally published in 5280 May 2021.
Nicholas Hunt
Nicholas Hunt
Nicholas writes and edits the Compass, Adventure, and Culture sections of 5280 and writes for 5280.com.