You probably think of Colorado as the go-to destination for snow skiing, river rafting, trout fishing, and other outdoor sports. Perhaps you've visited Aspen, Vail, or Denver on an activity-filled adventure and thought that was what the state had to offer was tourist meccas.
But that couldn't be further from the truth. Take some time to explore Colorado's backroads and byways, and you'll discover delightful small towns, hot springs, gold mines, and maybe even some dinosaurs!
Roll into Silverton along the Million Dollar Highway, and you'll enjoy jaw-dropping vistas along one of the most scenic byways in the country. Ornate architecture lines the city streets, beckoning for a self-guided walking tour. Stop for a bite at the Grand Restaurant & Saloon—this spacious hotel building was originally built as a private residence.
San Luis is situated in the world's largest and highest alpine desert in the southern part of Colorado. It's also the oldest continually occupied town in the state, making it a suitable place to experience the area's Spanish cultural roots. A Spanish mission sits atop a hill in the center of town with a scenic trail with vistas leading to it. Eat at Mrs. Rios Restaurant & Thai Kitchen to enjoy a delightful fusion of Spanish and Thai cuisine.
Creede's unembellished Victorian architecture inspired architect Avery Augur to design a master-planned community of modern homes that blend seamlessly with the town's picturesque old buildings. See the "Viking House," a reimagined combo of Victorian, Art Nouveau, Celtic, Viking, and Maori design using the home's old materials. Shop or dine in Creede's charming establishments, see a show at the Creede Repertory Theater, and drive the Bachelor Loop for eye-popping scenery.
Nicknamed the "Switzerland of America," Ouray is home to three scenic waterfalls accessed by short, easy hikes. The historic downtown has remained primarily unchanged since the 19th century, with Italianate, Romanesque, and Second Empire architectural styles that will add a unique flair to your photos and selfies. Enjoy the view from pools fed by natural geothermal features at Ouray Hot Springs, where you can soothe your body in 106-degree water.
Home to the iconic Stanley Hotel and the Gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes Park has always been geared toward the nature lover. Savor the beauty by riding the Estes Park Aerial Tramway connecting the town to Mount Prospect. Marvel at views of craggy peaks emerging from forests when you drive along the 48-mile Trail Ridge Road, which arises from the treeline to alpine tundra to top out at more than 12,000 feet in elevation.
Formerly heralded as the "Potato Capital of the World," Carbondale once supplied miners working in the rugged mountains beyond the fertile valley. Visit the Potato Day Parade and Barbecue each October, a community festival celebrating the town's history. Take a self-guided tour of the town's late-Victorian architecture or meander the River Valley Ranch History Trail to appreciate the natural terrain. An old homestead, the Thompson House, with most of its original contents, is now a museum run by the Carbondale Historical Society.
Crested Butte is famous for its winter skiing and summer wildflowers, but its colorful cabins and historic downtown with false-fronted buildings give it a Christmas Village ambiance at any time of year. The town is also stunning during autumn, tucked among yellow aspens in Gunnison National Forest.
In Morrison, you can hunt dinosaur fossils at the country's premiere track site, then dip into the museum to learn more about the ancient beasts. Ride a tiny train through a hundred one-sixth-size buildings at Tiny Town and end the day at Red Rocks Amphitheater, where the music melds with the world's only known naturally acoustic amphitheater.
Hooper looks like little more than a couple of farm buildings set along the road. But what it lacks in architectural pizzaz, it more than makes up for in adventure.
Swim in a full-sized hot springs pool with a view of the mountains, or relax in a jacuzzi for 25 at the Sand Dunes Recreation Hot Springs Pool. Get up close to alligators at the Colorado Gators reptile park and watch the skies at the UFO watchtower. There are good eats in town, too. Hooper Junction serves American diner food, and Leonardo's is famous for its tasty Mexican fare.
This thriving art community in southeast Colorado sits at the base of the Spanish Peaks, with some of the best scenery in Colorado and a laid-back vibe. Browse galleries in the Fort Francisco Museum, set in an adobe fort from the 1800s. Get a taste of gourmet farm-to-table fare at Ally's, which serves up local lamb, beef, and poultry, and sleep in historic surroundings at La Veta Inn.