If you spend all your time in the spectacular but sprawling Mile High City, you’re missing out some of the most charming locales in the state of Colorado. These 15 small towns near Denver boast lovely Main Streets, picturesque mountain parks, and friendly town folk eager to wet your whistle or tell an old mining tale. If you’re seeking snow, simplicity, and small-town charm, these spots provide the perfect winter day trip from Denver and an abundance of shopping, dining, outdoor activities, and rich Colorado history.
1. Idaho Springs
Founded in 1859, Idaho Springs marks the spot where some of the first and most significant mining discoveries were made during the Colorado Gold Rush. The city now claims just shy of 2,000 residents and continues to honor its rich mining heritage with carefully preserved museums and historic sites, including the infamous
Argo Gold Mine and Mill
. (Pro Tip: After your explorations, swing by Beau Jo's for tasty Colorado style pizza and don't forget to dip your crust in honey!)
Nestled at an elevation of 7,200 feet, Evergreen is located just west of Denver but somehow manages to maintain its simple mountain town roots. Bordered by picturesque mountain parks and miles of accessible trails, Evergreen offers a wealth of outdoor activities, as well as restaurants, shops, art galleries, entertainment, and much more to explore. Not to mention that Evergreen Lake boasts one of the most scenic ice skating rinks in the state!
Affectionately known as "Silver Queen of the Rockies," historic Georgetown was established as a silver mining camp in 1859 during the Pike's Peak Gold Rush. While it boasted a population of roughly 10,000 during the height of the silver boom, today the sleepy town has just over 1,000 residents and provides rest, relaxation, and a little slice of history for eager travelers looking for a pit stop off I-70.
The town of Silverthorne may be known for its outlets, but at an elevation of over 9,000 feet and surrounded by pristine mountain parks and peaks, it has much more to offer than J.CREW and Under Armour. It also provides a less expensive alternative for lodging, with easy access to stellar nearby ski resorts, including Arapahoe Basin, Keystone, Copper, Breckenridge, and more.
Just a stone's throw from Silverthorne is the lovely little town of Dillon, located on its namesake lake in one of the most picturesque settings in Summit County. With an elevation of over 9,000 feet, a population of roughly 900 residents, and access to 7 world-class ski resorts, Dillon is a great stop off on your journeys west of Denver. (Pro Tip: Check out the food and brews at the award-winning Dillon Dam Brewery for a quick, quaint recharge.)
Frisco was founded in 1880 during Colorado's mining boom and considers itself to be the "Main Street of the Rockies." The surrounding beauty, laid back vibe, and mere 1.7 square miles of surface area, make this tiny town a true hidden treasure.
This former mining town is tucked away at the base of the beautiful Tenmile Range and boasts charming Victorian-style buildings from the late 1800s that give it a quaint ski village feel. Strolling down the Main Street of Breckenridge is pure high country heaven!
Another quaint town that can trace its roots back to the Pike's Peak Gold Rush is Fairplay, otherwise known as "The Real South Park." With an elevation of nearly 10,000 feet and a population of approximately 679, this tiny municipality is the epitome of simple small-town living.
Nicknamed "Cloud City" and situated at a whopping 10,152 feet, the storybook town of Leadville is the highest incorporated city in the nation and during the mining boom in the late 1800s, it was the second most populous city in Colorado, after good old Denver. While it was once known as one of the most lawless towns in the West, Leadville now serves as a perfectly picturesque spot to take a day trip to the heart of the Rockies. (Pro Tip: Stop in and check out the high-quality, locally-made goods at Melanzana for killer undergarments and outwear.)
One of Colorado's cutest and quirkiest little towns is located just west of Boulder and boasts a rich mining and musical history, as well as an eclectic population who live by the motto “Life Is Better Up Here!” Nederland is a hub of the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway community and is the proud home of unique shops, rustic restaurants, and friendly town folk.
11. Gold Hill
This quaint community of less than 300 residents is tucked away just 10 miles and 3,200 feet up the mountain from Boulder and is just brimming with mountain charm. The historic mining camp of Gold Hill was established in 1859, is nestled at 8,463 feet, and provides the perfect setting for those wishing to live far-removed but also close to the action of Denver and Boulder.
12. Grand Lake
Established in 1881, Grand Lake was originally a mining settlement that has now become a popular tourist destination for those wishing to test the waters of its namesake lake, which happens to be the largest natural body of water in the state. This time of year, Grand Lake is transformed into a winter wonderland and has been deemed the "Snowmobiling Capital of Colorado." With a population of less than 500, this tiny town manages to maintain its simple, laid-back lifestyle, where you'll enjoy pristine mountain scenery and moments of tranquility.
13. Manitou Springs
Manitou Springs was founded in 1872 and is known for its healing mineral waters (which still flow today) discovered long ago by the Ute Indians. You'll also find a bounty of eateries, galleries, and shops with Indian art, jewelry, and artifacts, as well as an abundance of outdoor sites and activities at this charming town located at the base of Pikes Peak.
The city of Salida boasts a total area of just 2.2 square miles and is located in Chaffee County in the heart of the Rockies along the Arkansas River. Founded in 1880 and incorporated in 1891, Salida offers views and access to both the Sawatch Range and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and provides easy living for its laid back population.
15. Buena Vista
Another charming town in the Arkansas River Valley just north of Salida is Buena Vista. Settlers descended upon this picturesque town in 1864 and named it Buena Vista, which means "Beautiful View" in Spanish. With the Collegiate Peaks and Mount Princeton looming is the distance, this small town is a hidden gem of the Rockies.