Top 5 Colorado Mountain Towns

Have you ever looked at a map and been so curious about a road or town that you just had to hop in the car and explore?  Well, that seems to happen to me a lot. First off, I love maps and have had an interest in geography as long as I can remember.  I’m always wondering what’s around the next bend in the road.

This summer we’ll be traveling to some familiar and some unfamiliar territory. As much as I love exploring new places, I equally enjoy returning to some old favorites. During the process of planning out our route and schedule for our summer excursion, I found my mind wandering …. squirrel. 😆

Columbine, Colorado, Colorado's State Flower, #columbine, #coloradostateflower
Colorado’s state flower – columbine

Hmm, where exactly did my mind wander off to? Colorado! Ah, the wonderful memories I have in that beautiful U.S. state. After all, Al and I called Colorado home for over twenty years and agree it was a great place to raise our children. These days, Arizona feels more like home to us, but a part of our hearts will always remain in Colorado.

So, while scouring the map, I was met with a flood of fond memories. Could I pick a favorite Colorado mountain town?  Could I pick a favorite scenic Colorado drive?  Absolutely NOT!  I do however have some favorites. And those favorites on my list are mostly due to the memories that were created in those locations. Of course, there are so many more amazing places to visit in Colorado than what I’ve listed here, but that would take me days to share. So, let’s start with these five for now.

Top 5 Must-Visit Colorado Mountain Towns

In no particular order, these are my top 5 favorite picks for must-see Colorado Mountain Towns; towns that I have returned to time and again because they’re just that lovely.

When we lived in Colorado Springs, we would take our children up to either Summit County or Grand County for winter fun.

While the kids were enjoying the slopes, Al and I would either sit by a roaring fire in the lodge or stroll the shops in a quaint mountain town.  There’s no shortage of charm and character AND amazing views in Colorado.

I’m a bona fide flatlander and the thought of shooshing down a mountain slope with mini sleds strapped to my feet never did appeal to me. Once was enough for me! But my children grew up in Colorado, and therefore, they are avid snow skiers. However, snowshoeing, sledding, and snowmobiling were always a fun adventure that I never shied away from.

These days, Al and I save our visits to the high country for summer.  As a matter of fact, some of these mountain communities have become even more popular during the summer months than they are during winter.

Frisco, Colorado

Summit County includes the towns of Frisco, Breckenridge, Dillon, Keystone, Silverthorne and the village of Copper Mountain, and is located about a two-hour drive from Denver’s International Airport.  So it’s super easy to get to and the area offers plenty to see and do.

As much as I enjoy visiting Breckenridge and think that it too is a must-see, I personally prefer the quaint mountain town of Frisco.  Frisco is much more low-key and less touristy than Breckenridge.  Thus, Frisco is our first stop on my “top 5 favorite Colorado mountain towns” tour.

Frisco has a population of less than 3,000, sits at over 9,000 feet in elevation, and was incorporated in 1880 during the mining boom.  Today it’s a gateway to several major ski resorts.  Main Street offers plenty of unique shops, restaurants, and a historical park with a museum. During one of our RVing visits to the area a few years ago, Al and I discovered the Frisco Historic Park & Museum.  This is a free, self-guided museum preserving Frisco’s heritage.

Just down Main Street is a local coffee shop we enjoy. After purchasing a couple of Lattes, we strolled over to the museum. Al and I aren’t huge museum-goers, but we found this historical park to be quite entertaining and worth the stop. I was particularly entertained by the fashions on display as well as learning the importance of red lipstick during World War II … boosting courage.

During WWII, women showed their support by wearing red lipstick. Popularized by the movie industry, women demonstrated their patriotism by wearing makeup, especially the red lipstick.  While mascara and rouge were rationed, lipstick was kept in production because of its benificial effect on morale.

We spent a couple of hours exploring the grounds and the buildings at the museum.  Each building offered a little something different enlightening us on the town and its history over the past century. We found it to be a worthwhile stop, and we’ll probably return someday.

Dillon Reservoir, Colorado scenic drive, friendly chipmunk #chipmunks, #scenic view in Colorado, #Dillon, CO
The chipmunk checks my hand for a treat and is disappointed.

Scenic Road – Swan Mtn Road

Off Swan Mountain Road, between Breckenridge and Keystone, is a scenic overlook high above the Dillon Reservoir. The views from the Sapphire Point overlook are stunning. There’s a short loop trail that can be accessed from the parking lot. We hiked this trail in winter conditions several years ago and I remember the views being very nice.

Aside from the stunning views, there’s the entertainment from the chipmunks to consider. These little guys are used to folks bringing them sunflower seeds and aren’t shy about begging.

Lots to do and see

Rainbow Lake Trail, Frisco, Colorado, #hikingColorado, #hikeFrisco
Rainbow Lake Trail

As many times as we’ve visited Frisco, we always discover some new shop, a new restaurant, or a new hiking trail.  And the scenery never disappoints. During one of our visits, we attended a bi-plane air show which was so much fun to see.

Shopping is not a problem around Summit County. Between the towns of Frisco, Dillon, and Silverthorne, you’ll find several groceries stores, including a Whole Foods. There’s also a Target, Walmart, Home Depot, Lowe’s, sporting good stores, and even an Outlet Mall.

My favorite is a little shop strolling in Breckenridge. We always look forward to picking up a treat at the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory and perhaps purchasing a T-shirt (or two) from a local store. I wonder if Al has noticed that I’m encroaching on his half of the closet…. ssshhh, that’ll be our secret!

The dining options are endless. You’ll find everything from fast food places, to chain restaurants, to independent breweries, to fine dining, and everything in-between. Our biggest problem was always deciding where to eat because of all the choices.

Lodging: When we would visit the area during the winter, we usually stayed at one of the chain motels in Dillon like the Comfort Inn. There are so many lodging options through-out Summit County. You’ll find motel chains, ski-in-ski-out condos, high-end resorts, and private properties available. Yep, no shortage of lodging, but keep in mind premium pricing on weekends … all those Front Range dwellers like to head up to the high country on weekends.

Camping: Parts of Summit County are within the White River National Forest (Dillon Ranger District). There are five different campgrounds located around the Dillon Reservoir, as well as some dispersed camping further into the national forest. We never found any boondocking sites that we felt would comfortably accommodate our 31′ Fifth Wheel. Thus, we’ve always stuck with one of the campgrounds. With several campgrounds to choose from, we’ve never had a problem showing up without a reservation, but that’s for dry camping, no hookups, and no dump station on-site. Weekends might be a problem though without a reservation.

Heaton Bay Campground, Dillon, Colorado, #campinginBreckenridge, #DillonResevoir, #WhiteRiverNationalForest
We barely fit into this dry site at the Heaton Bay CG. We loved our views! I think this is site E76, but don’t quote me.

The Heaton Bay Campground does have one loop that has electric, it’s big rig friendly, and the most popular campground in the area. You’ll definitely need a reservation to stay here. The Lowry Campground, least popular and least desirable, also has some electric sites.

Campgrounds Peak One and Prospector are both large campgrounds with a mixture of sites (small, large, level, unlevel) and dry only. For those of you with big RV’s and setup with solar, you might want to consider the Pine Cove Campground. This is nothing more than a paved parking lot style of place, but it sits right along the shores of the Dillon Reservoir with spectacular views. Because the RV’s are parked so close together, generator use is frowned upon at Pine Cove CG.

Prospector Campground, view of Dillon Reservoir and mountains. White River National Forest camping, #campingnearDenver, #DillonResevoir, #Breckenridge
The view from a campsite at the Prospector Campground.

For those interested in full-hookups and/or doing a little bit of winter camping, Tiger Run Resort might be worth checking out. Just be forewarned, it is pricey, but then again, it’s located in Breckenridge where everything is pricey.

Next up

In next Sunday’s post, we’ll move up the road to Grand Lake, Colorado … the west-end gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park.

Heaton Bay Campground, Camping along the shores of Dillon Reservoir, mountain reflections in the lake, #DillonRes, #campingLakeDillon
Camping at Heaton Bay Campground, Dillon, CO. Can you spot our RV nestled in the trees? Hint, we’re on the right.

(Thank you for shopping my affiliate links)

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60 thoughts on “Top 5 Colorado Mountain Towns

  1. We always follow your lead and your tips and we were never disappointed. We love Colorado! We only missed Steamboat Springs, perhaps a reason to head back to CO.
    Great post, Ingrid!

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  2. I love this post. I have been thinking of doing my own Top 5 mountain towns in the US. Much harder list to consider. I agree completely with your list but would personally add Estes Park beside Grand Lake since they are close together.

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  3. Hi Ingrid,

    Love your blog, both the photography and the writing. As a writer, I’m guessing you will find helpful (and please not hurtful) a typo correction. I saw “bonified” and cringed (“I’m a bonified flatlander”)…then looked it up and was really surprised to find that it is a word! So maybe you actually wanted to use that word. But looking at the definition, I doubt it, since I really don’t think you meant to say you were a bad flatlander changed into a good flatlander! I think you wanted “bona fide”. Authentic. So, for all the times in the future you want to use the term, I hope this helps. 🙂

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    1. Oops! Thank you for stopping by and bringing that to my attention. It has been corrected. Now I’ll need to have a word with my editor husband for not catching that 😆

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  4. These all sound wonderful! We haven’t RV’d in Colorado yet, but it is on the list. We’ve been to CO Springs and Denver for business trips when we were in the area and loved them both!

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    1. You’ll definitely want to spend some time exploring Colorado, especially the western slope. It’s beautiful and so much fun. Our visits are never long enough!

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    1. Yes, there are definitely a lot of beautiful places out there. I’m in love with Colorado and Utah but then I go to the Gulf Coast and fall in love with a totally different landscape. Ah, the beauty of travel!

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  5. Oh, don’t forget the Southwest Corner…Silverton and Ouray along the Million Dollar Highway are among the most scenic towns in CO that we’ve seen.

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  6. I have been at the Denver Airport and would love to see more of Colorado than just the airport. I think this time of year into June or late August into Sept. may be the time to plan a trip there and maybe in a few years that will be on our bucket list. Thanks so much for sharing – much appreciated 🙂 Happy Day – Enjoy!

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    1. You’ll definitely want to have Colorado on your bucket list. There are so many unique and beautiful places to see (all west of Interstate 25). You know who to talk to for ideas when the time comes for that CO vacation 😊

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  7. Communing with the ground rodents… tsk tsk! No wonder they tried to “attack” me and Nancy and not you 😉 Never been to Colorado but hear (and now see) it’s gorgeous.

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    1. Colorado is another must-visit. I think you can see the problem, the more you travel, the longer the travel list gets. And then there are all the places you want to return to. Ah, such a problem to have! Just add rodent whisperer to my many talents 🤣

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  8. We’ve never been to Grand Lake (would like to) but like your other four choices. We’ve only been to Frisco in the winter but would enjoy a summertime visit

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    1. So many beautiful spots in Colorado and they offer a different experience during various seasons. You and the ladies would love it during the summer and the Tiger Run Resort in Breckenridge would be perfect.

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  9. Perfect timing on your post. We are headed toward Colorado and hope to spend some time there this June-July. Look forward to your upcoming posts and especially your camping spots!

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  10. Colorado is one of our favorite states!!! Love it!!! Thanks for composing such a great review of your top 5 must visit Colorado mountain towns!!! We haven’t been to all of them so we now have a list of new places to explore and enjoy!! Thanks!!

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    1. It is one of my favorite states as well. Writing these posts has been a fun walk down memory lane. Glad I could add a few new places to your travel list 😊

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    1. I totally agree … bliss! We’ve been in an RV Park all winter, and I can’t wait to get into some remote scenery. It’s all about those views!

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  11. Hi, Ingrid,
    In my earlier days, I loved to ski and have been to many of the more notable ski towns, including Snowmass and Breckenridge. Nevertheless, Steamboat remains my favorite and I love the town almost as much as the slopes. We are going to Telluride next week and am getting excited because I have never been there. Looking forward to comparing my experience with your memories. Great post!

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    1. Be sure and take the free gondola. I’ve written posts in the past about Telluride, so be sure to check my blog and if you can’t find the info, shoot me an email. You’re a little early in the season. Hope it won’t be slushy. Have a great time!

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  12. Great post and pictures!!! Colorado is on our sights but we haven’t made it yet as the best months to travel there are generally when we are on our boat. Is October to iffy???

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    1. Colorado is beautiful, yet so is life on the water! Ya never know about the weather at 9,000 feet. If you don’t mind cold weather and seeing a little snow, I would give it a shot. The roads aren’t normally a problem in October but finding a place to camp might be.

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  13. Great post and pictures!!! Colorado is on our sights but we haven’t made it yet as the best months to travel there are generally when we are on our boat. Is October to iffy???

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  14. Thanks for the great post…we have Colorado in our sights but hard to get their as we spend the prime Colorado month on the boat. I know the seasons can be unreliable but do you think we could do some of these areas in October?

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  15. Gorgeous pics of your favorite Colorado spots, Ingrid! I liked the map, too. I don’t believe I’ve stepped foot in Colorado except to land in Denver on the way to the East Coast years ago. Someday, Hans and I will tour the entire US at our leisure! Always appreciate your informative posts!

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    1. You will definitely need to RV in Colorado. You’ll be blown away by the beautiful landscape. Writing these posts has me wanting to return to these places. Maybe next summer if I don’t come up with something new 😊

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  16. Thanks for sharing your favorite CO mountain towns. I’m sure everyone has their personal favs. We have spent more time in Southwest Colorado and have our favs from that area. We like Durango, Silverton, Pagosa Springs, Creede and Ouray. And then there are the tiny towns like Delores and Rico and Lake City. Love ’em all.

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    1. Silverton and Ouray are both beautiful and fun, but we, unfortunately, haven’t spent as much time exploring those areas as much as we have the towns I mentioned…. hmm, that might be a great excuse to return!

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  17. We are going to attempt to visit several of these spots again this fall after last year was a bust with wet, cold weather. This year we are leaving at the very beginning of Sept. I really am looking forward to finally seeing Crested Butte and Telluride. They have been on my list for awhile. Fingers crossed this year the weather will wait til we are finished our visit.

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    1. Fingers crossed … There’s a back road loop you’ll need to do in Crested Butte. Your Jeep is perfect for that drive. We took the Tacoma, but there are some serious drop offs along portions of the road. Probably something you experienced on Shafer Road and nothing you adventurers can’t handle 😀

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  18. Back in 1970, we drove our 1969 Cutlass out West, with our 9 month old son in tow. We loved this trip, although a fast one. You only got a 2 week Summer vacation when working at Caterpillar because that was shut down time. We drove all the way to Las Vegas, across the 120 degree desert with no A.\C…One of our best and scariest rides was the back road up to Cripple Creek…one way , gravel road,hanging on the mountain side. It was so rough, we bottomed out our muffler on the way down, but at that time Cripple Creek was loaded with old history…Loved Mesa Verde and Steamboat Springs too!! Colorado is amazing. We stayed in a small town of Dillon and also went to Leadville,another history filled town.

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    1. I know the road to Cripple Creek that you’re talking about. Once was enough for me. There are so many picturesque and cool spots throughout the whole state that it’s difficult to narrow the list down to just a few. I went with personal memories more than anything else when coming up with my faves.

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  19. 5 years on the road and we have yet to spend more than a couple days in total in Colorado. Everyone we talk to tells us about all the great places, we definitely need to spend more time there!

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    1. Colorado is definitely beautiful and worth exploring, but I also think you found a great spot for a home base with its own stunning scenery and beauty.

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  20. Speaking of maps and being wanderlust, I wonder if kids in high school today are taught how to read an old-fashioned map? As a kid 60 yrs ago with an extended family that traveled NO WHERE! we didn’t know what a map was! And in my driver education class when the teacher gave us each a map and we learned map icons/road numbers, a WHOLE BIG WORLD opened up to me!! Getting a vehicle was now high on my list of priorities so that I could travel to this BIG WORLD without feeling lost 🙂 I just wonder if underprivileged kids today (in the USA or elsewhere), despite hi-tech and GPS units everywhere, if they’re taught via old-fashioned maps how big and open their world truly is? Your post today got me musing . . . .

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    1. Nice to hear from you Terri. I love my paper maps and even though I use a GPS and phone, I still look at a real map for a backup. My daughter will use a map as a backup, but my son won’t. I think he’s the norm these days. Interesting evolution!

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