These Southwestern Mountain Towns Show a Quieter Side of Colorado — With Hot Springs, Hiking, and Boutique Hotels – Travel + Leisure

When it comes to mountain playgrounds, Colorado has an embarrassment of riches. Boulder, a college town with seemingly endless hiking and biking trails and a burgeoning dining scene, was the one that lured me away from New York City six years ago. It seemed like I had only just begun to explore my adopted state’s best-known outdoor destinations, like Aspen and Breckenridge — then, with the onset of COVID, every other urbanite had the same idea.

So last July, when the pandemic surge had slowed, I set out on a weeklong road trip to explore southwestern Colorado, a corner of the state that still feels off the beaten path. It’s home to historic train towns like Del Norte and Silverton, which once linked mining centers to vital trade routes. After the mines dried up, the wild stretches of river near these remote outposts began to attract rugged outdoorsy types and, more recently, young entrepreneurs with pioneering spirits. Now some of the latter have opened chic hotels and hip art and music venues to complement the region’s natural beauty. I couldn’t wait to dive in.

Two photos from Colorado, one showing a sign indicating distance to other cities, and one showing people in a river

From left: Signage outside Durango’s Nugget Mountain Bar; the whitewater park in Buena Vista. | Credit: Rebecca Stumpf

Buena Vista

From Boulder, I zipped down Highway 285 and reached Buena Vista in just over two hours. Surrounded by the Collegiate Peaks, some of the tallest mountains in the Rockies, this riverside town has been shaped by centuries of boom and bust. In the 1880s, it was an unruly railroad depot, with 68 saloons and dozens of brothels and dance halls. Its residents — desperados, gamblers, and frustrated prospectors — earned it a reputation as one of the most lawless places in the West. By the 1920s, Buena Vista’s lettuce-farming industry had become so …….


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