You already know that ski towns rock. But what about the historic mountain hamlets that reside in their shadows? In Colorado, there are dozens of funky former boom towns, railroad camps, and frontier outposts that are often overlooked because they're not as glitzy as their resort neighbors, and that's a shame. Their charms aren't just aesthetic from a geographical and architectural perspective. There's almost always a wallet-friendly hotel and a diamond-in-the-rough of a dive bar; sometimes even a destination restaurant. Curbed Ski has logged the road miles and drink tabs for you; check out our list for budget getaways, any time of year.
Minturn: This sleepy little town outside of Vail rules. True to its homesteading roots, it's mostly working class, but it's got a lot of soul and a surprisingly rockin' nightlife. As the gateway to the Holy Cross Wilderness, there's spectacular hiking- anything off of Tigwon Road, a few miles outside of town, is aces. Try the Cross Creek or Half-Moon Trails; this time of year, the colors are just starting to pop, wild mushrooms are abundant, and you'll encounter few other hikers.
There's epic fly-fishing right in town (even if that's not your jam, Minturn Anglers has stylish outdoor threads, as does Weston Snowboards, which is housed in a sweet reclaimed wood building perched above the Eagle River). Check into Hotel Minturn (it's just four, rustic-mod rooms, so be sure to book ahead. Bonus: They're downright cheap for this region), then get ready to do the Minturn Shuffle, aka bar hop. Start your evening with a platter of Mexican or ribs at the friendly Minturn Saloon, then it's on to Kirby Cosmo's BBQ Bar for live music. Shuffle back down to Magustos Pizza & Burger Pub to shoot some stick, and cap off the night back at Saloon. Morning coffee and a breakfast sammie or wrap can be had across the street from the hotel at Sticky Fingers.
Basalt: Yes, there's a Whole Foods now (and it's a great place to stock up on snacks and picnic supplies), but bypass the Willits development off Highway 82 and head into Old Town instead. Tucked back out of sight from the highway, Basalt's motto is "The Confluence of Rivers, Recreation, and Culture." Historically part of the Ute Indian Reservation, it became two separate towns in the late 19th century: Frying Pan Junction and Aspen Junction, which were established as a base for local charcoal oven and railroad workers. Eventually, they merged and were incorporated into Basalt in 1901.
Located on the Frying Pan River, Basalt is a world-class mecca for fly-fishing; it's been host to the Fly Fishing Team USA National Championship. But there's much more for outdoor enthusiasts to love. Ruedi Reservoir is just 15 miles up the road (wonderful for camping, boating, and fishing), and less than an hour's scenic drive past that is the little-known Lime Park region of the Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness. Picture vast meadows, aspen groves, and loads of wildlife (careful, they're not used to traffic). Day hike to one of the many alpine lakes in the area; Savage (which is in the adjacent Holy Cross Wilderness) and Tellurium are both lovely. There are also 10th Mountain huts like Harry Gates (note it closes this month for shoulder season, and reopens on Thanksgiving).
Check into the cute, newly remodeled Basalt Mountain Inn (formerly The Green Drake), which is now stylishly done up with beetle kill pine, Ikea-ish trappings, and a soothing cream-and-dusty blue palette. For breakfast, there's fresh baked goods and traditional French fare, and smoked trout hash at Café Bernard; for brunch, lunch or dinner, grab a seat on the patio at Heather's and tuck into the famous chicken pot pie while listening to live music, then amble next door for a pint at the friendly Brick Pony Pub or pedal a few miles down the Rio Grand Trail to Woody Creek Distillers.
Ouray: Dramatically situated at the head of a valley along the Uncompaghre River an hour from Telluride, Ouray has achieved international renown thanks to its annual Ice Festival (how many towns have a thundering waterfall/ice park right in their midst?) and hot springs. As a result, it has more amenities than many historic towns of its size (the population just tips 1,000). But the charms of this former mining town, which saw action as early as the 1850s, also include the beguiling spires of the San Juan's, which have earned the region the moniker, "Switzerland of America." Mercifully, there's an absence of Bavarian kitsch, but Ouray has an authentic, old-timey vibe, as it should- two-thirds of the town's original Victorians are still occupied (how many ski towns can say that?).
The place to stay is the Western Hotel, a glorious, ridiculously affordable (rooms with shared bath start at $35) "Victorian Italianate" relic of Ouray's mining era that is one of the largest wooden structures remaining on the Western Slope. Clawfoot tubs, gleaming hardwood, marble sinks, and rooms with the original furnishings and wallpaper make this spot a history buff's dream. In keeping with its role as a former stagecoach stop, there's a restaurant and saloon, too, featuring over 70 beers (there's also something about a "face in the floor;: you'll have to ask the bartender.
When you're not hiking, (ice or rock) climbing, biking, skiing, or soaking, check out The Ouray Alchemist Museum, a tribute to the history of pharmacy in the Old West (hellooo, laudanam), or catch a live show or film at the Wright Opera House. Start your day at Artisan Bakery & Café or the much-loved Backstreet Bistro (also good for lunch); for dinner, spring for a steak at Bon Ton Restaurant in the St. Elmo, or opt for margs and Mexican at Buen Tiempo. Wind down with a beer at Ouray Brewery or the Ourayle House, aka "The Mr. Grumpy Pants Brewing Company," a quirky little spot that features seasonal brews and local ingredients when possible ("Which makes us and our beer a progeny of nature, and she can be a fickle mother.").
Rico: Formerly a wild boom town with a thriving Red Light District, Rico today offers a whole lot of little to do, outside of hiking, climbing (Carly Crag is the local hot spot), biking, hunting, and nordic skiing. The allure of Rico- all 30 seconds of it's main drag- is that it's a getaway from the tourism hustle and bustle of Telluride, 27 miles away. Telluridans go to Rico to wind down- way down.
After a day exploring the meadows, mesas, and river basins of Lizard Head Pass, check into the Rico Hotel (a groovy, early 20th century smelting company boarding house-turned-lodge; an alternate is the equally funky Mine Shaft Inn, housed in an old Victorian). Rico Hotel's rooms are no frills with shared baths, but there's an appealing fireplace area for lounging, a fairy-light-bedecked outdoor hot tub, and the destination dining at Argentine Grill, run by hotel proprietor/chef/locavore Eamonn O'Hara (who fled a life of cooking for Wolfgang Puck in Beverly Hills for the high country); look for dishes like succulent, local James Ranch short ribs braised in red wine, or organic carrot-ginger soup. Postprandially, curl up in front of the fire with some whiskey or wine, or walk across the street to the appealingly derelict Enterprise Bar for to experience Rico's only other public form of nightlife. Come morning hit up Annie's High Ground Coffee Shack - don't leave without one of her delish freshly-made pastries or breakfast burritos.You have officially seen and done Rico and your world will be better for it.
· The Best Budget Hotels in Ski Towns [Curbed Ski Archives]
· Dirtbags, PBRs, and Shot Skis: The Best Ski Town Dive Bars [Curbed Ski Archives]
· The 10 Ski Towns You Absolutely Must Visit This Winter [Curbed Ski Archives]