Colorado may be known for its ski resorts, but its mountain towns host epic summer adventures, too. In fact, more visitors come here in the summer than any other season, says Amber King, director of U.S. marketing for the Colorado Tourism Office. “They know this state is unbeatable to escape the heat and humidity, recreate in the outdoors, enjoy summer festivals, eat good food and imbibe with local craft libations.”
Ready to get out of the city and explore? Looking for a hike that won’t make your kids groan? Craving a killer breakfast burrito, sushi roll or microbrew? On the hunt for the best bike trail, hot spring or Instagram-worthy sunset? We’ve asked locals from four fab towns, Breckenridge, Aspen, Crested Butte and Steamboat Springs, to help plan your summer schedule. Your mountain playground awaits.
Nestled in the heart of the White River National Forest and surrounded by the peaks of the Elk Mountain Range in the central Rocky Mountains, this 3.66-square-mile city is known for its luxury shopping, high-end restaurants, celebrity sightings and stunning scenery. Summer activities include hiking, biking, rafting, fly-flshing, paragliding, four-wheeling and lots more.
From Denver: 3 1/2 hours
Elevation: 8,000 feet
Average July Temps: 79/48
Occupation: Artist; marketing strategist for Community Office of Resource Efficiency (CORE); mom to two teenagers who keep me on my toes
Years living here: 21
Why I moved here: I followed a handsome young mountain man to town (my husband, Marc).
Why I love Aspen: Mountains, plus art, plus community. Also, the philanthropy—a wealth of nonprofits are doing great things for our town.
Favorite local dish: The Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Salad at Meat & Cheese
Where to grab a drink: Jun kombucha at the Saturday Aspen Farmers’ Market (through mid-October)
Favorite locally made crafts: Everything at Artique in The Launchpad, a community arts space in downtown Carbondale
Don’t leave town without Instagramming this: Leave the phone at home and just enjoy being present in the mountains.
Best hikes: Anywhere up Independence Pass
Favorite bike trails: My fave lunch loop is Sky Mountain Park.
Take the kids here: John Denver Sanctuary
If you’re looking for a real adventure: Go talk to Amos at the mountain guide service Aspen Expeditions Worldwide.
What’s in my daypack: A picnic, so our family can be out playing in the mountains all day long. Noticing a theme here?
Must-attend fest: 5Point Film Festival (spring 2019)
Best-kept secret: For a short in-town hike/scramble with great views, go to the Red Butte Trail.
Favorite place to take out-of-towners: Hunter Creek Trail
Best view: There are too many to choose from—definitely a great “problem” to have.
Occupation: Naturalist Field School manager at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies; co-founder of the teenrun nonprofit Change the World Kids
Years living here: 5
Why I moved here: A good friend who grew up in Aspen encouraged me to move out here shortly after I graduated from college in Vermont, where I grew up. I was excited to find adventure and work in a different mountain range.
Why I love Aspen: The people I have met in this valley are what keep me here, as well as the wild outdoor spaces we are so lucky to have at our doorstep.
Favorite local meal: Grilling with friends in one of the many public parks around town
Where to grab a drink: Aspen Tap
Don’t leave town without Instagramming this: A shot of you enjoying the wonderful outdoor playground that surrounds Aspen
Best hikes: Cathedral Lake Trail, American Lake Trail, Mount Sopris, Lost Man Loop
Favorite bike trail: Hunter Creek Valley
Take the kids here: Aspen Center for Environmental Studies
If you’re looking for a real adventure: Do a ridge hike or a solo adventure.
What’s in my daypack: Chocolate, gummies, a wind shirt, sunscreen, more water than I think I will need, a light puffy jacket, a Buff, cured meat, cheese, bread, light gloves, a topo map and compass, a camera and a headlamp
Must-attend fests/events: Stars Above Aspen Astronomy Night (Aug. 14); Snowmass Village free summer concert series (through Aug. 16); 5Point Film Festival
Favorite places to take out-of-towners: Castle Creek Valley, Pine Creek Cookhouse, Hunter Creek Valley, Grottos Trail, Maroon Bells, Red Butte Trail, Independence Pass
Best views: Top of Red Butte, Upper Castle Creek Valley near the Pine Creek Cookhouse, Sunnyside Trail, top of Aspen Mountain
Occupation: Founder and president of Aspen Brewing Company
Years living here: 10
Why I moved here: To open Aspen Brewing Company and live the dream
Why I love Aspen: The billionaires. No, seriously, Aspen has some of the most beautiful surroundings, mountains and trails. The locals are an eclectic mix of great and genuine people, making this a true mountain community. The stereotypical, uberwealthy jet set is barely noticeable. Oh, and we get to mountain bike or ski—season depending—out our back door.
Favorite local dishes: The Aspen Street Tacos at Aspen Tap, pancakes at Bonnie’s (winter only) or the Garganelli alla Carbonara at L’Hostaria
Where to grab a drink: Other than Aspen Tap’s perfect patio, Hooch is making great cocktails and is always lively.
Favorite local beer: Everything from Aspen Brewing Company, of course!
Best hike: Sunnyside Trail into Aspen
Favorite bike trail: Government Trail from Snowmass to Aspen
Take the kids here: The Snowy Pineapple shaved ice stand in front of Radio Boardshop just off Main Street
If you’re looking for a real adventure: Call Elk Mountain Expeditions and go rafting!
What’s in my daypack: Water, a can of beer, an RX Bar, sunblock
Must-attend fest: Snowmass Rendezvous Craft Beer Festival (June 2019)
Best-kept secrets: Lost Man Trail, about a 15-minute drive from town
Favorite place to take out-of-towners: Up the Ute Trail. It’s a tough but quick hike in town and the view is amazing.
Best view: Sunset from Richmond Ridge, a small hike from the top of Aspen Mountain
“GROWING UP HERE WAS REALLY SPECIAL. THE FAMILY TIME WAS MORE PLENTIFUL AND OUR FAMILY WAS REALLY ABOUT NATURE. I FIND A VERY SPIRITUAL CONNECTION WITH THE MOUNTAINS.” —KATE HUDSON, ACTRESS AND ENTREPRENEUR, IN “ASPEN STYLE”
Yes, this beautiful mountain town is known for its winter slopes and its many summer offerings (hiking, boating, golfing, mountain biking, summer dogsledding— you name it), but its colorful Victorian-era Main Street, preserved as the Breckenridge National Historic District, is also full of great restaurants, shops and galleries. Repeat visits practically mandatory.
From Denver: 1 1/2 hours
Elevation: 9,600 feet
Average July temps: 72/41
Occupation: Director of the Little Red Schoolhouse preschool and mother
Years living here: 14
Why I moved here: I grew up in the Washington, D.C., area. Then, after spending two summers post-college in San Diego, I realized the mountains were calling. I moved here for one winter season and never left.
Why I love Breck: The community—it’s like a family.
Favorite local restaurant: Michael’s Italian on Main Street in the Centennial Square Building. The Tortellini with Basil Cream is my favorite, but you can’t go wrong with anything on the menu.
Where to grab a drink: Canteen on Main Street has a great atmosphere, great drinks and terrific views from the deck.
Favorite locally made craft: Jewelry from Wild Balance. Annie Kerr makes simple but unique pieces and will even do custom orders. You can find her shop in the Arts District in the center of town.
Don’t leave town without Instagramming this: The Tenmile view at sunset from Boreas Pass Road.
Best hike: Mohawk Lake Trail is a great moderate hike with rewarding lake views at the top.
Favorite bike trail: The Blair Witch to Colorado Trail loop—a 91/2-mile ride with lots of wildflowers along the way
Take the kids here: The beach at nearby Lake Dillon
What’s in my daypack: Snacks, snacks and more snacks
Must-attend fest: Oktoberfest (Sept. 7–9). It might be summer or it might be snowing, but this giant street party is always a good time!
Favorite places to take out-of-towners: If they’re golfers, Breckenridge Golf Club is amazing and has the best mountain golf course views ever. And boating on Lake Dillon is a blast.
Best view: Take a drive on Boreas Pass Road, a scenic 22-mile road just south of town.
Occupation: Yogi, entrepreneur and executive coach; founder of YOGA + Life Magazines
Years living here: 20
Why I moved here: The small-town feel with big-time amenities
Why I love Breck: It attracts people with unique backgrounds from all over who want to live an intentional mountain lifestyle.
Favorite local dish: If you’re looking for the best breakfast burrito in town that will keep you going all day, the Sweet Potato Burrito (eggs, beans, chiles, pepper jack, avocado and spinach) from Cuppa Jo is killer—and can feed a small family.
Where to grab a drink: The Canteen or Robbie’s Tavern
Best trails: I hike and run the same trails I bike. One of my favorites is up to the Breckenridge Ski Resort in the summer—you get an amazing view of the valley and beyond.
Take the kids here: The Breckenridge Recreation Center just completed a $17 million remodel, and, during summer monsoons, your kids will never want to leave.
If you’re looking for a real adventure: I’m a fan of three-a-days in the summer to maximize those solar hours—that means a run in the morning, yoga mid-day and a bike ride or round of golf late afternoon—all followed by a glass of wine on any deck in town.
What’s in my daypack: Sunglasses, SPF, hair ties, a prAna baseball- style hat, a mala, yoga clothes, an extra layer in case I’m out after the sun dips behind the Tenmile Range, headphones, running shoes, a coffee mug, a Bulletproof water bottle and my laptop.
Must-attend fest: The Fourth of July events—a 10K trail run, Firecracker 50 mountain bike race, Main Street parade, live music and an extraordinary fireworks display.
Favorite place to take out-of-towners: Breckenridge is an old mining town rich in history and I love to sign people up for a historical tour with the Breckenridge Historical Alliance; it just gives you so much appreciation for what makes this town tick.
Best view: The view from the top of Peak 8 back over the valley allows you to see a bit of the towns and the mountain ranges. It’s spectacular!
Occupation: Mayor of Breckenridge; owner/ operator of Downstairs at Eric’s
Years living here: 32
Why I moved here: I’d just graduated from college and was on my way to law school in Vermont when I helped my recently retired parents move here. I quickly realized staying was the thing to do.
Why I love Breck: You don’t live in Breckenridge because you have to, you live here because you want to. That vibe is different from a lot of places in the country.
Favorite local restaurants: Mountain Flying Fish (sushi) is our family’s favorite place. Briar Rose Chophouse & Saloon, Hearthstone and, of course, my place are all great, too.
Where to grab a drink: Après on Main Street is fun; and at RMU (Rocky Mountain Underground), they make skis on one side, and serve drinks on the other.
Favorite local spirit: Breckenridge Bourbon
Don’t leave town without Instagramming this: Main Street; it’s so beautiful and quaint.
Favorite bike trail: Turk’s Trail in French Gulch. The beauty of Breck is that over the last 25 years, the open-space program has built 55 miles of trails inside the town limits, and they lead into the country, so you can get on a trail and just be gone.
Take the kids here: Take the free gondola to Epic Discovery, the summer adventure park, for everything from ziplines and mini golf to a coaster and alpine slide.
If you’re looking for a real adventure: Chihuahua Gulch Trail is a brutal six-hour grinder that’s not as popular as a trail like Quandary.
Must-attend fest: Oktoberfest (Sept. 7–9)
Favorite place to take out-of-towners: Hiking Mohawk Lake Trail is fairly easy and you get a big bang for your buck.
Best view: There’s a clear cut up on Barney Ford Trail that offers stunning views; as you come through the trees you can virtually see the whole Tenmile Range. From the middle of town, you can get to it on a bike in 20 minutes. It’s uphill, but worth it.
LEARN TO FLY-FISH DURING THE 2018 WOMEN’S FLY-FISHING CLINIC WITH BRECKENRIDGE OUTFITTERS (ONE CLASSROOM AND ONE RIVER DAY, JULY 12, 14; AUG. 16, 18; $129).