Between Colorado’s storied ranges, folded into its valleys and sprinkled across its plains, you’ll find the state’s best-kept secrets: its quirky, charming, and undeniably Western cities and towns. While Colorado may be postcard-pretty, much of its uniqueness and vibrancy come from its people. From the 48 Native tribes with ties to this land, to the intrepid explorers and miners of the early 1800s, to the free spirits and rock climbers of the modern age, people of all kinds have left their mark on Colorado.
As populations have shifted and people have come and gone, niche communities of artists, adventurers, ranchers, miners, and spiritual practitioners have sprung up all around the state. The result is a rich patchwork of people and customs. Sometimes, these communities form vibrant cultural centers within bigger cities. But often, they’re outposts on their own. These—Colorado’s small towns and lesser-known corners—contain many of the state’s best hidden gems.
Some of these historic communities give you the sense that you’re stepping back in time. In a few, like Burlington, you can still see artifacts from the early 1900s—like a 118-year old fairground carousel. In others—like La Junta and Calhan—you can find evidence of a much more distant past. Deep in Picketwire Canyon, dinosaur tracks remain imprinted in the stone. And at Paint Mines Interpretive Park, you can wander among rose-streaked rock formations, tracing the 9,000-year-old footsteps of Colorado’s Native people.
Venture further afield, and you’ll find the past and present melding together in surprising ways. Just outside of Rangeley, locals have converted an old railroad water tank into a sonorous concert hall. In Naturita, a former mining camp has transformed into a high-desert glamping paradise. Elsewhere, you’ll see modern structures that seem pure incarnations of Colorado’s innovative spirit—from a 15-foot troll made of recycled materials, to a sprawling city park comprised of glittering walls of ice.
Colorado is a complex and ever-shifting landscape with wonders around every corner. Whether you’re a foodie, outdoor adventurer, gamer, or history buff, you’ll find something to entertain. Below is a list of 21 of Colorado’s best-kept secrets, all astonishing treasures that will reveal this state’s true character—and help you get to know it from an entirely new perspective.