Mountain Town Reviews

The western Mountains are characterized by extremes: extreme weather, extreme beauty and places that are unique to an extreme level. We point out some of the most unique places in the nation that share a common factor, they are located in the "mountains".

Instead of throwing a dart at a map to help decide on your next vacation or life-changing move, consider what we and our contributors have to say about these places. These are places that stand out. Our reviewers are very candid and very opinionated. We don't try to give you a history, but more of a "feel"of these towns.



Arizona

JEROME (86331) ZIP Rating:
Unlike some mountain communities that have preserved their historic appearance, Jerome is notable in that much of the town has not been preserved. It is a ghost town that now supports a small Art and Tourism community. The effects of building on too steep of a hillside are preserved in buildings that are sliding down the 30 degree slope. The road leading into and out of town is another adventure. We've seen more than one trucker stuck on a hairpin curve too tight to negotiate, and too steep to back up.
What makes this place so great?
Since Jerome fits the "ghost town" description, there are lots of great photo opportunities. Their bordello area is called the "Crib District".

Jerome Chamber of Commerce


California

TRUCKEE (96161) ZIP Rating:
To the south, Lake Tahoe is surrounded by a collection of towns that have either ski area glitz, dated 50's construction, or shiny casinos. Truckee stands out as being the real deal with lots of old western buildings, nice greasy cafes and lots of tourist attraction. It isn't all fixed up to look like a mining town theme park and it's interesting to walk around the corner and see the original building details. Be careful, nearby Donner Pass has some of the most vicious weather in the state.
What makes this place so great?
There's lots to see in the Tahoe area and making the trip up to Truckee provides a real authentic contrast. It's a worthwhile stop from I-80.
Truckee Chamber of Commerce


Colorado

ASPEN (81611) ZIP Rating:
Aspen consists of 2 normally separate communities. The first is the ultra-rich or mega-star category who come to Aspen to rub elbows with their own kind. Gated communities, discrete personal services and private affairs all cater to these groups, some of whom prefer not to expose themselves to the "lower classes." Fortunately, this is not the case with everyone. It is a beautiful, historic town with many up and down-scale activities that attracts all walks of life. Often the rich and famous like to get in their jeans and play among the average joes who come to this town for what it has, and not necessarily who. The Aspen ski area is not among the best in Colorado and rarely rates in the Top 10. However, 2 nearby ski areas, Snowmass and Arapahoe Highlands are spectacular areas at least keeping the area among world-class skiing destinations. The fact that you can go camping, biking or hiking nearby, with such spectacular sites as the Maroon Bells in the vicinity, Aspen has much to offer beyond star-spotting and skiing.
What makes this place so great?
While we don't envy the Rich & Famous who populate this burg, they do give it a flair of opulence and voyeurism. Some passerby could just as easily be on Rodeo Drive in L.A. and a double take does make you wonder, "is she someone famous?"

Aspen Chamber of Commerce
MapQuest Aspen Map

CARBONDALE (81623) ZIP Rating:
Carbondale is now a "transition" town. It is community of modest homes and families that support businesses across the Roaring Fork River Valley between Aspen and Glenwood Springs. With the millionaires being priced out of Aspen and being pushed "down valley" toward Carbondale by the billionaires, this community is slowly being surrounded by trophy homes and gentleman farms. Fortunately, the town is not letting its homes be replaced by condos and McMansions. They are considering increasing the building height limit from 35 to 45 feet, as long as the new building doesn't create a high wall along the street that shades the sidewalk. The high point of the year is the Carbondale Mountain Festival each summer, usually around the last weekend in July. The festival actually helps support a fairly active art community. It's one of the few places around Aspen where artists can still afford to work. It's unknown how long that situation will last. Some people see Carbondale as '60's Aspen without skiing', although Sunlight Mountain and the Aspen ski areas are a short drive away. Until that happens, it still holds on to its very small town charm with cute shops and restaurants.
What makes this place so great? The location is based at the foot of extremely picturesque Mount Sopris and still home to many real mountain folks and high-altitude enthusiasts. It's almost at the center of western Colorado's best outdoor activities, located between the Aspen ski complex and the Colorado River, and also sports some of the most popular fly-fishing spots in The West.
Carbondale Chamber of Commerce

CRESTONE (81131) ZIP Rating:
Your path to Crestone is through the San Luis Valley, the highest of 'high plains', and a rich agricultural flatland. The trip takes you past magnificent views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and you can spot where every stream and every herd of antelope wander. State Highway 17 is as straight as an arrow for over 50 miles and the turn from Moffat toward Crestone gives you absolutely no hint of what is hidden just a few miles to the east. As you approach the town you see what seems to be the biggest stand of trees in the almost treeless plains. The Great Sand Dunes National Park lies just a few miles to the south. Once in town, you feel like someone passed a law that directs everyone to do something different to their house than the neighbors. You don't really get the feel of the nearby mountains like Crestone Needle and Challenger Peak because they are so close. With a little luck the café will be open and you can compare notes with several locals. The conversation may focus on where everyone else escaped from (often Boulder, Colorado), and where to find a reasonable place to rent. The hardware store is almost a museum, but don't count on them having regular hours. The town is populated by a number of "hippies", but you won't them find them hanging out, they're too busy working on their 'crib'. The adjacent Baca Ranch and its mix of shacks and upscale second homes provides a deep contrast to the real town of Crestone.
What makes this place so great?
It's like dropping in to a college town where they forgot to build the college. There are lots of free-thinking individuals mixed in with some old-time highlanders. You'll also find a hardy group of climbers heading to and from the nearby 14'ers (14,000 foot+ peaks).
Crestone Chamber of Commerce

LEADVILLE (80461) ZIP Rating:
Sometimes nicknamed "Two Mile High City". At 10,000 feet, Leadville looks very much like the 1800's mining town it once was. This town has not been spoiled by progress even though it's only about an hour from some of the biggest resorts in the world; Aspen, Vail and Copper Mountain. Summer festivals reflect the very western outlook of the town. Choosing almost any restaurant in town gives you a completely different experience than you'll ever have elsewhere. Our favorite outdoor activities are the bicycle trail around town (be prepared for a workout...remember, it's over 10,000 feet!), and riding the Leadville Railroad. Some of the best Mexican food in the state is served in nearby Stringtown.
What makes this place so great?
Leadville still looks like an old mining town, partly because at this altitude there are very few trees, so looking up the side streets gives you a feeling of stepping right into one of those old timey photographs showing one of those old, bustling mining towns. Only this one is still bustling.

Leadville Chamber of Commerce

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS (80487) ZIP Rating:
This is a real "cowboy' town surrounded by authentic ranches with authentic cows and horses, and a world-class ski area. Steamboat is completely removed from the urban environs of Denver, and is separate from the other 'corporate' ski areas of the state. The town has a nice western feel and updating has been done in a fairly thoughtful way. The ski mountain is an economical place to stay and an efficient bus system makes the two convenient to each other. You will find a number of ranchers working the lift chairs in the winter, and the shops lean toward 'western' themed collectibles. The town park at the west end still has the hot springs for which the town was named, but they no longer display the chugging sound that resembled the steamboats. They have lots of festivals in the summer and the residents don't really need to go to the big city for supplies, they now can shop down river for almost everything. You don't see that many cowboy bars with leather-adorned customers, but you see them in the stores and on the roads
What makes this place so great? Unlike some towns that pretend to be western, this one has a hard time keeping from being the real thing. The isolation of the area keeps it from feeling like a suburb of Denver, while still having air service from major airlines. Then there's the ski area which is about as great as you'll find anywhere in the west.

TELLURIDE (81435) ZIP Rating:
Telluride sits at the end of a steep box canyon rimmed with spectacular mountains. The views are even more outstanding from the top of the ski area lift, available during both winter and summer. There's lots of historic old buildings and a group of locals who seem to pretty much ignore Telluride's glitteri even though the well-to-do part-time residents make it possible for these 'free spirits' to survive. The big resort area, the nearby Town of Mountain Village, was built west of the original town and ski area, therefore, the rustic old town of Telluride remains relatively untouched. Their 'Village to Town' gondola is the only gondola on the US that qualifies as federally-qualified mass transit.
The town maintains its character with the help of a determined group of movers and shakers who have fought tooth and nail to preserve Telluride's charm, including an extensive lawsuit to keep a scenic meadow at the entrance of town from being developed. Donations from one to one million dollars helped the effort, which, so far, has prevented the encroaching development.
Telluride partially owes the survival of its historic nature to its end-of-the-road location and white-knuckle airport. The town is also site of a large EPA super-site, a result of years of nearby mining. Much of the tailings and toxins have been mitigated, but it a present reminder of Telluride's gritty past.
What makes this place so great? Not only is most of the town well-preserved, it is also well-used. Even the most well-heeled visitors gather at the oldest of buildings, and you would swear the whole town was being run by 21st Century 'hippies'.

Telluride Tourist Board


New Mexico

CIMARRON (87714) ZIP Rating:
Cimarron is located on the old Cimarron trail and is chock full of history. It isn't a very popular tourist stop because US Highway 64 doesn't carry much of that kind of traffic. There are several preserved buildings, some almost 300 years old, with all kinds of interesting stories behind them. It's a very small town so the historic places dominate the points of interest and there aren't many places to have a bite to eat. There are plenty a little farther west in Eagle's Nest and Angel Fire which requires a drive through the scenic Cimarron Canyon. The modest visitor's center deserves a stop, and there are some more recent stories of historical interest you wouldn't know without asking. You can actually get a good feel of this town without leaving your car, but the only people who can justify that brief of a visit are the ones passing through on their way to the Philmont Boy Scout Ranch.
What makes this place so great? There is a lot of visible history here, some of it very old but in very good condition. This is also a good place to learn about the mountain branch of the Santa Fe Trail and how it interacted with all the other towns along its route.

Cimarron Chamber of Commerce

LAS VEGAS (87701) ZIP Rating:
This Las Vegas couldn't be more different than its Nevada namesake. Almost every building in this town oozes the town's rich history. The lack of chains and "familiar' stores give this town a nice feel. You get the impression you have stepped into something different, if you turn down the right street. If you get off I-25, all the exits dump you in to a rather nondescript commercial strip. But go as far as one block west, and you find yourself in a very different place. You can almost see the outlaws that holed up in the town where they were able to freely roam, planning their next dastardly deeds. The locals in today's Las Vegas also see themselves as separated from the American mainstream and you get a true taste of how different New Mexico can be from the rest of the country.
What makes this place so great?
It's another town that can be easily absorbed by 'windshield tourists' with lots of unique southwestern buildings. The town is not on a heavily-traveled route, but it's fairly easy to get there. Those who have chosen to Move to Las Vegas almost consider themselves 'ex-patriots' because the area is so different than elsewhere in the US.
Las Vegas, New Mexico Chamber of Commerce


SANTA FE (87501) ZIP Rating:
It was hard to decide if Santa Fe is "unique" enough to include in our list of "special" places in the Rockies, but it certainly deserves consideration. The central part of Santa Fe is a wonderful example of the early town that was the heart of what finally became part of the Southwest US. Some of the buildings around the Plaza are still original construction, and much of what has been preserved at least maintains the feel of the original town from before the 1800's. Away from the core, Santa Fe looks more like Albuquerque, although the Canyon and a few residential parts of town reflect a nice blend of old and new "adobe" building styles.
What makes this place so great?
The original parts of town offer a lot of visual interest, and the museums and even some of the shops are truly unique and engaging.
Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce

TAOS (87172) ZIP Rating:
Success hasn't spoiled this town...yet. Much of the architecture is uniquely "Southwest", and some as old as the 1700's. The mix of Hispanic and Native American culture is truly unique. Integrated right in the town is an Indian reservation, The Taos Pueblo. For outsiders not familiar with the Southwest, this is a good dose of reality. The town itself has nice views especially of unbelievable sunsets, but just a few miles away, views OF the town are also impressive. With no tall buildings, it looks much like it might have 100 years ago. There are other scenic features of the town like the Rio Grande gorge, an interesting mix of passerby, and the memorable smell of burning pinion pine burning in fireplaces all over town. Like much of New Mexico, drunk driving is a noticeable problem, but with such a wide variation in economic conditions crime is surprisingly low. The town is home of internationally-known artists and world-class skiing. This is one place you should consider staying at one of the many bed & breakfast inns, most built from refurbished turn-of-last-century buildings. The central Plaza is no longer the center of the town's personality...all the good stuff is now found on the streets leading away from it.
What makes this place so great?
Everyone who comes to Taos tries to identify that unidentifiable feeling you have there. The views are awe-inspiring, the scents are mysterious, and the people cover a wide cultural spectrum.

Taos Chamber of Commerce


Utah

MOAB (84532) ZIp Rating:
Moab is another ordinary town in an extraordinary place. Most of western Utah is very scenic, but the two National Parks adjacent to Moab, Canyonlands and Arches, are extremely so. The town is a jumping off point for a wide variety of outdoors enthusiasts from windshield tourists to real escapists. While wolfing down a pizza, you could be swept up in an engaging conversation about the finer points of bicycle frames or appropriate rock climbing accessories. The town itself has little visual appeal, but a walk down the main street exposes you to crowd that is either more fit than you'd expect, or at least dressed like they just stepped out of an REI catalog.
What makes this place so great? You can literally get lost in the spectacular parks that surround this town, and love every minute of it. And right when you think you've seen it all, you discover another entrance to the parks that reveal a completely different world. Some visitors come just to enjoy this fabulous section of the Colorado River. Many people only make it to town to pick up supplies, so some of the most interesting characters might only be seen at the grocery store.
Moab Area Chamber of Commerce


Wyoming

JACKSON (83001) Rating:
We love Wyoming, but we have a hard time choosing one town in the state as truly unique. One place that is worthy of consideration is Jackson, but not much for the town itself. The area around Jackson, known as Jackson Hole, is nothing less than spectacular. Jackson itself has fallen into the trap of catering to a wealthy base of part-time residents who like to "go Cowboy", but still want to return to a trophy second home, or "ranch". This means lots of 'outlet' stores, jewelry shops and realtors. Fortunately, there is a small 'alternative' community that supports eating and living in an environmentally-friendly town. But the territory to the north is where the real jewels are kept. Grand Teton National Park is an extremely scenic location and attracts casual tourists as well as hearty outdoors people, some who climb to the 13,760 foot summit of Grand Teton peak. Then, you are just a short drive farther north to Yellowstone National Park which must be done at least once in a lifetime. Jackson makes a good base camp for several days of National Park visits, but there is also some very good skiing, and don't overlook the joys of Teton's 'back door' by traveling over to the Idaho side of the mountains. There are also some outstanding Lodges and Dude Ranches for some interesting lodging options.
What makes this place so great? Jackson is near some breathtaking scenery, some of our finest National Parks, and immerses you into a "cowboy' community, albeit a little less than authentic, although there are lots of real cowboys around.

Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce

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