Want to find out the best hidden gems in Colorado where you can escape the crowds? Then read on!
Colorado is an incredible state in the heart of the Rocky Mountains that is full of natural beauty, gorgeous mountain towns, and mining history.
While Aspen, Vail, Rocky Mountain National Park, and Denver are all great spots to visit in Colorado and are probably the most well-known Colorado destinations, there are so many incredible Colorado hidden gems too that are definitely worth visiting.
Here are my favorite hidden gems of Colorado that you should consider adding to your Colorado Road Trip Itinerary for a more offbeat Colorado vacation.
The Best Hidden Gems of Colorado
1. Hot Sulphur Springs
Although Hot Sulphur Springs is only a stone’s throw away from the west side of the super-popular Rocky Mountain National Park, this small and charming town doesn’t get a ton of visitors.
While it doesn’t have a myriad of activities, it’s absolutely worth visiting this hidden gem in Colorado to soak at the rustic and peaceful Hot Sulphur Springs, which has 21 thermal pools scattered over a hillside with different temperatures and minerals.
As well as soaking at the springs, you can go hiking or snowshoeing in the nearby Arapahoe National Forest, fish in the river, and if you are visiting in the fall, don’t miss the off-the-beaten-path fall drive on County Road 55 towards Winter Park.
Where to Stay in Hot Sulphur Springs: Hot Sulphur Springs Resort & Spa or Canyon Motel. Camp at Pioneer Park in town where it’s free and first-come-first-served.
Where to Eat & Drink in Hot Sulphur Springs: The Bait Shop Grill for comfort food (sit by the chinchilla enclosure), the historic Dean Public House for pub classics and cocktails in one of Grand County’s oldest buildings, and Dari Delite for fast food from a quirky takeout spot.
2. St Elmo Ghost Town
St Elmo is my favorite ghost town in Colorado, and it is also one of the most accessible. Despite this, most out-of-state visitors don’t seem to know about it – I didn’t until about two years into living in Colorado.
St Elmo is one of the best-preserved ghost towns in the American West, and at its peak in 1881 there were over 2,000 people living here, with miners drawn to the rich silver and gold deposits. By the 1950s the town was a ghost town, with only a handful of residents left.
On arrival, take the self-guided walking tour that takes you around the 43 remaining buildings, including a saloon, a courthouse/jail, mercantile, and private homes.
Summer is an excellent time to visit if you love hummingbirds because there are dozens of them buzzing around the various feeders by the General Store in town and because they feed the chipmunks, they are everywhere too.
Alternatively, visit in the fall, when the golden aspens surrounding town are absolutely breathtaking.
This is one of the best Colorado hidden gems if you love history and wildlife.
Where to Stay Near St Elmo: Camp at Iron City Campground right by St Elmo, or stay at Surf Hotel and Chalet in Buena Vista or Mountain Goat Lodge in Salida.
Where to Eat & Drink Near St Elmo: In Buena Vista, the Buena Viking Food Truck for their amazing burgers and sides, Elkhorn Pizzeria for great pizza, the Jailhouse Craft Beer Bar for craft beer and wine in an old jail, and Eddyline Brewery for local brews.
In Salida, Amicas Pizza Microbrew for wood-fired pizzas and craft beer, Tacos El Tapatio for authentic Mexican food, and Soulcraft Brewing and Tres Litros Beer Company for awesome craft beer.
3. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Of the three National Parks in Colorado, Black Canyon of the Gunnison is definitely the most obscure, definitely making it one of the best hidden gems of Colorado.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison comprises a very steep canyon of distinctive black rock, desert scenery, and various viewpoints and hiking trails. It is also a beautiful and inexpensive place to camp in the warmer months.
It is a small park at only 231 acres, but it is still definitely worth adding to your Colorado Itinerary, even if you only have a couple of hours to explore.
Where to Stay in & Near Black Canyon of the Gunnison: South Rim Campground in the park, or Black Canyon Motel in nearby Montrose.
Where to Eat & Drink Near Black Canyon of the Gunnison: Crash Burger for delicious burgers, Colorado Boy for inventive and delicious pizza, Horsefly Brewing Company for local craft beer, burgers, and wings on their sunny patio, and Phelanies for top-rated cocktails.
4. Canyons of the Ancients National Monument
Canyons of the Ancients National Monument is located in the southwest corner of the state, so it’s not the easiest to get to but it’s definitely one of the best hidden gems in Colorado if you love Ancestral Puebloan ruins with no crowds – it contains the highest density of known archaeological sites in the U.S.!
The National Monument covers a vast area and there are numerous ruins including cliff dwellings, towers, pithouses, kivas, and more. Unlike Mesa Verde National Park, it isn’t obvious where to go in Canyons of the Ancients National Monument so I advise doing some research or visiting the Visitor Center in Dolores.
I highly recommend hiking the Sand Canyon trail where you can see numerous cliff dwellings and towers, and don’t miss Lowry Pueblo, a 1,000-year-old village with over 40 rooms.
Where to Stay Near Canyons of the Ancients: Retro Inn or White Eagle Inn in Cortez. You can also free camp within Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, just make sure you are more than 300 feet from water sources and archaeological sites.
Where to Eat & Drink Near Canyons of the Ancients: The Farm Bistro for delicious and eclectic dishes in a cozy environment, Gustavo’s Mexican Restaurant & Bar for excellent Mexican food, and WildEdge Brewing Collective for super interesting and delicious craft beers. All are in Cortez.
One of the more obscure hidden gems in Colorado, historic Trinidad is home to an attractive, historic downtown, with red-brick streets and Victorian architecture.
It is just 13 miles north of the New Mexico border, and 200 miles from Denver, so a lot of travelers don’t make it there unless they are driving through to New Mexico.
It was once known as the “Sex Change Capital of the World” because a local doctor had an international reputation for performing sex reassignment surgery.
As well as checking out the historic downtown, go boating, biking, or hiking at nearby Trinidad Lake State Park.
Where to Stay in Trinidad: Tower 64 Motel & RV Park or camp at South Shore Campground in Trinidad Lake State Park.
Where to Eat & Drink in Trinidad: Nana and Nano’s Pasta House for homemade Italian food, Sita’s Kitchen for the best Vegan food in town. Purple Toad Social Tap & Grill for Colorado beers on tap and pub grub.
6. Creede and Lake City
Drive the Silver Thread Scenic Byway between Gunnison and South Fork to see some beautiful lakes and visit these Colorado hidden gems – the historic mountain towns of Lake City and Creede.
Both towns are home to some beautiful historic buildings and a ton of Old West history, and the best bit is that there are rarely the crowds you would expect from the more well-known Colorado mountain towns.
There are a lot of hiking trails near both towns, including five fourteeners, and over 20 thirteeners, as well as mountain biking, fishing, and some challenging off-roading trails for 4WD and ATVs.
Creede has a thriving arts scene and there are numerous galleries and even a theater that puts on numerous productions every summer.
Where to Stay in Creede and Lake City: The North Face Lodge in Lake City and Aspen Inn in Creede. Camp at Mountain Views at Rivers Edge.
Where to Eat & Drink in Creede and Lake City: Blue Moose Cafe in Creede, and Climb Elevated Eatery in Lake City. Drink at Tommyknocker Tavern in Creede and Lake City Brewing Company in Lake City.
7. Cripple Creek and Victor
If you are heading to the Colorado Springs area then I strongly recommend going a little out of your way and visiting the Wild West mining towns of Cripple Creek and Victor – both are hidden gems of Colorado that are worth detouring for.
Like Central City and Black Hawk, Cripple Creek is a historic mining town that is now home to casinos.
It has been tastefully done and even if you aren’t a gambler, Cripple Creek and nearby Victor are both very much worth visiting if you are interested in Colorado’s mining history.
Make sure to take a ride on the Cripple Creek & Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad, hike to some old gold mines, or visit the Victor Lowell Thomas Museum.
Where to Stay in Cripple Creek/Victor: Century Casino and Hotel or The Victor Hotel in Victor. Camp at the Cripple Creek Travel Park.
Where to Eat and Drink in Cripple Creek/Victor: Maggie’s for standard American fare, The Crippled Cow in Bronco Billy’s Casino for craft beer and wood-fired pizza.
8. Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument
The small Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument is home to 34 million-year-old fossilized redwood tree stumps – yes, there used to be redwoods in Colorado!
While the trees rotted away, the stumps were preserved in ash from a volcanic eruption and now look crystallized.
If you are visiting Cripple Creek then Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument is not much further and if you are into natural history then it is definitely worth a visit.
Do one of the hiking trails, check out all the stumps, visit the old homestead in the park, and enjoyed learning about what Colorado looked like 34 million years ago, and about early tourism to the area.
Where to Stay Near Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument: There are a few vacation rentals near the National Monument including the Cougar Chalet, and this Log Cabin with Mountain Views. There is no camping within the park, but Riverside Campground isn’t too far.
Where to Eat & Drink Near Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument: Colorful Iron Tree Restaurant & Brewery in the town of Florissant for their varied and delicious menu and awesome brews made in-house.
9. Carbondale and Penny Hot Springs
Carbondale is a pretty mountain town that is just twenty minutes down the road from Glenwood Springs, but it doesn’t get half as many visitors.
Carbondale is an adventure town, and there are plenty of adventure activities in the beautiful wilderness around town including mountain biking, kayaking, and world-class fly-fishing. In winter, there is excellent cross-country skiing.
In the town itself, there are attractive historic buildings, a number of fantastic restaurants and breweries, and a couple of museums if you are interested in the area’s history.
But my favorite thing to do in Carbondale is actually just outside of town – Penny Hot Springs.
Just 12 miles south of Carbondale, there is an unassuming car park on the side of the road that you would never know to stop at – this is the car park for beautiful and undeveloped Penny Hot Springs.
Penny Hot Springs is made up of a few natural pools on the side of the river that vary in temperature. There are no buildings or concrete here – it’s all-natural. Bring a picnic and spend all day here surrounded by mountains, jumping in the peaceful Crystal River when you need to cool off.
You can find Penny Hot Springs on Google Maps, otherwise, you will blink and miss it.
These incredible places are two of the best hidden gems in Colorado.
Where to Stay in Carbondale: The Dandelion Inn or rent the 8th Street Retreat vacation home. For camping, try Gateway RV Park.
Where to Eat & Drink in Carbondale: Village Smithy Restaurant for classic diner eats, Fatbelly Burgers for simple but great quality burgers. For local craft beer try Carbondale Beer Works and Roaring Fork Beer Company.
10. Marble and Crystal Ghost Town
There isn’t a lot in tiny Marble but it’s worth visiting for the outstanding Slow Groovin’ BBQ and to hike or drive the crazy road to the gorgeous Crystal Mill and ghost town. It is a 40-minute drive south of Carbondale.
Fun fact: Marble is home to some of the best quality marble in the world, and it is where the marble for the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. came from.
Crystal was a mining town in the 19th Century that declined due to its isolated and hard to get to location. There are still a number of buildings standing in town, and a few people even live here in the summer months, so it is not exactly a ghost town anymore.
Just before you get into Crystal townsite, you will see the iconic Crystal Mill, a popular photo spot that was even on the cover of the Colorado Lonely Planet a couple of years ago, despite this, it doesn’t get the number of visitors that it should and it’s one of the top Colorado hidden gems if you love scenic ghost towns.
If you have a high clearance 4WD and are a confident driver, you can drive to Crystal, and then continue further over the scenic but treacherous Schofield Pass to Crested Butte – don’t even attempt Scofield Pass unless you are a super experienced and confident driver though, as it is one of the most dangerous roads in Colorado.
If you don’t have a 4WD or OHV, you can hike along the road from Marble to Crystal, it is a moderate hike that is around 9 miles return.
Where to Stay in Marble: Riverfront Studio Apartment or The Inn at Raspberry Ridge. Camp at Crystal Mountain Ranch in Crystal.
Where to Eat & Drink in Marble: Slow Groovin BBQ – and not just because it is the only restaurant in town. The BBQ is to die for, and they serve craft beer, wine, and cocktails.
These are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to hidden gems in Colorado, but they are a good place to start if you want to escape the crowds on your Colorado vacation.
If you liked this – check out some of my other Colorado posts:
- 15 Best Colorado Mountain Towns to Visit Anytime
- Ultimate Colorado Road Trip Itinerary to See the Best of the State
- The Perfect 3 Days in Denver Itinerary
- Visit Telluride: The Best Mountain Town in Colorado
- Tackling the Hike from Aspen to Crested Butte: The Best Hike in Colorado
- Experiencing Cannabis Culture in Denver with a Cannabis Tour