The Greatest Mountain Town You’ve Never Heard Of

This under-the-radar retreat has good food and incredible access to nature.

The Greatest Mountain Town You’ve Never Heard Of

Mt. Sneffels range at sunset

Photo by Lynne Nieman

How under the radar is Ridgway, Colorado? So under the radar that most Coloradans have never even heard of it. Burrowed in the southwestern part of the state, about 10 miles north of Ouray and 39 miles from Telluride, the town is home to just 924 people—one of whom happens to be Ralph Lauren.

At nearly 7,000 feet, Ridgway has sweeping views of the San Juans and the Cimarron mountain range. Mount Sneffels, rising to 14,150 feet, can be seen from almost every vantage point in this idyllic mountain getaway. John Wayne’s 1969 film True Grit was filmed here; when you get a load of the spectacular scenery, you’ll understand why.

In the summer months, Ridgway is ensconced by verdant forest. The Uncompahgre River cuts through town, and there’s a lovely path for bicyclists and runners following its course. Dennis Weaver Memorial Park is a 60-acre wildlife preserve with covered picnic spots and challenging hiking and mountain biking trails. It’s not uncommon to see elk, marmots, hawks, herons, bobcats, cougars, and the occasional bear.

Considering its diminutive size, Ridgway’s food and drink offerings are outstanding. Eatery 66 is a seasonally operational food truck inhabiting an Airstream trailer and helmed by a former Per Se chef. Colorado Boy serves English-style ales and artisanal pizzas. Taco del Gnar dishes out Korean short rib and tuna carpaccio tacos that are as gnarly as its name implies. For breakfast or brunch, you can’t beat Provisions Cafe with its brown butter waffles, jamon panini, and home fries roasted in duck fat. Next door to Provisions, Magpie Antiques is worth a rummage. Its racks are stacked with hand-tooled leather pouches, colorful horse blankets, vintage turquoise jewelry, and other Old West treasures.

Winters in Ridgway are intense, with temps dropping to 15 below. While Telluride is a skiers’ paradise and Ouray is home to one of the world’s largest ice climbing parks, sleepy Ridgway siren calls vacationers and their sore muscles with its clothing-optional Orvis Hot Springs. The soaking areas here include a bubbling 40-foot pond, a steamy indoor pool, and a hot little “lobster pot,” warmed to a nearly unbearable 114 degrees.

Remarkable landscapes, craft beer, naked people—what more do you want?

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Ashlea Halpern is a contributing editor at Condé Nast Traveler and cofounder of Minnevangelist, a site dedicated to all things Minnesota. She’s on the road four to six months a year (sometimes with her toddler in tow) and contributes to Afar, New York Magazine, Time, the Wall Street Journal, T: The New York Times Style Magazine, Bon Appétit, Oprah, Midwest Living, and more. Follow her adventures on Instagram at @ashleahalpern.
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