A Road Trip To Carbondale: What To Do

The twin summits of Mt. Sopris stand majestically over this tight-knit, two-square-mile community at the confluence of the Crystal and Roaring Fork Rivers. A mere 30 miles from the glam of Aspen, unassuming little Carbondale (population 5,000-plus) is like a scruffy yet sophisticated cousin. Generations of ranchers, potato farmers and coal miners were joined by hippies in the 70s, and that confluence has spawned a vibrant—and decidedly creative—mix of agriculturalists, solar energy experts, designers, musicians, foodies, artists, architects, and theater folks that make Carbondale a true Colorado original.

Walk down Main Street and your hurried steps slow to a stroll. You’re surrounded by the ruddy warmth of vintage red-brick storefronts, and while the nostalgia is tangible the energy is brand new. This is a snob-free zone where town folk genuinely like each other and where it’s very likely for a stranger to enjoy a pleasant encounter with a few during their breakfast stop at Town bakery. The mind-blowingly organized Miser’s Mercantile consignment store and trendy boutiques like Lulubelle exemplify the funky mix of traditional and new—and everything seems to fit. It’s not surprising then that the whole town—artists, yogis and farmers alike–goes cowboy Thursday nights in summer at the volunteer-run Wild West Rodeo, or that its fall Potato Day is a 100 year-plus tradition. And it’s hard not to love a place that chooses the humble dandelion as its town flower with a weekend-long Dandelion Days celebration of sustainability and spring in May. Clearly, Carbondale has a sense of humor.

And this town is real rather than rarefied. First Fridays go on all year long so neighbors can get a chance to catch up, shop and have a glass of wine. And art is woven into the municipal fabric of Carbondale. You’ll notice public sculpture on almost every corner in Carbondale’s historic section, and even along the bike trail. Definitely check the town calendar for dance performances, live concerts, or to see what’s showing at the award-winning Thunder River Theatre Company. The 5Point Film Festival—a four-day bonanza of short adventure documentaries—is an annual spring highlight.

Outdoor opportunities in Carbondale are many and varied all year long. The 44-mile Rio Grande Trail starts in Glenwood Springs and meanders right through town and all the way to Aspen. Nearby mountain biking trails at Prince Creek and a new Community Bike Park have helped Carbondale earn a “gold level” bicycle-friendly community ranking from the League of American Bicyclists.

River Valley Ranch Golf Course

The Roaring Fork River’s officially designated “gold medal water” and the free-flowing Crystal River are popular fly-fishing and kayaking destinations, while the gorgeous greens of River Valley Ranch offer golf with a mountain view. If you come back in winter, Carbondale is also a great spot for cross-country skiing. Its Spring Gulch Trail System, with 19 kilometers of Nordic tracks, is a jewel. For soothing muscles and mind, stop in for a yoga session and a snack at the stunning new True Nature Healing Arts. And, of course, if you’re skiing up-valley in Aspen, Carbondale is well-suited for a wander on a day off the slopes.

Named a “best place to live” by Outside magazine, Sunset magazine, Men’s Journal and National Geographic Adventure, Carbondale’s successful year-round arts-and-outdoor combination (as well as its relatively affordable real estate) is attracting lots of attention. And rightfully so. The town’s lack of pretense and its strong community pride make it the kind of place where people get comfortable and just want to stay.  When you come to Carbondale, there’s no need for bling. Just pack your cowboy boots, bike shoes or hemp sandals—all are welcome here.


The Distillery Inn 
Chic boutique accommodations at the Marble Distilling Company


The Launchpad
Community arts space with R2 Gallery, “artique” gift shop and sculpture garden

Thunder River Theatre Company
Award-winning, professional regional theatre company with performances year-round

Carbondale Clay Center
Ceramic exhibitions, classes and camps


Fresh women’s clothing

Harmony Scott Jewelry Design
Handmade jewelry with natural gemstones

Miser’s Mercantile
The consignment shop of your dreams 

Luxe Nest
Eclectic and funky home furnishings 

Alpine Angling Fly Shop
Guided fly-fishing trips and gear shop


Roaring Fork Beer Company
Tasting room and brewery tours

Farm-to-table American bistro 

Bakery, coffee, food and all-around community gathering spot

Phat Thai
Southeast Asian-inspired cuisine; phatthai.com


True Nature Healing Arts
Yoga studio, spa, peace garden and kitchen

Categories: Colorado Destinations