Colorado Mountain Town Etiquette as Told by Locals

Looking down towards the mountains town of Ouray, Colorado

Colorado’s Rocky Mountains have proven to be an ideal get away from the hustle and bustle of city life in Denver. With fresh air and unmatched views, escaping from the city heat for a weekend away in the mountains is the best way to unwind. However, these alpine escapes aren’t a vacation for everyone. For many, they are home — a place where locals have raised children, started businesses and bought homes. They require respect, admire compassion, value community and expect the same from visitors. We spoke to four High Rockies’ locals to gain a unique perspective on how Denver dwellers can better enjoy their mountain vacation. 

Mind the pace

Trail Ridge Road. Photo by Kyle Cooper

“We’re not in a hurry to get where we’re going,” said local Tabernash native and business owner Ben Lynch. “Vacations need to leave their Denver attitude in Denver and get on mountain time.” In the alpine world rush hour, deadlines, alarm clocks and urgency are nowhere to be found. Be aware of slower in-town speed limits, people lingering in the street, slower restaurant service and an overall lack of impatience.

Mind the hours

“Up here business hours work around time with family and friends, not the other way around,” said long time Vail resident and business owner Carey Anderson. “If you’re looking for a 24-hour lifestyle you’ve come to the wrong spot.” Denver, much like New York, Chicago or any major city provides 24-hours of action. Twenty-four hour grocery stores, liquor stores and a night life that goes long into the morning hours. This is not the case for our favorite mountain getaways, where some of the rowdiest bars take last call at midnight, grocery stores close at 11 p.m. on a weekend and Sunday’s offer more closed signs than open.

Mind the attire

dog hiking colorado, Cori Anderson, 303 Magazine
Photo by Cori Anderson

“You don’t have to wear a five-star dress to get a five-star meal up here,” said business owner and Grand Lake resident Bob Scott. “Casual is the key, we like it that way.” It is expected that a night-out in the city involves tight jeans, high heels, button down shirts and bright dresses. Those expectations can be left behind when dining or drinking in the mountains. Even the finest of restaurants don’t necessarily merit a change from the days hiking attire. Be aware of the perpetually casual environment, this is a world where one can enjoy the finer things in hiking boots and joggers.

Mind the environment

Top coloradan adventures, Colorado bucket list, hanging lake, best hikes to do in Colorado,
Hanging Lake. Photo by Darian Simon

“Don’t litter and don’t disrespect our environment, you may get away with that in Denver but it’s not an option up here,” said Winter Park native and local business owner Sioux Kugi. The natural environment intertwines with reality and everyday life in the Rockies. Many residents work for the National Park or make a living from the land. Mountain town residents have an extreme respect for the natural world that backs up to their back door and they expect visitors to do the same.

It’s difficult to switch perspectives. We become stuck within our individual agendas, expectations and identities. Regardless of these pre-existing hangups, changing one’s mindset is an invaluable skill. Remember that the next time you visit one of our enchanted mountain towns.

  1. We’re always wondering why everyone is in such a hurry when they get up here. You’ve made it! You can slow down, smile and take a deep breath.

  2. Also, just because I work at a ski shop, it doesn’t mean that I am uneducated. I have a master’s degree in English literature and taught 7th and 8th grade for 20 years before retiring. I can spell and differentiate homophones Leigh, Lee or Li pretty well, as well as any other moniker by which you’re called.

  3. These are all good things to be mindful. I do, however, resent the comments about Denverites a bit though. Maybe there needs to be a reminder for small town locals that people from Denver leave the city for a reason and just may not be lucky enough to live in the mountains. We’re not ALL rush, rush, push, shove, and litter, and most of us enjoy the slower pace and casual style, as well as love and respect the environment.

  4. Wow so much pretension in one article, it’s hard to even know where to start. “You might get away with that in Denver, but it’s not an option up here” about littering was exceptionally classy. Needless to say that’s a dramatic misrepresentation of people who live in cities and just an assumption about cities in general. As cities go, Denver is doing pretty well comparatively. Just about all the trash I’ve seen on the ground here in Denver is from homeless people (many of whom have been given one way bus tickets to Denver from the mountain towns themselves – I know this from experience and from many homeless peoples’ stories) and that’s a pretty tough demographic to educate on the benefits of discarding their garbage. Everyone I know going up to mountain towns and parks would never litter in the city, and most definitely wouldn’t litter in the country either. I’ve seen more garbage in a local’s front yard in Leadville than I’ve seen in any city park here in Denver. Don’t stereotype us, cause there’s lots of litterers and all around careless people in the mountains too. This article reeks of Aspen/Vail hoity-toity pretensions about what their mountain town is like compared to anywhere else. Please venture 5 minutes out of your little toy towns and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Same goes for the “5-star attire”. Denver may be one of the most laid back cities there is. Yea, there’s some pretentious rich folk and there’s some nice restaurants, but I wear jeans and a t-shirt or a flannel just about everywhere I go and I’ve never felt underdressed, even when the family comes in town and we go out to eat somewhere nice. This whole post is just a silly over-simplification of what city life is like and doesn’t actually consider Denver. These generalizations are better served for NY or Chicago than Denver. But I guess you’re just trying to make an ad for “mountain towns” so I get it

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