From historic mining towns to epic ski resorts, Colorado is home to many iconic mountain destinations that are worth a visit, with the usual being Aspen, Vail, and Breckenridge. But beyond the glitz and glamour of these ski havens lies one of Colorado’s most perfect mountain town, Red Cliff, Colorado. Tucked away in the far corners of the White River National Forest and protected by its holiness, Mount of the Holy Cross, Red Cliff may be small, but it has a lot to offer.
Less than 15 miles from Vail, the historic and picturesque mountain town of Red Cliff quietly rests in a canyon, just off Highway 24, where the roaring Eagle River and Turkey Creek meet. Hidden below the highway, which passes over the Red Cliff Truss Bridge, or better known as The Green Bridge, this Colorado hamlet is named for the red cliffs of the Eagle Valley. As the oldest town in Eagle County, it was the first county seat, and typical of Colorado, its boom days came with the discovery of silver.
Within the town, life is kept simple with one hotel, one restaurant, outdoor recreation, and a visible historical presence. While you won’t find much in terms of amenities or cell service, you will find plenty of charm and character and friendly locals that make Red Cliff Colorado’s ultimate mountain town.
Where to stay
Deciding on where to stay in Red Cliff is the easiest decision you’ll make, as there is only one option, the Green Bridge Inn. A stay at this historic family-owned hotel completes the unique mountain experience. The charming inn offers spacious and modern rooms with a touch of rustic allure, with beetle kill beadboard walls, plus on-site provisions and a liquor store for those last-minute purchases.
An extended balcony on the first and second floor provides a quiet outdoor space with unobstructed views of the town. Guests will also enjoy the walking-distance location to the local restaurant, Mango’s Mountain Grill.
Where to eat
For breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and even a stiff drink head to Mango’s Mountain Grill. Across the street from the Green Bridge Inn, this Vail-Valley favorite has been serving up locals and tourists alike since 1999. A menu of classics such as hamburgers, mountainside salads, and their “famous fish tacos,” is what makes this a favorite stop for those exploring the area. Outdoor seating is available on their downstairs patio as well as their rooftop deck that overlooks the town and surrounding mountains.
What to do
As the western gateway to Shrine Pass and its proximity to Eagle River, Red Cliff’s biggest attractions are outside. With direct access to the White River National Forest via Shrine Pass, Red Cliff serves as a base camp for exploring some of Colorado’s most beautiful terrain.
In the winter cross-country skiers delight themselves with the 11-mile trek along Shrine Pass, while mountain bikers and four-wheel drive vehicles hit the road in the summer. Trails in the summer, including Fancy Pass Trail and Whitney Lake Trail, also reward hikers with beautiful wildflowers and scenic views of Mount Holy Cross. But not all the action happens on dry land, fly fishing and kayaking are popular activities as well.
Historic walking tour
Red Cliff hit the jackpot at the turn of the century with the discovery of silver. As a mining town that was filled with mischief and mayhem, saloons, banks, and even an opera house, Red Cliff offers plenty of historical character that is easily enjoyed along the Red Cliff Walking Tour.
On this tour you will see the Congressional Church of Red Cliff, built around 1889, it stands as the oldest church in the county, the Old Town Hall and Jail, which dates back to the 1880s, Mount Carmel Church, originally built in 1913 to start a monastery, plus the Red Cliff school that was built in 1937 that now acts as the Town Hall. Be sure to also keep your eye out for the less-obvious historical marker in town, Fort Arnette. Built in 1879, it was established to protect Red Cliff from a supposed attack from local Native Americans. The fort still stands today atop a projection of quartzite in the middle of town, designated with a prideful America flag.
To cap off the historical tour, head to the top of town to the Greenwood Cemetery. A single loop around the cemetery winds through aspens and over 600 gravesites, dating back to 1880. Notable historical pioneers like Lydia Tague, the first woman to be elected county court judge in the state of Colorado, are laid to rest here.
A copy of the walking tour with details and directions is available at the front desk of the Green Bridge Inn. And to continue your historical journey, be sure to visit the Town Museum.
Once people came for the chance to strike it rich, now people come to experience Colorado at its best. No matter your need to get away, the small town of Red Cliff is sure to satisfy your adventurous spirit in a big way.