1. Where to Stay
Rethink the B&B experience at the high-tech Euclid House (from $65, whole house from $290), a two-bedroom Victorian minutes from Main Street. Here, you’ll still find homey décor touches like a wood-burning stove and paintings by plantation-born folk artist Clementine Hunter, but the house also has surprising modern details like an advanced air-and-water-filtration system from the Japanese wellness firm Nikken.
Enjoy turn-of-the-twentieth-century charms at the Redstone Inn (from $85), a 1902 Tudor Revival lodge in the tiny cliffside village of Redstone, about twenty minutes outside of town. Industrialist John C. Osgood originally built the place as a dormitory for bachelors working in his coal mines, but it’s since been transformed into a modern 36-room spot with country-cottage décor, including sleigh beds with crisp white bedding.
Soak in hot springs (88 to 105 degrees) year-round at Avalanche Ranch, a 36-acre resort ten miles south of downtown Carbondale. The cabins here are rustic but cozy, ranging from studios (from $135) to a three-bedroom ranch house that sleeps eight (from $385). If you’re looking to rough it, there are also three covered wagons, which make up for their lack of en suite bathrooms and kitchens with loads of quirky décor, like bright paisley bedding and camping lanterns ($85). At 7,000 feet elevation overlooking the Crystal River and picturesque Mt. Sopris, the grounds are perfect in wintertime for snowshoeing, ice skating, cross-country skiing, and sledding.
2. Where to Eat
Show up early for the doughnut of the day ($3)—like chai or pancetta walnut—and snag a coveted seat around the outdoor fire pit at Town. Chef Mark Fischer shuttered his James Beard–nominated Carbondale flagship Six89 last year and opened this accessible all-day eatery in May, serving house-baked pastries by morning, salads and sandwiches in the afternoon, and inventive farmers’-market-inspired fare by night (reservations are recommended). Though much of the produce and proteins are sourced locally, the culinary inspirations here are delightfully all over the map; think clever dishes like rabbit tacos ($10), truffled gnocchi salad ($9), and pastrami lamb with rye-bread salad ($17).
Grab a Colorado lamb gyro ($11) or elk burger ($13) at the Goat Kitchen & Bar, Chef Stacey Baldock’s self-described “blue-collar country club” located in a humble strip mall. At the restaurant’s Colorado-centric bar, you’ll find six local beers on tap (from $4.50), like Breckenridge Brewery’s Agave Wheat, as well as cocktails ($7–9) made with spirits from area distillers, including Crested Butte’s Montanya Rum.
Sample Carbondale’s answer to Shake Shack at Fatbelly Burgers, a Main Street staple serving perhaps the most hyperlocal beef you’ve ever tasted—the grass-fed cows are raised by the Jacober family at Crystal River Meats just on the edge of town. Like the Danny Meyer original, the burgers ($5.59) are prepared using the “griddle smash” technique on a 500-degree flat top, which leaves them with juicy insides and slightly charred exteriors. Served with house spread on squishy buns, the burgers have made their way onto national best-burger rankings, but Fatbelly still has the feel of a locals-only roadside dive.
3. What to Do
Stroll past the twelve outdoor sculptures that make up the Carbondale Public Arts Commission’s Art aRound Town program. Since 2003, the city has unveiled a new lineup of abstract works and figural studies each year, earning itself the prestigious 2012 Governor’s Arts Award, which recognizes a town’s efforts to enhance the community through creative endeavors. Instead of standard heroic bronzes, the works here are often bold and challenging—the 2013 best-in-show winner, for example, is Michael Dunton’s To the Core, a tusklike spire made from stainless steel, marble, and LED lights. The works are personally curated by renowned modernist sculptor James Surls, who is expected to receive his very own museum in Carbondale in the coming year.
Follow the sounds of sawing and hammering into the rowdy S.A.W. Studio for Arts and Works, a collaborative space opened in a renovated automotive shop in 2011. The lineup of potters, painters, jewelers, and glass artists currently includes graffiti-inspired painter Stanley Bell and installation artist Chris Erickson, who crafts larger-than-life foam replicas of headphones, pills, and arcade characters. Don’t expect a traditional gallery experience: S.A.W. is loud, industrial, and irreverent, so you might find yourself playing with the gallery dog Flash or watching artists set up their latest mobile exhibit in the shiny Airstream trailer out back.
Explore innovative works at the Carbondale Clay Center, a Main Street studio space where local artisans get serious about ceramic arts. The center offers regular workshop series on hand building, wheel throwing, and bisqueware painting, but if you’re simply stopping in for the weekend, you can schedule a private lesson ($35/hour for one adult, $25/hour per person for two to four adults) or reserve studio space to fire up your own creations ($35/day).
Join Carbondale’s artsy types at the Third Street Center, a community arts pavilion built in the town’s old elementary school in 2010. The ecofriendly space runs entirely on solar power, producing more than 100 percent of its own energy as of this summer. In addition to a backyard bread oven and free weekly music and dance performances, the center houses a contemporary gallery with rotating monthly shows. Check the online concert calendar for the lineup of musicians who play at the onsite PAC3 Performing Arts Center, where you might hear anything from honky tonk and post-bluegrass to trip hop and Orange County punk.
4. Insider’s Tip
Built on the southern edge of town, Carbondale Sk8 Park occupies the former corporate headquarters of the North Face outerwear design company. With 17,300 square feet of full pipes, corners, lines, and waterfalls, including 4,000 square feet of beginner terrain, it’s often ranked among the premiere outdoor skate parks in the country. But you don’t have to be a skater to enjoy the view here: North Face Park also happens to be the best spot in town to snap photos of the towering 12,953-foot-tall Mt. Sopris.
5. Oddball Day
Take a break from gallery-hopping and spend a day exploring nature and the small towns south of Carbondale, which marks the northern terminus of the lasso-shaped West Elk Loop Scenic and Historic Byway. Though the entire loop stretches some 205 miles, this condensed itinerary will let you see the highlights without spending all day behind the wheel. Fuel up at the Blend Coffee Company, which serves organic, fair-trade espresso drinks from Denver’s Novo Coffee Roasters, and then head south on Highway 133, a narrow mountain pass tracing the Crystal River. Keep your eyes peeled: Just a few hundred feet north of mile marker 55, pull into the gravel parking lot on the left side of the road and make your way down to the Penny Hot Springs on the river banks for a quick dip. (Though once a popular spot for nudists in the sixties, bathing suits are now officially required!) Four miles down the road, stop into the tiny former mining camp of Redstone (population: 130) and explore its old-fashioned general store and arts-and-craft galleries. At the Redstone Art Center, husband-and-wife owners Michael and Stephanie Askew show works inspired by nature—he photographs black-and-white landscapes like Ansel Adams, while she paints scenes of the surrounding valley. Continue down Highway 133 through scenic mountain valleys for about an hour until you reach the Delicious Orchards Organic Farmers Market in Hotchkiss. Here, sample locally made Big B’s Hard Cider or one of the many wines made in the area, like the Gewürztraminer from Paonia’s Stone Cottage Cellars. Pick up local Avalanche Cheese Company chevre and other fresh ingredients for a DIY lunch and then begin your return trip north to Carbondale along Highway 133. The small town of Paonia is surrounded by so many vineyards and orchards that the area has been nicknamed “American Provence.” Many of the wineries close up shop for the winter, but Revolution Brewing is an equally great place to try the fruits of the valley, in rotating seasonal brews like Cherry IPA. On the drive back to Carbondale, explore Paonia State Park (day pass $7), a lakeside park between steep alpine slopes, rich with wildlife like mule deer, elk, and marmots. Grab dinner back in Redstone at the riverside Crystal Club Cafe, where the menu skews toward home-style barbecue and comfort food—and pay attention to the red cliffs across the street, where you’ll often be able to spot bighorn sheep. At home in Carbondale, stop for a nightcap in the the Black Nugget Saloon, which used to be a favorite hangout for area coal miners and now serves Colorado microbrews.
Community radio station KDNK offers a smart, NPR-style take on Roaring Fork Valley news and politics.
Read about the valley’s burgeoning food scene in the online version of the quarterly Edible Aspen.
Sustainable Settings is a Carbondale-based nonprofit dedicated to green development and sustainable agriculture.
MapMyHike offers crowd-sourced hike itineraries in and around Carbondale, including details like elevation gain, driving directions, and skill level.