We’d never heard of Rico, a small mountain town in the southwestern corner of Colorado. And that was part of the allure. Plus, I liked the idea of spending time somewhere without a stoplight or a Starbucks.
We also took a chance on this former mining town because it’s close to Telluride, an all-season ski town surrounded by the San Juan Mountains. But Telluride is a popular place, maybe too popular; even Oprah has a home there. We wanted to stay close enough to visit, but far from the crowds. So, we looked 30 miles southwest.
Part of Rico’s appeal came from its affordability; our monthlong lodging was $55 a day. And nearby hotels were less than $100 a night. But just like the city’s website says, it’s a great place to connect with the mountain atmosphere. If you’re interested in checking out Rico, here are some things to know before you go.
Activities abound year-round
There’s something to do in every season. During summer, you can hike, mountain bike, fish, boat, camp or whitewater raft — you’ll start out in Telluride for this one. Add leaf-peeping if you’re in town for fall. When snow season starts, head to the backcountry to ski or ride the lifts to get to the slopes in Telluride.
Since we were there in summer, we took advantage of the trail system. We mostly found hikes through the Hiking Project app and the mountain bike apps MTB Project and Trailforks. (Most trails are multi-use.) All three let you download maps you can use offline. This is helpful because there isn’t any cell service — which means no posting to Instagram — once you get out in the woods. You can also check the Rico Trails Alliance website, ricotrailsalliance.org, for information about local summer and winter trails. Or you can stop by the U.S. Forestry Department office north of town.
If you want to hike within Rico’s city limits, check out Silver Creek Road or the Horse Creek Trail. A few miles south of the city you’ll find two well-defined hikes that start at the same trailhead: Ryman Creek Trail and Salt Creek Trail. About 15 miles south — across from the Priest Gulch Campground — you’ll find the Priest Gulch trailhead.
A local told us to check out the natural hot springs near town. But it’s actually on private property and not open to the public. Unless you want to add trespassing to your bucket list, it’s best to avoid taking a dip.
Where to sleep
We stayed in a two-bedroom cabin-style home booked through Airbnb. We could do our own laundry, watch Netflix on the Roku, and play Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton and Prince on the record player. It even had a spare bedroom and artist studio next door. Our host gave us a 50 percent discount since we stayed a full month. And since we stayed for 31 days, we didn’t have to pay short-term rental taxes.
You can also spend your nights at the Rico Mine Shaft Inn. Your lodging comes with breakfast and a shared kitchen to cook your own food. Or you can stay in one of the four rooms available at the historic Enterprise Bar & Grill. If camping is more your style, you can pitch a tent at sites throughout the San Juan National Forest. Or you can reserve a cabin, RV spot or tent site at the Priest Gulch Campground.
Where to eat, drink and get groceries
We cooked our meals in our Airbnb kitchen. But there were always people popping in and out of the Enterprise Bar & Grill, a spot that’s been serving customers for 125 years. Stop by for a beer, burger or chicken wings. If you want to take alcohol home, there’s a liquor store next door. For more upscale dining, visit the 40-seat Prospector, Modern American Kitchen. Order chef Eamonn O’Hara’s soy-ginger glazed organic salmon. End your meal with chocolate pecan pie for dessert.
You can get basic supplies at Mountain Top Fuel, the only grocery and gas station in town. You can stock up staples like toothpaste and toilet paper or breakfast items like eggs, milk and bacon. For your caffeine fix, they have nitro cold brew on tap, local coffee beans for sale and an in-store grinder. And the cashier told me they always have ingredients for s’mores.
For bigger grocery runs, you can drive about 40 minutes north to Clark’s Market in Telluride or an hour south to City Market or Safeway in Cortez.
There are mountain peaks and lodgepole pines for miles on the drive from Rico to Silverton. You can take a two-hour scenic trip back through Telluride. You’ll travel up the Million Dollar Highway — a 25-mile windy stretch of U.S. 550 from Silverton to Ouray. This is a great fall drive to glimpse golden aspens. You may want to navigate these hairpin turns before winter, when roads can get icy. But if you do travel during the snowy season, Silverton is a great place for snow sports. Expert and advanced skiers and snowboarders only.
Mountain bike enthusiasts should head to Phil’s World. This 60-mile trail system is about an hour southwest of Rico. It’s near Mesa Verde National Park outside of Cortez. There are trails for riders of any level. But if you do take a fall riding on a roller coaster single track — or break your collar bone, like my husband did — they’ll take great care of you at the Southwest Health System hospital. It’s only 5 miles west.
Added bonuses in Rico
You’ll learn about the town’s railroad and mining history at the two-story free Rico History Museum. And make sure to ask about Betty Pellet, a former actress-turned-mine owner. A few blocks from the museum, you’ll find town hall. Out front, there’s a charging station for electric cars. Step inside to explore the small but well-stocked library. As a bookworm, I always get a temporary library card if I stay somewhere longer than a few weeks. I escaped into Amy Bloom, Gillian Flynn and Tana French when my hikes were done for the day.
How to get to Rico
Plan for a 16-hour road trip if you’re coming from Austin. That’s similar to the time it takes to drive to Breckenridge. But if you don’t want to travel all in one day, you can stop over in Albuquerque after about 10 hours on the road.
If you prefer air travel, you can fly into Montrose. It’s about two hours north of Rico. Or you can get a flight into Durango, which is two hours south. The closest — and most expensive — airport is in Telluride. It’s only 40 minutes away.
One of the best things about Rico is that it’s surrounded by mountains, literally. This makes it a little more difficult to get to than some other Colorado spots. But if you’re looking for a mountain escape minus the masses, the road to Rico is worth it.