Custer County, Colorado: Outdoor Adventures and Culture

Updated:

From alpine lakes and soaring mountain peaks to ghost towns and dinosaur fossils, Custer County offers visitors endless opportunities for outdoor recreation, cultural immersion, and family fun against a backdrop of breathtaking scenery.

TL;DR

  • Custer County features stunning mountain scenery, pristine wilderness, and a rich pioneer history.
  • Outdoor lovers can hike countless trails, camp under the stars, fish, hunt, climb, mountain bike, and more.
  • Historical attractions range from dinosaur tracks to abandoned mining towns and stagecoach routes.

Custer County Overview

The diverse southern Colorado landscape encompasses alpine forests, wildflower-filled meadows, cascading creeks, and rolling grasslands dotted with pine trees. Most of Custer County sits between 7,000 and 9,000 feet above sea level, with some rugged peaks soaring over 14,000 feet. This natural beauty and isolation have helped preserve the area’s old-fashioned charm and pioneering spirit.

Two quaint towns serve as gateways to Custer County’s adventures. Founded in 1878, Silver Cliff still reflects its mining heritage through preserved Victorian buildings and brick storefronts. Neighboring Westcliffe hosts cultural events like summer concerts and theater productions when not serving as a base camp for hiking, fishing, and hunting. Beyond the towns lie ghost towns, stagecoach routes, abandoned mines, and petroglyphs left behind by the Ute people. Dinosaur tracks and fossils also reveal evidence of Custer County’s prehistoric inhabitants.

Local Experiences and Culture

Custer County delivers no shortage of authentic local experiences rooted in its Western heritage. Visitors can browse the handmade crafts and artwork at galleries and shops in Silver Cliff and Westcliffe. Several dude and guest ranches allow guests to lend a hand with ranch chores and cattle drives to immerse themselves in traditional cowboy culture.

The smells of freshly baked pies, grilled steaks, and Mexican fare greet visitors to Custer County’s local restaurants. Highlights include the Cliff Lanes Cafe in Silver Cliff, along with Westcliffe’s Rancher’s Roost Cafe.

Special events like Silver Cliff’s summer rodeo and Westcliffe’s July 4th parade and rodeo give visitors a taste of small-town traditions and hospitality. Music lovers flock to the area for festivals and intimate concerts held within the historic Jones Theater and other local venues.

Outdoor Adventures

Custer County’s endless wilderness provides a playground for hikers, mountain bikers, horseback riders, off-roaders, anglers, hunters, and other outdoor enthusiasts.

Hiking and biking trails wind through the Wet Mountain Valley and the San Isabel National Forest. Off-roading and mountain biking routes like the Rainbow Trail challenge riders with steep hill climbs and sweeping downhill runs.

For hunting, Custer County has plentiful elk, deer, bighorn sheep, and game birds. Anglers can cast for trout in creeks, reservoirs, and alpine lakes fed by cold, snow-melt waters. Several outfitters offer guided tours, rentals, and essential safety tips for backcountry adventures.

Seasonal Attractions

Custer County transforms with the seasons, bringing unique attractions and activities year-round. Summer wildflowers blanket alpine meadows while autumn paints the mountainsides in golden hues. Many visit Custer County in winter to downhill and cross-country ski or snowmobile on trails groomed by the Sangres Snowrunners Snowmobile Club.

Families often visit during summer to fish, hike, ride horses, and attend rodeos and festivals together. Seasonal events range from Silver Cliff’s winter sled races to Westcliffe’s summer theater productions. Visitors in the fall can pick apples at historic ranches or hike among the vibrant foliage on trails like the Rainbow Trail winding over Westcliffe’s Rainbow Ridge.

Historical Sites and Education

History buffs will delight in Custer County’s wealth of Old West sites and landmarks. Several ghost towns left behind by early prospectors and miners now serve as haunting reminders of the region’s frontier roots.

Other historical attractions include the century-old buildings lining Silver Cliff’s Main Street. Additionally, the town of Westcliffe houses a museum chronicling regional history. Visitors can embark on guided tours to learn about local heritage, Ute petroglyphs, and the Santa Fe Trail wagon route crossing Custer County.

Accommodations and Dining

Custer County’s accommodations range from hotels and motels to guest ranches, vacation rentals, campgrounds, and RV parks. Many opt to stay in Westcliffe or Silver Cliff to enjoy amenities and easy access to restaurants, shops, and attractions. Campers can pitch a tent or park their RV at campgrounds in the San Isabel National Forest or on nearby state land. Guest ranches place visitors right on the range while providing quintessential Western hospitality and homestyle meals.

Local eateries run from family diners slinging burgers and milkshakes to bistros specializing in steaks, seafood, pasta, and Mexican fare. Most restaurants reside within Silver Cliff and Westcliffe, while a few cafes sprinkle Custer County’s smaller towns. Visitors can also sample authentic chuckwagon cuisine at seasonal cookouts or while staying at a guest ranch.

Family and Kid-Friendly Activities

From petting zoos to hiking trails, Custer County brims with family-friendly attractions. Guest ranches entertain kids with horseback riding, campfires, fishing, and hayrides, while many accommodate families in private cabins.

Young visitors can discover Custer County’s natural diversity while hiking easy trails like the Rainbow Trail. Guided activities like horseback rides and fishing trips cater to ages and skill levels. Seasonal events like rodeos, parades, and festivals also promise wholesome fun through live music, carnival rides, and street fairs allowing local vendors to showcase their wares.

Planning Your Visit

Custer County resides about 2.5 hours southwest of Colorado Springs and 3 hours southeast of Aspen. Visitors can fly into the local airports at Pueblo, Colorado Springs, or Canon City. Rental cars are available, but travelers may opt to rent an RV, bring bikes, or book a room at a guest ranch.

Reservations are recommended for guest ranch stays, festival events, and backcountry camping permits. Visitors venturing into the wilderness should prepare for variable mountain weather by packing layers, rain gear, and proper hiking boots. Other essentials include sun protection, insect repellent, and plenty of water.

FAQ

What is the best way to experience local culture?

Attend a summer rodeo, browse the galleries and shops in Westcliffe and Silver Cliff, or stay at a guest ranch to experience daily life on the range.

What outdoor activities can visitors enjoy year-round?

Popular year-round activities include hiking, mountain biking, fishing, wildlife viewing, horseback riding, and off-roading or ATV tours. Many trails allow snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in winter.

What historical sites should visitors prioritize?

Top historical attractions include downtown Silver Cliff’s Victorian buildings and the Silver Cliff Museum.

Where can visitors access park facilities and activities for kids?

The park in Westcliffe offers playground equipment and ball fields. The Wet Mountain Valley Community Center has additional recreational facilities.

How far in advance should visitors plan their trip to Custer County?

Book guest ranch stays, festival tickets, and backcountry permits at least a few weeks in advance. Make camping reservations up to six months early for popular summer months. Travelers staying at local hotels, inns, or BnBs can often book a few days in advance.

Shannon-Persad

About the author

Shannon Persad

As a seasoned journalist and Colorado native, I bring a deep-rooted connection and comprehensive understanding of Colorado to my work at ReadyColorado.com. My appreciation for the state’s rich history, vibrant culture, and pressing environmental issues drives my commitment to exploring its evolving landscape—from the bustling urban centers to the tranquil mountain towns.