Planning a move to Colorado and weighing the pros and cons? Here are some things to consider!
I grew up in Lakewood, Colorado, one of the suburbs outside of Denver, and I have lived in the state for much of my adult life. After leaving for college, I eventually moved back to Colorado – this time to Boulder. Colorado is one of my favorite places in the world, home to the incredible Rocky Mountains, big blue skies, and plenty of other natural treasures.
During the years I lived outside of Colorado, I was in western Massachusetts, Jordan, Philadelphia, and Ireland – all places with pretty different climates and ways of life. Although I loved aspects of each place and adore traveling, Colorado will always be my home state.
I recently shared the pros and cons of living in Pennsylvania and I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to share the things I love – and dislike – about my home state. From the incredible weather throughout the year to the skyrocketing cost of living, here are my top 25 pros and cons of living in Colorado.
Pros and Cons of Living in Colorado
This is my candid list of the things that I love and, erm, don’t care for about Colorado. From the sunny skies I missed nearly every day I spent living in Europe to the persistent problems that plague my hometown of Denver, I included it all.
Pros of Living in Colorado
Growing up outside Denver and having moved to other places in the world, I can definitively say that it’s a beautiful place to live. Here are some of my absolute favorite things about Colorado.
1. Great Weather Year Round
One thing I definitely learned to appreciate after living in Colorado for most of my life is that the weather is pretty great year round. According to me, anyway. I love the dry, sunny climate in my home state. Even though it can get pretty hot in the summer and cold in the winter, there’s usually a few beautiful days each month.
2. Sunshine Year Round
I adore the sunshine in Colorado and it’s one of the things I’ve missed most anytime I’ve moved away. The skies are bright and clear most of the year, including on random days in the dead of winter in December, January, and February.
Because of the persistent sunshine and the high elevations, sunscreen is a must throughout the year in Colorado. You can easily get sunburned in the winter or on a cloudy day because the elevation makes the sun’s rays so much stronger.
3. The Rocky Mountains
The incredible Rocky Mountains run through the western portion of Colorado, and they’re home to some seriously incredible views. This mountain range is home to skiing, hiking, natural hot springs, alpine slides, rock climbing, and more.
To quickly get a sense of how amazing the Rockies are, you can simply visit Rocky Mountain National Park near Estes Park. My favorite hike in RMNP is Emerald Lake, a 3.2 mile out-and-back hike that offers killer views anytime of the year.
The ski town of Breckenridge is another great place to experience the Rockies. You can ski – if that’s your thing – or just see the town of Frisco, enjoy the drive along I-70, and try a hike or two.
Another crowd favorite is Glenwood Springs, a town 2.5 hours from Denver that’s known for its warm thermal pools. Nearby, you can check out the famous 3.2 mile- long Hanging Lake Trail. It’s beautiful throughout the year, but bring YakTrax or spikes for your shoes from October through April.
4. Natural Hot Springs
Speaking of hot springs, we’re lucky enough to have natural hot springs in Colorado, and I definitely recommend visiting a few while you’re here. The pools are natural, but you can find everything from fully wild hot springs to full on spa experiences.
My favorite town in Colorado for natural hot springs is Pagosa Springs. This little mountain town has both wild springs and a large collection of built-up pools – I’ve visited both and would recommend that you do, too.
If you’re in Pagosa Springs in early September, you can also check out the Four Corners Folk Festival. I attended the festival one year and it was fun and laid back; I’d go again if I could.
5. Fabulous Mexican Food
After I moved abroad, one of the things I missed the most was fabulous Mexican food. During the fall throughout Colorado, you’ll often see large metal cages full of roasting hatch green chilis, which are used to make tamales and other classic Mexican or TexMex dishes.
I always order cheese enchiladas – they’ve long been my go-to – but I’m also a big fan of breakfast burritos, chile rellenos, and other vegetarian fare. Some of my favorite spots for Mexican food in the Denver area are Taqueria La Familia, bartaco, and La Calle Taqueria Y Carnitas. For decent Mexican food in a great location, I also love Los Chingones RiNo.
Of course, there’s also the infamous Casa Bonita restaurant, which was featured once on an episode of the South Park animated TV series. This enormous Mexican restaurant is known for having cliff divers, skits involving men in gorilla suits, an arcade, and unlimited sopapillas. The creators behind South Park recently purchased Casa Bonita and, after some serious renovations, reopened it to the public.
I know that hiking isn’t for everyone, but I love it – and Colorado has many of my favorite hiking trails. Colorado locals tend to love to hike on the weekends, often wearing the title “Weekend Warrior” like a badge of honor. Social plans and occasionally business meetings often involve hiking, sometimes with four-legged friends in tow.
You’ll have your choice of hiking trails in Colorado, from the gentle paths that comb through Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre to the paved trails through the stunning Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs. More substantial hikes like the collection of 14ers (peaks with elevations greater than 14,000 feet above sea level) await more serious hikers.
My favorite hike in Colorado is the Walker Ranch Loop, which is definitely off the tourist track. This 8-mile loop is mostly flat, with a steep rock stair section near a rushing waterfall. It’s rarely as crowded as the nearby trail up the Flatirons or those up the 14ers like Grays and Torreys.
7. Cute mountain towns
There are charming little mountain towns and villages scattered throughout the Rockies. They’re usually home to a quirky mix of locals, seasonal skiers, and tourists. Often, there will be a hotspot restaurant or two in town that is covered in stickers and serves simple fare like burgers or burritos (but they’re really, really good).
The small towns of Ward and Nederland are two of my favorites, though they don’t entirely fit the mold above because they’re not ski towns. Ward is a tiny town with a roadside bar, the Millsite Inn, and a single restaurant, Marrocco’s Family Dining.
Nederland, for its part, is a little more friendly to tourists and has far more restaurants to choose from. This quirky town previously hosted Frozen Dead Guy Days – a festival/homage to a man who froze to death in a Tuff Shed in the nearby hills. The festival has since moved to Estes Park, another cute mountain town just outside of Rocky Mountain National Park.
8. Legal weed
When I asked a fellow Coloradoan what the pros and cons of living in Colorado are, she immediately replied, “legal weed.”
Colorado was the first state in the US to legalize recreational marijuana use in 2012, serving as a national experiment. Since then, 19 other US states and the District of Columbia have also legalized recreational marijuana. Weeds has also stuffed state coffers with over $2.2 billion taxes and fees resulting from recreational marijuana sales.
Today, although recreational marijuana is not without issues, it’s freely available to those who want to partake. There are dispensaries scattered throughout the state, from sleepy mountain towns to the suburbs to sleek dispensaries in hip neighborhoods in Denver.
And the best part? It’s closely regulated and taxed, meaning there’s no risk of cross contamination with other dangerous drugs like fentanyl.
9. Camping and Outdoor Recreation
Colorado is a bonafide outdoor playground, where locals love to camp, hike, ski, and generally enjoy being outdoors. I include hiking and skiing as their own items on this list, but I would also like to highlight the other miscellaneous ways that you can get outside and enjoy Colorado’s incredible landscape.
If you’ve always wanted to try camping, backpacking, fly fishing, snowshoeing, or mountain biking, you can easily find a group to do it with in Colorado. The same goes for rock climbing, road cycling, rafting, sandboarding, or even paragliding.
One thing I miss most after moving away from Colorado is the active social activities. As with hiking, it’s really common for your social plans in Colorado to revolve around doing something outside. This definitely encouraged me to be more active!
10. Big Open Sky
My partner’s father – who is Irish – once said that the thing he loved about Colorado was its big and open sky. At the time, I wasn’t sure what he meant, but then I started to watch for it in other places I visited and it started to click. It really is a special thing about the west: Colorado has an enormous, blue expanse above it most of the time.
At night, especially if you get away from the light pollution and into the mountains, you can enjoy the same expanse absolutely glittering with stars. Some of the most special nights of my life were spent staring up at the stars from remote campsites in Colorado.
In my opinion, the best place to experience Colorado’s open sky is the San Luis Valley, south of Denver. This expanse is known for UFO sightings, but it’s also my favorite spot to see the Aspens turn golden and brilliant red in the fall.
11. Western Heritage
Growing up in Colorado, one of my favorite things to do was ride horses. It would be easy to overlook Colorado’s western heritage if you only visited the glamorous resorts of Vail and Aspen or the hip breweries in Denver. If you ask me, you’re missing out.
You can see some references to Colorado’s western culture just outside of Denver in Golden, Colorado. This small city has a bustling, historic downtown lined with shops, restaurants, breweries, and adorable B&Bs.
For a chance to see real life farmers, ranchers, and livestock, you won’t do better than a visit to the National Western Stock Show. The Stock Show runs every January in Denver for about two weeks and features exhibitions, rodeos, and horse shows, along with plenty of events for families. If you decide to visit, I also wrote a guide to the best hotels near the National Western Complex.
12. Great Coffee and Cafe Scene
Compared to other places I’ve lived, the coffee and cafe scene in Colorado is pretty solid, especially if you like to work remotely. After years working in a startup and later for a larger company in Denver, I spent my fair share of hours sipping cortados and typing away on a laptop throughout Colorado.
In particular, I love to work out of a handful of Denver’s coffee shops, which tend to have lots of seating and great cortados. My favorite spot, if I can grab a seat, is at Crema Coffee House in the RiNo Arts District, which has great food, solid coffee, and an eclectic space.
Boulder also has its share of fabulous choices if you’re living in the area or just visiting for a workation. My favorite coffee shop in Boulder is the Alpine Modern on University Hill, partly because I lived nearby for many years.
The Trident Cafe is another Boulder staple, located on Pearl Street; it’s usually full to the brim with college students and locals typing away into the evening. This cafe and bookseller is worth poking your head into if you’re ever in town because it offers a glimpse of “Old Boulder”- Boulder before Colorado’s population boom in the 2000s.
13. Skiing and Snowboarding
It might go without saying, but one of the best parts of living in Colorado is the chance to ski and snowboard in the incredible Rocky Mountains. My home state contains some of the best resorts in the world, including the behemoths like Vail and Aspen. Most locals who love to ski on the weekends will purchase a season pass, like the EPIC Pass or the IKON Pass.
As a local who isn’t a serious snowboarder, I love to visit the smaller resorts and do things a little off the beaten path. The smaller resorts tend to be a little quirkier, more charming, and cheaper than their more prestigious competitors. My favorite ski resort in Colorado is the small, family-run Ski Cooper in Leadville.
There’s another small resort in Steamboat Springs, Colorado called Howelsen Hill that’s owned by the city. On Sundays, you can enjoy free lift tickets throughout the season – a nice bonus if you’re visiting for the weekend and willing to wander away from the lure of the larger, established resorts.
To save money, I recommend buying or renting your ski equipment in Denver before heading up the mountain. Larson’s Ski and Sport is my go-to rental shop because they usually have great prices and friendly staff. I even rented windsurfs there once and still had a great experience!
14. Dry Climate
I once met someone who had lived in Colorado for many years and she told me that rain started to feel positively exotic after a while.
I think she’s right.
Colorado’s climate is exquisitely dry; regardless of the temperature, very few days are rainy. When it does rain, there’s a distinct and pleasant smell that accompanies it – usually starting 20-30 minutes before the downpour.
Drizzly days are rare; rain in Colorado usually comes in torrential downpours, often lasting less than an hour and occasionally causing large floods.
As a kid, I used to daydream about what it would be like to live in Seattle, where you might even need an umbrella and rainboots because of all the rain. In fact, the first time I ever personally owned an umbrella was when I moved to Massachusetts as a college student.
Because Colorado is semi-arid, you might find yourself needing more lotions and moisturizers throughout the year to deal with the persistent dryness. I also find that I’m more likely to feel sweaty or sweat through my clothes than I am in other conditions.
Pro tip from a local: Colorado is also prone to hail. Be sure that your auto insurance covers hail damage!
15. Great progressive politics
One way that Colorado has definitely gotten better since I was younger is in its progressive politics. While I was growing up, Colorado was decidedly “purple” with a mix of blue and red voters. In recent years, driven largely by the influx of people to the Denver area, Colorado has shifted further and further to the left.
If you want to get involved in Colorado’s progressive political scene, check out Warm Cookies of the Revolution. This “civic health club” has a range of events throughout the year and is a fun, inviting way to meet other locals and learn about local government.
16. Healthy Locals
You might have picked up on this point from other items on this list, but the locals in Colorado tend to be pretty healthy. Colorado tends to be towards the top of “Healthiest States in the US” lists. This study from Ozmosi ranked Colorado the second healthiest state in the country in 2023, behind Hawaii and just ahead of Vermont.
One contributing factor: people in Colorado love to incorporate fitness and outdoor activities into their social lives. Whether you’re taking your dog to the dog park, going on a long cycle, or hiking with friends, it’s pretty likely you’ll be enjoying some active time on the weekends.
All of that active social time, as well as ample opportunities to try different activities and amenable winter weather, seem to add up.
Of anywhere I’ve lived or visited, Colorado has been the easiest place to stay active, so long as I’ve had access to a car.
Cons of Living in Colorado
Of course, living in Colorado has some cons that you should consider. Here are some of the downsides you should have on your radar before you pack up and move to the Mile High City.
17. Public transit is (mostly) awful
Although it has gotten better since I was growing up outside of Denver, the public transit options are still seriously lacking in Colorado. You really need a car to live in Denver, especially if you want to go into the mountains or explore on the weekends.
The good news: it’s not all bad. The buses that run between Boulder, Denver, and the airport are all reliable and safe, though expensive for public transit. Within the city of Boulder, the buses are pretty easy to use and cover most of the metro area.
There’s also a limited – but functional – light rail line that connects many of the suburbs and southern parts of Denver to downtown.
18. Homelessness is a gnarly problem
The problem of homelessness and houselessness is almost crisis-level in Colorado, especially in the Denver area. The city of Denver is covered in encampments, and, unfortunately, the city officials have taken the very inhumane approach of criminalization to deal with the issue.
The United Nations has issued recommendations against the criminalization of homelessness, calling it a human rights violation.
Soaring rents are correlated with homelessness, and rent in Denver is sky high. Per RentCafe, the average price for a one bedroom apartment is $1,979 per month. In a state where the 2024 minimum wage is $14.42, those prices are simply out of reach for many people.
For those living in Colorado, homelessness is a highly visible issue – more so than many other US cities.
19. The metro areas are crowded and gentrified
The best description I’ve ever heard of Denver’s gentrification process was from a landlord who was showing me a property once. They said, “Denver gentrified everywhere, all at once.”
The Denver that I grew up in from the 1990s and 200s is currently a bit of a boom town, and because it changed all at once there’s very little diversity from one neighborhood to the next.
Of course, there have been scattered initiatives to help alleviate crowding, provide affordable housing, and bolster diverse communities in Colorado. Still, lots of Coloradoans are struggling and more reform and resources are needed.
20. Restaurants get monotonous
Compared to other cities I’ve lived in, the restaurants in Denver can all seem a little too similar. Many of the top spots in Denver have the same farm-to-table concept, same owners, and fairly similar menus. They’re tasty, don’t get me wrong, but there isn’t the sort of diversity that you’ll find in or San Francisco.
There are also new spots opening up in the less central areas of Denver, like the very trendy Berkeley neighborhood. I had the best vegetarian deep dish pizza of my life at Hops & Pie in Berkeley.
Even though the restaurants can get a little monotonous, there are some great spots for happy hour in Denver.
21. Very few decent artisan bakeries
Having lived in both western Massachusetts and briefly in San Francisco, one of my favorite things was going to the local bakery. I’d order a large loaf of bread to eat at home with butter, cheese, or soup. If you follow me on Instagram, you probably know that I also adore bagels (so much so that I learned to make them after I moved to Ireland).
I’m not sure if it’s the altitude, the market, or something else, but Colorado has very few great bakeries. The situation has improved slightly in the last few years, but it can still be hard to find a great loaf of bread or bagel in my home state.
My two favorite bakeries in Colorado are Bakery Four in Denver and Moxie Bread Co. in Louisville. Most things are tasty, but be sure to try the sesame bagels at Bakery Four and the kouign amann pastries from Moxie.
22. Lots of shootings
The US a whole has a gun problem, there’s no doubt, but Colorado experiences more than its fair share of mass shootings. The best known shootings were at Columbine High School, a movie theater in Aurora, a grocery store in Boulder, and a nightclub in Colorado Springs. That’s a lot of shootings.
On a recent trip to Colorado, I was out with friends and when I went to leave the nightclub, I saw that the area was surrounded by police cars. When I asked the bouncer, I learned that there had been a shooting 10 minutes beforehand. No one was killed, but five people were shot when a woman fired into a crowd of people waiting to enter a nearby bar.
23. Cost of living is high
One of the hardest things about living in Colorado is the high cost of living, especially when compared to the sluggish rate at which incomes have been rising. SoFi estimates that the cost of living in Colorado is over $53,000 per year. That number includes a median rent of $1,300 for a one-bedroom apartment in the state as a whole.
Sky high rents and property values are driving up the cost of living. SoFi estimates that the median monthly mortgage payment in Colorado is over $1,900 per month. The numbers look worse in Denver, where the median rent is $2,150 per month.
Food, transportation, and healthcare costs in Colorado are also substantial, so it can be hard for people with lower incomes to make ends meet. One of my favorite Colorado non-profits is the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless. CCH provides a variety of services to prevent people from becoming homeless and to support those experiencing homelessness.
24. Denver’s Airport is the only airport around
Ok, technically there are several airports in Colorado, but they’re nowhere near as popular as Denver International Airport. DIA is a central hub for both Frontier and United, as well as a “focus city” for Southwest. That means there are lots of flights to choose from at any given time, especially if they’re cities serviced by Frontier, United, or Southwest.
Colorado Springs, the state’s rapidly growing city to the south of Denver, has its own airport that is undergoing modernization renovations. It’s possible that we’ll start to see more and more flights going in and out of Colorado Springs, which would reduce the strain on DIA. For now, I’ve started at least checking the prices in and out of Colorado Springs to see if I can find a deal when booking a Denver-bound flight.
A quick note: there are also smaller regional airports in Colorado, but they’re not serviced by large commercial airlines. So, if you need to get deep into the mountains, you’ll need to drive, rely on public transit, or take an expensive charter plane.
25. Colorado is a little isolated
Because of the ski season in the winter and tourist season in the summer, it can be very expensive to fly into Denver during large parts of the year. The high cost of return tickets can make it challenging to travel as much as you might if you were, say, in Chicago or New York, where prices are more stable.
The demand for flights into Denver can be a real headache around the holidays, when holiday travel prices and ski season collide. Buy your flights as early as possible to save during that time of year.
You could always drive from Colorado to other neighboring states, but basically any venture is going to turn into a road trip. Denver is an 8 hour drive from Kansas City or Salt Lake City, 6.5 hours from Albuquerque, and 16 hours from Los Angeles.
With those travel times, it’s easy to see why most Denverites fly most anytime they leave the state.
FAQs: Living in Colorado
Still considering moving to Colorado and looking for more information? Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions about living in Colorado.
Is Colorado an expensive place to live?
Overall, I’d say that, yes, Colorado is an expensive place to live. Prices are driven up by the demand from people who want to live in Colorado, as well as the pace at which the state has grown in recent years.
Is Colorado a good place to live 2024?
Yes, Colorado is a great place to live in 2024, provided you’re able to support yourself while you’re there. My home state is an expensive place to live, and wages have not kept pace with the increasing costs of living over the past several years.
Why is it good to move to Colorado?
Colorado has wonderful, sunny weather most of the year, including during the winter months. The state is home to a booming economy, fueled in part by people moving to Colorado. You can enjoy legal weed, great micro breweries, dog-friendly urban spaces, and plenty of access to the great outdoors.
Does Colorado have snow all year?
No, Colorado does not have snow all year. The late spring, summer, and early fall in Colorado is warm, especially at lower elevations.
As a technical matter, there are some snow covered peaks in the Rocky Mountains that never melt. You can hike to some of these areas in Colorado, but they’re far from the populous areas like Denver and Boulder.
Does Colorado have four seasons?
No, Colorado doesn’t really have four seasons – it’s more like two seasons. There is a distinct winter and summer, but only a week or two that feel like spring or fall. I never really noticed that Colorado didn’t have spring or autumn until moving to Massachusetts, which absolutely has four distinct seasons.
Conclusion: Pros and Cons of Living in Colorado
Having grown up in Colorado, I’d be the first person to tell you that my home state comes with some serious pros and cons. For the pros, we largely have geography to thank. Colorado is not warm and sunny all year, like in California, but the winters are mostly bright and dry – perfect for winter sports. The summers are hot and dry, but with evenings that are mild and pleasant.
Like other US states, Colorado suffers from social and economic issues, including homelessness and a high cost of living. It’s also much more isolated than states along the coast, leading to higher travel costs if you want to fly and out of Denver.
Overall, though, I consider Colorado to be a wonderful place to live and I feel lucky to have grown up there. If you want to read any of my other posts about Colorado, check out the US section of this travel blog. 💜