If you weren’t lucky enough to be born in Colorado, one visit may have you wishing you were. While people flock to the centennial state from all over the world, it’s important to understand the pros and cons of living here before making the move.
Many people ask themselves before moving here if Colorado is a good place to live or a bad one. So, if you’ve come down with a case of Wild West fever, here are some of the benefits and downsides of living in the Centennial State.
Colorado has had a reputation for years and years as an iconic mountain destination. Let’s start by looking at a few of the reasons why it is such an attractive state to live in.
Cranmer Park just after sunrise in Denver, CO. Photo by: Scott Ingram
Between blue skies, four seasons, and low humidity, the weather in Colorado can generally be considered pretty darn good.
With many cities receiving hundreds of days of sunshine and major ski resorts averaging 300 inches of snow a year, the weather in Colorado caters to most. Popular and growing Front Range communities like Denver and Colorado Springs generally experience mild winters, hot summers, and low annual precipitation rates.
Even though most of the state is in a semi-arid environment, it’s easy to escape the summer heat by adventuring higher into the alpine or jumping into a cool Rocky Mountain stream. Additionally, at night, even the warmest places tend to cool off thanks to a combination of elevation, wind, and a lack of humidity.
The East Wall Couloirs at Arapahoe Basin ski area. Photo by: reid.neureiter
Even life-long residents can agree that in Colorado, there are always new experiences to be had. Between world-class destinations and services for hiking, camping, rock climbing, white water rafting, fishing, skiing, snowboarding, and more, it’s impossible to ignore the possibility of adventure.
In an attempt to contextualize the overwhelming amount of Colorado outdoor fun, here are a few key numbers to know. Within the state, there are:
2 – National Grasslands
4 – National Parks
8 – National Monuments
11 – National Forests
32 – Ski resorts
330 – Ski lifts
2,600 – Ski runs
2,624 – Mountains over 11,000 feet in elevation
39,000 – Miles of hiking trails
44,000 – Acres of downhill ski terrain
14,500,000 – Acres of National Forest Land
Wherever motivation takes you, be sure to recreate responsibility and always practice leave no trace principles.
Coors Field at sunset. Photo by: Al Case
With a pronounced fitness culture and multiple major sports teams, Colorado is a great place to live and breathe an athletic lifestyle. In the capital alone, Denverites can see professional-level football, hockey, baseball, soccer, and lacrosse. Additionally, many options exist to join a wide variety of adult leagues.
In the Front Range, college athletics are also incredibly competitive. Colorado State, the University of Denver, and the University of Colorado consistently field high-ranking sports teams. If rodeo is your thing, stock shows, and competitions each summer in cities like Colorado Springs, Greeley, and Elizabeth, offer plenty of fun.
An X-Games competitor throwing down an Iron Cross. Photo by: Zach Dischner
Not in the Front Range? Not a problem. Make sure to check out the Winter X-Games, held in Aspen every January, and Beaver Creek’s world-famous Birds of Prey downhill races in December. International ice-climbing competitions happen with frequency in Ouray as well.
Ever wonder what it’d be like for horses to pull skiers and riders over jumps? Well, that’s what skijoring is, and multiple competitions are held every winter. The Colorado high country also plays host to a honeycomb of ultramarathon races, including the famous Leadville 100.
Whatever your competitive itch, Colorado can scratch it.
Denver Chalk Art Festival. Photo by: Simon Foot
Colorado’s numerous festivals are another huge perk of living in the state. There are dozens of world-class events set against stunning natural beauty and tons of unique experiences you won’t find anywhere else in the world.
Zeroing in on the best festivities in Colorado is a tough task, but we recommend Salida’s FibArk for outdoor sports lovers and Telluride Bluegrass Festival for music fans. If you’re looking for a wild day of events, culture, food, and fun all at once, never miss an opportunity to attend Nederland’s Frozen Dead Guy Days.
Food & Drink
A beer flight from Aspen Brewing Company, one of many breweries in Colorado. Photo by: Nan Palmero
Similar to the festivals, an amazing variety of food and drink-related events exist in Colorado. From the country’s largest annual beer festival to the Manitou Springs Colorado Wine Festival, there’s a gathering for every palette and lifestyle.
Best of all, you don’t have to wait for an organized celebration to experience the state’s quality food and drink. With some of the best Mexican restaurants on this side of the border, an annual harvest of Palisade peaches, and unique cookeries popping up everywhere, you never quite know what your next bite of the Rocky Mountains is going to taste like.
If you need something to wash that down, have no fear, Colorado is home to more distilleries and breweries than we can count. Plus, there is a burgeoning coffee and tea culture with local operations producing high-quality products all over the state.
Denver International Airport is one of Colorado’s largest employers. Photo by: Alan Grinberg
Although there are plenty of people who move to Colorado to chase their outdoor dreams, without consistent employment, aspirations can be cut disappointingly short. Luckily, the population of the state is growing, and the job market is following suit. Colorado is full of part-time, seasonal, and ongoing employment opportunities with roles that fit most experience levels.
From the booming tech bubbles of Denver, Boulder, and Fort Collins to thriving resort towns and military bases, Colorado has professional resources for candidates on every kind of career path.
With a growing economy and thriving population of college students and young workers, the job market is one of the best things about living here, even if you would rather be out enjoying some of the state’s other attractions.
Sunny and welcoming Larimer street, accompanied by Colorado state flags. Photo by: katie wheeler
Last but not least, let’s talk about “good vibes” for a second. Although not really a tangible measure of the quality of life, many can agree that Coloradoans are generally warm, friendly, and helpful people.
Maybe it’s the legal marijuana or hundreds of microbreweries speaking, but most of the population lucky enough to live in Colorado can be considered down to earth. As a state replete with, and to a large degree reliant upon, transplants and tourists, people can typically expect friendly treatment and a welcoming environment.
Unfortunately, it isn’t always going to be bluebird skies and powder days in colorful Colorado, and living in one of the country’s best states does come with a few downsides.
Serious storm formation on the high plains of eastern Colorado. Photo by: Bryce Bradford
Wait, how can the weather be both a pro and a con? Well, Colorado weather is amazing… until it isn’t.
While generally mild and livable throughout most of the year, many of the mountainous areas in the Centennial State experience strong winds that make it difficult to travel and can cause property damage. Occasional tornados occur on the eastern plains, and damaging thunderstorms with large hail can impact every part of the state.
As mentioned before, most of Colorado is in a semi-arid climate, and water scarcity is already the defining issue for many communities in the western US. Much of our current water consumption depends on mountain snowpack. One or two below-average winters can severely impact drought levels across the state.
Climate & Elevation
Harsh, rocky, and windswept. Photo by: Timo Holmquist
We know that most Coloradans don’t complain about a lack of rainy days, but the arid climate can be too much at times, especially if you’re used to living someplace humid. The dry, thin air can cause challenges for those susceptible to skin problems or respiratory ailments. Altitude sickness is common in areas over 8,000 feet, which includes most major resort towns.
And while many people will tell you that you’ll get used to the effects of high elevation, that’s not an ironclad promise. Living at altitude takes a toll on the human body.
A day in Colorado requires a ton of hydration, and those still acclimating may experience headaches, dizziness, and nausea. For those new to high elevation, the best advice is to hydrate religiously and take it slow. If altitude-related symptoms do not stop after a few days, retreating to lower elevations is the best solution.
A giant smoke plume from the East Troublesome Fire, October 2020. Photo by: qurlyjoe
With more than a million acres of forests in an arid climate, wildfires have unfortunately become part of life in Colorado. If parts of the state are ablaze, check AQI (Air Quality Index) readings before engaging in any strenuous outdoor activities. The Front Range already deals with elevated ozone levels due to city pollution, so adding wildfire smoke to the equation can pose additional health hazards.
Although wildfires certainly cause habitat loss, the destruction is not exclusive to wildlife. Over the past decade, dozens of Colorado’s communities have been forced to evacuate their homes and reconcile property loss, injury, and death. A recent example is the Marshall Fire of December 2021, which tore into the densely populated suburbs between Denver and Boulder.
Cost of Living
With a growing population and outdoor adventures aplenty, prices are rising statewide. Photo by: Bill Dickinson
Well, the news is out, Colorado is a desirable place to live. A consequence of this has been a statewide rise in the cost of living. You can expect to pay more for your home here than in surrounding states like Wyoming or Kansas.
While there are still plenty of affordable locations, many of the most popular cities and mountain towns have witnessed steadily rising prices for products, services, and housing over the past decade.
Welcome to Denver. Photo by: Jared Tarbell
Another major downside to Colorado’s densest areas is the amount of traffic on both highways and city streets. Whether it’s the daily commute, heavy construction, or the first powder day of ski season, Front Range cities can often leave drivers in gridlocked conditions beyond their control.
No one enjoys sitting in traffic, but it has unfortunately become a way of life in most major American cities. Thankfully, Colorado is far from the worst offender, and roads are well-maintained throughout the state.
Some Colorado roads demand a lot from cars and trucks. Photo by: Nick Taylor
Colorado is full of wonder, but you have to get there first! When we say the journey may be difficult, we’re not even talking about the steep terrain and thin air atop our famous 14ers. Instead, many adventures may prove more difficult than anticipated due to long travel times, winding mountain roads, and limited resources between towns.
While public transportation does exist, the infrastructure is limited predominately to intercity travel. It is virtually impossible to explore the more remote areas of the state without a personal vehicle. Due to weather and road conditions, Colorado also becomes much safer and more enjoyable with a proper AWD or 4WD vehicle and high clearance.
The travel challenges are compounded by Colorado’s complex geography and weather. Outside of major urban areas, there simply isn’t enough space to add lanes or additional road options because of rugged topography. You can also expect construction every year because mountain weather beats up roads, and crews can only safely work when the snow and bitter cold retreat.
Over 50,000 people hiked Quandary Peak in 2020, making it the busiest 14er in the state. Photo by: Michael Mangin
The truth is, living in Colorado is pretty great, but that is no longer a secret. With so much land area, you’d think that the wide-open spaces of the American Southwest would have enough room for everyone. However, from campsites to condos, Coloradans must be ready to compete for all of the glory the state has to offer.
So, yes, unfortunately, Red Rocks concerts can only sell so many tickets, and parking lots at popular trailheads often reach capacity before sunrise during peak hiking season. From desirable dinner reservations in Boulder to backcountry ski huts, there can be a limited supply of Colorado awesomeness, and competition can be fierce.
See for yourself
Despite the challenges, there’s nothing quite like living in Colorado. Photo by: Timo Holmquist
No matter where you find yourself in the world, every person’s quality of life is measured through the eyes of the beholder. Although it can be expensive, competitive, and downright scary to live in during heavy snowstorms or wildfire season, the pros of Colorado make it easy to enjoy a high-quality lifestyle all year long.
Packed with opportunities for jobs, recreation, and entertainment, being here is a privilege for those fortunate enough to do so.