Where to Buy Your Mountain Home
Buying a second home in the mountains has always been a Denver homeowner dream. Escaping to your own mountain getaway is a big part of the Colorado lifestyle.
Because all of us dream of leaving the city behind to relax in the mountains, I decided to outline the top 5 mountain locales for Denverites to shop for a mountain home. A mix of commute time, real estate value and local character brought these areas to the top.
After speaking with clients and friends, and interviewing mountain area colleagues, I’ve learned a lot about Colorado’s top mountain home markets and which serve Denver families best. The top five are: Buffalo Creek, Winter Park, Breckenridge-Frisco, Lake Creek Valley and Roaring Fork Valley.
Top 5 Denver Mountain Home Markets (driving time from downtown Denver): Buffalo Creek (1:04), Winter Park (1:21), Frisco (1:19), Lake Creek Valley (2:06) and Carbondale (2:56).
The mountain markets are hotter than ever — I’ve noticed that clients increasingly build in a mountain home budget when buying in Denver. The two purchases are increasingly tied together. I know Denver homeowners tend to have a mountain home dream tucked away, too.
Buffalo Creek — Nearby but far away
It is easy to narrow your scope to resort towns when looking for a mountain home. Buffalo Creek is an excellent non-resort option to consider.
Drive from Denver
Located in the foothills southwest of Denver, an hour drive from downtown, Buffalo Creek is all about space and serenity. Your dollar goes further here — think a year-round home on second home budget.
Buffalo Creek borders the Pike National Forest, with access to numerous trailheads. If you like fishing and mountain biking, look no further. The north fork of the South Platte River holds world-class fishing and the mountain biking around Buffalo Creek, which includes a segment of the Colorado Trail, is the second best in the state.
A small cabin in Buffalo Creek is around $300,000. For about $450,000, you can find a newer home with more square-footage on three to five acres of land — ample space for a tucked away mountain retreat.
Average price-per-square-foot is only $156 and homes spend an average of 115 days on the market.
Because Buffalo Creek is less developed, buyers must be prepared to ask a lot more questions — it is authentic mountain living up there. Property lines must be made clear and structures such as septic tanks and wells inspected. Be sure to ask about service providers, winter maintenance and fire mitigation.
I have also found that areas in the foothills with proximity to Denver do exceptionally well as Airbnbs or VRBOs.
Buffalo Creek doesn’t offer the dining, shopping and entertainment Colorado’s resort towns do. But if what you are looking for is open space and peace — within an hour of Denver, miles from I-70 — Buffalo Creek can provide.
This awesome weekend getaway recently sold in nearby Pine, Colorado. The two bedroom, three bathroom, 2,049 square-foot holds an open concept interior and rare river frontage, a fisherman’s dream. Sold for $684,000.
A classic ski town and Colorado’s oldest continually-operating ski resort, Winter Park has been a long-time playground for Denverites. My husband, an avid skier, says the Mary Jane side of the mountain hosts the best moguls in all of Colorado. It is also one of the more family-friendly ski resorts.
Drive from Denver
Winter Park is located in the Fraser Valley, just over the continental divide on US 40. Commute time from Denver is about 90 minutes. Bonus — a big chunk of the I-70 mountain corridor traffic nightmare is avoided by driving here.
Aside from the skiing, Winter Park is a year-round destination. The resort hosts mountain biking and a great concert series. The Winter Park Jazz Festival has been a local favorite for over thirty years.
Sweeping views of the continental divide are abound and so are fishing, hiking and horseback riding. Leaf peeping here in the fall is some of the best, too.
Buyers looking for a more low-key, outdoorsy vibe will find it in Winter Park. The community does offer some more luxurious options, such as a day at the Devil’s Thumb Ranch, but its hallmark is as a quiet, comfortable and casual haven for outdoors enthusiasts.
Out-of-state tourists do visit Winter Park, but it is more likely that your future neighbor is a Denver resident, too.
Entry-level pricing is between $500,000 to $600,000 for a two bedroom, two bathroom condo in town. Single family residences are $1 million and over.
Moving north out of Winter Park and closer to the town of Fraser, single family homes start around $700,000. Homes in Fraser provide a nice, private getaway.
A 1 percent transfer tax is applied to all home sales in Winter Park. This tax is negotiable within the real estate contract. If you are buying, make sure to ask the seller to absorb this additional cost at closing.
Mountain homes in Winter Park have been a staple among Denver residents for a long time. They are relatively affordable, but more secluded. The dining and shopping options are less inspired than other mountain locales, but entertainment and recreation are abound.
***Recently sold — 402 Antler Way, Winter Park, CO 80482 (three bed, three bath, 2,352 square feet). Built in 2005, the townhouse sold for $692,600 in November.
These two towns are full-service mountain towns — all the recreation mountain, minus the inconvenience of being remote.
Located just nine miles apart, choosing a home in either location opens up you up to the thriving and bustling mountain culture of each. A wonderful, paved bike path along the Blue River connects the two towns.
Four ski resorts — Arapahoe Basin, Keystone, Breckenridge and Copper — are all within a 30 minutes.
Drive from Denver
Only 90 minutes from Denver, Breckenridge and Frisco are suited for buyers seeking proximity to Denver and no shortage of activities for the whole family.
But be prepared to deal with I-70 traffic at its worst. Local traffic can be heavy, too.
Breckenridge is world-famous and brings some international flare. Tourists flock here year-round. The main street offers innumerable dining and shopping options.The gondola here leaves right out of town — connect a day of shopping with a ride up and hike down the mountain.
In Frisco, everything goes down within a walkable, one mile radius — from boating fun on Lake Dillon to breakfast at the Butterhorn Bakery. The Frisco Adventure Park is a great public park with disc golf, biking and hiking in the summer and tubing and cross country skiing in the winter.
They are also great launching pads for day trips off the beaten path — such as a visit to the ghost town of St. Elmo.
Summit County is a year-round destination and provides year-round amenities. Recreation centers, theaters and shopping bring the best of urban living to the mountains.
Entry-level pricing for a two bedroom, two bathroom condo starts around $650,000 in Frisco and closer to $850,000 in Breckenridge. Single family homes in either town are over $1 million.
Average sale price in Breckenridge is about $100,000 higher than Frisco. Homes there also tend to spend about twice as long on the market and international buyers aren’t uncommon.
If you are looking at a condo or townhome — check to see if there are rental requirements on the property. Renting is popular in the area, but not an experience for everyone.
Denver families looking for commute convenience and no shortage of amenities should look at their options in Frisco or Breckenridge.
***Active Listing — 71 W Main St, #B, Frisco, CO 80443 (four bed, five bath, 2,966 square feet). This townhouse is situated within a private enclave in Frisco. The back of the house sits along beautiful Ten Mile Creek, creating a relaxing outdoor experience. Listed at $1.43 million.
Lake Creek Valley
Just west of Edwards and Beaver Creek, Lake Creek is a little-known enclave. This local Eagle County spot remains unexplored by most Front Rangers.
Drive from Denver
Lake Creek Valley lies just over two-hour drive from Denver.
Driving south on Lake Creek Road, epic mountain views greet you as you leave I-70 and a busy world behind. This valley feels like a new mountain nook that you alone are exploring for the first time.
The homes are impressive — even the owner of Architectural Digest owns a home here. The plots are large and space is plenty. For example, I would love to see this recently sold home.
Lake Creek is one of the hottest spots in Eagle County. Look here if you have a bit more room in your budget and want to escape from the world. The commute from Denver is also a bit longer than more well-known spots but it’s still a doable weekend distance — over two hours, barring weather and traffic.
On the south end of the neighborhood, two trailheads lie at the foot of the Sawatch range — enjoy these trails all to yourself.
For a return to the world, the shops, boutiques and restaurants at the Riverwalk at Edwards are just a 10- to 15-minute drive away.
Eagle County is growing fast — 41,000 more people are expecting to move here by 2040 — and inventory is low, so be prepared to turn up the heat on your house hunt if you decide you want to take the plunge.
Getting into a home at Lake Creek starts at about $1.5 million — comparable to a hot Denver luxury home. Homes can run up to $9 million.
Roaring Fork Valley (Aspen)
If you can handle the longer drive from Denver, the Roaring Fork Valley, which culminates in almighty Aspen, is absolutely glorious.
Drive from Denver
Overseen by mystic giant Mount Sopris, the Roaring Fork Valley stretches about 42 miles from Glenwood Springs in the north to Aspen in the south, offering prime mountain real estate throughout. This valley (approximately a three-hour drive from Denver) is considered the cultural and economic center of the western slope. It may be Colorado’s most famous area.
Just about everything here is world-class: the skiing, horseback riding, climbing, sightseeing and shopping. Events, from the X Games to the Food and Wine Classic, attract people from all over the world, in all seasons.
Over half of Aspen’s homes are second residences. Aspen buyers are truly on a world-class stage here — a secluded resort vibe with top-notch outdoor activities.
All homes in the Roaring Fork will come at a price, but generally, the closer you are to downtown Aspen, the more expensive.
‘An Aspen pied-à-terre, or essentially a one-bedroom, one-bathroom crash pad, goes for between $650,000 and $850,000. A two-bedroom, two-bathroom will cost you around $1.2 million.
An ideal property is a three bedroom home in the historic west end — think $4.75 million. Expand your sights within a mile of Aspen and single family homes are in the $2.2 to $3 million range.
According to Zillow, Aspen home values have increased 11 percent in 2018 and are projected to rise another 9 percent in 2019, so the real estate is a good investment, too.
As you travel up-valley from Aspen, home prices go (slightly) down — although prices jump in some cases, especially with sprawling, river-front ranches. Heading north from Aspen, you hit a series of small towns within just 30 miles. In order, they are: Woody Creek, Snowmass, Basalt, El Jebel and finally Carbondale.
Each has its own set of charms and flavor, but all, except maybe Carbondale, essentially function as Aspen satellites.
Charming Carbondale offers a more down-to-earth vibe. It is becoming an enclave for artists and yogis, settled at the foot of beautiful Mount Sopris. The Carbondale Creative District is an amazing community collaboration. Worth a look, but inventory here is extremely limited so be prepared to act fast.