In the quaint mountain town of Carbondale, Colorado, creativity seems to grow from the ground up.
For one, its agricultural roots run deep, first planted by 19th-century potato farmers. But recently, Carbondale has become fertile ground for a crop of forward-thinking farmers, artists and makers, who together are cultivating a new kind of creative energy.
That artistic bent has made Carbondale an anchor of the Colorado Creative Corridor, a string of Certified Creative Districts flourishing throughout the western half of the state. Sitting pretty in the vast, scenic Roaring Fork Valley between Glenwood Springs and Aspen, Carbondale truly has a vibe all its own, and whose gate is always unhinged for those with an open mind and a love of all things creative.
Meet Artists & Makers
More than 200 artists and creative entrepreneurs call Carbondale home, so you don’t have to look far to find inspiration. A stroll through the walkable downtown brings you to a number of galleries, shops and studios.
At Roadside Gallery, you can meet fine-art photographer Martin Garfinkel and view his striking images of Americana. Around the block, The Launchpad provides space for performance- and movement-based artists, plus a gallery, sculpture garden and outdoor amphitheater. Pop into the on-site Artique to shop unique curated goods, and visit nearby Harmony Scott Jewelry Design to add to your collection of wearable art.
The Carbondale Clay Center serves as both a workspace and showplace for local ceramicists, with a gallery that’s open to the public. Let “mini-makers” get in on the creativity at The Handmakery, which holds craft workshops and art classes for kids. Just beyond downtown, SAW (Studio for Arts + Works) and Third Street Center both house numerous artist and maker studios; look for open houses and exhibitions for a chance to see these amazing artists at work.
And no trip to Carbondale is complete without visiting the architecturally stunning Powers Art Center, which boasts an impressive collection of works by Jasper Johns and other contemporary artists.
Think Outside the Gallery
Creativity in Carbondale is not confined to gallery walls. Local artists have taken to the great outdoors to blur the lines between art and nature. A one-mile section of the Rio Grande Trail, which runs along the historic Rio Grande railway just behind downtown (and all the way to Aspen and Glenwood Springs), has just been transformed into an outdoor gallery with a series of public art installations, dubbed the Rio Grande ARTway.
Carbondale is set to unveil two new art stops along the trail — a Latino Folk Art Garden and DeRail Park, now open, and features old railway artifacts, a beautiful handmade picnic table, and an amazing view of Mt. Sopris.
Throughout the year, eclectic events let Carbondale’s percolating art scene shine. One of the largest open studio events in western Colorado, First Fridays are a monthly celebration of art and local cuisine. Now in its 47th year, Mountain Fair is a beacon of creativity and artistic expression held each July, with hundreds of artisans selling handmade wares, offbeat visual and performing arts, live music, food vendors and a kid-friendly craft area.
Carbondale is also the setting for three film festivals: 5point Adventure Film Festival, No Man’s Land Film Festival and Winter Stoke. All three focus on outdoor films (many made by locals), but No Man’s Land is one of the only festivals in the U.S. open exclusively to women filmmakers.
Sip & Savor
The bounty of the Roaring Fork Valley’s nutrient-rich soil is evident on menus around town, as well as on the farms themselves — many of which invite visitors to taste, learn and even stay the night. Cedar Ridge Ranch offers farm visits, glamping and an art gallery, while Sustainable Settings hosts farm-to-table dinners, tours, workshops and farm stays. The Guest House offers new farm experiences, dinners and events at Sunfire Ranch, a sixth-generation family ranch, while operating as a working permaculture farm with expansion plans that include a high-end lodge and restaurant.
Eating local is the norm in Carbondale, starting the day at local roasters Bonfire Coffee or The Village Smithy, and Silo for the local’s favorite breakfast and lunch offerings. The Beat offers a unique grilled-cheese bar and locally grown salads, Señor Taco Show has outstanding hipster Mexican street food. For dinner, Allegria’s Italian menu is locally and seasonally driven, and Mark Fischer’s Phat Thai is a Main Street institution. In the summer season, Pan & Fork offers one of the best patio views of Mount Sopris. For handmade local pastries and local ice cream, visit the Carbondale Creamery. Seasonal farm-to-table events by Field 2 Fork Kitchen and Open Fire Catering showcase the best of local farms such as Sustainable Settings and Wild Mountain Seeds.
Carbondale’s libations are distinctly locavore too. Sip sustainably made spirits at Marble Distilling, whose crisp Marble Vodka is crafted from all-natural Colorado grains and water from the nearby Crystal River. There are also whiskeys, bourbons and liqueurs — including Moonlight Espresso and zingy Gingercello — plus a luxe boutique inn, so you can taste it all and stumble right into a super-comfy bed. Batch is a new speakeasy offering brew cocktails, Colorado wines, kombuchas and cider.
The state’s exploding craft-beer scene has made its way to Carbondale, with two downtown breweries. Pop into Roaring Fork Beer Company’s tasting room (located in a former saloon) to try instant classics like Slaughterhouse Lager and Firestone Extra Pale Ale. A skip and a jump down Main Street, Carbondale Beer Works slings handcrafted microbrews along with local, seasonal fare.