Feeling at home in Minturn

A rustic central Rockies railroad town entices in wintertime

WHERE: From I-70 just 4 miles east of Vail, take exit 171 and head south 2 miles on U.S. 24 to Minturn.

CONTACT: Minturn Town Office, (970) 827-5645.

ATTRACTIONS

Dogsled tour of Camp Hale. Reserve half-day trips with Nova Guides. From $240 per sled (fits two adults). www.novaguides.com or (888) 949-6682.

Meadow Mountain Trail. This strenuous 4-mile one-way route climbs 2,000 feet. We hiked in boots, but snowshoes may be necessary (bring your own). Park and pick up maps at the Holy Cross Ranger District visitor center of the White River National Forest. 8-5 Mon-Fri. 24747 U.S. 24; www.fs.fed.us/r2/whiteriver or (970) 827-5715.

LODGING

The Minturn Inn. Eighteen sunny, bright rooms by the river (some with fireplaces) and one cabin. From $119 (includes breakfast). 442 Main St.; www.minturninn.com, (800) 646-8876, or (970) 827-9647.

By Lora J. Finnegan

Next to the glitz of neighbors like Vail and Beaver Creek, the down-home spirit of Minturn, Colorado, is refreshing. Minturn's rough-hewn charm shines in a smattering of quaint downtown shops and galleries.

The town's lack of pretension springs from a working-class heritage. "Unlike Vail, Minturn was a mining and railroad town. A real town," town manager Alan Lanning says. "And we're working hard to maintain its character."

Into the early 1900s, steam trains stopped here to change crews and switch direction at the end of the track - some even say the town's name derived from "men-turn," after the railroad men who turned the locomotives around.

The pufferbelly trains are long gone, but U.S. 24, a Colorado Scenic Byway, still travels the winding route to Minturn. The highway passes through the White River National Forest, where you can tackle the challenging 4-mile one-way Meadow Mountain Trail and scan the valley for herds of wintering elk.

During World War II, the Camp Hale area just outside town hosted U.S. Army troops from the 10th Mountain Division. Today you can visit this historic site on a half-day dogsled tour with Nova Guides.

When you're ready to come in out of the cold, the shops of Minturn offer a warm respite. Many original board-and-batten buildings now house gift and antiques shops. One standout is Antique Accents (155 Main St.; 970/827-9070), with Old West artifacts like saddles, chaps, and spurs. Next door is the Eagle River Trading Co. (161 Main; 970/827-9262), where you can find that perfect finishing touch - elk antlers, a vintage ski poster - for your mountain cabin. And nearby at Minturn Cellars (noon-8 Tue-Sat; behind a Mexican restaurant, 107 Williams St.; 970/827-4065), you can warm up by the fire with a taste of Merlot made from Colorado-grown grapes ($4 for tasting).

Try the burger loaded with green chili sauce at the laid-back, diner-style Turntable Restaurant (160 Railroad Ave.; 970/827-4164). Or join the former railroad men hunched over whiskeys at the Minturn Saloon (146 N. Main; 970/827-5954). It's the town's oldest bar and best restaurant - a perfect spot to enjoy a cold beer, a plate of ribs, and the simple pleasures that Minturn serves up so well.