Best places to live in Colorado in 2021

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From skiing and snowboarding in the winter to hiking and biking in the summer, Colorado is an ideal place to call home if you’re looking to spend as much time as possible outside. In fact, Colorado is considered a “well-being elite state,” capturing the No. 4 ranking in the 2019 Sharecare Well-Being Index, which analyzes everything from physical health to food access in communities across the country.

If you’re mulling a move to (or within) The Centennial State, here are the best places to consider this year.

Best places to live in Colorado in 2021

We dug into the data of the most populous cities in Colorado, all of which are located east of the mountains along Interstate 25. While what makes a city ideal for you will not be a perfect match for someone else, there are common factors that everyone seeks when searching for a new place to settle. Here’s a rundown of the key factors that shaped our research:

  • Affordability – Buying or renting a home is typically the No. 1 expense on anyone’s list. We analyzed each city’s cost of living compared with its average salary per worker.
  • Safety – To love a city, you need to feel secure. We analyzed per capita statistics on violent crime and property crime incidents in the biggest cities in Colorado.
  • Job market – We looked at Bureau of Labor Statistics city-level unemployment data from the fall of 2020 to get a sense of how each of these cities has recovered from the initial shockwaves of the pandemic in early 2020. In addition to having a job, we also considered how much of each day is consumed by getting to and from work (if you’re required to be there, that is) based on average commute times from the Census Bureau.
  • Educational attainment – Education translates to achievement, so we looked at Census data on the number of residents with bachelor’s degrees in each of these areas.
  • Culture – Everyone has unique preferences about what to do outside of work hours, so our cultural metrics are a subjective evaluation of opportunities to see, do and experience these cities based on arts and entertainment listings and food and dining establishments. It’s important to note that an outdoor culture — hiking, biking and adventuring — is ingrained in all of these places, with convenient access to national forests and national parks.

1. Fort Collins

Affordability: 8 out of 10
Safety: 8 out of 10
Job market: 9 out of 10
Education: 8 out of 10
Culture: 8 out of 10

Biggest upside: Just about everything
Biggest downside: Honestly, the city has few shortcomings

If you like beer, you’ll like Fort Collins. From craft brewers like Odell and New Belgium to a huge Anheuser-Busch operation, the city is a hub for hop lovers. No matter what’s in your glass, Fort Collins has plenty of reasons to put it down and get outdoors, too, including rafting the Cache la Poudre River and hiking more than 280 miles’ worth of trails.

The city isn’t all play, though. The area surrounding Fort Collins enjoyed an 18 percent uptick in jobs between 2014 and 2019, with a majority of those new employment opportunities coming from the government. In addition to the breweries, other big organizations in the area include Hewlett Packard, Otterbox and Colorado State University.

2. Colorado Springs

Affordability: 8 out of 10
Safety: 5 out of 10
Job market: 8 out of 10
Education: 7 out of 10
Culture: 7 out of 10

Biggest upside: Affordability
Biggest downside: Safety

With an array of outdoor activities and a booming job market, Colorado Springs is more than one of the best places to live near the Rocky Mountains; it also earned a spot near the top of our list of best places to live across the entire country.

While “The Springs” — the shortened nickname favored by locals — felt the sting of the pandemic in 2020, the city is poised for a solid rebound with big development plans in the near future, including a 3.7 million-square-foot Amazon fulfillment center (and possibly two more operations from the retail giant) and a new soccer stadium for the Colorado Springs Switchbacks. All that action is starting to create headwinds for homebuyers, though: As of early December 2020, the average sales price in Colorado Springs had increased by more than 18 percent since the previous year, according to real estate brokerage Redfin.

3. Denver

Affordability: 6 out of 10
Safety: 4 out of 10
Job market: 7 out of 10
Education: 8 out of 10
Culture: 8 out of 10

Biggest upside: Culture
Biggest downside: Safety

Denver continues to soar to the top of rankings for those looking for new homes. The Mile High City has made plenty of headlines for its ability to attract new residents, and many companies are chasing Colorado dreams, too. The city is making big strides as a tech hub, recently coming in at No. 10 in CompTIA’s December 2020 IT Employment Tracker for tech job growth.

Even with a rising number of residents, Denver is managing to be increasingly ambitious about being a healthy and sustainable place to live. By 2023, the city is aiming to add 125 miles of lanes for bicyclists, and by 2030, the city plans to achieve 100-percent renewable energy. Those initiatives are a reflection of the city’s already-impressive track record for wellness: Denver landed at No. 8 on the American College of Sports Medicine’s American Fitness Index for 2020.

4. Greeley

Affordability: 9 out of 10
Safety: 8 out of 10
Job market: 7 out of 10
Education: 4 out of 10
Culture: 5 out of 10

Biggest upside: Affordability
Biggest downside: Culture

Home to the University of Northern Colorado, Greeley’s economy has deep roots in the agriculture industry, with around 30 percent of jobs in the surrounding economy tied to ag-related products. While it is one of the most affordable big cities in Colorado, the secret about low-cost living may be getting out: As of 2019, Greeley was the third fastest-growing metro area in the country, according to Census Bureau data.

Greeley’s cultural scene is less mature than the other cities on this list, but it has its own distinct flavors. The city boasts a collection of more than 500 pieces of public art, and the Greeley Creative District is nurturing the arts in the city. The city also knows how to celebrate with the annual Greeley Stampede, which plans to make a return this summer after being canceled in 2020.

5. Boulder 

Affordability: 3 out of 10
Safety: 8 out of 10
Job market: 9 out of 10
Education: 10 out of 10
Culture: 8 out of 10

Biggest upside: Education and culture
Biggest downside: Affordability

When you meet someone new in Boulder, chances are they will have plenty of expertise to share: Nearly 75 percent of the city’s 25-and-up population has earned at least a bachelor’s degree. In addition to the University of Colorado Boulder’s academic community, the city is home to big employment opportunities in aerospace, renewable energy and IT.

The city has a creative side, too, with more than 30 art galleries and a long-running Shakespeare Festival. However, scoring a home with a view of the mountains and easy access to the city’s downtown Pearl Street Mall is not for the typical artist’s budget. Living in Boulder means dealing with some of the highest costs in the nation.

Next steps

In addition to the above cities, there are plenty of other smaller cities in Colorado where you may find a balance of mountain-air calm and small-town charm. If you’re looking to relocate to Colorado or elsewhere, be sure to compare home and rent prices throughout the state to find a place you can comfortably afford. If you’re looking to buy, you can take advantage of record-low mortgage rates right now.

For more on buying a home this year, check out Bankrate’s homebuying guide.

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Written by
David McMillin
Contributing writer
David McMillin writes about credit cards, mortgages, banking, taxes and travel. David's goal is to help readers figure out how to save more and stress less.
Edited by
Mortgage editor