Eagle County's smallest town has some hard-earned charm that’s worth hanging a left (or right, if you’re coming from the south) for at the green bridge, about three miles up the highway from Gilman. That’s the Red Cliff Bridge: it was built in 1940, and its status as one of the only two steel arched bridges in the state landed it on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s also a popular photo stop—witness our cover—and it’s not unusual to see a small swarm of cars crowding the worn pull-off at the hairpin turn.
Red Cliff used to be Eagle County’s seat before it moved to Eagle in 1922, and many of the 279 who call Red Cliff home can count the area’s early homesteaders as familial relations, while many more are newcomers fleeing the crowds in the valley (and incessant hum of I-70); a handful of artisans have even converted classrooms at Town Hall (a decommissioned public school building) into studios. Real estate prices have escalated more recently, and a few sleek steel-and-glass town homes have conspicuously taken root among the modest single-family clapboard cottages predating Gilman. Aside from a single restaurant and inn, there’s not much to do here (the dirt track at the east end of town serves as a gateway to Vail and Shrine Pass), but once you sip a pint on the rooftop patio of Mango’s, the local watering hole, after hiking Shrine, you’ll understand why Red Cliffers consider themselves lucky to call this overlooked corner of paradise home.
Where to Sleep
The Green Bridge Inn is on your right as you pull into town—you’ll know it by the distinctive green trim and clock tower at the front of the building (from $159; 104 Water St, 970-827-5228, greenbridgeinn.com).
Where to Eat
Sunset pints at Mango’s Mountain Grill are a rite of passage, so expect an authentic crowd amassed on the bar’s rooftop patio for happy hour fish tacos and local suds as the alpenglow paints the surrounding cliffs (open Thu–Sat 11 a.m.–9 p.m., Sun–Mon 11 a.m.–8 p.m., Tue–Wed 9 a.m.–5 p.m.; 166½ Eagle St, 970-827-9109, mangosmountaingrill.com).
Where to Play
Shrine Pass Road starts at the summit of Vail Pass and winds 11.2 miles through alpine meadows and stands of pine, ending at Red Cliff’s back door. You’ll find plenty of primitive camping spots along the dirt road or, if you prefer a bunk, Shrine Mountain Inn, a network of privately owned huts (Jay’s, Chuck’s, and Walter’s) that can be booked through the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association (from $32; 970-925-5775, huts.org). If you’d rather brap around Shrine Pass on an ATV, Rocky Mountain Adventure Rentals operates a concession in Red Cliff; just keep in mind that you’ll encounter a fair amount of traffic during the summer months, especially on weekends (from $325/half day; 166 Eagle St, 970-471-8491, rmar1.com).