Living in Dillon: A Real Estate and Lifestyle Guide to Dillon, Colorado

Dillon, Colorado—Four-season lakeside recreation a snowball’s throw away from world-class ski resorts

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In the 1800s, Dillon was a stage coach stop and trading post. Folks just passed on through.

Not so today. Homebuyers looking to immerse themselves in the Colorado lifestyle at a more affordable price point are setting down roots here, drawn by its small size—the population is less than 1,000 and most aren’t second-home buyers. Adding to the allure is the ring of majestic 13,000-foot mountains of the Rockies range and, of course, the amazing Lake Dillon with its 26 miles of shoreline. Enjoy sailing, paddle boarding, kayaking, canoeing, and fishing in the summer. The Dillon Yacht Club also hosts a series of races, including the Dillon Open Regatta, and there is also a local rowing club. Come winter, the lake offers snow kiting, dog sledding, Nordic skiing, ice fishing and snow shoeing.

While home prices in Dillon can go north of US$1,000,000, the top 10 percent of the market, considered the luxury sector, is more along the lines of US$800,000. This creates a family-friendly point of entry to the Colorado way of life. Local public schools are graded well above average, with most consistently awarded and A- rating.

What Is the Story of Lake Dillon?

It will come as no surprise that the massive lake is not the work of Mother Nature. The Denver Water Board voted to construct a dam in the Rockies to provide water to the burgeoning metropolis. Dillon, then located at the confluence of three rivers, was deemed ideal. In 1956, the residents were given three years to vacate.

A handful of hearty souls moved their homes to higher ground. The school house, which was built in 1883 and doubled as a church, was also moved and now houses the Dillon Historical Society. The Elks Lodge and The Arapahoe Café, still serving up Americana fare to rave reviews, were relocated, as well. The town cemetery was also respectfully moved out of harm’s way.

A common question asks whether parts of the town are still under 250 feet of water. The answer is no. The abandoned structures were completely razed before the dam was functional.

Today the lake is a source of immense pride . . . not to mention fun. Just ask tourists from around the globe who come to enjoy its pristine waters.

This Makes the Lake so Special

The 3,300-acre Dillion Reservoir is certified “clean” by the state of Colorado for offering environmentally friendly boat and paddling sports. No swimming is allowed. And don’t think for a moment that a serendipitous dip will go unnoticed. The waters are under constant surveillance. Even more than the authorities, the town also frowns upon interlopers compromising its featured attraction.

Excuse This Artful Interruption—Ice Castles

Before Disney’s enduring “Frozen” franchise captured the attention of children worldwide, Dillon was chosen as one of four U.S. cities—the others are in Utah, Wisconsin, and New Hampshire—to host this unique and recurring fairy-tale art installation. The award-winning castles are a triumph of ice art and architecture, once featured on PBS, Oprah.com, and the Today show. The towering ice structures are endowed through a private foundation.

In Dillon, tens of thousands of icicles are grown, beginning in October, and then hand-placed by 20 or more artists. The structure is then drenched with water to create frozen thrones, tunnels, towers, archways, inner caverns, slides, and fountains on the sites, measuring up to one acre. At night, the castles are magically lit to look like the Aurora Borealis.

All four castles nationwide are located next to a water source; in Colorado, that would be Lake Dillon. The melting ice is diverted directly back into the reservoir to be used again by wildlife, people, and plants in the spring.

Like to Ski?

Slopes in proximity to Dillon are world class. To make an art analogy, think of having the Louvre, MoMA, and Prado museums all within 20 minutes of town.

  • Breckenridge is not only massive, the terrain offers a multitude of ski genres—five terrain parks and also 2,908 acres of bowls, chutes, white-knuckle steeps, and heart-pumping hike-to terrain—some of the most interesting and challenging inbounds skiing in Summit county. The resort’s slopes also include plenty of blue cruisers and beginner greens. Miles of Nordic trails will challenge the skinny skiers and gliders. ETA from Dillon: 22 minutes.
  • Copper Mountain is right up there as a gold standard of global skiing. Case in point: Copper is the official training facility for the U.S. ski and snowboard teams. The mountain has hosted so many world cups and national championships in both disciplines to keep count. If you aren’t the stuff of snow legends, no worries. There is still plenty of fun to be had at Copper, which is typically less crowded that other area resorts. ETA from Dillon: 18 minutes.
  • Keystone is even larger than Breckenridge but without the extreme steeps. Like the entire town of Keystone, the resort is super family friendly. The Kidtopia programs include a massive snow fort, weekly firework displays, craft programs, and, best of all, cookies hot from the oven every afternoon. The nearest Summit County ski area to Denver, Keystone can get crowded. ETA from Dillon: 12 minutes; direct bus operates hourly every day.

Like Summer?

When the snow melts, the next wave of fun begins in Summit County from A (angling) to Z (zip lines) and just about everything in between. For instance, B is for birding; C is for camping; F is for fly-fishing; H is for hiking; M is for mountain biking; P is for paddle boarding; R is for rafting; S is for sailing; T is for trail running; W is for wildflower meadows . . . need we go on?

Uniquely Dillon

Dillon has its own natural amphitheater with abundant and overflow grassy hillside seating for picnicking. The music and theater venue frequently offers free concerts and movies during the weekdays in summer and is perfectly positioned to drink in the glorious sunsets over the majestic Rockies. The Dillon Farmer’s Market goes far beyond amazing local farm-fresh produce with its multitude of vendors offering everything from jewelry to pottery to clothing. There are also summer art festivals.

Dillon boasts an 18-hole disc golf course. One doesn’t see that every day.

For such a small town, the cuisine is sublime. The Americana fare is top-notch, including the historic Arapahoe Café, with restaurants also serving up Thai noodles, empanadas, Asian fusion, Italian, and Mexican dishes. Coffee spots abound for the morning jolt.

And Now a Word About the Name Dillon

Dillon relocated, name and all, not once but four times. The proud folks of Dillon clearly love the town’s name.

Local lore says the name was inspired by a prospector by the name of Tom Dillon who got lost in the woods in the 1800s. How could such an unheroic figure inspire this enduring loyalty? Dillon’s Historical Society sets the record straight.

The town was actually named after Sidney Dillon, president of the Union Pacific Railroad. The name was chosen to appeal to Mr. Dillon’s ego and persuade him to build his tracks through the original town. He didn’t.

So Dillon scooted a few miles down the road twice in order to capitalize on the growing opportunities provided by the Iron Horse. The third location proved quite prosperous at the confluence of three rivers and two rail lines. By the 1960s, Dillon was bustling. Home to 814 residents, it was the largest town in Summit County.

That third water-rich location attracted the attention of the Denver Water Board as the ideal location to build a dam to provide water to Denver, as noted above. Since the reservoir was created, the town’s fourth reincarnation on the shores of Lake Dillon has been a charm.

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