With a spotlight on their bright neon signs, rattan swing chairs, curated succulents and Pendleton blankets, a new generation of roadside motels in Colorado is replacing the tired rest spots of yesteryear. This time around, they’re borrowing a page from design-forward boutique hotels.
“Millennial travelers are cost-conscious and very experience-focused, so that’s one reason we’re seeing these boutique motels become popular,” says David Corsun, director and associate professor at the Fritz Knoebel School of Hospitality Management at the University of Denver.
There’s also the pandemic, with its emphasis on social distancing and not sharing your airspace with others. Suddenly the interior corridors of hotels seemed more dangerous than the exterior entry of motels popularized with the interstate highway system. The pandemic-inspired revival of the Great American Road Trip also gave motels more mileage. Plus, today’s motel owners find that older travelers enjoy the nostalgia of their renovated kitchenettes and motor courts. Combined, all of these factors have set into motion a full-on revival of the roadside motel.
Arty and hip, the modern-day boutique motel is bidding for a spot on your Instagram grid and can offer a low-cost alternative to cookie-cutter hotels.
Here’s five fun ones to check out in Colorado:
Amigo Motor Lodge — Salida
No corporate approval is needed for the quippy messages that Amigo Motor Lodge pops up on its roadside marquee along U.S. 50 in Salida. Among the greatest hits?
“Rooms by the Hour / 24 Hour Minimum”
“Come on and Salida a Little Closer”
“Conveniently Located Between a Bank and Gun Shop”
“We don’t need to advertise that we have a color TV in this day and age, so we just have fun with our signs,” says owner Philip Sterling, whose title, according to his email signature, is manager/janitor.
The Amigo Motor Lodge has 16 rooms plus five bookable Airstreams. With 60-year-old bones, rooms are individually designed with minimalist Southwest decor and they’re outfitted with Malin + Goetz toiletries and Tuft and Needle mattresses. Amigo also has a hot tub, sunroom and fire pits.
“It’s not just 30-year-old cool people from Denver who are staying here,” Sterling says. “We have an eclectic mix of guests. For some, there’s some nostalgia involved.”
In the summer, Amigo is a base camp for quintessential Colorado adventures like rafting, mountain biking, and day trips to the state’s most epic sandbox, the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. The motel is a mile from downtown.
Amigo Motor Lodge, from $100, 7350 U.S. 50, Salida, 719-539-6733
Nightingale Motel — Pagosa Springs
Prior to opening the Nightingale Motel in 2019, Annie Castillo DeMille and her husband, Tony, ran a glamping retreat near Joshua Tree National Park in California. When they moved to Pagosa Springs, where Annie grew up, they wanted to replicate the communal feel of glamping, and manage to do so in a four seasons location. The Pinewood, a run-down motel, happened to be for sale.
“We walked through it and I said ‘I think this is it,’ ” Castillo DeMille says.
Gutted and renovated, the 17-room Nightingale Motel made its debut with outdoor fire pits accompanied by a handsome new on-site bar called the Neon Mallard (notice the avian theme?). A neon sign attached to a street lamp once again glows outside. Inside the rooms, pine wall paneling and Eames chairs are subtle nods to a mid-century modern aesthetic.
“My husband and I are both design nerds who have a love for architecture,” Castillo DeMille says.
Perched on the San Juan River, the Nightingale feels connected to nature in a way that’s reminiscent of glamping, Castillo DeMille says. Across the street, Pagosa Mountain Sports rents out tubes so guests can enjoy a float on the river. Save room on your itinerary for a summertime soak in the nearby hot springs, which holds the record for the world’s deepest geothermal hot spring, measured at 1,002 feet deep.
The Nightingale Motel, from $130, 157 Pagosa St., Pagosa Springs, 970-507-0121
Mellow Moon Lodge — Del Norte
With an eye for design and a background in fashion, Jessica Lovelace saw potential in the old El Rancho site despite the motel having been abandoned for two decades. As evidence that it had been forgotten, grass was sprouting through the floors when she toured the site in 2018. She lovingly brought the 1940s motel back to life, named it Mellow Moon Lodge, and opened in 2019 as a 10-bedroom eco-friendly boutique motel. Another five rooms are opening this summer.
Because of the dog-friendly motel’s proximity to Wolf Creek Ski Area, mountain biking trails and the Rio Grande River, Lovelace wanted to incorporate a design that wasn’t too precious. The indigo-dyed sheets, hardwood floors, woven chairs and a crisp black-and-white exterior design have made Mellow Moon a photo-worthy destination.
“We’re getting the Instagram crowds who come and do photo shoots,” Lovelace says. “It’s a happy accident. It wasn’t our intention.”
Mellow Moon Lodge, from $130, 1160 Grand Ave., Del Norte, 719-207-0747
Spoke and Vine Motel — Palisade
For your next wine country getaway, check into Spoke and Vine, a 1950s-era motel that was reinvented in 2019. You can rent a cruiser bike from the property to get you to the nearby wineries and the husband-and-wife team who own and operate the motel will gladly make recommendations for where to go while you’re in town.
“We say we’re a boutique motel,” co-owner Jody Corey says. “We always thank people who gamble on a property that says ‘motel.’ We want to reset the idea of what a motel is.”
Local wines are served at check in, and you can grab locally roasted coffee and free breakfast in the lobby each morning. The minimalist rooms have cheerful pops of color. There are a couple dozen wineries to explore in the Palisade area. To get started, DeBeque Canyon Winery is across the street and Colorado Vintner’s Collective is a couple blocks away.
Spoke and Vine Motel, from $129, 424 W. 8th St., Palisade, 970-464-2211
LOGE finds forgotten motels near outdoorsy towns and trails and gives them a fresh update. LOGE Breckenridge opened in 2020 and is just steps from the Colorado Trail. Guests can access miles of single-track mountain biking, hiking and running trails. Or, you can get on the Blue River Recreation Path and bike into town.
The motel has 38 rooms, plus a 20-bed hostel, bar and café, outdoor stage and more. The rooms, inspired by a love for the great outdoors, have cool amenities like hammocks.
Loge Breckenridge, from $116, 165 Tiger Road, Breckenridge, 970-551-2115
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