Living in the Colorado Mountains Was so Isolating We Left After 2 Years

Estimated read time 6 min read

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Jackie Branholm about moving to Evergreen, Colorado. It has been edited for length and clarity.

I moved from Brooklyn to Colorado in May 2019 with my now husband. After a West Coast road trip, we chose Denver for the fun city vibes, sunny weather, and access to outdoor activities like hiking and skiing.

The timing felt right to do something different before eventually settling down and starting a family.

My husband and I both found new jobs, and they paid for relocation, which helped with the expense of moving across the country. We rented an apartment in the Lower Highlands neighborhood. Living in Denver was amazing; we loved spending time with friends while exploring the city and mountains nearby.

We fell in love with the idea of mountain living.

After working from home for over a year with our new dog during the pandemic, we got house fever and itched for more space. We saved toward a house each month by putting aside money from our paychecks and my husband’s commission earnings.

Though we hoped to buy in Denver, we were priced out. During our search, we fell in love with the idea of living in the mountains with our growing family.

With our real-estate agent and financial advisor, we found a house that fit our budget in Evergreen, a mountain town 45 minutes from Denver. The house was built in 1937 and would need some TLC. The housing market was wild then, so we felt pressured to decide quickly after seeing the house for only 15 minutes. We ended up buying it.

Our experience in Colorado shifted after moving to the mountains

After moving into our home in May 2021, our experience in Colorado shifted. What we loved about the town when we visited on the weekends was not the same experience as a resident.

Living and owning a house in the mountains required more maintenance than expected. We had over an acre of land. The yard work, renovations, and septic maintenance took up most of our free time on weekends. Plus, there were a lot of unforeseen costs. We factored some renovations into our overall costs but had to do more than initially planned.

For example, soon after moving in, I noticed my blonde highlights and some of our laundry had a green tint due to our hard well water. To fix this, we installed a water filter for $5,000. Additionally, the shag carpet covering the floors needed to be replaced, and the cost to refinish the original hardwood floor, as well as add tile to the entryway, was $20,000.

When I got pregnant with my son six months into owning the house, we rushed to finish our renovation projects before the baby came. The time that we would have spent with friends in Denver was instead spent doing DIY. This strained our now long-distance friendships.

We felt isolated from friends and far from amenities

Living in the mountains wasn’t easy, even after the house projects were over. Logistically and physically, we felt isolated. If we wanted to go to Target or the grocery store, we had to drive at least 20 minutes. Though living on the side of a mountain gave us beautiful views, carrying groceries up two flights of stairs from the drive to the front door and another flight to the kitchen was a daily expedition. We no longer had easy access to our Denver friends, bars, and coffee shops.

There were fewer doctor and veterinarian options, which meant more planning and time spent going to appointments. Access to Denver was different than we’d expected. It was a 45-minute drive, and we couldn’t get an Uber from our house. The unpredictable mountain weather meant we couldn’t always drive. As a result, we rarely saw the friends we’d made in Denver and lost several of them.

Eventually, this took a toll on my mental health. The isolation was tough, especially as I was already overwhelmed with the unfamiliar responsibilities of owning a home and having a newborn.

Things that used to get me out of a funk, like seeing friends and workout classes, were no longer easily accessible.

With a new baby, we wanted to be closer to family

Life felt particularly difficult because we were far from family. Though we still had some friends in Colorado, the closest family member was on the East Coast. Having our son intensified the issues we were already facing. We lacked the support system we could get living closer to family.

Ultimately, we realized how and who we spent our time with was more important than where we lived. Even though we loved going outside and hiking, our priorities changed when we had our son. We wanted life to be easier.

Constant housework made it feel like we’d made a mistake buying an older home that needed repair. Before selling, we wanted to ensure we timed the sale with when the market would be most in our favor. Ultimately, our real-estate agent advised us to sell in early spring 2023 after ski season. The real-estate market is extremely competitive, and the warmer months are the most popular time to sell.

After 4 years in Colorado and 2 years of isolated mountain living, we returned to New York

Four years after moving to Colorado, we returned to my home state of New York to be closer to family. Since my husband and I both work remotely, we were able to move with flexibility. Fortunately, we recouped the money we put in when we sold.

Though living in the mountains was beautiful, we preferred to be in a convenient city environment where grocery stores, restaurants, and day care were closer to us. At the same time, we didn’t mind driving further to hike and do activities on the weekends.

Before making an offer on our next home, we did an inspection and used that to inform our purchase. From the outset, we communicated clearly with our new real-estate agent that we wanted to take our time; any house that required us to move extremely quickly wouldn’t be for us. We saw our current house three times before making an offer.

Colorado felt like a huge mistake at the time, but it was a lesson

I miss ski season and my few close friends out west, but I’m more content than I ever imagined with our living situation now. We love the convenient location of our new house and the proximity to family and friends.

Although we don’t see mountains outside our door, we can walk a few blocks to get coffee, and we have a nice neighborhood with a good school district for our son once he is older. Overall, we love the house, and it’s much less maintenance.

In the thick of feeling stressed about our life in Colorado, I often felt we’d made a huge mistake. Although it was difficult, the experience helped us make a thoughtful decision on our current home, which we love. Our time in Colorado was a learning experience, and I’m glad it was only temporary.