Highlands Ranch Living

Highlands Ranch vs. Castle Rock - Where to Live Near Denver

If you are looking at moving to suburbs in the greater Denver area, Highlands Ranch and Castle Rock are surely on your radar. As a real estate agent, these two locations are very popular among clients and I get a lot of questions about which of these two towns is the best place to live. I've gathered insights here that might help you decide which community suits you best.

History

The Highlands Ranch Mansion, a piece of local history - Steve Lagreca/Shutterstock
The Highlands Ranch Mansion, a piece of local history - Steve Lagreca/Shutterstock

Starting off with some history, Highlands Ranch's begins long before it became the vibrant, master-planned community we know today. The land was first used for farming, grazing, and was home to several large ranches in the late 1800s and early 1900s, including the notable Highlands Ranch, which the area is named after. The modern day Highlands Ranch was developed largely in the 90's as Colorado's largest master planned community. With over 100,000 residents, Highlands Ranch has a massive footprint stretching from (almost) the foothills, all the way to I25 by Lone Tree. Unlike other locations in Denver, homes here are relatively new as they were all developed around the same time and no homes occupied this land beforehand. While these 90's homes tend to be in relatively good condition, you will probably find the interior design a bit dated, so many homes in Highlands Ranch are reaching a time where they are (or need to be) updated inside.

Castle Rock on the other hand has a rich history dating back to the 1870's. It gets its name from the prominent castle tower-shaped butte near the center of town. This geological landmark has served as a beacon for travelers and settlers since the 1800s. The town itself was platted in 1874 and quickly grew with the discovery of rhyolite, a volcanic rock used in construction, in the nearby quarries. Homes near the original downtown streets are still standing, with construction dates in the early 1900's. However, this doesn't mean that all of Castle Rock is "old", in fact, far from it. An enormous amount of new developments have been built in Castle Rock in recent years, leading to the opportunity to buy new construction as well as more up to date resale homes. Aside from the old downtown, a second shopping area which includes the Castle Rock Outlets and other retail has been developed in recent years as the population has grown to around 75,000.

Location

Downtown Castle Rock
Downtown Castle Rock

Highlands Ranch and Castle Rock are both fortunately situated near our area's major highways: 470 and I-25. While they are both a bit away from Denver proper, this access does give you a reasonable drive into the city when needed. Castle Rock sits further south than Highlands Ranch, but it's actually not as far of a drive as many expect, since I-25 travels through the center of Castle Rock.

Driving times to common locations are very similar:

  • Denver Tech Center: 20 minutes from Highlands Ranch and Castle Rock
  • Downtown Denver: 45 minutes from Highlands Ranch, 50 minutes from Castle Rock
  • Colorado Springs: 1 hour from Highlands Ranch, 45 minutes from Castle Rock
  • Denver International Airport: 45 minutes from Highlands Ranch, 40 minutes from Castle Rock
  • Golden: 30 minutes from Highlands Ranch, 45 minutes from Castle Rock
  • Ski Resorts: The closest ski resorts are about 1 hour and 30 minutes from Highlands Ranch, and 1 hour and 45 minutes from Castle Rock

Weather

A sunset in Castle Rock
A sunset in Castle Rock

Due to the proximity, both locations experience similar weather throughout the year. They enjoy a semi-arid climate that Colorado is renowned for. We get to experience four distinct seasons with plenty of sunshine throughout the year. It's not uncommon for both areas to boast over 300 days of sunshine annually. Winters can bring snow, but it's typically manageable and tends to melt quickly due to the sunny days that follow snowstorms. Summers are warm but rarely oppressively hot, thanks to the elevation and dry air.

The most noticeable difference in weather between the two locations can be attributed to their elevation. Castle Rock sits at a higher elevation than Highlands Ranch, as it is situated on the edge of the Palmer Divide which is a high spot between Denver and Colorado Springs. Castle Rock is at about 6,202 feet above sea level and Highlands Ranch at around 5,920 feet. This elevation difference might seem slight, but it can influence weather patterns slightly.

  • Temperature: Castle Rock, being higher, tends to be a few degrees cooler than Highlands Ranch throughout the year. While this difference is generally not extreme, it can be more noticeable during winter cold spells and summer heatwaves, where the higher elevation of Castle Rock offers a mild respite and can make outdoor summer conditions a bit more enjoyable.

  • Snowfall: With higher elevation, Castle Rock often receives a bit more snow than Highlands Ranch during winter storms. This isn't to say that Highlands Ranch doesn't see its fair share of snow, but Castle Rock's location can lead to slightly higher accumulations. Being south of Denver, both locations see a little bit more snow than Downtown generally.

  • Wind: Both locations experience their share of Colorado's wind, but Castle Rock's higher elevation and topography can result in windier conditions, particularly when weather systems move through the area.

Shopping & Dining

Highlands Ranch, with its close proximity to the larger Denver metro area, offers a suburban shopping and dining experience that is convenient and family-friendly. You'll find a few town center areas across Highlands Ranch, as well as Park Meadows Mall located just outside the community. This mall is the largest indoor mall in Colorado and features a wide selection of over 185 stores and eateries, ranging from high-end brands to popular chain stores.

For dining, Highlands Ranch has your typical chain restaurants and fast food locations within 10 minutes of driving from most locations. We have a few locally owned restaurants, but I wouldn't say that is what Highlands Ranch is known for.

Castle Rock brings a slightly different shopping and dining vibe, characterized by its charming downtown area and the renowned Outlets at Castle Rock. The downtown area has a small-town feel with lots of locally owned shops and restaurants in a truly walkable setting.

The Outlets at Castle Rock, one of the largest open-air outlet centers in Colorado, is only a short drive away for any Castle Rock resident and provides a closer alternative to Park Meadows.

Aside from the local eateries in downtown Castle Rock, the newer area near the outlets has your typical chains as well as some local restaurants. Unlike Highlands Ranch which has multiple (but smaller) town centers, Castle Rock has a massive amount of shopping and restaurants in this area.

One important fact to note is that since Highlands Ranch is an unincorporated area, it is sales tax is at the county rate of 4%. Castle Rock has added town taxes, which bring the sales tax rate up to 7.9%.

Schools

Both Highlands Ranch and Castle Rock are served by the Douglas County School District, one of the largest and most highly regarded districts in Colorado. DCSD has a student to teacher ratio of 18:1 and ranks high among surrounding districts, with consistently high test scores. In addition to the available public schools, both locations have access to a mix of charter and private schools providing families with options to choose the best fit for their children's needs and learning preferences.

Conclusion

Both Highlands Ranch and Castle Rock are fantastic places to live in Colorado, each with its unique attractions. Deciding between the two depends on your priorities: proximity to work, lifestyle preferences, and the type of community you're looking to join. Remember, there are also other communities in the area that could be a good compromise, such as Castle Pines or Sterling Ranch.

If you're considering a move to either Highlands Ranch or Castle Rock, I'd be more than happy to assist you in finding your perfect home. Let's explore what each area has to offer and find a place that fits your lifestyle and needs. Reach out to me, and let's embark on this exciting journey together.

Let's find your new home!

Chris is a real estate agent who specializes in helping clients build, buy, and sell homes. As an expert in the area, I am ready to help you find and close on your new home. Use the button below to reach out to me today!

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