Telluride is the best mountain town in Colorado. There, I said it. And I pretty much knew this as a fact from the moment I first drove into town. Well, you know, in my reality at least.
Driving into Telluride made me feel like Frodo when he first laid eyes on Rivendell. The picture perfect main street was well, picture perfect, but loads of Colorado’s mountain towns have beautiful main streets. What really blew my mind were the scenic views of the canyon that the town is nestled in.
Telluride is located in a box canyon, and is surrounded on three sides by formidable mountains, steep and forested and topped with rocky crags. In the distance, impressive waterfalls tumble to jagged rocks below. It reminds me of Rivendell because of all of the waterfalls, and because it is almost impossibly beautiful.
It looks like something out of a damn fairytale.
Telluride may be a haven for ski bums, artists, hippies and outdoor enthusiasts now, but it started life back in 1878 as a mining town, like so many of the mountain towns in Colorado. Telluride was originally called Columbia but was changed pretty early on to avoid confusion with a town of the same name in California.
Telluride was re-named for the gold telluride minerals found in other parts of Colorado, although none were ever found in Telluride itself. Folklore has it that the name actually comes from the saying ‘To hell you ride’, in regards to the dangerous journey through the mountains that miners had to make to reach the town. I like that story better.
Another fun fact about Telluride is that it was here in 1889 that Butch Cassidy robbed his first bank. Telluride was Butch Cassidy’s training ground – put that on a T-shirt.
We would come to find out over the next few days of exploring Telluride that it isn’t just mythically beautiful, it also has a lot of substance.
The people that live here are fiercely proud of their gorgeous town and there is a strong community spirit that comes from that. You can feel it. Everywhere we went we saw fit and happy looking locals, usually with their dogs, stopping to chat to each other on the street. Noticeboards around town were overflowing with flyers for local events and meet-ups, and posters advertising many of Telluride’s numerous summer festivals were in windows all around town.
I knew almost immediately that this was exactly the type of town I would love to live in. Small and friendly, ensconced in nature, vibrant and fun with lots to do. Telluride more than fit the bill.
The shops along the main street are colorful and inviting, with a lot of them housed in restored historic buildings. There are many independent retailers selling outdoor gear, books, hippy paraphernalia, artisan foods, local products and clothing. Also nestled along the two main streets are cosy cafes, international restaurants, brew bars, upmarket dining and a couple of dive bars for good measure. There is not a chain store or restaurant in sight – and that is another reason why I believe it is the best mountain town in Colorado.
We were there in late spring and tables spilled out onto the sidewalks and patios, brightly colored flowers hung in baskets from old-fashioned lamp posts and in flower beds along the main street, and there was green everywhere we looked.
A busy Farmers market is held in the summer months. Live music was the soundtrack for the fun and friendly event that takes place over a couple of streets near the main street. Delicious smells filled the air from the large number of food vendors serving the crowds. Stalls also held fresh local produce and various art, handicrafts and other products.
A grassy park is nearby – the perfect spot to enjoy a snack or lunch bought at the market and to soak up the sun.
On the outskirts of town is a small mall that is home to the fabulous Telluride Brewing Co, where the beer is brewed with love, and Rocky Mountain snowmelt. The small Telluride Distilling Company which produces and sells hand-crafted spirits is a couple of doors down. Importantly, both have tasting rooms.
Hiking in Telluride
Although Telluride is most famous as a world-class ski town, there are still lots of outdoor activities to participate in during spring and summer, other than drinking beer on a sunny patio and admiring the views (although that is fun too).
There are a number of hiking and mountain biking trails originating from Telluride and Mountain Village. Although I didn’t get a chance to go mountain biking, I did manage to hit up a number of the short trails that the area has to offer. Unfortunately the trails higher into the mountains were still closed as it was too early in the season and there was still a thick layer of snow at higher altitudes.
Next time I would love to do some longer hikes – there are over 90 trails to choose from in the Telluride area! Yet another reason why I think that Telluride is the best mountain town in Colorado.
Ridge trail from Gondola to Mountain Village – 3 miles/4.8km
A short but sweet trail that will get you into the mountains without much exertion, the Ridge trail winds through the woods and alpine meadows from the first stop on the Gondola into Mountain Village Resort, offering glimpses of the surrounding mountains and Telluride down below along the way.
Jud Wiebe trail – 3 miles/4.8km
Spectacular from the very beginning, the Jud Wiebe trail takes you up above Telluride slowly but surely then down through a peaceful forest to the other end of town. If it is stunning canyon and town views that you are wanting, then hit up the Jud Wiebe trail.
Bear Creek Trail – 4.4 miles/7km return
A popular trail with locals and for good reason, the Bear Creek trail offers beautiful forest and mountain scenery beside Bear Creek on the way to stunning Bear Creek Falls.
There is also a network of trails throughout town including along the river and around the fishing pond of lovely Town Park if you are looking for an easy stroll.
Outside of town
Free Gondola to Mountain Village Ski Resort
Telluride is a very popular ski resort in winter and there is a free gondola that links the town to Mountain Village Ski Resort further into the mountains. We took it up to the resort which was still operating, albeit in a much reduced capacity. The views from the gondola as we rose above town were outstanding and made us fall in love with Telluride even more – if that were even possible.
Mountain Village has a collection of stores and eateries, a handful of which were open when we were there. There is also a mountain biking park that is open in the warmer months that looked like a lot of fun.
Alta Ghost town
Just outside of town and up a gravel road is the small ghost town of Alta. A few hundred people once lived here but since the Mill burnt down in the 1940s it has been abandoned. There are a handful of ramshackle buildings still standing that make for great photo ops and the setting is tranquil and picturesque.
Telluride is the town I show pictures of to people back home in New Zealand when I am talking about Colorado. It is friendly, beautiful, and there is loads to do. I don’t know anywhere else like it.
And that’s why Telluride is the best mountain town in Colorado.
The Nitty Gritty
How to get to Telluride:
You really need a car to travel to Telluride but it is also possible to catch a Greyhound bus or fly into Telluride Airport – both of which aren’t cheap (although flying in is a lot more expensive than bussing). Telluride is approximately a six hour drive from Denver and Albuquerque.
Where to Stay in Telluride:
Camping is your best option for accommodation in Telluride if you are on a budget. The Town Park Campground is right in town and has great facilities including hot showers and a swimming pool. This campground fills up fast in summer so arrive early in the day to try nabbing a spot as it is first come, first served.
A bit further out of town is Sunshine Campground nestled in an Aspen forest. Sunshine is cheaper and more basic than the Town Park Campground and has composting toilets only. It is first come, first served.
Have you been to Telluride? Do you agree that Telluride is the best mountain town in Colorado?