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While Telluride may be better known as a world-class ski destination, there are so many fun things to do in Telluride in summer and fall that I prefer visiting this gorgeous mountain town when the sun has some heat and everything is green or golden, rather than covered in snow.
Telluride is the best mountain town in Colorado in my opinion, and I pretty much thought this from the moment I first drove into town. I still think this after multiple visits there during spring, summer, and fall over the past six years.
Driving into Telluride for the first time 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 that are steep and forested and topped with rocky crags. In the distance, impressive waterfalls tumble to jagged rocks below.
It reminded 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.
History of Telluride
Telluride may be a haven for ski bums, artists, hippies, and outdoor enthusiasts now, but the history of Telluride started back in 1878 when it was founded 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 renamed 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 comes from the saying ‘To hell you ride’, regarding 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.
Fun Things To Do in Telluride in Summer
Explore Downtown Telluride on Foot
Telluride isn’t just mythically beautiful, it also has a lot of substance, and the best way to get a feel for the essence of this special town is to explore it on foot.
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 you go you will see fit and happy-looking locals, usually with their dogs, stopping to chat with each other on the street.
Telluride in summer is simply blooming with life, and Telluride represents Colorado mountain living at its finest. Noticeboards around town overflowing with flyers for local events and meet-ups, and posters advertising Telluride summer festivals are in windows all around town.
When I first visited Telluride in the summer 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 fits the bill.
The shops along Telluride’s 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, hippie paraphernalia, artisan foods, local products, and clothing.
Also nestled along the two main streets are cozy 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 and one of the best Colorado mountain towns to live in.
From early summer through early fall, tables spill out onto the sidewalks and patios, brightly colored flowers hang in baskets from old-fashioned lamp posts and in flower beds along the main street, and there is green everywhere you look.
Attend the Bustling Telluride Farmers Market
The busy Telluride Farmers Market is held in the summer months. Live music is the soundtrack for the fun and friendly event that takes place over a couple of streets near the main street.
Delicious smells fill the air from the large number of food vendors serving the crowds. Stalls also hold 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 soak up the Telluride summer sun.
Go Hiking in Telluride
Although Telluride is most famous as a world-class ski town, there are also lots of excellent hikes to tackle during summer and fall.
There are a number of Telluride hikes originating from downtown Telluride and Mountain Village Resort that range from beginner to expert. Here is a list of some of the more moderate but beautiful hikes that start right in town. All of these are incredible in the fall as well as summer.
Bridal Veil Falls and Power House – 4.5 miles/7.2km
One of the most iconic trails in Telluride, this relatively short hike packs a punch with scenery, and you will be wowed by the views of the numerous waterfalls and epic mountain vistas almost right off the bat.
I recommend taking the trail up and then walking down via the road to make it more of a loop trail. Go all the way up to the Bridal Veil Power House for the best views.
Ridge Trail From Gondola to Mountain Village – 3 miles/4.8km
A short but sweet Telluride 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 in Telluride. This is one of the absolute best trails to hike to see the fall colors from mid to late September through mid-October.
Bear Creek Trail – 4.4 miles/7km return
A popular trail with Telluride 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 even easier stroll.
Get Adventurous on the Via Ferrata
Telluride has its own Via Ferrata which you will find off the gravel road that leads up to the Bridal Veil Power House. Via Ferrata is a sport that originated in Italy and is a climbing route that is fixed in place with iron rods and cables on a mountain face.
If you have all the gear and are confident you can technically do this route without a guide you are able to, otherwise, book with Mountain Trip who will provide a guide and all the safety gear.
Take the Free Gondola to Mountain Village
Telluride has a very popular ski resort in winter and there is a free gondola that links downtown Telluride to Mountain Village further into the mountains.
The views from the gondola as you rise above town are outstanding and will make you fall in love with Telluride even more – if that was even possible.
Telluride Ski Resort has a collection of stores and eateries, and it was very pleasant to grab lunch and explore before taking the gondola back down. Don’t miss grabbing a beer at Telluride Brewing Company.
Go River Rafting in Early Summer
I haven’t been river rafting in Telluride myself but I did it in Buena Vista and it was so much fun that I would definitely consider doing it again in Telluride next time I am there in early summer.
Raft the San Miguel River with Durango River Trippers and you will enjoy some exciting class 3 rapids and gorgeous scenery. Rafting trips run from May through July depending on water levels.
Visit Alta Ghost Town
Just outside of Telluride and up a gravel road is the small Alta ghost town. 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. The road is passable with a 2WD in the summer months.
Nab Tickets For a Summer Festival
Telluride has a disproportionate amount of festivals for such a tiny town and if you are lucky enough to get tickets (and accommodation), you should definitely time your visit for one of their summer events.
There are three film festivals, a bluegrass festival, a world-famous jazz festival, a blue and brews festival, a balloon festival, and festivals for wine, classic cars, architecture, yoga, and more. I’m sure that with the wide range of choices, you will find a festival that you are interested in attending.
Try Some Local Beers or Spirits
On the outskirts of town is the fabulous Telluride Brewing Company Tap Room where the beer is brewed with love, and Rocky Mountain snowmelt. Grab a flight of their best and check out the merch for a hat or shirt to immortalize your time there. There is also a cozy brewpub in Mountain Village which also offers food.
Telluride Distilling Company which produces and sells hand-crafted spirits is located in Mountain Village and a visit to their tasting room is like stepping into a well-appointed ski lodge. Try one of their handcrafted cocktails, play some pools or darts, and if you’re hungry, this is a great spot to try some wild game from their rotating menu.
Smuggler’s Union and Stronghouse Brewpub are also great options for local brews in a chilled setting.
Hit the Trails With Your Mountain Bike
I’m not a mountain biker, although I would like to try it at some stage and Telluride is the perfect place to do so. There is a bike park at Mountain Village and a number of trails around town that range from beginner to expert.
You can also take a road bike on the flat and easy bike path from downtown out to the turn-off to Mountain Village. It parallels the main road and is six-miles return.
Go Fishing and Catch Dinner
I am not a fisherman (fisherlady?) myself but I had to add fishing to the list of the best things to do in Telluride in summer because there is excellent fishing around Telluride.
Check out this article with some of the top fishing spots including sparkling mountain rivers through to picturesque lakes.
Drive the 4WD Imogene Pass to Ouray
Definitely not for the faint of heart or for anyone driving anything less than a high-clearance 4WD vehicle, Imogene Pass connects Telluride to Ouray over a 17-mile dirt road which is the second-highest in Colorado.
If you are into ghost towns, don’t miss checking out Tomboy, an abandoned mining town that once was home to 900 residents.
The road is classed as moderate, but only attempt it if you have experience driving 4WD roads in the mountains because it is no joke. If you don’t have a 4WD or don’t want to drive it yourself, you can take a tour with a few different companies up to Tomboy and back, or over to Ouray then back on the even more perilous Black Bear Pass or Ophir Pass.
I did an Imogene Pass and Tomboy half-day tour with Dave’s Mountain Tours and it was so much fun!
Eat at Telluride’s Best Restaurants
The Award-winning Brown Dog Pizza is my favorite spot to eat in town and does some of the best pizza in Colorado – I recommend getting one of their Detroit-style pies which are rectangular with a crispy crust.
The National offers an inventive and eclectic menu, and La Marmotte is French fine dining perfect for a date night.
Smuggler Union Restaurant and Brewery is a great spot for craft beer lovers and they have one of the best menus in town with gastropub-style food – the burgers are awesome!
For an affordable option for breakfast or lunch, grab a pastry, bagel, soup, or sandwich from Baked in Telluride.
Telluride is the town I show pictures of to people back home in New Zealand when I am talking about Colorado. It is friendly, and beautiful, and there are so many things to do in Telluride in summer. I don’t know anywhere else like it.
And that’s why you should visit Telluride in the summer.
How to Visit Telluride
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 catching the bus). Telluride is approximately a six-hour drive from either Denver or Albuquerque.
Where to Stay in Telluride
There are a number of free camping options close to Telluride and my favorite is Priest Lake – a beautiful lake with dispersed camping off the highway. There is a vault toilet and ruins of old mining cabins. Priest Lake is a 25-minute drive from Telluride.
Even closer to town, there are small pullout spots at the top of steep Mill Creek Road. Make sure to go to the highest section of the road. This is possible with a 2WD as long as there is no snow, but it is basically a one-way with a cliff on one side and a sheer drop-off on the other so is suitable only for confident drivers.
For paid camping, 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.
If you want an affordable option that isn’t camping, Telluride now has a hostel – The Bivvi – and it is fabulous. It’s a 20-minute drive outside of town in Placerville and it has dorm and private rooms, hot tubs, a small guest kitchen, and breakfast is provided. They are working on getting a bar and restaurant open soon.
For affordable vacation rentals, this delightful rustic home, this private riverside retreat with hot tub, and this cute studio are all great choices and are right downtown.
And of course, there are many Telluride hotels to choose from too, the New Sheridan Hotel is a historic beauty right downtown, as is The Hotel Telluride. If you want to stay in Mountain Village, Lumiere with Inspirato is a great choice.
Have you been to Telluride? Would you be interested in these things to do in Telluride in summer and fall?
If you liked this – check out some of my other Colorado posts:
- 15 Best Colorado Mountain Towns to Visit Any Time
- 11 Best Mountain Towns Near Denver (1 Hour or Less)
- 15 Best Colorado Hot Springs For True Hot Springs Enthusiasts
- Ultimate Colorado Itinerary for an Epic Road Trip
- 10 Best Hidden Gems in Colorado
- Fun Things To Do in Buena Vista, CO: One of My Favorite Mountain Towns
- 14 Best Denver Suburbs To Visit and What to Do, Eat, and See There
- The Perfect 3 Days in Denver Itinerary
- Absolute Best Hikes in Golden To Work Up a Sweat
- 15 Fun Things To Do in Golden CO That Won’t Break the Bank
- Hike from Aspen to Crested Butte: The Best Hike in Colorado
- Experiencing Cannabis Culture in Denver With a Cannabis Tour