72 Hours in Telluride: Summer & Fall Edition
72 hours of outdoor adventure and fun in the Switzerland of America.
“You come for the skiing but you stay for the Summer.” - Charlie Haaker.
Sure, Telluride is a picturesque, Switzerland-like ski town tucked away in a remote corner of Colorado in the San Juan Mountains, but as anyone who has visited knows: it is no homogenous Aspen, and it has a unique culture and personality filled with characters as quirky and multifaceted as its history and the terrain and scenery that surround the town.
And it is this spirit that has helped Telluride grow into a year-round destination for outdoor activities and cultural events, from mountain biking to alpine running, from backpacking to ultramarthons, and from nationally known events like The Bluegrass Festival and The Blues and Brews Festival to regional favorites like The Fire Festival and The Jazz Festival.
The best reasons to visit Telluride, in this author’s view, isn’t when the ski slopes are open. So here’s one way to have 72 hours of fun in the Switzerland of the United States.
Sure you could fly into the Telluride Regional Airport (the highest commercial Airport in North America), itself a breathtaking experience, but *the* most scenic and adrenaline-inducing way to get to Telluride is over Black Bear Pass via the unmaintained Forest Service Road #648 aka “Black Bear Pass Road”.Photo by Josiah Roe
You’ll need a 4WD vehicle with high-clearance and some experience at technical off-road driving, or you can book a trip with Telluride Outside. Your rewards are the unparalleled alpine scenery of the San Juan Mountains, abandoned gold and silver mines, and the beautiful Ingram Basin.
The high post is 12,840’ at the top of the pass, which is when the real fun begins. The descent takes you, quite literally, over the top of Ingram Falls, and eventually down past the Power House and Bridal Veil Falls into the town of Telluride. Be careful: inexperienced drivers have died as recently as a few years ago. Be sure to do your research and watch any of the numerous videos online of how to navigate the downhill section.Photo by Josiah Roe
Once in Telluride, check in at the fantastic Hotel Telluride, which in addition to having a great little bar, has a killer brunch.
Next head down Colorado street for a little window shopping, and then grab lunch at Brown Dog Pizza, which won 1st place in 2015 at the Pizza World Championship in Parma, Italy.
After lunch, lace up your trail shoes and walk to the end of Pine Street for a 5 mile (roundtrip) hike into the Bear Creek Canyon to Bear Creek Falls. There’s lots of fun scrambling in, around, and above the falls, with a couple of locations look down into Telluride Canyon that make for some great photo ops.
For dinner head over to the Cosmopolitan. The bartender makes a killer gin martini and the Colorado Lamp Two Ways is perfect fuel for the weekend’s outdoor adventures. You might not expect to find it in the middle of the US, a thousand miles from the ocean, but The Smoked Salmon Tataki is something to be experienced: the smoke it on the plate, and the wasabi tobiko is fantastic.
After dinner walk across the street and take the free, public-transportation system gondola up to the San Sophia stop. Take in the sunset at the San Sophia overlook and then head inside Allred’s Restaurant for a Flatliner, a local favorite of espresso, rum, and Bailey’s.
Say hello to the pianist Bob Callendale, who is currently on sabbatical in Telluride, and is a Juliard-trained research associate with the Advanced Sciences Research and Development Corporation who is more than willing to play Christmas music in the middle of summer.Photo by Josiah Roe
Pack up your gear for an overnight backpacking trip, but before heading up into the mountains stop at the Butcher and Baker Cafe for breakfast. Their Summer Omelet is sourced locally and the Breakfast Sandwich makes for some great trail fuel.
After breakfast, jump in your 4WD vehicle (or book a tour/ride) head up N. Oak Street and up Tomboy Road towards the old ghost town of Tomboy. Eventually you’ll reach Imogene Pass at 13,114 feet and begin to drop down to Camp Bird, where you’ll go left on Camp Bird Road.
About three miles past Camp Bird on Yankee Boy road the road splits off to Governor Basin, which gets far fewer visitors than Yankee Boy, and has several mining ruins and some great scrambles up to the St. Sophia Ridge.Photo by Jason Hatfield
After exploring Governor Basin, head over to Yankee Boy Basin. Take the road as far as it can go and hike in to the little lake at the head of the canyon to setup camp for the night. Depending on the time of year, hiking up to the saddle between Mount Sneffeels and Gilpin Peak can provide an epic sunset view. As always, be lightning aware, particularly during the late summer months.Photo by Jason Hatfield
From the trailhead the summit of Mount Sneffels is only a mile and 1,700’ of elevation gain, so early (and experienced) risers can take in a sunrise from the summit. Either way, at 14,150’ Mount Sneffels has both the silliest name and (arguably) the best views in the San Juans. There is some exposure on the route,
After summiting, descend and pack up camp and head back to town.Photo by Greg Owens
For lunch, head over to Smuggler’s Brew Pub and order up their White Truffle Wild Mushroom Burger, with beef from the local Meyer Ranch.
After lunch, do a historical walking tour of Telluride with the endlessly entertaining and informative Ashley Boling. Be sure to visit the Opera House and to finish your tour with a drink at the New Sheridan Bar.Photo by Josiah Roe Photo by Josiah Roe
Pace yourself, and then walk a few doors down for a beer at Telluride Brewing Company. Be sure to try the three-time gold medal winning Face Down Brown and my personal favorite, the "Local’s Lager", because I like being able to walk after a few beers.
Head back into town for dinner, and soak up the beer and fill up on BBQ from The Oak, right across from the free Gondola.
After dinner, head up to the bar at The Alpinist and the Goat a peculiar restaurant on the second floor above the Elinoff Gallery, with a hidden staircase between the Elinoff and the Patagonia store next-door. They only serve wine, mostly Italian, so enjoy a hidden grappa or a vin santo
No trip to Telluride is complete without a visit to The Last Dollar Saloon aka “The Buck”. There’s live music most nights and you’re more likely to meet friends and local characters you’ve met throughout your trip there than anywhere else. Have a Flatliner and another beer from Telluride Brewing.
Checkout of your hotel and grab breakfast at Ghost Town Grocer, which in addition to making a fantastic cup of coffee also make some fantastic toasts piled high with everything from avocado, salmon, and deviled eggs to apples, bananas, and cream cheese.
Finally, head south out of town on 145 and hang a left onto the dirt road of Ophir. Whether you are heading South to Santa Fe or North to Montrose and/or Denver, a trip over Ophir Pass to 550 is *the* most scenic way out of town short of doing Imogene Pass.Photo by Josiah Roe
Enjoy the Million Dollar Highway and its million dollar views, and come back soon.Josiah Roe
Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.
Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.