362 miles southwest from Denver, the trip to Telluride is notoriously treacherous. Even with the advent of modern highways, the former mining town’s moniker “To Hell You Ride” still rings true. However, for those willing to make the long journey, Telluride is more than worth the trek.
Situated at the foot of North America’s largest concentration of 13,000 and 14,000-foot mountains, Telluride’s beauty is unparalleled. With soaring peaks of indigo and emerald and a cascading waterfall visible from town, a simple stroll down Telluride’s Main street will leave you speechless. But like most mountain towns, what makes Telluride so incredible goes beyond the surface appeal of its beautiful backdrop.
From one of the most daring hikes in Colorado to surreal glider rides and where to find the official “best pizza in the world,” read on and find out why the famous saying “to hell you ride” ends with “to heaven you’ll go.”
How to Get There
Approximate drive time from Denver: 6-7 hours
Click on the map for more detail
US-285 Route – While 285 is only a two-lane highway, this route is a more scenic way to Telluride. And because it is sometimes less traveled, you might not run into as much traffic in comparison to I-70, but because it is a two-lane road any sort of traffic jam can lead to long delays.
Pro tip: If you’re headed to Telluride in the fall, save some extra time to stop by Kenosha Pass to see the leaves change.
Jailhouse Craft Beer Bar – 19th-century jailhouse turned craft beer bar with 10 rotating taps and a curated list of bottles, cans and a small wine list. Beer lovers, seriously don’t miss it.
The Asian Palate – Pan-Asian restaurant in the heart of downtown Buena Vista with a reportedly killer sushi menu.
Deerhammer Distilling Company – Colorado craft distillers specializing in American single malt whiskey with a great tasting room.
Eddyline Brewing – Buena Vista brewpub serving pizzas and classic pub fare alongside seasonal and staple craft beers. The nachos or white water pizza are solid food choices.
Coney Island – Iconic hotdog stand serving up classic American fare out of a wiener-shaped diner. Forewarning—the stand recently went up for sale and the new owners are fighting to keep it open. But it’s right off the road, so stop by and check it out—even if it’s just for the photo.
Elevation Brewing – A Poncha Springs brewery specializing in Belgian and barrel-aged beers as well as unique seasonals. My favorite is the Senorita, a horchata spiced imperial porter.
I-70 route – I-70 has its pros and cons on the way to Telluride. First, you should always plan on traffic when driving on I-70. However, if you plan well and do not travel at peak hours, it can be quick and there are plenty of great places to stop along the way.
Smokin’ Yards – Still some of my favorite barbecue in the state. I recommend the brisket or burnt ends. Skip the ribs, but don’t forget the boiled peanuts served up front.
Bread Bar – Dram Apothecary’s former tasting room in the quaint town of Silver Plume recently came under new ownership. With it came expanded hours, a revamped space (including an expanded patio) and a new cocktail menu. It’s a little off the beaten path, but the 1890s bakery turned bar is said to exude an irresistible sense of magic.
Slope & Hatch— A fusion taco joint that also serves up hot dogs and breakfast. It sounds random, but their delicious crispy fish tacos gives the place plenty of purpose.
Where to Stay
For the ultimate getaway: Hotel Telluride has a reputation as one of the best places to stay in Telluride—and with good reason. Praised by everyone from Conde Nast to Travel + Leisure, the boutique hotel has the intimacy of a bed and breakfast but the hospitality of a five-star resort. With its pet-friendly policy, 24/7 coffee service and free afternoon cookies, they do a great job of making you feel at home. The rooms also have a homey feel since each one is oversized with a mini kitchen, sitting area and balcony or patio (which are key, considering the incredible views you can get from your room). The biggest benefits of staying at Hotel Telluride, though, is their expert knowledge of what to do while you stay. This is best expressed in their packages that include everything from iconic Telluride hikes and tours of Telluride’s famed waterfalls to breathtaking glider rides and daring walks on the Via Ferrata. We tried the High Altitude package (which includes the glider ride and the Via Ferrata). Our adventures are detailed below, but it was clear that Hotel Telluride has a keen sense of who they partner with as each guide was highly-skilled and courteous—two things you need when you’re hundreds of feet from the ground.
For those on a budget: If you can’t afford a swanky night’s stay, Telluride is unique in the sense that it has a town park where camping is encouraged. Situated along a crystal-clear mountain stream, the park can be an idyllic and budget-friendly place to rest your head if you’re pinching pennies, or just prefer staying outdoors. It is first-come-first-served and $23 per vehicle. Make sure to check if there’s a festival that weekend, as spots can go quickly. Go here for all the rules and regulations of the campground including info on the fire ban (charcoal grills only) and check-in/site renewal times.
What to Do
Like most of Colorado, the key to enjoying your time in Telluride is to get outside as much as possible. However, Telluride has some truly unique ways that’ll elevate the way you experience its supreme beauty.
Via Ferrata: Built by local climber and master iron worker, Chuck Kroger, Telluride’s Via Ferrata is a series of cables and iron rungs that allow you to traverse horizontally along the walls of the San Juan mountains. Kroger, who was inspired by the Via Ferratas of Europe, constructed one of the only Via Ferratas in America back in 2006 after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. As a testament to Kroger’s legacy as an expert climber, the Via Ferrata is one of the most daring hikes in Colorado. The path—which sits hundreds of feet from the canyon floor—looks daunting from below, but with proper knowledge and equipment, the trek is more than doable for people with a range of abilities. While it is accessible for inexperienced climbers, a guide is highly recommended since special equipment and knowledge of the trail are required for a safe trip. San Juan Outdoor Adventures is the premier Via Ferrata guide company in Telluride and is a USDA Forest Service permitted outfitter. San Juan’s trips range from full-day trips (6-8 hours/$150.00-$195 per person) to half-day trips (4 hours/ $125-$155 per person) and include transportation and lunch.
Pro Tip: Reliable footwear is paramount for your Via Ferrata trip. Wear running shoes with good traction or lightweight hiking boots and make sure to be cognizant of your steps. The most treacherous parts of the Via Ferrata are the narrow paths where you’re not tethered in. These areas are flat, walkable and do not look dangerous, but a careless step could prove to be disastrous. Also, do not use regular climbing gear for the Via Ferrata, you must have a special harness.
*Glider Ride: Even for Coloradans familiar with gorgeous summits, Telluride’s impressive mountain range is astounding. Bob, a veteran pilot of 26 years, offers an appropriate perspective of Telluride with his famed glider rides (even Neil Armstrong has flown with Bob). Taking off from Telluride’s airport, the motorized glider does not require towing and can soar up to 160 mph. Once at altitude, Bob will find a rising column of hot air called a thermal to lift the plane and then cut the engine. There you’ll soar silently above the ridgelines while Bob points out hidden lakes and abandoned mines. It’s a surreal experience, one that allows you to soak in the pure majesty of Telluride’s beautiful landscape. A glider ride with Bob will set you back $130 for 30 minutes and $180 for an hour. For reservations please call Glider Bob at 970-708-0862.
Pro Tip: If flying isn’t your thing, you can still get great views of Telluride by taking the free gondola to Mountain Village. Make sure to get off on the first stop though so you can take in the sights before heading to the other side of the ski resort.
[UPDATE: August 25 at 10:13 a.m] 303 Magazine regrets to inform you that Robert “Glider Bob” Saunders died after the publishing of this article. His company Glide Telluride is no longer operating.
Hike: In a place like Telluride, gorgeous hikes are a dime a dozen. If the weather permits, don’t leave town without doing at least one. Here are some you should try
- Bridal Veil Falls (6.1 miles, moderate): A trip to Telluride would be amiss without hiking Bridal Veil Falls. It is the longest free-falling waterfall in the state of Colorado and can be seen from town. It is the most iconic hike in Telluride and is accessible by car (AWD required).
- Silver Lake (3.2 miles, difficult): Just above Bridal Veil is the hike to Silver Lake. The steep incline will bring you to a turquoise alpine lagoon stocked with trout. The hike is ideal for the fishermen and women.
- Bear Creek Falls (2.5 miles, easy/moderate): Bear Creek is one of the easier hikes in Telluride. But despite being just a short walk, the payoff is huge as you’ll find a large 100-foot falls cascading down a towering rock wall.
Pro tip: One of the best-hidden trails in Telluride is said to be Little Hawaii. The small lagoon is notoriously hard to find but is located somewhere off the Bear Creek Trail. One blogger is willing to share the secret here if you send an email, or you can see if a friendly local is willing to let you in on its location.
Attend a Festival: Despite being relatively difficult to travel to, Telluride attracts foreigners from all over the world for its festivals. While the most famous festivals belong to its perennial bluegrass and film events, there are plenty of niche festivals tailored to a range of tastes and interests. From mushrooms and balloons to fire and horror films, here’s a list of upcoming events that help make Telluride the unique world class destination it is:
- Telluride Mushroom Festival, August 18-21
- Telluride Film Festival, August 31- Sept 5
- Telluride Blues and Brews, Sept. 16-18
- Neil Young in Telluride, Sept. 30 – Oct. 1
- Telluride Horror Film Festival, Oct. 14-16
- Telluride Fire Festival, Jan 20-22
Where to Eat & Drink
Brown Dog Pizza: It might seem odd to find a slice of Detriot in the heart of the Rockies, but it seems the mountain air has done this pizzeria some good. Since 2013, Brown Dog has taken home the title of the world’s best pizza at multiple international contests including placing first at 2015 Pizza World Championship in Parma, Italy. Serving up pan-style pizza alongside traditional pub fare, the unassuming restaurant is not to be missed.
The Butcher & The Baker: Dishing up breakfast, lunch and dinner, the versatile Butcher & Baker is an all around great choice no matter the time. The quaint bakery-style restaurant prides itself on using fresh, organic ingredients with many items made in house, including baked goods. Just make sure to order at the counter as there is no table service at the B&B.
Pro tip: Go on Wednesday when they serve their special fried chicken.
Telluride Brewing Company: Open since 2013 this small mountain town brewery is beloved by Coloradans from all over the Centennial State. Their rapid expansion in distribution and an increasing count of GABF medals prove their popularity isn’t slowing anytime soon. The brewery, situated just a few miles out of town might not boast much of a taproom, but the beers (including a recent nitro version of their famous Face Down Brown) make it worth a stop.
Pro tip: Because of a bond developed between brewers at Telluride Brewing Company and SweetWater, Telluride is the only town in Colorado (that we know of) that distributes beer from the Atlanta-born brewery. Make sure to grab a Sweet Water Blue if you spot it!
Last Dollar Saloon: More than 30 years old, The Last Dollar Saloon or “The Buck,” is a mainstay in the Telluride bar scene. Hosting live music and relaxed mountain vibes, the Saloon is a great place to post up and see where the night will take you.
221 South Oak: On the other end of the spectrum from Last Dollar is 221 South Oak. The modern bistro, situated in a restored historic home, offers fine dining that draws inspiration from all over the world. Put on your fanciest outfit and make a night of it.