Telluride could very well be the perfect little Colorado mountain town. It’s nestled in a remarkably scenic, remote valley, with more than its fair share of recreation opportunities nearby. It’s also incredibly wealthy, and a popular hangout for celebrities. The high cost of spending time here, and the encroachment of a Beverly Hills feel, might be the only thing that makes you a bit uncomfortable.
If the could have found a more perfect place to put a town, I haven’t seen it. Telluride is nestled in the middle of a narrow valley with just one outlet — the road in from Route 145. Stand along Telluride’s main street and look east, and you have a great view of mountains like Ajax Peak, which looms over the valley.
Look closely, and you’ll still see some of the signs (literally!) that show that Telluride is a historic western town.
The downtown business district is filled with some beautiful old buildings.
Among the most recognizable: the New Sheridan Hotel. This is Telluride’s only historic hotel, dating back to 1891, just four years after the town was founded. The current building was constructed in 1895, after the original wood structure burned.
The San Miguel County Courthouse is not as slanted as my crooked photograph would suggest. In fact, it’s been standing straight and tall since the 1880’s. The original structure was built in 1885. It, too, burned, but the bricks were saved, and used to build the current structure.
One of the most enjoyable attractions in high-priced Telluride is — would you believe — free! The Telluride/Mountain Village Gondola connects the town with the ski resort/hotel complex in the mountains above. You can hop on, anytime, from 7 a.m. to midnight, and enjoy a rapid descent into the thin air. I took this picture during my 2005 visit to Telluride.
Here’s a video of the gondola ride from 2012:
During this trip (in 2012), I ended up riding the gondola back to my hotel in Mountain Village after dark. It was quite an experience, soaring through the air in pitch-blackness.
Speaking of my hotel, I don’t mean to brag or anything, but this is the view from my room at the Peaks Resort. The view looks west (for great sunsets!), and includes a glimpse of Telluride’s airport (notice the sloping runway in the upper-left side of the photo).
The airport is located on Last Dollar Road…
… which is certainly worth a scenic drive. You’ll see this old, rusty gas pump…
… and in the fall, a great display of color (not just yellows, but reds, too!). You’ll also be passing by the homes of some of Telluride’s wealthiest and most famous residents.
If you’re lucky enough to be visiting Telluride in a 4-wheel-drive vehicle…
… I’d suggest another excursion from downtown. If you’re up to the challenge, take a drive up Tomboy Road. I tackled this challenging dirt/gravel road in a 4-wheel-drive SUV back in 2005. Yes, you really will have to pass through that tiny tunnel…
… but the rewards are extraordinary. You’ll get to see the ruins of the town and mining operation at Tomboy. This is as far as I got during my visit, but you can go further, on to Imogene Pass, elevation 13,114 feet. It’s only a couple more miles from Tomboy to the pass.
On the way back to town, you’ll be treated with views like this one, of Telluride and the entire valley. Notice the tiny little waterfall on the right — that’s Bridal Veil Falls.
The Bottom Line
Telluride is extraordinary, but pricey. If you can score a good deal on a hotel, and bring your own food, you can enjoy it on a budget. Otherwise, be prepared for expensive restaurant meals and luxury accommodations, as you rub elbows on the street with celebrities. The abundance of hiking and four-wheel-drive opportunities nearby make Telluride a tempting destination, despite the Rodeo Drive feel that can hurt its wild-west authenticity.
Telluride is located in the San Juan Mountains, along the northwestern part of the San Juan Skyway scenic byway loop. The nearest interstate highway is I-70 at Grand Junction, about 130 miles away.
If you’re coming from Grand Junction, take US 50 to Montrose, then US 550 to Ridgway, Colorado Route 62 to Placerville, and then Route 145 to Telluride. The town is located in a spur route, off Route 145, which dead-ends east of town.
Keep in mind, especially when booking motel rooms, that there’s no quick way to drive across the San Juan Mountains. Silverton is just a few miles away from Telluride as the crow flies, but it’s a 2-hour drive.
Check out this time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive through Telluride and on up to Bridal Veil Falls…
… and another video, that includes Last Dollar Road and Mountain Village: