Everyone who visits Telluride stares up at Bridal Veil Falls, and wonders at that delicately-balanced power plant that’s perched on the edge of the mountain, at the brink of the falls. But guess what? With a high-clearance vehicle, you can drive up there, and enjoy a remarkable view of the valley and the town.
This adventure begins at the historic Pandora Mill. An aerial tramway once delivered loads of ore from the mines in the hills above. Mining began in the area in the 1870’s and continued until 1978, when the mill finally shut down. In its heyday, it produced zinc, gold, silver, and lead.
The old mill is slowly rusting, and reclamation efforts are underway.
In this area, the paved road turns to dirt. There’s a parking area, just before the climb up the mountain begins. You could park here and hike the entire way, if your car or your nerves aren’t fit for driving on a narrow, bumpy, dirt road.
Whether you drive or you walk, you’ll enjoy some stunning scenery that gets better and better as you climb, especially in late September and early October, when the fall colors are at their best.
The dirt road passes almost directly underneath Bridal Veil Falls. During my visit in 2012, quite a bit of construction was taking place up above, at the power station, and down below. As a result, there were barricades and warnings everywhere, and it wasn’t particularly safe to get any closer to the base of the falls.
I did my best, though, with the zoom lens.
I’m also guessing that this area would be quite slippery and treacherous, even without the men working directly above.
As the road climbs, you’re treated to ever-changing views of the powerhouse and waterfall.
It is, without question, the very best piece of real estate in the Telluride area. And that’s saying something.
These switchbacks aren’t enough to make me nervous, but a friend who was with me was very uncomfortable with the steep drops.
When you get near the end of the two-way portion of Black Bear Pass Road, the views go from great to simply stunning. A generous portion of the San Juan Mountains is in view, as well as the town of Telluride in the distance (and Pandora, directly down below).
Vehicles are not allowed to pass through this gate, and travel on the road that runs behind the power plant. Hikers, on the other hand, are allowed to pass through here.
Beyond the gate, you’ll find yourself above and behind that incredible building that sits atop Bridal Veil Falls. The power plant is the second-oldest functioning AC power plant in the U.S., and it provides about 25% of Telluride’s electricity. The house was restored, and lived-in from 1991 to 2010, but now it’s owned by a mining company.
Why no one has opened up a B&B here, I’ll never know.
Keep hiking on the road that runs behind the power plant, and it quickly becomes obvious why vehicles aren’t allowed. The road rapidly deteriorates into a path that would be a challenge for almost anything but a well-equipped Jeep.
The hike continues from here. A little more than two miles away (and 2,000 feet higher) is Blue Lake. Just picture an idyllic alpine lake surrounded by wildflowers and rocky peaks.
You’ll have to just picture it, because I didn’t hike any farther.
I turned around and headed back to the car, taking one more moment to admire the view of the valley and the power station.
The Bottom Line
If you have a capable, high-clearance vehicle, preferably a 4-wheel-drive, you’d be crazy not to drive up to the top of Bridal Veil Falls. It’s a view you’ll never forget.
Drive through Telluride on Colorado Route 145 Spur, and keep going. After Telluride comes Pandora (a handful of houses and a mining operation), then the insane dirt road known as Black Bear Pass Road.
A significant portion of Black Bear Pass Road is one-way, downhill. It’s widely recognized as one of the most dangerous 4×4 roads on earth, due to steep drop-offs and tight hairpin curves. However, the lower portion of the road isn’t quite as treacherous, and it’s wide enough to allow vehicles to pass, so two-way traffic is allowed. If you have a high-clearance vehicle, you can easily make the drive up to the power plant.
Check out this time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive up to the top of Bridal Veil Falls.