Telluride, Colorado: Gondola Ride & Downtown


While almost everything in Telluride is overpriced, there’s one thing to do that’s–surprisingly–free!  The Telluride Gondola quickly pulls you from the downtown streets (at about 8,500 feet) to the mountaintops (just over 10,000 feet).

Telluride Colorado View

The ride makes four stops.

Telluride Gondola Chair Lift Ski

At the first stop (Station San Sophia) there’s not a lot to do, but you can take in a great view of the town in the valley below.  During ski season, you’ll need a lift pass to get off here.


Wildflowers were thriving, during Colorado’s short summer.

Telluride Gondola Chair Lift Ski

After Station St. Sophia, the gondola continues to what’s likely the most popular stop: Station Mountain Village.  You’ll find dozens of restaurants and shops here, geared towards upper-income resort visitors.

The final gondola stop (aboard a separate ride) takes you to the ski resort’s parking area.

Downtown Telluride, Colorado

I didn’t spend much time in Telluride’s downtown business strip.  While there are plenty of gift shops, most storefronts are filled with expensive art galleries and boutiques, which cater to the town’s wealthy part-time residents.

Bridal Veil Falls, Telluride Colorado

With the skies much clearer, I drove one more time to the east end of Telluride, to check out the view of Bridal Veil Falls.  It was much better this time.

Bridal Veil Falls, Telluride Colorado

Mining operation near Bridal Veil Falls, Telluride Colorado

As I mentioned before, the public road and viewpoint parking area is bordered by private property, owned by this still-active mining operation.

mountain near Bridal Veil Falls, above Telluride Colorado

Finally, a little blue sky emerged, just as I was ready to leave.

After leaving Telluride, head back out to CO Hwy. 145, and turn south.  Cortez is about 75 miles away.

San Juan Skyway: Telluride to Cortez, Colorado

San Juan Skyway view of Mountains

As you leave Telluride, you’ll cross 10,222 foot Lizard Head Pass.  Along this stretch of road you’ll pass so many impressive mountains, you’ll never remember all their names.  At least, I can’t remember all their names.

So here’s what I do know.  I think the mountain above is Sunshine Mountain, or at least, it’s near Sunshine Mountain, in between Telluride and Ophir…

San Juan Skyway view of Mountains

… and this one is about 10-15 miles south of the first, probably at Lizard Head Pass.  If you can help me name them, feel free to leave a comment below.

San Juan Skyway view of Mountains

After passing by a blur of mountains, the San Juan Skyway heads downhill towards flatter land, around the city of Cortez.  The sun set behind these hills, which appeared quite small compared to their San Juan neighbors.

I suggest spending the night in Cortez.  I decided to cover a little more distance (46 miles), and stop in Durango, but I paid a hefty price for it.  The cheapest motel I could find in the tourist town was around $110.  Cortez will almost definitely have cheaper rooms.  In a pinch, you could also drive south into New Mexico, and stay in the Farmington area, for much less.

On the way to Durango, I passed up one attraction that’s certainly worth seeing: Mesa Verde National Park.

Note: This trip was first published in 2005.

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