Famous for its skiing, former mining town Telluride mixes dramatic mountain scenery with a thriving cultural scene, top-notch hotels and a fascinating history. Whether climbing or cafés appeal, this is a small town that makes a big impact.
Every day is an adventure in Telluride, courtesy of looming snow-dusted mountains, wildflower meadows and lustrous lakes. The skiing is unrivaled, but summer visitors are also spoilt with hiking, biking, horseback-riding and hot-air ballooning over the box canyon. Back in town, restaurants, galleries and bars line historic streets where Butch Cassidy robbed his first bank and miners dug for gold in the 19th century. Luckily, there are plenty of other things to do these days.
Bring your sturdiest shoes before attempting to climb the trail up Bridal Veil; at 365 feet (111m), it’s the tallest free-falling waterfall in Colorado. In 2019, a new route opened that winds through trees and boulders to the top for the best view in Telluride over the thundering falls and mountains beyond. In the winter, the frozen falls also become a major magnet for ice climbers, but it’s best to leave that to the pros.
Stay alert when hiking or cycling in the San Juan Mountains: it’s possible you may not be alone. The imposing mountains are believed to be home to a large population of mountain lions, who can grow to around eight feet (2.4m) but typically prefer to stay hidden so are rarely spotted. It’s more likely they can see you, however, so be sure to keep children and pets close by, hike in groups and don’t feed or attract deer or other animals.
Adrenaline junkies will love a white-knuckle raft ride on the San Miguel River, a fast-flowing course through red canyon walls and rushing narrow waterways. Expect juddering rapids, forest-lined banks and more than a chance you might get a soaking. In fact, the current can be so powerful here that it’s possible to cover an amazing 20 miles (32km) in one day for a thrilling sightseeing trip with a difference.
A groundbreaking innovation for the city, the Telluride Gondola was originally built to keep cars off the road and was the first and only free public transportation of its kind in the United States. The gondola now carries 2.8 million passengers each year up the three-mile (5km) route over the mountains from Telluride itself to Station St Sophia at 10,540 feet (3,213m). Just a 13-minute journey, the stupefying views over the San Miguel River and rugged San Juan Mountains alone are worth the trip.
See Colorado’s enthralling history brought to life in this extraordinary homage to days gone by. The museum was founded in 1997 by retired archaeologist Richard E Fike, who began collecting Western memorabilia when he was just four years old. His lifelong collection now comprises 500,000 artefacts from the Mountain West’s golden years of 1880 to 1930 and is showcased in a recreation of an authentic town from the era, including a post office, saloon and school.
One of Telluride’s most popular day hikes, the route to Bear Creek Falls starts in town so you can hit the road within minutes of breakfast at your hotel. Head to the end of South Pine Street, then follow the dirt road through the Bear Creek Preserve, following the Bear Creek itself through bottle-green pine trees and undulating meadows. Sweeping views over cloud-cloaked mountains await at the top of the waterfall after a steady two-mile (3.2km) trudge uphill.
Barely changed since the days Butch Cassidy rode away on horseback from his first bank robbery here, Telluride’s Main Street is a higgledy-piggledy stretch of colorful clapboard buildings. Stylish restaurants, independent boutiques and upmarket galleries have now replaced the saloons and stores in this old mining town, but all still stand in the shadow of the jagged San Juan Mountains for the ultimate photo op.