A six-hour drive—or quick flight—from Denver, Telluride has all the charm of a Colorado resort town (jaw-dropping mountain peaks, a cinematic 19th-century main street) yet feels comparatively undiscovered. The former Wild West mining town of just over 2,000 residents is full of citified lures like b…reweries and boutiques, but the mountains beyond are as wild as they come, with postcard-worthy hiking trails and multiple waterfalls. In fact, the area’s original inhabitants, the Ute Indians, once called their home the “Valley of Hanging Waterfalls.”
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Famous for its skiing, Telluride sheds its humble façade each winter to become the world-class mountain destination that visitors know and love. The town is arguably even more fun in summer, however, when its mountains are cloaked in verdant wildflowers and the average high temperature is a balmy 75 degrees. While spring and fall are less popular, they can be worthy times to visit for locals-only streets and rock-bottom hotel prices. Telluride also plays hosts to several festivals worth planning a trip around, from the Mountainfilm Festival (May) and the Telluride Film Festival (Labor Day Weekend) to the Telluride Blues & Brews Festival (mid-September).
Some visitors make the six-hour drive from Denver, but year-round daily flights direct to Telluride’s Montrose Regional Airport are available from Denver International and Dallas Fort-Worth International airports. During the busy ski and summer seasons, you can also find regular direct flights from New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Houston, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. The airport is a 90-minute drive from Telluride proper but, once there, you can stroll practically everywhere on your own two feet—the town’s charming historic district is just six blocks wide and twelve long.
You’d be remiss to leave Telluride without stopping by the town’s Wild West hot spots—after all, this is where Butch Cassidy robbed his first bank back in 1889. Grab a whiskey on the rocks at the New Sheridan Hotel’s Historic Bar, built in 1885, and check out “ye olde” displays (like a thousand-year-old Anasazi blanket) at the Telluride Historical Museum, housed in a former hospital from 1896. If you’re visiting in summer, hiking to the glass-clear Alta Lakes is practically required and guaranteed to get some Instagram likes.
While exhausted hikers and skiers alike find comfort in Telluride’s microbrews and macro burgers, there’s so much more to the town’s food scene than all-American classics. Tuck in to the perfect pra ram stir-fry cooked by Thai expat chefs at Siam Telluride; try the pizza that took home top prize at Italy’s Pizza World Championship at Brown Dog Pizza; and even take a cooking class with chef Eliza Gavin from Top Chef: Season 10 at her restaurant 221 South Oak. For a special night out, the mountaintop Allred’s Restaurant, accessible by gondola, offers an eagle’s-eye view of the valley.
Creative pursuits can take the back seat in outdoorsy towns like this one, yet Telluride’s art scene is burgeoning, thanks in large part to the work of Telluride Arts. Around since 1971, the organization works to develop the town’s creative pulse and maintains the innovative Gallery 81435, named for the local zip code. Another spot not to miss is the Telluride Gallery of Fine Art, where you’ll find necklaces made of LEGOs by San Francisco’s Emiko Oye.
Disneyland can wait. For our money, there are few more rewarding family destinations than this one, with its multitude of natural wonders and kid-geared delights. Here, families can search for fairies on the back of a horse-turned-unicorn (with Telluride Academy), or even take a sleigh ride to a sunset dinner in a tent (with Telluride Wagons and Sleighs).
Book your accommodations well in advance (occupancy rates often hit 100 percent, especially around the holidays). As anywhere in Colorado, you should also prepare for mountain weather when you leave your hotel— it can be 75 and sunny during the day, and cool and crisp in the evening. Layers are essential.
Kathryn O’Shea-Evans is a Colorado-based writer with bylines in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Travel + Leisure, and many other outlets. Read more of her work at kathrynosheaevans.com or follow her on Instagram at @kathrynosheaevans.
Updated January 2019.