The town of Telluride is located in a box canyon deep in the beautiful San Juan Mountains.
The steep forested peaks surrounding the town are snow capped in winter but come spring are bursting with vibrant color.
Although Telluride is most famous for its massive ski resort, the area serves as a year-round attraction for outdoor enthusiasts.
The weathered ruins of old mining operations are scattered across the hillsides while popular Bridal Veil Falls sits at the head of the canyon, serving as a popular tourist attraction.
How to Get There
Getting to Telluride can be a bit challenging because of its distance from major international airports.
Denver is the closest major airport, located about six hours away from town. From Denver, you can rent a car and drive to Telluride.
Alternatively, there are smaller airports located closer to Telluride including the spectacular Telluride Regional Airport nestled right in the mountain.
From Denver or Dallas-Fort Worth, you can fly into the Montrose-Telluride airport. It’s a 75 minute drive from Montrose-Telluride into town.
Another option is to fly into the Grand Junction Regional Airport, located about a two and a half hour drive from Telluride.
Six major cities offer non-stop flights into Grand Junction, including Denver. Durango-La Plata is another airport located the same distance away as the Grand Junction Regional Airport, with options to fly in from a variety of major cities.
Great Lakes Airlines serves Telluride’s personal airport, located fifteen minutes from the ski resort and offering year-round flight options.
Flying directly into the Telluride airport is the only way to avoid a significant amount of drive time.
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Things to Know
Hiking season is from May to early October, with the wildflowers peaking in early July.
The trails vary from easy day hikes to high elevation excursions.
Many of the mountains around Telluride exceed 13,000 feet and are sprinkled with high alpine lakes.
Bridal Veil Falls is the highest free falling waterfall in Colorado, serving as a popular hiking destination.
Although mornings can foretell a beautiful sunny day, afternoons often bring Colorado rainstorms – especially if you are hiking in the summer – so it’s important to be prepared for wet weather and changing temperatures.
It’s essential to carry sunscreen along with extra layers not to mention that bug spray is recommended during the summer months.
There are over 90 total hikes and historic walks through town, making for a coveted adventurer’s destination that never really loses its charm.
Tips For Hiking At Elevation
If you don’t live in Colorado or another place that is at elevation, there are precautions you need to take when coming to hike in this area.
The peaks are big – with a few towering above 14,000 feet – and the elevation gains for each trail are another factor entirely.
Hiking at elevation can be uncomfortable and dangerous if you don’t prepare yourself and acclimate properly.
Here are some tips to get you started:
- Understand high altitude hiking: All routes above 8,000 feet are considered high altitude hikes. The town of Telluride is situated at 8750 feet – so this includes all the hikes. 8,000 feet is the height at which your body begins to be affected by reduced air pressure, which means less oxygen to breathe.
- Understand altitude sickness: Learning to identify someone suffering from altitude sickness is essential before setting out on an excursion. Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) is the mildest form of altitude sickness and feels similar to a hangover, including tiredness, nausea, and a headache. If someone is suffering from these symptoms, it’s necessary to get them back down to a lower elevation.
- Acclimate/ascend gradually: One of the easiest ways to avoid coming down with altitude sickness is to take your time gaining elevation. If you plan on attempting to summit a very high peak, spend time hiking mountains at lower altitudes before attempting to summit something very high.
- Fitness: While this isn’t a sure way to avoid getting altitude sickness, it definitely helps. Do training hikes with a weighted pack at lower elevations. Perform regular cardio including running and climbing stairs.
- Drink plenty of water: It’s extremely important to stay hydrated while you’re hiking and even more so while you’re hiking at elevation. Avoid alcohol, as this will only dehydrate you. Eating a healthy diet is also helpful, especially one loaded with carbohydrates (carb lovers, rejoice!)
10 Best Hiking Trails Near Telluride
1. Sneffels Highline Trail
If you’re looking for exposure to all kinds of scenery and you want to see it all in one day, you could just hike the Sneffels Highline Trail and you would achieve your goal.
This epic trail takes you through fields of wildflowers, through gorgeous alpine basins, and an aspen forest.
You will climb more than 3,000 feet to the high point on the saddle below Mt. Emma.
Though not for the inexperienced or faint of heart, it’s worth its weight in gold.
If you’re an experienced hiker, acclimatized to the elevation, and are looking for a full day of activity, then make the Sneffels Highline Trail your top priority.
2. Bridal Veil Falls Trail
Colorado’s largest free falling waterfall isn’t just a sight to behold — the area is full of history and photographic opportunity.
A historic power plant is located at the top of the falls and the Bridal Veil Basin area is chock full of trails leading to other aesthetic destinations for those looking to extend their journey.
The Bridal Veil Falls trail actually ascends a jeep road and offers sweeping sights of the Telluride Valley.
A modest 1,380 foot elevation gain makes for a great warm up for bigger hikes.
The trail is comprised of mostly switchbacks including excellent vistas for photographs and ends at a gate to the power plant.
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3. Lizard Head Trail
This extremely scenic route to the base of Lizard Head Peak takes you past Trout Lake and many other scenic natural features including Pilot Knob and Golden Horn.
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If you can arrange to shuttle vehicles, the best way to execute this hike is to connect to the Cross Mountain Trail and make for a nearly complete loop.
Nearly 3,000 feet in elevation gain makes for a challenging trek — but you’re rewarded with unbelievable sights along the way, highlighted by the 400-ft Lizard’s Head spire.
The Lizard’s Head Hike is essentially a sweeping traverse of the ridge of Black Face Mountain.
Enjoy nearly four miles of alpine meadows.
4. Bear Creek Falls Trail
If you’re looking for an easy trail with epic views, consider the Bear Creek Preserve Trail.
This could also serve as an excellent acclimatization hike.
It is often used by bikers and horseback riders in addition to hikers, so you’re guaranteed not to be alone.
You will enjoy excellent views of canyon cliffs and the waterfall at the end that serves as the icing on the cake making Bear Creek Falls one of the most popular hiking trails in Colorado.
5. Blue Lake Trail
If you’ve ever wanted to see an alpine lake above 12,000 feet in elevation, the Blue Lake trail is the way to get there.
In addition, the area is loaded with mining relics, serving for a joint historical exploit.
Your journey begins up Bridal Veil Basin past the waterfall and the mine and continues through fields of wildflowers until you arrive at the spectacular Blue Lake, situated at an elevation of 12,400 feet.
Enjoy views of waterfalls, an old tram, mining cabins, and a bunkhouse.
You begin on the switchbacks that brought you to Bridal Veil Falls and continue on into the alpine wilderness.
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6. Wasatch Trail
For scenic views of Bear Creek Canyon beyond what the Bear Creek Preserve Trail can provide you, consider continuing along Wasatch Trail.
Winding views of alpine basins, waterfalls, and the remnants of winter snow deliver you onto the scenic saddle between the Bear Creek and Bridal Veil basins at an elevation exceeding 13,000 feet.
The best time to hike this trail is in summer or autumn when you can see the wildflowers in all their splendor.
While not an exceedingly long trail, it gains more than 4,300 feet in elevation, so it’s best to be acclimatized and prepared to take it slowly while bringing along plenty of water and food.
The trail comprises a large loop around Wasatch Mountain and La Junta Basin.
7. Telluride Trail
If you want to check out the Telluride ski area in summer, follow the Telluride Trail for a scenic journey on foot.
This is a beautiful beginner’s trail that serves as a ski run from the resort into town in the winter. Look out for wildlife — including marmots, porcupine, and deer.
The Telluride Trail is a great hike for those of all abilities because you can always bail at the top and take the gondola back down.
Enjoy stunning views of the surrounding mountains and the quaint town of Telluride below you.
The elevation gain is less than 2,000 feet.
8. Navajo Lake Trail
If you enjoy changing sceneries and have already done a warm-up hike in the Lizard Head Wilderness area, it’s time to step up your game on the Navajo Lake Trail.
This hike offers views of the breathtaking Navajo Lake and meanders through forests, waterfalls, and wildflower-filled alpine meadows.
The journey takes you along the broad valley formed by the West Dolores River while also providing views of three 14,000 foot peaks including Wilson Peak, Mount Wilson, and Diente Peak.
The elevation gain is about 2,400 feet.
9. Whipple Mountain Trail
This trail offers options for those who love downhill or uphill hiking — pick your poison.
There is both a Western and an Eastern trailhead.
West to East awards you with a downhill trail while East to West will require a significant gain in elevation.
Both options offer stunning views of the Mount Sneffels Wilderness including Mt Wilson and the La Salle mountain range in Utah.
It is not recommended to hike this trail during winter due to thick vegetation and the difficulties that snow can pose to the trailhead access.
10. Lake Hope Trail
The Lake Hope trail offers a combination of lavish meadows speckled with wildflowers, 13,000 foot peaks, and a spectacular alpine environment complimented by the gorgeous glacial Trout Lake and Lake Hope.
The Lizard Head Wilderness is full of wonders — for this journey, let the colorful Vermillion Peak serve as your backdrop.
The trail is short but the elevation gain is over 1,000 feet, serving as a respectful day hike or a warm-up for a higher summit.
Wrapping It Up…
Smaller towns like Telluride are often overlooked by the larger, bustling Colorado cities and the attraction of more significant infrastructure.
But if you’re looking for a hidden gem that’s still a resort town and remains untouched by the larger masses, go hiking in Telluride.
The access difficulties are worth every mile of the area’s scenic views.
The San Juan Mountains retain a sense of absolute wilderness that is hard to come by and offer their own sprinkling of historical remnants as well.
Still uncertain? Come visit in July when the wildflowers are at their peak and don’t forget your camera because every step you take is a spectacular photograph just yearning to be taken!
Did I miss any of your favorite Telluride hikes? Let me know in the comments below!