Telluride is a beautiful mountain town in the San Juan Mountains and a premier destination for landscape photographers throughout the year, but especially in fall. And within the Telluride area, Last Dollar Road is a wonderful location to photograph fall foliage against ragged mountain peaks and ridges.
Last Dollar Road provided the main access to Telluride in the 1800s, and it was commonly used as a supply route and also by prospectors looking for fortune. The road passed through private land, and the owner charged a dollar fee to use it. The story goes that prospectors used to save their last dollar to be able to leave town if they did not succeed.
Last Dollar Road is unpaved, and while it is easily accessible in good weather, four-wheel drive is recommended after rains and in early summer when spots can be muddy and slippery. The road can be accessed from Highway 145 on the south end (just east of the Mountain Village roundabout), or from Highway 62 on the north end (just west of the Dallas Divide).
The road winds through aspen groves for 20 miles and offers fantastic views of Wilson Peak (14,252 ft.), Lizard Head (13,114 ft.), and other peaks. Peak fall colors in this area are usually at the end of September or the first week of October, though the exact dates are difficult to predict. There is a great spot with ample parking space to watch the sunrise close to Telluride. Some people actually camp there, though there are no facilities. Observe Wilson Peak closely and you might recognize it from the label on a popular light beer brewed in Colorado. The peak and other features along the road have appeared in famous movies such as the 1969 release True Grit and Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight.
Large sheep herds kept in ranches along the road can make for an interesting photo subject, and they can also cause delays as they cross the road.
There are a couple of spots to hike, and some people choose to mountain bike Last Dollar Road. Mainly the route is a great drive with wonderful views that is close to Telluride, Ridgeway, and Ouray, where there are plenty of locations to hike, mountain bike, or soak in hot springs.