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Jonathan Stull | 09.02.2016

Telluride, that sleepy little town. The world comes alive for those who adventure into the San Juan Mountains. Home to fine skiing and avenues that turn into hiking trails and campgrounds within city limits, Telluride embodies the rugged frontier mythos of the Rocky Mountains. Climb a mountain. Pan for gold. Grow a scraggly beard (or affix one with bungee cord) and wear a wide-brimmed hat shot through during a drunken midnight duel.

Undoubtedly, there are simpler and safer ways to find Telluride, and we are so bold as to offer them to you. A decade of adventures will take you up mountains and down backcountry roads. Just don’t forget your sieve—and don’t wait a decade to visit! A three-day weekend gives you enough to fill your soul. Mix and match any of these days and adventures to your heart's content.

Day 1: The lay of the land

Telluride rests in a valley tucked deep into the labyrinthine San Juan Mountains, where a network of ridges and glacially carved valleys are full of quiet corners, spectacular vistas, and rugged terrain. A full day can be spent wandering one of the world's most scenic mountain corridors.

Acquaint yourself with the Million Dollar Highway and Red Mountain Pass, Dallas Divide Route, and the Last Dollar Road. Red Mountain Pass, which you'll likely follow if you drive into Telluride from the north, is simply one of the most picturesque mountain passes in the country. Hairpin turns curl uphill alongside mountain summits of copper and crimson. The Dallas Divide Route approaches Mount Sneffels and the Sneffels Range from the north, and it is especially popular in the fall, when the aspen-lined slopes turn gold. The Last Dollar Road, just outside of Telluride, draws across the southern foot of the Sneffels Range. Both offer views that are simply spectacular.

Essentially the remnants of Telluride's mining history, the network of roads here often requires four-wheel drive. If you have it, much more of the mountain range is accessible to you, enough so that local rental agencies exclusively rent all-terrain vehicles. It's worth it: Imogene Pass, for example, is only accessible to four-wheel drive vehicles, and it ascends to a staggering 14,000 feet before descending into nearby Ouray. (It's worth mentioning that the ride by paved roads is 50 miles, despite the towns being separated by 10 miles as the crow flies.) The Imogene Pass Road tops 13,000 feet with views of the surrounding mountains on its way to Ouray and beyond.

Another, Engineer Pass, is one of the highest roads in Colorado and an extraordinary ride.

Day 2: Telluride proper

Once you settle into Telluride, there's much to do. The town is no stranger to tourism, hosting an annual film festival and concerts throughout the year. Find a bite to eat at Taco Del Gnar, a cup of coffee at The Butcher & Baker, or hunker down with a book at Between the Covers.

Then take a walk. Many trails pick up right where city streets end, and you are at no loss for options that lead up and into the 3,000-foot cliffs that surround city limits. Follow South Pine Street to pick up the trail to Bear Creek Falls, an easy 5 miles to an 80-foot cascade. On the north side, follow the Jud Wiebe Trail for a local favorite.

Want to go big? The Sneffels Highline is about as punishing an alpine ascent as anywhere else in the Rockies: a 12.7-mile loop that jumps 3,380 feet in its first 5 miles.

That ought to put you back into bed for the night, and maybe keep you there the next morning.

Day 3: The surround

The national forest wilderness that surrounds Telluride encompasses several thousand square miles of rugged alpine terrain. There is no shortage of outdoor adventure for those with the time and the determination. Trek to Ouray and follow the road south along the 550 to Yankee Girl Mine, which was highly productive in its time and remains a rustic reminder of Telluride’s mining past.

Try to tackle a mountain traverse, this time the string of 14ers in the Wilson Group. The El Diente to Mount Wilson traverse includes three 14ers to bag and backcountry campsites to extend the trip over multiple days. If you're a little short on time, a shorter and tamer route to Wilson Meadows will showcase the beauty of Lizard Head.

When you’re done, you can kick up your feet on the stoop and lower your bullet-riddled hat over your eyes. Pour yourself a glass of whiskey and send your overalls to the dry cleaner. Telluride has treated you well.


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