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Telluride's historic district is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Image: shaferaphoto

Telluride's location at the end of a box canyon in Colorado’s San Juan mountains was determined by miners seeking underground riches in the 1870s. What was good for mining is now spectacular for outdoor recreation and scenic grandeur, and we’re not just talking about wintertime snow and skiing.

Surrounded by high peaks soaring to 14,000-plus feet, this town of some 2,300 people blends history, beauty, events and culture into one authentic and appealing vibe—and did we mention average summer daytime temps in the mid-to-high seventies? A free gondola connects the historic downtown with Mountain Village, a pedestrian-oriented base area that’s a town of its own adjacent to the ski area’s western flanks.

Following, our picks for 10 of the area’s best attractions for a summer visit.

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1. Rock On

Test your mettle by traversing a cliff face several hundred feet high near the head of Telluride’s box canyon. It’s not as crazy as it sounds with the aid of a via ferrata, Italian for “iron road.” Long popular in the Alps, these systems of permanently affixed steel cables, rungs and bridges allow visitors to experience the thrill of scaling walls or summiting steep peaks without necessarily being skilled at rock climbing. The one in Telluride used to be under-the-radar, but now local guide services such as the San Juan Mountain Guides offer outings. The biggest challenge: keeping your focus amid the distractingly beautiful mountains soaring on both sides of the valley, as well as the state’s highest waterfall so close you can imagine feeling its spray.

2. Make Waves

Many mountain lakes are too cold for swimming, but they’re perfectly suited for stand up paddle boarding (SUP). Telluride Outside and BootDoctors run outings to the still waters of Trout Lake that cover paddling basics; or rent a board and venture on your own to spots including Elk Pond in Mountain Village, Woods Lake, or the San Miguel River through town. Telluride is even home to a paddle board manufacturer, SOL, which designs nine types of inflatable SUPs.

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Island Lake

3. Wild Blue Yonder

Telluride boasts a full array of hiking trails, from short and easy to long and steep, beginning in or close to town; if you’re fairly fit, one that offers exceptional bang for the buck is the five-mile roundtrip hike to Blue Lake. Waterfalls and hillsides festooned with midsummer wildflowers amp up the high-alpine scenery, while old machinery, pipelines and cabins speak to the area’s past as a mining hub. The cerulean lake itself is nestled in a glacial cirque at 12,400 feet. If you have a high-clearance vehicle, shave off time and effort by starting from the small parking pullout near the top of Bridal Veil Falls.

4. Link In

Expect big, thin-air drives and even bigger views at the Telluride Golf Club’s well-designed, par-70 course. It sits adjacent to the ski area at an elevation of 9,417 feet amid the rugged splendor of the Sneffels Range and San Miguel Mountains. Sightings of elk, bear and other wildlife, and scenery including a vintage barn dating from the former ranch on site, add to the Western ambiance. An expanded practice facility and upgraded club amenities debut this season.   

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Telluride hosts free sunset concerts every Wednesday from June to August.

5. Joy Ride

Telluride’s calendar is packed with festivals all summer long, centering around bluegrass, film, jazz, wine, architecture, mushroom hunting, and much more. One droll local even created a midsummer Nothing Festival to give folks a breather. A welcome recent addition to the slate is the five-year-old Ride Festival (July 8–9); there’s nothing quite like seeing performers like Beck and Ben Harper, both on the bill this year, play in Telluride’s Town Park against a backdrop of craggy peaks.

6. Happy Trails

Visualize the Marlboro Man with Santa Claus hair, add in a suffer-no-fools mindset, and you’ve got Roudy Roudebush, who’s been wrangling steeds around Telluride since the ’70s. The town’s iconic cowboy now runs his trail-riding operation, Telluride Horseback Adventures, on a ranch in Norwood, 33 miles away. Make the drive to saddle up for a one- or two-hour jaunt on one of Roudy’s reliable mounts as he regales you with anecdotes about past escapades, beloved horses, and movies and commercials he’s been in—it’s a highly entertaining shtick. Post-ride, sip on a soda or beer while browsing the hundreds of photos of Roudy and guests tacked to his office’s walls and ceiling.

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Cruiser bikes on Main Street

7. Peak Creativity

Telluride’s thriving art scene rivals that of towns many times its size. (How many destination bookbinding academies can you think of? There’s one here.) Monthly First Thursday Art Walks are an easy way to get a read on the local gallery vibe. The Ah Haa School for the Arts, housed in a former train depot, offers classes, exhibits and artist talks, and holds an annual gala art auction (July 14). Deep Creek Experimental is an artists’ collaborative that stages solstice parties and other performance-art events inside an old mine (think Burning Man in the mountains). The contemporary art exhibits at Mixx include regular showings of works by local artists, and 5 percent of any fine art purchase goes to the charity of your choice.

8. Shop Smart

Colorado Avenue, the town’s main street, is lined with indie boutiques and galleries. Lose yourself among the thousands of titles at Between the Covers, Telluride’s beloved bookseller since 1974; the requisite coffee bar in the back brews locally roasted beans. Alpen Schatz is an authentic slice of the European Alps, offering clothing, home décor and its signature Swiss dog collars handcrafted from leather and silver or brass. Stock up on hiking boots and jackets at Jagged Edge Mountain Gear, including the house brand outerwear and accessories.

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Image: Taco del Gnar

9. Muy Bueno

It’s not always the high-concept, high-priced restaurant that makes a splash in a resort town. For several years, Telluride locals passing through Ridgway, about 40 miles away, regularly stopped at Taco del Gnar for its creative, street-food-style fare. Now, after the casual counter-service eatery opened a Telluride outpost last year, those locals can get tacos with inventive fillings like tuna carpaccio, tempura-fried avocado, or Korean shortribs right at home. The small, eclectic menu is accompanied by a selection of local craft beers.

10. High Spirits

Colorado’s booming distillery scene is represented locally at the four-year-old Telluride Distilling Company. The offerings include sugar cane–based vodka, Chairlift Warmer (billed as the country’s first craft peppermint schnapps), and whiskey (last winter’s first batch sold out in a week). Stop by the tasting room on the western outskirts of town to sample the wares in a variety of cocktails crafted with house-made mixers and learn about distilling liquor at 8,750 feet. BootDoctors’s Bike and Bevie tours each afternoon offer a mountain-bike ride to the distillery (and neighboring Telluride Brewing Company) with a van-ride return.

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Telluride Distilling Company's offerings include sugar cane–based vodka, Chairlift Warmer, and whiskey

Where to Stay

  • A boutique hotel offering attentive, personalized service, the Euro-style Lumière, nestled against the slopes in Mountain Village, will exceed your expectations. Its 29 rooms range from tastefully furnished studios to fully kitted-out condo and penthouse units (those views!). Breakfast is served in a charming courtyard patio beside the small pool, while an on-site wine bar and lounge is a cozy place to unwind after an outdoor adventure.
  • The newly opened Dunton Town House bed and breakfast occupies a renovated Victorian in the middle of Telluride. Each of the five bedrooms (all with bath) is artfully furnished with Austrian antiques and other Alpine touches in honor of the Tyrolean immigrants who came to work the mines in the late 1800s.
  • The large, amenity-packed Madeleine, which anchors the central plaza in Mountain Village, received a multimillion-dollar refresh in the past year. The complex includes two restaurants, a full-service spa, a pool, yoga and pilates studios, and an outpost of Dylan’s Candy Bar. 
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