Nestled within the protective walls of a natural box canyon of the San Juan Mountains in Colorado, Telluride is special mountain town known just as much for its charming character as it is for its epic winter skiing. Here, the locals are genuinely friendly, there are no chain restaurants, and you won't find a stop light for more than 45 miles. Originally established as a mining camp in the late 1870s, Telluride has grown leaps and bounds in both maturity and appeal. Strolling through the 8-block by 12-block core of the town, you'll find this National Historic Landmark District still looks much like it did more than 100 years ago with clapboard storefronts, streets lined with quaint Victorian-style homes, and old brick buildings like the landmark New Sheridan Hotel.
But while it has a reputation for winter's white powder slopes and summers filled with weekend festivals, the early days of fall are perhaps the best kept secret of the western slopes of the Rocky Mountains. This time of year, the mountain peaks have a light dusting of snow, the first cool breezes waft through the canyon as the forests of aspen trees explode in vivid colors of green, red, and gold. The weather is perfect for hiking and biking and as the summer vacationers head back home, a leisurely pace settles throughout the town.
Stay in Mountain Village, which is just over the mountain ridge from Telluride's historic town. Here, you can take your pick from full-service traditional hotels like the Fairmont Heritage Place or more boutique, residence-style accommodations like the Lumiere Hotel, which features one-, two-, and three-bedroom residences each with their own unique mountain view. Or spring for spacious condos and suites at the Hotel Madeline, an ideal ski-in/ski-out locale during ski season which has a variety of hotel rooms and a hip new restaurant concept Restaurant REV committed to serving locally-sourced ingredients.
Hop on a 13-minute ride over the ridge on Telluride's free gondola, the town's primary mode of public transportation which not only affords panoramic views of looming peaks from Uncompahgre National Forest and the town's charming Main Street area, but also serves as one of the greenest methods of transportation in the country. At the top of the gondola, hikers and mountain bikers can hop off to find excellent mountaintop trails to traverse. You'll also find one of the town's most picturesque fine dining spots, Allred's (pictured), which showcases classic American cuisine from wild game to fresh seafood and affords beautiful sunset views of the mountain terrain.
Spend an afternoon getting to know Telluride more intimately with a history tour from Ashley Boling, a local fixture among the Telluride community and an expert on everything from the historic Sheridan Opera House, the former red light district of the old mining camp, and the first bank ever robbed by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Hiking the Trails
Or take a more intense hike along the different trails of the box canyon with BootDoctors, a small, family-operated outdoor retailer offering guided hikes and mountain bike excursions with expert guides.
You'll find no shortage of clothing and jewelry boutiques along Main Street, but make sure to stop at the bustling Telluride Farmers' Market every Friday through October. You'll be met with a range of high quality food products and artisanal goods and crafts, all from within 100 miles of Telluride.
Both amateur and well-seasoned anglers will find plenty of spots to wet their fishing lines along the San Miguel and Dolores Rivers, especially if you take a full- or half-day fly fishing trip with one of the friendly and helpful guides from Telluride Outside. They will not only manage all of the little details, but also give valuable tips and instruction along the way.
Perhaps the most difficult thing to decide on in Telluride is where to eat. One of the town's best attributes is its wide selection of fantastic restaurants, from the classic old school charm of the Chophouse at the New Sheridan Hotel, where white table cloths and ornate wooden booths set the tone for first-rate steaks and elegant continental cuisine, to the more contemporary approach to homemade cooking at 221 South Oak where just about everything served is sourced locally or made in-house. Be sure to stop at Rustico, where you'll enjoy Italian classics like beautiful charcuterie plates, linguine alle vongole, and veal scaloppine with lemon sauce and capers.
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Photo Credits: Mountain Village: Courtesy of Lumiere Hotel ; Telluride Gondola: Courtesy of Allreds Restaurant; Hiking the Trails: Courtesy of Bootdoctors; Farmersâ€™ Market: Farmers Market, Telluride by kevin Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License; Fly Fishing: Courtesy of Telluride Outside; Dining Dilemma: Courtesy of 221 South Oak