Think Telluride is all about powder skiing and film festivals? Thing again! This is the place where Butch Cassidy began his bank-robbing career at the San Miguel Valley Bank on June 24, 1889. After the heist, Cassidy and two buddies mounted their steeds, shot their revolvers into the air and rode out of town triumphantly with $20,750, more than half a million dollars in today’s currency. They were never caught and the cash was never recovered. With history like that, you know this mountain town has spirit.
Today, the colorful Old West history of Telluride, Colorado adds to the attraction for black diamond skiers, hikers, jazz or film festival guests and discrete celebrity residents such as Oprah and Tom Cruise. Photo credit: Marybeth Bond
The former silver mining town, a 45-minute flight from Denver, showcases its Wild West roots with colorful Victorian-era homes and century-old sandstone and brick buildings. Telluride has been designated a National Historic Landmark District thanks to the preservation and historic accuracy of the architecture that today house upscale boutiques, art galleries and gourmet restaurants.
Epic scenery is guaranteed from any vantage point in Telluride. The downtown area, nestled between vertical mountains at the end of a box canyon, is only eight blocks wide and twelve blocks long. At the end of West Colorado Street, 365-foot high Bridal Veil Falls plunges over sheer cliffs accentuating the head of Telluride’s box canyon. Each time you look up, when shopping, sipping local brews at rooftop bars or dining al fresco, you’ll see a waterfall cascading above you and yes, you will feel “high”. In fact, you are high. Breathe deeply, because the air is thin. Telluride is located at an elevation of 8,750-feet and is surrounded by the largest concentration of 13,000-foot and 14,000-foot peaks in North America.
If you are a skier, Telluride is likely on your life list of places to go. World-class powder-filled bowls attract avid skiers and snowboarders. “The skiing is fabulous. The runs are easily accessible and ski services are fit for a luxury market. I was a white-knuckle skier on intermediate runs while my family was on the black diamond runs. There’s something for everyone”, says publisher Renee Werbin.
When I go to the mountains in the summer, my favorite activity is hiking. This trip, however, I was tempted to try something new and different – mushroom foraging (including several hours of hiking) and bird watching.
In our SUV we climbed high out of town on squirrelly roads flanked by sheer rock walls and stunning peaks. The roadsides were dizzy with wildflowers with blurs of yellow and bursts of purple dotting the meadows. We hiked through dense forests for several hours and although we didn’t find Morel or Chanterelle mushrooms (abundant later in the season), we bagged several large King Bolete (Boletus Edulis or Porcini). For breakfast the next morning we feasted on scrambled eggs with sautéed mushrooms and wild garlic.
Another day I joined a “Wings over Telluride” bird watching excursion and became a “bird nerd.” Binoculars raised to our eyes, we watched a Peregrine Falcon strut around its nest on a cliff. “Birders can wait for years for to see a Peregrine. We’re so lucky,” said Amy, an experienced ornithologist from Santa Fe, New Mexico. The Peregrine Falcon, one of the world’s fastest birds, can power dive to strike their prey at speeds up to 200 miles per hour. Later we spotted a Bald Eagle and eventually identified over 31 bird species. By noon my head was spinning with knowledge about bird behavior, nesting, migration patterns and habitat conservation. The Mushroom Foraging/Hiking and Bird Watching Packages are offered by The Hotel Telluride.
The fun doesn’t stop when the sun goes down. Skiing or hiking will work up an appetite and Telluride has top ranked restaurants to satisfy foodies. For hungry hikers, indulge in the petit filet and truffle fries at the West End Bistro. Or try the Rocky Mountain elk T-bone with huckleberries at 221 South Oak. If you prefer fish, don’t miss the fresh sushi or seafood stew at The Cosmopolitan. At Happy Hour ride the free gondola to the mountaintop for a cocktail with panoramic views at Allred’s Restaurant.
Telluride has an active nightlife as well. Catch some live music, relax in a wine bar, or enjoy the friendly atmosphere in saloons in the downtown area. The time-honored bar at the New Sheridan Hotel, called “The Old Bar” by locals, is as popular as it has ever been. Opened in 1895, it is one of the oldest bars in the west and retains its charm with mahogany walls, lead glass panels and ornate light fixtures. Stop by for a $5.00 Jack Daniels, play foosball or pool or listen to live music. Six local brews are served on tap. Try a cool frothy “Facedown Brown” with hints of coffee and chocolate from Telluride Brewing Company or “The Tempter” IPA named after the extreme ski chute on the mountain.
After days of hiking, mushrooming, and bird watching, we indulge ourselves with elegant dinners. Don’t miss the petit filet and truffle fries at the West End Bistro. The Rocky Mountain elk T-bone with huckleberries is a stand out at 221 South Oak. At The Cosmopolitan, my favorite is the seafood stew, with smoked octopus, prawns, salmon, crab, lobster tail, and scallops.
Every afternoon I looked forward to returning to The Hotel Telluride for freshly baked cookies, and time to relax in my large room with western chic furnishing or on my balcony perched amid Aspen trees with sweeting views of the 14,000’ peaks. Although the hotel offers bike cruisers, hot tubs, spa services, a fitness center, mini kitchens in the oversized guest rooms and suites and more.
Telluride is a mecca for adventure seekers, whether skiing, hiking, climbing or simply enjoying some of the best luxury accommodations and restaurants in the Colorado Rocky Mountains.
5 THINGS TO KNOW
- Denver Air Connection offers two direct flights per day, seven days a week into the Telluride Regional Airport (TEX). The flight time between Denver and TEX is approximately 45 minutes. The other option is to fly from Denver to Montrose Regional Airport (approximately 1 hour flight time) and take a shuttle for the 75-minute drive to Telluride.
- Denver is known as the “mile-high” city. Telluride is the “mile and a half-high” town located at 8,750-feet of elevation. Drink lots of water and take it easy on your first day at this elevation.
- Telluride has earned the title “Festival Capital of the Southwest”. In summer and fall, it hosts Bluegrass, Jazz, Film, Mushroom, Cars, Brews and Yoga Festivals that pack the town
- Accommodations in Telluride range from crème-del-la crème hotels, such as The Hotel Telluride, to lavishly furnished condos and Airbnb rentals. Book early for festivals and holidays during ski season.
- The Telluride Historic Museum located in the restored 1896 miners’ hospital, is a must visit for history buffs young and old. Displays describe the cultures of the Ute, settlers, miners, bank robbers and famous skiers.
This story first appeared in Travelgirl Magazine. Fall Issue. 2019.