Denver to Telluride Colorado Road Trip Instead of Rocky Mountain National Park

Denver to Telluride Colorado Road Trip Instead of Rocky Mountain National Park

northwest telluride

This page contains affiliate links. Read the full disclaimer for more information.

Everytime, without fail, when I ask people about their visits to Colorado they will share how they went to Aspen or Vail to ski or just returned from visiting Rocky Mountain National Park or Red Rocks. And, to be honest, I get it. Those areas of the state are really well-known and seem like every travel blogger who comes into town ends up doing the same old things. What if I told you that there is an even more incredible part of the state to visit and that you’re missing out by not checking it out if you get the chance. 

My favorite part of Colorado is the South Western part of the state. It is wild, has breathtaking views and has a beauty unmatched by other parts of the state. The southwestern part of Colorado has vast plains often flanked in the distance by mountain ranges such as the San Juan and Sangre De Cristo. Great Sand Dunes National Park, the largest sand dunes in the United States are located in this part of the state. But, one of my favorite things to do is make my way to one of my favorite mountain towns in Colorado: Telluride.

Why Visit Telluride?

I often joke that Telluride makes Aspen look like it’s trying hard. The town is  simply stunning. In order to get to Telluride you have to drive up a canyon that opens up into a wide field. A large herd of elk usually hangs out in the field and are fun to look at as you drive into town. The town is flanked by mountains on 3 sides and there’s no such thing as a bad view once you arrive. Telluride is worth the out of the way drive in order to get there.

Enjoy world class skiing and some of the best snow in the state of Colorado during the ski season. If cold weather is not for you, visit during the annual Jazz Festival typically held in August or in May for the Mountain Film Festival, a great way to transition into summer after ski season. 

Telluride also has the coolest and scariest free gondola in the state that takes visitors to the ski resort. If you’re looking for an inexpensive and fun experience the gondola is a must have experience. For the more adventurous travelers there’s even a Via Ferrata that has a view of the city and valley below. A Via Ferrata is an iron “walk-way” that is used to traverse a sheer mountain wall. It’s not for the faint of heart and is dangerous to do. It’s recommended that you hire a guide who can make sure that you traverse the Via Ferrata safely. 

So, why visit Telluride? The breathtaking views, it’s not as crowded as other Colorado tourist destinations and there is so much to do. 

How to Get to Telluride

I don’t love driving through the mountains. It is highly technical driving and you’re surrounded by out-of-state drivers who don’t know how to drive safely through the mountains. What I love about the trip to Telluride is that I can avoid making the mountain drive. Instead, you can take US-285, one of the most beautiful roads that I’ve driven. In fact, there is a point in the drive where there is a view of a massive valley that is flanked by snow-capped mountains. Everytime I reach that point in the drive I pull off the road and take pictures. Every single time. If you’re new to this part of Colorado, you can take a quick stop in South Park, made famous by the animated show.

As you continue on make sure to stop at Mount Princeton for a soak in the hot springs. I prefer to do this during the cold weather months as it’s much more enjoyable to do versus during the summer when it’s way too hot to enjoy a hot spring until later in the evening. 

It’s important to mention that this is a slightly longer route and should be done when you have the time to do a 7 day road trip. But, making the journey to Telluride is part of why it’s such an incredible trip.

Continue making your way South and stop by Gunnison, a cute little town which is also a nice place to enjoy a meal. It’s also where you would turn off to head into Crested Butte, one of my favorite towns in Colorado. 

When you make it past Gunnison you’ll get a chance to enjoy the Blue Mesa Reservoir area. It is breathtaking, it’s also one of the places where you can really see how bad the drought has gotten because you can see how low the water level has dropped in the reservoir. 

Black Canyon Of the Gunnison

It’s weird to admit this but I’d never heard of this world class experience until about 5 years ago. In fact, many northern Coloradans had no idea that Black Canyon of the Gunnison existed until it began getting a lot of media and social media attention as people began discovering it. Imagine the Grand Canyon but narrower. It’s still a relatively unknown attraction and every person I’ve met has raved about their experience visiting this park.

If you have enough time to visit this part of Colorado I highly recommend that you do. It reminds me of the Colorado that I grew up in before it became popular, wild, edgy and unapologetic. You won’t regret it. 

Related trips:

Pin it for later!

Denver to telluride featured pinnable image showing telluride and the title text