The charming town of Telluride is nestled in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains. It draws nature lovers, hikers, skiers, history buffs and just about anyone else who loves the outdoors and beautiful views
Telluride’s Mining History
Telluride’s history is deeply rooted in mining. It was founded in 1875 as a supply town for the mining claims being struck in the surrounding hills. It grew into a “respectable” town with the 1891 construction of the Sheridan Hotel (where William Jennings Bryant gave his famous Cross of Gold” speech) and the Sheridan Opera House which hosted performers including Sarah Bernhardt and Lillian Gish.
A local bank meanwhile, “hosted” another celebrity, Butch Cassidy. In 1889, Cassidy and his gang attempted to rob a Telluride bank. Although the robbery was a failure, it adds to Telluride’s wild west history.
By the 1890s. several mines were operating despite the town’s remote location making it expense to transport the ore 120 miles by burro and wagon to the train station in Denver. The mines, however, survived due to the high grade of their ores. The mines were so profitable that mining companies found it worthwhile to dig more than 350 miles of tunnels in the area. So profitable that one mine, Gold King, was able to entice Nicola Tesla to partner with Westinghouse to create the first long-distance AC power distribution system.
By 1900, however, the miners were getting restless over the mine’s offers of lower wages for more hours. While the resultant unionization and strikes led to the deployment of 500 troops, the city eventually erupted into violence and the deaths of several non-union strikebreakers before unionists were eventually driven out of town. By the 1920s, however, most of the mines had played out and the last mining company eventually shut down in 1978.
From Mining to Tourists
By then, however, the scenery had begun to attract tourists, Telluride Ski Area had opened, and the Mountain Village ski resort town had been created. The city has been in growth mode ever since with its winter ski season being complimented by its summer Jazz and Bluegrass Festivals and the renowned September Film Festival.
The city is lovely, especially around the Colorado Avenue historic commercial district and surrounding historic residential streets. Surrounded by towering mountains, the city has more than its share of interesting restaurants, bars, tourist shops, and brewery. The free gondola meanwhile, takes you to Mountain Village which, besides being home to thousands of condos, also has several of the area’s best restaurants.
Telluride Area Hikes
Being in the beautiful mountainous area begs one to hike. And hike we did. The visitor’s center provides very good information and maps on area trails. Here are some of the trails we took.
Bridal Veil Falls Trail
The beautiful, relatively steep and rocky trail is 2 miles with an 860-foot elevation gain. The trail takes you to the base of the base of the 365-foot falls—the tallest shear drop waterfall in the state. Starting from the parking lot, you get beautiful views of the mountains over pretty green water holding ponds without any exertion. About halfway on the trail is a lower, smaller falls that has cut a brilliantly colored eroded rock basin in its base. The base of Bridal Veil Falls, meanwhile, provides a dramatic view up a sheer 365-foot cliff topped by the power plant that brought long-assistance AC power to a mine in 1891. This clifftop can be reached by an additional trail which we did not take. Rather than descending the rocky trail, we took a longer, less steep, dirt road back down to the parking lot. This road itself provides beautiful views of the surrounding mountains all the way down. A great hike.
The flat, 4-mile trail generally follows the river thorough and past both ends of the city. It provides a lovely, relaxing walk along the scenic river with views of the canyon. While the trail wanders a few hundred yards away from the river at the east end of town, you can exit the River Trail onto an informal matted down grass trail that traces the riverbank.
Jud Weibe Trail
The 2.9-mile loop rises quite steeply about 1,400 feet with occasional flat stretches and, at upper elevations, benches that allow you to catch your breath. The trail has beautiful views over the city and valley, and into the mountains from several places near the beginning, from areas around the top and back down the narrow, but generally easier return route. Several areas pass through aspen groves which are particularly lovely as the leaves turn yellow and begin falling. While we hit several lovely areas, our early October trip was probably a couple weeks before peak. Steep but well worthwhile.
Ridge Trail is accessible from the highest altitude gondola stop at San Sophia and parallels the gondola down to Mountain Village. The two-mile trail declines 1,000 feet along a trail of broken shale. Some of the shale sticks out of the ground posing a tripping hazard, especially while going downhill, and is surrounded by jagged rock. Other shale is just laying on the ground and poses a slipping hazard. You are so busy planning your next step that you have little chance to admire the majestic San Juan Mountains that surround the box canyon in which Telluride lies. The best part of the trail, accessible from a short spur of Ridge near the San Sophia Station, is Overlook, an incredible, unobstructed view of Telluride, the valley in which it is located and the surrounding mountains. Our opinion, do the view and then pass on the rest of the trail.
Other Telluride Attractions
This small but interesting museum is located in an 1880 building that housed the city’s first hospital.
The museum traces Telluride’s history from its initial Ute visitors through the introduction of mining (primarily gold, sliver, lead, and zinc) in 1875, the challenges and costs of mining and shipping supplies to and metal ingots from Telluride, the boom years of the 1890s, the market and labor challenges of the early 1900s, and roles of burros, wagons, and eventually the arrival of a railroad in Telluride area.
It has models of mining camp stores and discussed the lives of the miners, from the danger of their work (and how doctors and the hospital addressed lung diseases, especially silicosis) and accidents. It portrays the influx of miners (primarily from mountainous regions of European countries), their work and recreation activities, and their exploits in the city’s “Popcorn Alley” red light district where upscale “parlor” prostitutes charged wealthy patrons up to $1,000 for a single night’s services. It also has models of rooms and describes the lives of and work of the city’s late 19th century housewives.
Exhibits then moved to more contemporary times including the city’s efforts to clean up the residue of the mines, move to more sustainable models, and efforts to reduce traffic. For example, Telluride has the nation’s first and only free gondola-based transportation system and their promotion of electric cars. The museum portrays the emergence and growth of the regions skiing and snowboarding industries, and the history and nature of the city’s many festivals including those that celebrate everything from the region’s heritage to mushrooming, hang gliding, original thinking and tech the Nothing Festival. The oldest and most popular festivals, such as film (including a separate festival dedicated to horror movies), Jazz and Bluegrass have all run from the 1970s to the present.
Corvettes and Colors Auto Rally and Show
We were in Telluride during this annual, three-day event which brings together all Corvette models. Most of the cars were from Colorado and Texas, with a sizable contingent from Wisconsin. However participants came from as far east as Florida and west to California. We strolled through the finale auto show along two blocks of the city’s main street where roughly 50 corvettes of model years ranging from the 1960s to 2023 displayed engines and the intricate convertible roof mechanisms of the late model cars.
Telluride Area Restaurants
One reaches this lovely restaurant from a door inside the San Sophia gondola station. The restaurant’s two-floor, wall-to-wall windows overlook the entire valley and the city of Telluride 1,800 feet below. The view is particularly spectacular at sunset. The restaurant itself offers a selection of dishes for three-course meals for $98, with a la carte dishes available in the bar. We were allowed to split one three-course meal, while purchasing an additional appetizer. We began with a disappointing PEI mussels steamed in white wine butter with garlic, chili, micro cilantro, and garlic baguette. Our other appetizer was better: a rich, tasty good crab and corn bisque with lump crab, pepper coulis, chive oil and arugula. We then split a roasted wild Alaskan halibut with celeriac puree, asparagus, sweet corn, lemon preserve, and crispy prosciutto which was satisfactory and a tasty dessert of blueberry-cashew cheesecake on an almond shortbread crust with a mix of fresh berries and almonds. The wine list begins at about $100, but this Wine Spectator award-winning list tops out at several thousands of dollars a bottle. Overall, we enjoyed a great atmosphere and views, very good service, and reasonably good food, albeit at a steep price.
From the compact, but nicely varied menu, Tom selected two appetizers. His seared foie gras had malted milk powder, flax dust, and Tapioca chips (which didn’t work well with the foie but did with the strawberry and rhubarb compote). He added two large buttermilk fried quail with spicy honey and local greens with vinaigrette, radish and bleu cheese. Joyce had a large, seared Rocky Mountain trout, with two large ravioli (one stuffed with pureed carrot and fennel and the other with apple and leeks, fried capers, brown butter and greens. While her first plate was dry and overcooked, the replacement was cooked perfectly and was very mist and tasty. From the somewhat limited, pricey wine list, we had a standard 2022 Ken Wright Willamette Valley Pinot Noir.
When we are in the mountains, fondue often calls to us. So much so that we cancelled reservations at one of the area’s most highly regarded restaurants to visit the only fondue restaurant in town. We were skeptical from the moment we walked into the empty restaurant that was packed with tiny tables and whose bathroom was wedged into a rustic space. We were further taken back by the overpriced wine list which listed only a few basic wines for less than $100. We were further turned off when our fondue came with pre-buttered bread that was served with apples for dipping into the fondue. (We had the bread replaced with non-buttered,) Despite this, we did end up ordering a cheese fondue made from Irish cheddar and gruyere cheeses, crisp bacon, and chives from a menu that included five interesting fondues, raclette and a few other non-cheese dishes. The fondue was very good, although we could have done with more cheese and possibly less bacon. And the serving for 2 was barely enough for the two of us. Our crisp, mineral, 2019 Francine Olivier Chablis was also quite good, although $115 is a bit extreme for wine that retails for $37.
Oak Beer, Bourbon and BBQ
We didn’t take advantage of the first two “Bs” for our lunch here in anticipation of our afternoon hike. We did, however, share a half rack of ribs with BBQ sauce and sweet potato fries. The ribs were dry and the sauce was decent. It was not a favorite stop.