The Denver to Telluride drive is one of the most scenic routes in the United States with many incredible stops along the way. From the amazing natural landscapes to the small quirky towns, here is a list of attractions to include in your Colorado itinerary.
Colorado is a popular travel destination in the US and is home to some of the most amazing cities and small towns. Two must-see Colorado destinations are Denver and Telluride.
Road trips between these two destinations are extremely popular as the drive is incredibly scenic and includes many amazing stops. Passing by alpine lakes and a seemingly endless forest, the trip guarantees an exciting and memorable experience.
The Denver to Telluride driving time is around 6.5 hours and can easily be done in a day. However, we recommend splitting it up over several days so that you can enjoy the many incredible stops along the way.
To help you plan ahead, here are some of the best Airbnbs in Colorado for a Rocky Mountain getaway.
1) Red Rocks
One of the first must-see destinations on the road to Telluride is the Red Rocks Amphitheater. This is an open-air concert venue built into a natural rock structure about 30 minutes from Denver near the small town of Morrison.
This popular Denver attraction has hosted concerts for over a century and has earned its status as the best natural amphitheater in the world. The amazing acoustics and views are attributed to the large towering rocks, which reach heights of up to 300 feet.
While the Red Rocks are best enjoyed when attending a concert, simply stopping by to marvel at the red-stone structure is more than worth it. Alternatively, explore the amphitheater and its surroundings on this Red Rocks Amphitheater tour.
2) Kenosha Pass
About an hour from the Red Rocks Amphitheater, you will find yourself driving over the beautiful Kenosha Pass. As you gain elevation over this wide and well-maintained road, you will be provided with stunning views.
The drive is truly mesmerizing during fall as the Aspen trees begin to blaze with yellows, oranges, and reds. The Kenosha Pass trailhead offers both an East and West trail with gradual ascents, perfect for viewing the changing scenery.
Starting at 10,000 ft, the initial elevation gain on the trails makes for easy to moderately strenuous hikes. Vantage points can be accessed about half a mile up each trail. From here, enjoy incredible views down into the high country plains of South Park City and out to the Rocky Mountains.
3) South Park City
Part of the charm of this road trip is passing through historic towns, one of them being a place called South Park City. When driving from Denver to Telluride, be sure to visit the small town. The town was made famous by being both the setting and namesake of the animated series South Park.
Here you will find a South Park sign and a wood cutout of Eric Cartman. However, the city is much more than a Comedy Central tourist attraction. It is a restored 18th-century mining town in Downtown Fairplay comprising a locomotive and more than 40 historic buildings.
And if you have more time to spare, visit Fairplay, considered the trout-fishing capital of Colorado. With over 50 miles of trout streams located within the city, this is the perfect spot to enjoy a few hours of fishing.
Following your visit to South Park, take a detour towards Salida, a cool, artsy mountain town located within the Arkansas River Valley. With milder temperatures, moderate snowfall, and plenty of fun activities, a visit here is easy to enjoy – no matter the time of year.
In Salida, explore the downtown and creative districts, visit the local breweries, and grab a bite to eat at one of the restaurants alongside the Arkansas River. If you’re feeling adventurous, go whitewater rafting at Browns Canyon or biking at the Monarch Crest.
You can also take a 25-minute drive from Downtown Salida and visit the Mount Princeton Hot Springs. This is the perfect place to relax following a busy day of exploring Colorado.
Where to Stay in Salida:
Salida is also a great place to spend the night as it is about halfway between Denver and Telluride. For comfortable accommodation near the city’s top attractions, visit the Gateway Inn and Suites. Rest up in one of the simply furnished rooms before continuing on your journey the following day.
5) Monarch Pass
Now that you’ve covered half the distance from Denver to Telluride, it’s time to begin your second day. From Salida, take a short drive down the 285 South towards the beautiful Monarch Pass. This is widely considered one of the most scenic passes in Colorado, offering a panoramic view of the southern end of the Sawatch Range from its summit.
The Monarch Pass is also a top ski spot, so if you’re visiting during ski season, be sure to stop to do some runs. During the warmer seasons, consider tackling one of the hiking trails found on the mountains. Some popular hikes here include the Monarch Crest and Waterdog Lake trails.
Note that at 11,312 feet, the Monarch Mountains are a strenuous place to hike unless you’re already well-acclimated to the elevation. If you’re not one for hiking, take the scenic tram ride and enjoy excellent views of the Continental Divide from above.
After spending the morning exploring Monarch pass, take a 45-minute drive to Gunnison, an old mining and cattle town in the heart of the Rockies. The town may seem small, but it’s the largest one you will see for a while. As such, it is best to grab lunch here before taking on the rest of the day.
Following your lunch, take a trip to the Black Canyons of the Gunnison National Park. Here you will be exposed to some of the steepest cliffs, oldest rock, and craggiest spires in North America.
There is plenty to see and do at the Black Canyons, including hiking, fishing, wildlife watching, and more. But the best activity here is exploring the inner canyon. This is a thrilling adventure comprising extremely difficult hikes, rock climbing, and kayaking.
When exploring the Black Canyons, it is important to bring along the necessary equipment. This includes a flashlight or headlamp, a rain jacket, sun protection, and plenty of water.
You will also need a valid Wilderness Use Permit. For information on how to get a permit, visit the Gunnison National Park website.
Where to Stay in Gunnison:
If you want to experience all that the Black Canyons of the Gunnison National Park has to offer, you may need the full day. Fortunately, there are a number of great accommodations here, like the Alpine Inn and Suites.
The hotel is located next to the Crested Butte Ski Area and features an indoor heated swimming pool and hot tub. In the morning, visit the on-site restaurant where you can enjoy a hot breakfast before heading back on the road.
7) Curecanti National Recreation Area
From Gunnison, continue along US-50 for 25 minutes until you reach the Curecanti National Recreation Area. Here you will find the Blue Mesa Reservoir, a large 29-mile long body of water located on the upper reaches of the Gunnison River. This is the perfect spot to swim, enjoy some water sports, or simply relax on the shore.
Activity options here include fishing, paddle boarding, sailing, water skiing, and windsurfing. All the necessary equipment can be rented at the Elk Creek Marina nearby, so you do not need to worry about including these in your packing list.
You can also rent a pontoon boat or kayak and explore the beautiful reservoir. And for a lovely picnic spot, visit Wilson’s Landing on the Gunnison River. Here you can rest while taking in views of the surrounding scenery before continuing on your Denver to Telluride road trip.
After a relaxing afternoon at the reservoir, take a one-and-a-half-hour drive via the US-550 North and US-50 East towards Ridgeway. This small, quaint, and hospitable town is where you will be spending the night before completing the final leg of your Denver to Telluride drive.
Following a good night’s rest, spend the morning exploring Ridgeway. Whether you’re looking for adventure and excitement or the serenity of pristine alpine beauty, this small town offers plenty of both. One of the best activities here is Ridgway State Park, which features a large reservoir great for swimming or boating.
Where to Stay in Ridgway:
The Ridgeway Lodge and Star Saloon is a cozy accommodation nestled between the Sneffels and Cimarron Mountain Range. The hotel offers spacious rooms equipped with modern amenities, ensuring a comfortable stay.
There is also an on-site restaurant and bar where you can enjoy local brews, signature cocktails, delicious pizza, and spectacular sunset views. You may even spot some wildlife too, like elk, bald eagles, and mule deer.
9) Bachelor Syracuse Mine on Gold Mountain
Come noon, take a short 15-minute drive via the US-550 South towards the Bachelor Syracuse Mine in Ouray. Here, embark on a tour of one of the San Juan mountain’s most prosperous gold mines.
The Bachelor Syracuse Mine Tour offers a fun and educational experience suited to the whole family. On the tour, dive deep into Ouray’s history and experience what it would’ve been like to be a miner by taking a trip 1,500 feet into the mine of Gold Mountain.
After exploring the mine, visit the gold panning area. Find treasures and a special souvenir by panning from a real stream coming out of Gold Mountain. Before you go, satisfy your miner’s appetite with a light meal at the on-site restaurant.
Following a few hours exploring the mine, drive the final hour along the CO-62 West until you reach Telluride. Telluride is a charming town nestled within the San Juan mountain range. With its legendary ski runs, epic hiking trails, and incredible fall colors, this mountain town is a destination most certainly worth the journey.
Before making your way towards the town, take the free gondola ride over the San Sophia mountain ridge. From here, enjoy stunning aerial views of the town and the beautiful surrounding landscapes.
The gondola will take you to the Mountain Village, which provides access to both the Telluride Ski Resort and Uncompahgre National Forest. After exploring the base of the mountain, make your way down to the historic downtown Telluride. Here you will find old Victorian houses, boutique sores, and an assortment of upscale dining and drinking establishments.
Offering visitors some of the best adventures, both on and off the mountains, Telluride is the perfect base for outdoor enthusiasts. Some fun activities in the area include hiking, biking, fishing, and boating. Telluride is also known for having some of the best music festivals in Colorado, including the Bluegrass Festival and the Ride Festival.
Where to Stay in Telluride:
Many travelers opt to stay in Mountain Village as it is near the ski lift and provides easy access to the mountainous surroundings. A great place to stay during your visit is the Hotel Telluride, a lovely four-star boutique hotel located on the base of the mountain.
Here you will have access to a gym, hot tub, and sun terrace, as well as free shuttle services to the gondola. During the summer, free bicycle rentals are offered, too.
Telluride, Colorado to Denver
Telluride is a beautiful destination and one that deserves to be enjoyed over a couple of days. Once you’ve experienced all that the former Victorian mining town has to offer, it’s time to make your way back towards Denver.
The drive to Denver from Telluride is a good opportunity to stop by any of the destinations you might have missed the first time around.
For another unique Colorado getaway, check out this article for the best glamping sites in Colorado.
- Phoenix to Grand Canyon Drive
- Denver to Aspen Drive
- LA to San Diego Drive
- Seattle to Portland Drive
- LA to Santa Barbara Drive
- Los Angeles to San Francisco Drive
THANK YOU FOR READING THIS LIST OF MY FAVORITE DRIVE FROM DENVER TO TELLURIDE STOPS!
SHARE THIS LIST OF INCREDIBLE STOPS WHEN DRIVING DENVER TO TELLURIDE WITH YOUR FAMILY AND FRIENDS!