The Town of Telluride makes for a great starting point to an epic backcountry adventure through southwest Colorado and beyond. Whether you feel life is about the journey, or you believe that the destination is what matters, there’s a day trip to soothe your curious soul and your need for nature – with unrivaled sights, exciting history, and incredible adventures to embrace along the way. Let’s explore some of the most popular day trips from Telluride together!
Mesa Verde National Park
1 h 40 min (82.6 mi) via CO-145 S – MAP
Mesa Verde National Park is a must-see for history buffs. Located between Durango and Cortez, the park was established in 1906 to preserve centuries-old structures built by the Ancestral Pueblo people who inhabited the region for more than 700 years.
Today, Mesa Verde National Park contains over 5,000 archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings, pueblos, masonry towers, farming structures, and more across 52,000 acres of land and 40+ miles of roads! Highlights include Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum, Spruce Tree House, Cliff House, and Step House, as well as the park’s abundance of wildlife, hiking trails, scenic campgrounds, tours, and ski trails.
Fuel up at Spruce Tree Terrace Cafe for a midday meal on the patio or picnic goodies to-go! This is a convenient drive from Telluride with an epic reward. You can easily plan on a full day exploring Mesa Verde and the surrounding area.
2 h (86.3 mi) via CO-62 E/State Hwy 62 – MAP
Visitors to Montrose always have Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in their sights – figuratively and literally. With conditions and terrain favorable for rafting, fishing, hiking, biking, and horseback riding, Black Canyon is the epitome of a sportsmen’s paradise. But the thing that really sets the park apart is the canyon.
Carved into creation by the Gunnison River two million years ago, this 12-mile long canyon presents uniquely stark, sheer walls (including Colorado’s highest cliff, the 2,300-foot Painted Wall), and startling depths. The Black Canyon was proclaimed a national monument in 1933 by President Herbert Hoover, and declared a national park by Congress in 1999.
Montrose serves as a major inbound visitor hub to access Telluride with daily flights serviced by Allegiant, American, Delta, and United Airlines, as well as shuttles to and from Telluride and Mountain Village. The travel route includes a stretch of U.S. Route 550 (or, “Million Dollar Highway”), a scenic pass spanning from Bernalillo, New Mexico to Montrose, Colorado – and said to be one of the most beautiful drives in the United States.
If you take your own vehicle for the road trip, make sure to include scenic drives around the North Rim, South Rim, and East Portal Road for inspiring views around the canyon, Gunnison River, and Crawford State Park.
Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
2 h 37 min (100.9 mi) via US-550 S – MAP
An awesome road trip that culminates in the perfect day trip – the whole family will appreciate the journey just as much as the destination. Incorporating the most picturesque segment of the Million Dollar Highway (U.S. Route 550 between Silverton and Ouray), the drive features mountain passes, high elevations, steep cliffs, and of course – breathtaking views.
Upon arriving at Silverton, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad provides transport for the next leg of your adventure – aboard historic steam locomotives once used to carry silver and gold from the San Juan Mountains during the Gold Rush days.
In operation since 1881, Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad offers family-friendly nostalgia and unrivaled views on an unforgettable 45-mile journey along the Animas River through old Southwest Colorado mining towns to Durango – a hot spot for fly fishing, whitewater rafting, kayaking, and canoeing.
At the end of your Durango adventure, take a return trip back to Silverton, a secluded ski resort town where winter sports reign supreme thanks to the exceptionally steep terrain and consistently deep snow.
2 h 42 min (132.5 mi) via CO-145 N and CO-90 W – MAP
Go from the slopes to the desert in just a few hours when you journey from the mountain town of Telluride to the arid dunes of Moab, Utah! Red rock canyons and valley views align your path to Moab, where visitors eagerly make their way to the adventurous lands of Arches National Park and/or Canyonlands National Park.
Among the outdoor recreation options that dominate the parks, guests will find prime territory for mountain biking, camping, 4-wheeling, rock climbing, hiking, water sports, and more. Canyonlands National Park boasts vibrant sandstone landscapes, mesas, and buttes along the Colorado River and its tributaries.
Arches National Park features thousands of natural sandstone arches including the famous Delicate Arch, and an array of intriguing geological formations and landforms to admire.
San Juan Skyway to Ouray
236 Mile Loop
The trek to Ouray is almost as captivating as the sulphur-free Ouray Hot Springs swimming pools that await at the end. Visitors eagerly anticipate a day spent soaking up the therapeutic benefits of the Vapor Caves and multiple thermal spring pools with temperatures ranging from 96 to 106 degrees.
The pool areas provide sections designated for swimming, wading, and even water volleyball. Known as the “Little Switzerland of America”, Ouray is a box canyon community perfect for off-road adventure along Yankee Boy Basin and the Imogene Pass or an expedition of natural wonder at Box Canyon Falls. Ouray was designated a National Historic District in 1983.
Though Ouray itself is only about 50 miles away from Telluride, it provides the perfect excuse for an extended road trip along the San Juan Skyway. This 236-mile loop journey offers extraordinary views of the San Juan Mountains and the Uncompahgre National Forest, as well as plenty of stopping points from which to appreciate them. The scenic path travels through several historic mining towns and mountain villages.
Head out from Telluride southward to Cortez, looping the Skyway path around through Durango, Silverton, and Ouray, before coming back around to Telluride. A short detour off the main path between Silverton and Ouray allows for a pit stop at the Animas Forks Ghost Town, too. This could very well be one of the best road trips in Colorado, and a great chance to truly see and do it all!
On your next escape to Telluride, consider a little vacation within your vacation. Carve a path to a daylong excursion or take on an open-ended road trip with room for spontaneous exploration as you go. Rest assured, when your journeys are done, we’ll be here waiting – with the best Telluride vacation rentals to soothe the weary adventurer in style.