Photography by imageBROKER/Alamy Stock Photo
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The historic Sheridan Bar on Main Street is a favorite of Telluride locals.

Photography by imageBROKER/Alamy Stock Photo

A photographer's perfect day in Telluride, Colorado

From visiting cozy local coffee shops to hiking up snowy mountain slopes, here's a guide for the perfect day in Telluride.

After I made the groundbreaking discovery that I could work from anywhere in the world that had coffee and Wi-Fi, I packed my bags for Telluride.

Deep in the southwest corner of Colorado, this quintessential destination packs all the perks of ordinary mountain towns—ski slopes, scalable peaks, serene corners of urban escape, and historic neighborhoods—into an intimate locale. Visitors can experience all the highlights without driving anywhere.

Tucked up a San Juan Mountain box canyon, Telluride features a ski lift that drops into town and a spiraling network of single-track and old mining roads in all directions. Such mobility allows me to pack in a full day’s work and, as soon as I’m done, to hit the trail running, biking, skiing, or backpacking with almost no transition time. Not to mention, with proximity to desert oases like Moab, Indian Creek, and Canyons of the Ancients, I can easily change scenery entirely with just a short drive.

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Bikers explore the mountainous terrain in Telluride, Colorado.

Morning

It’s hard to pick the perfect day here—how could I choose between getting first tracks on a powder day or basking in the scenery of a long mountain bike ride during the peak of wildflower season? Regardless, the best adventures always begin with a walk down historic Colorado Avenue for a cortado and avocado toast at Ghost Town. The coffee shop’s name is a riff on the housing prices in the area that have made it difficult for locals to live here, but as soon as you walk in, you feel like you’re in the town’s collective living room. My friend Elena owns the business, and she’s always there pulling espresso shots or organizing a new shipment of Blue Grouse Bread from Hannah and Ben, some other friends. Inevitably, by the time I arrive, more locals are already lazing in the front courtyard, and my quick coffee run turns into a leisurely breakfast.

After breakfast, I head for the hills. Telluride is at the bottom of a canyon, surrounded by jagged peaks, so truly, you can only go up from here. Every activity starts with an ascent. The lifts do most of the work for you in the winter, though you can hike far past the last groomed slopes to the summit of Palmyra to access some serious big-mountain terrain.

The Sheridan Crosscut is a favorite to run or hike: take Tomboy Road out of town, climb steeply past old mining ruins under Little Mendota peak, trek beneath the jagged San Sophia Ridge into Liberty Bell Basin, and head down to the popular Judd Weibe Trail. It’s a little tricky to find the route (Telluride has very few trail signs), but the San Miguel County Advanced Viewer provides great topographic maps.

If you’re looking for an easier climb, try Last Dollar Road to Hawn Mountain. The hike is on private property, so tread lightly, but its path of hand-stacked stones switchbacking up a scree field creates the most impressive trail building I’ve seen anywhere in the world. The top of the ridge boasts a 270-degree view, spanning from the La Sals in Utah back to Telluride to include broadside exposures of Wilson Peak (the mountain famously pictured on Coors cans).

When I take the bike out for a longer day, I go up the back of the canyon on Black Bear Road past some of Telluride’s grandest mining mementos: the Pandora Mill and Bridal Veil Falls. A dual-track road climbs up Bridal Veil Basin, following a stream to its source lakes in the lofty alpine zone. The Wasatch Trail winds even higher—usually through some snow—and then weaves back to town by way of alpine meadows, tight switchbacks, a narrow bridge, and the breathtaking Bear Creek Falls.

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A view from Last Dollar Road by the base of the Hawn Mountain Trail near Telluride, Colorado

Afternoon

No matter the adventure, my favorite après ritual is to throw back an espresso milkshake at La Cocina de Luz. Although not the healthiest recovery food, it’s the perfect treat to sip while you sit on a bench in the sun, recharge, and greet many of the friends you met earlier at Ghost Town.

When you’re ready to move again, stop at Over The Moon to get some charcuterie. When I walk in, Maura and Hallie usually tell me which cheeses they just got in from Vermont (my home state) and they’ll happily slip me some samples until I find the perfect snack. Before heading back uphill, pick up some wine at Bottle Works.

If you take the steep climb up East Gregor Avenue and follow the trail that runs off the end of the road, you’ll find yourself in my favorite picnic spot in the world. It gets sunlight later than any other place in town, and you’ll be able to soak in the rays from the west and the alpenglow on Ajax from the east.

Telluride summers are complete with festivals nearly every weekend. Mountainfilm is my favorite, bringing together a collection of mountaineers, journalists, and other wonderful humans over Memorial Day weekend. Other weekends, the picnic hill is a perfect place to watch a variety of festival sets: Bluegrass, Jazz, The Ride, or Blues and Brews. Layer up because it gets cold as soon as the sun sets.

Evening

On your trek back into town, stop at The Butcher & Baker for deep fried cheese curds on Main Street. For a special dinner, try There—a small bar on the west end of town. I always start with their Brussel sprouts and patatas bravas (add the egg) and order a spicy jam drink. For a bigger dinner, the beef special is always excellent, but you’ll want to bring friends and ask for extra plates! If you plan to party, ask to hit the flabongo or the shotski.

If you’re not ready for bed by this point, make your way back to Main Street and listen for live music. The historic Sheridan Bar, the modern chic Liberty and the divesque Last Dollar Saloon (affectionately called “The Buck”) are the local standbys, but you might be able to find a good band at Fly Me to the Moon Saloon. Anybody will be happy to pour you a pint of Telluride Brewing Co’s finest Face Down Brown or shake something up with Telluride Distilling Company’s vodka—and, odds are, by this point in the night, you’ll bump into your barista, lifty, or trail comrade and feel a little like a Telluride local yourself.

Alec Jacobson is a photographer and writer in Telluride, Colorado. Follow him on Instagram @alec_jacobson.