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Remember when summer festivals were about the food, drink, and entertainment, rather than selfie-snapping celebs, fashion statements, and Instagram? Us, too. That’s one of the things we love about Telluride—even though the festivals are world-famous, they still maintain a grassroots, down-to-earth feel. This small, isolated mountain town, located in a box canyon, is Colorado’s unofficial festival epicenter. These summer gatherings celebrate everything from bluegrass to yoga to jazz to mushrooms to indie films.
As a former Telluride resident, I’ve been to my share of events (Blues & Brews is my favorite). But between getting there, finding a place to stay, and picking the best spots for eating, drinking, and playing between all the carousing, there’s a lot to know. Read on for how to do it right.
Coming in from the Front Range? Getting to Telluride just got easier thanks to direct flights from Denver via Great Lakes Airlines. Note, however, that even in the summertime, flights may be cancelled or delayed due to weather. A safer bet is to fly into Montrose and take the Telluride Express airport shuttle into town; the ride takes about an hour.
If you’re driving, be aware that parking is a pain during festivals. This is true even for residential streets, most of which require permits. You’ll have better luck ditching your car at the free, all-day Carhenge lot (on the west end of town; no overnight parking) or at the far-east end of town if you don’t have parking at your hotel, condo, or campsite.
If you’re attending major festivals like Blues & Brews and FILM, book now. Additional ticketed events, like Blues & Brews late night Juke Joints shows and FILM screenings, sell out quickly, so get on it.
Telluride is situated at nearly 9,000 feet, so the climate is mercurial, especially later in the season. Pack for bluebird skies, rain, and even snow, especially if you’re camping.
Rooms fill up quickly in advance of Telluride’s bigger festivals, so again, make your reservations now. The Mushroom Festival and Blues & Brews in particular draw outdoorsy folk and are camping-oriented; in addition to sites at Town Park, the latter festival boasts its own campground just steps from the main stage, but you’ll need to purchase a pass, which starts at $50 for four days. Don’t want to tote your own camping gear? Rent everything you need here from Blues & Brews partner Basecamp Gear Rentals, including shade structures, cooking equipment, and tables.
Waited too long to make reservations? There are campgrounds outside of town, but with the exception of a few festivals, there’s no shuttle service into town and Ubers and Lyfts aren’t reliably available here; don’t even think about drinking and driving. The free Galloping Goose shuttle offers in-town service, only.
You didn’t hear this from me, but you can sleep in your car (take heed of the parking info in the Plan section). Town Park campground has hot showers for three dollars (buy a roll of quarters at the bank). It goes without saying, but I will, anyway: Please respect public and private property and be sure to scope out the public restroom situation beforehand.
Whether you’re grooving to live music, perfecting your downward dog, or foraging for wild mushrooms, you’ll work up an appetite. Skip the lines and pricey event vendor fare and line your stomach with local grub. I love the breakfast burritos and coffee at the Butcher & the Baker Cafe, which also offers campsite-friendly sandwiches, prepared foods, and baked treats. The best hangover-busting breakfast and lunch in town is at La Cocina de Luz, which specializes in healthy, delicious Mexican fare made with local ingredients; add on a made-to-order juice like the “Detoxify” (apples, beets, carrots, kale, wheat grass, turmeric, and ginger) to dissipate your mental fog.
If you’re looking for barbecue and bourbon, Oak, the New Fat Alley fits the bill; for high end, La Marmotte is a longtime local’s fave serving French country-style fare in an adorable old house. Late night, Brown Dog Pizza (co-founder Jeff Smokevitch is also a partner in Denver’s Blue Pan Pizza) is the place to soak up residual booze.
Drink It Up
Ready for further punishment? A visit to Telluride Brewing Company’s tasting room in Lawson Hill is a must. It’s a lovely bike ride or walk; you can mosy along the valley floor or take a paved multi-use path that runs along Highway 145. Afterward sinking a pint (or two) of award-winning Face Down Brown, walk next door to Telluride’s best-kept secret, Aemono Fine Foods & Catering, and order one of the creative sandwiches, salads, or daily specials; be sure to save room for the gooey cookies or brownies.
For post-activity thirst slaking, happy hour, or pre-evening shows, I love the Last Dollar Saloon (aka “the Buck”) for stiff drinks and people-watching. Or, make a stop at one of the New Sheridan Hotel’s three bars. Catch the sunset on the rooftop bar; swing by the adjacent historic bar for a late-night sip, or order the energizing Flatliner Martini (Telluride Distilling Company Vodka, Bailey’s Irish Cream, Kahlua, and cold-brewed coffee) at the hotel’s swank Chop House bar (also a great spot for dinner and less pricey than the main dining room).
Unless you’re at the yoga festival, Telluride’s celebrations tend to involve a lot of booze. You’ll want to balance out all of the indulgence with physical activity. Two of the most scenic short hikes have trailheads in town: Bear Creek ascends two miles through forest and meadows to a waterfall—pick up cheese, charcuterie and other picnic goodies at Over the Moon to take along with you. The Jud Wiebe Trail is a butt-busting three-mile loop that gains 1,300 feet in elevation. The rewards are pockets of stunning aspen groves and a bird’s eye view of Bridal Veil Falls and the valley floor. There are also plenty of epic mountain biking trails close to town; if you don’t BYOB, rent wheels at BootDoctors.
Tip: Blues & Brews holds free yoga sessions and this year will debut a Blisters & Brews 5k fundraiser race benefitting Telluride Adaptive Sports Program.
For a listing of summer festivals and dates, go to visittelluride.com/festivals-and-events.