Signing-up for credit cards through partner links earns us a commission. Here’s our full Advertising Policy.
Lyn writes about flying nearly free on Southwest for her GotoTravelGal.com blog and wrote a free guide that tells you how to earn the Southwest Companion Pass that lets 1 person fly almost free with you for up to 2 years. I’ve asked her to share her family’s trip to Telluride, Colorado, this summer to show readers how they traveled there using Southwest points and give you tips for how explore this western town.
Lyn: Telluride, Colorado, is one of my favorite destinations in the world, and it’s a place I wish everyone could see.
Its natural beauty is unmatched in my mind, as it is set in a box canyon surrounded almost entirely by the jagged peaks of the San Juan Mountains.
Telluride is an original old west town that was founded in the late 1800s as a residence for miners on the hunt for silver and gold in the San Juan mountains. The site of Butch Cassidy’s first bank robbery, Telluride is a National Historic Landmark District with many original buildings and storefronts, as well as several nearby ghost towns.
Getting to Telluride
Getting to Telluride, Colorado, is not easy, but boy is it worth it once you arrive! The nearest airport is ~1 1/2 hours away, and you’ll have to drive around imposing mountains to make your way into town.
While there is a regional airport in Telluride, unless you own a private plane, this is probably not an option. The nearest airport is in another small Colorado town north of Telluride called Montrose.
Both United Airlines and American Airlines fly into Montrose from several major US cities, including Denver, Chicago, Houston, and Phoenix. Montrose is also frequently on American Airlines’ Reduced Mileage Awards list, which gives discounted award flights for those who have certain American Airlines credit cards.
You can take one of these flights and then rent a car. Or use a variety of ground transportation companies to bring you to Telluride.
We chose, however, to fly Southwest Airlines to the closest major city, Denver, which is ~360 miles away and a 6-hour drive. A close second is Salt Lake City, which is 365 miles away, or a 6-hour and 40-minute drive.
How We Got to Telluride
To fly my family of 4 to Denver from our home city of Indianapolis required ~36,000 Southwest points with 1 family member flying free using the Southwest Companion Pass. Our Southwest points were primarily earned in the Rapid Rewards Shopping Portal and by referring others to Chase Southwest credit cards.
We chose Denver, because Telluride was part of a larger summer trip for my family that included stops in Beaver Creek for a week, as well as a night in Boulder. We flew into Denver, rented a car, and drove 2 hours west on I-70 to Beaver Creek (not far from Vail). A week later we headed south to Telluride, which is at its shortest at 4.5-hour drive from Beaver Creek.
If you want to take a beautifully scenic route and coming from the Vail/Beaver Creek area or Denver, drive through Aspen over Independence Pass, which is open during warmer months, instead of taking I-70 all the way to Grand Junction. You’ll take US-24 East and then CO-82 West over the pass and then make your way down to Telluride.
This adds another 2 hours to the trip. But the pass is absolutely gorgeous in summer with some snow still unmelted at the higher elevations. You can check out Independence ghost town just off the road as you head down the pass.
And I’d recommend stopping along the way at the quirky town of Marble, home to a marble quarry and literally littered with marble slabs that have fallen off trains, to have lunch at the yummy Slow Groovin’ BBQ.
Where to Stay in Telluride
Because Telluride is such a hidden gem, there are not a lot of hotels. You can choose to stay either in town or in the Mountain Village ski resort area, which is up on a mountain. A free gondola connects the town and village, so it’s easy to go back and forth.
When we visited the area for the first time in 2016, we chose to stay at the Fairmont Heritage Place Franz Klammer Lodge in Mountain Village and take the enclosed gondola when we were ready to head into town. The gondola has one of the most majestic views of Telluride with 360-degree mountain vistas as you descend into the town.
Mountain Village is a nice choice for families, because during the summer, they have outdoor activities like movies on the lawn, live music, and a bungee trampoline. The Fairmont has incredibly spacious rooms with washer/dryers, kitchens and balconies that make it easy for families to spread out, do laundry, and cook in the room to save on dining expenses. There is also a small pool and a free DVD library for entertainment.
During our second visit in 2017, we wanted a different experience and booked a stay in town at Hotel Telluride. We loved staying in town, as the hotel is just a few blocks from shopping and dining and provided easy access to trails, biking paths, and even the local market.
Hotel Telluride has a contemporary western feel and well-appointed rooms with private balconies, refrigerators, and microwaves. They also provide a free shuttle into town, which we found handy for pick-up when we were tired after a long day’s hike, though the town is compact and walkable.
Adventures in Telluride
If you love the outdoors, you will love Telluride. Summer or winter, it’s an adventure-seeker’s dream with excellent activities to explore in stunning natural surroundings.
There are numerous hikes you can take right from town, including the popular Bear Creek Trail. This is a 4.5-mile round-trip hike that leads through alpine landscapes to a large waterfall and was a hit with my kids who loved scrambling over the rocks near the top.
For a more strenuous hike, make your way up a steep incline to the majestic Bridal Veil Falls, the tallest free-falling waterfall in Colorado, which sits at the end of the canyon. You can walk from town, but I’d recommend driving – or letting the Hotel Telluride drop you off – at the trailhead and then hiking from there ~2 miles to the falls. It is a steep incline, but a fantastic view at the top.
The Hotel Telluride also offers complimentary first-come, first-served bike rentals, which are great for exploring this small town with little traffic. Make your way to the paved bike path that runs alongside the San Miguel River where you can bike from one end of town to the other.
Telluride is also home to festivals all year round, including the summertime RIDE Festival, featuring top music acts, September’s Blues & Brews Festival, the Telluride Film Festival, and the Telluride Jazz Festival. We visited in 2016 during the RIDE Festival and were lucky enough to see Pearl Jam perform live in Telluride’s outdoor Town Park. If you plan to visit during a festival, book your accommodations early, as hotels and vacation rentals tend to fill quickly due to limited capacity.
Other fun activities in the area include mountain biking, 4X4 off-roading (which gives you access to even more fantastic scenery), skiing at Telluride Ski Resort in Mountain Village, paragliding, and fly-fishing.
For a fun day trip from Telluride, drive about an hour to Ouray (pronounced “you-ray”), another mining town known as the Switzerland of America. There, you can sit in natural hot springs, tour a former mine, and check out the thundering Box Canon Falls, a waterfall inside a slot canyon.
If you’re willing to travel a bit, Telluride is one of America’s great mountain destinations. that should be on everyone’s bucket list any time of year. Enjoy summertime hikes, fall’s glorious golden aspens, or winter’s majesty skiing through some of the most gorgeous views on earth.
Telluride is accessible on Southwest by way of Denver or Salt Lake City, or via American Airlines or United Airlines by way of Montrose. This gorgeous destination will make its way forever into your travel memories.