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Summer Guide for Ouray and Telluride Colorado

Updated: Jun 17

One of my favorite parts of Colorado (and in the US) is the pocket of Southwestern Colorado where the San Juan mountains run throughout Telluride and Ouray. They are both within an hour drive of each other, so it's worth either staying in one town or between them in a city like Ridgeway or Montrose. You don't need to choose between them when you visit, just simply choose one to stay in and explore both!



Don't have time to read? Check out the map below.


Outdoor + Camera Gear List

I swear by my Merrel Moab 3 Hiking Boots! I've been using them for over 10 years, switching to a new pair after about 6 years. They're waterproof and the ankle is high enough to prevent any rolled ankles and they work well with wider feet. The grip is also amazing! I love these shoes. For less intense hikes or rocky beach hikes, I use my Vessi Stormburst. They are easy to slip on while camping, thick, and completely waterproof.


I use the Fjallraven Ulvo 23 hiking bag (before that I had the Osprey Sirrus) with my Peak Design camera clip. Inside my pack: Bear spray, Lifestraw (only for longer hikes in the summer where there is river access), hydration pack, sunscreen, hat, etc. For camping I use the MSR 2-person backpacking tent with all my HEST mattress and HEST pillows.

For photography I use the Sony A6300 with a Sigma 30mm lens and mavic air drone for aerial shots. I have the peak design aluminum tripod for taking my own videos and photos. I use the sony remote as well.



When to Visit

If you're looking to ski, then winter in Telluride (if you have the EPIC full pass) is where you'll want to be. I haven't been in the winter time, because the hiking would likely be too advanced/avalanche prone for my liking. Early summer (mid/late June, early July) is best to avoid potential wildfire smoke. I've also visited over labor day weekend in September and had pretty great weather too for hiking. September and October you may have a chance to see the highly sought out contrast of fall foliage (we really only have the aspens here) and the white snowy mountains; people love to go around Silverton for those iconic fall and snow contrast shots!


Getting There

If you're based in Denver, you're in for a long drive (about 6-7 hours) and there can be detours due to construction/road work, wildfires during the summer, etc. When I was driving back in September in 2020, I got rerouted due to a wildfire and it took over 8 hours to get home. When I was drove there last summer they were closing the main highway on weekdays for certain hours of the day - so check road alerts before heading there or you might get stuck for hours! Both towns are equally as far from Denver, and you can access both of them via fully paved roads which is great! Telluride has a private airport, but Montrose airport will take you between the two towns!


If you're coming from Denver, I recommend breaking up the drive and adding some stops (you can stay a night in Crested Butte which is about ~45 minutes off the route), you can hike in Curecanti National Park area or camp in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (great for night sky photography!). If you're coming from Utah, you can stay a night in Grand Junction; I have a whole guide on things to do and hikes there, as well as my first solo camping experience.


Where to Stay

I've explored this area quite a bit over the years from car camping to staying in different towns and I think each area serves their own purpose! If you're willing to spend more and want a classic Colorado mountain town experience, then go for Telluride; I stayed at the Mountainside Inn with 2 dogs and it was so nice being right by the river. There's plenty to do without driving far and you can grab an iced coffee and walk the easy river trail throughout downtown.


If you are looking for an intense adventure mountain town that is also nice, but less bougie, Ouray isn't a bad option, you can camp nearby as well (we also just parked our car by a random church and slept in our jeep rental during one trip there due to my friend getting altitude sickness in the mountains); there are plenty of options.


I've stayed at Box Canyon Lodge and Hot Springs (right photo below) which has stunning views and more private relaxation! The rustic hot tub barrels overlook the mountains. If you're trying to save money then stay in Ridgeway, we stayed at the MTN Lodge Ridgeway with 2 dogs a few summers ago and it actually worked better being more central and able to go between towns as well as for hiking Blue Lakes (which is located 35 minutes from Ridgeway).


Even if you don't want to get into any intense hiking, biking, or climbing, you can explore both Ouray and Telluride for the day! I would say Telluride has a bit more to offer in terms of things to do, there's a gorgeous river that flows along parallel to the town streets (see photo below on right).


Both towns have great breweries and restaurants; telluride is more dog-friendly in my experience though (just be aware that dogs run off-leash even through the streets here, so it's a bit more stressful for reactive dog owners!).


We enjoyed views at the Ouray Brewery (they have a rooftop area which is really nice at sunset) and some great food/drinks at the Smuggler Union brewery. For dinner you've got plenty of options, we liked Maggie's Kitchen in Ouray and Rustico in Telluride (many of the workers are from Italy so it felt very authentic!). During the day there are also plenty of shops in both towns to check out, as with any Colorado mountain town. In downtown Ouray we saw a bear cub just sitting right by a trashcan which was so cool!


Hiking near Telluride & Ouray Colorado


Bear Creek trailhead (moderate) can be accessed right in the town of Telluride. It has a beautiful waterfall at the end and nonstop views along the way and is super dog-friendly! There's plenty of shade in the beginning, but then it can be pretty exposed.


Bridal Veil Falls (easy) - this can be accessed from the town of Telluride as well. It's the tallest free flowing waterfall in Colorado!


Box Canyon Falls (easy) - this can be accessed from the town of Ouray; it's pretty crowded, but a nice way to spend an afternoon stroll. It's more like a viewpoint, but you can walk around and make it longer if you want!


Mt Sneffels (very hard) - This was my first 14er, but absolutely would not recommend Class 3 for beginners - I had a friend take me who is an expert climber. Do not bring your dog on this hike, it's extremely difficult to scale for humans and off-leash dogs will pose risk to other climbers by free-falling rocks or knocking them over; the drop-offs are very dangerous here! Just leave your dog at home for this one and do the bear creek or blue lakes trail with them a different day. We made the mistake of not bringing a helmet and it was pretty sketchy with rockfall from other hikers.


Ice Lake Basin (very hard) - this is further away in Silverton, but also comparable to Blue Lakes. This has a bit more elevation gain though.


Blue Lakes (hard) - This hike was everything I dreamt it would be. We started early in the morning around 8am to avoid the afternoon thunderstorm. The hues of the water contrasted so well with all the blooming July wildflowers. I also went in late August and the wildflowers were gone, but it was warmer for swimming! Check out my full blog post on everything you need to know for hiking Blue Lakes trail.



Camping & Car Camping

Accommodations are limited and expensive around this area. I recommend camping, if it's summertime or staying in Ridgeway (situated between Ouray and Telluride). If you're doing Blue Lakes hike, you can camp along the road leading to the trailhead. It's all dispersed/free game and then you can get an early start on the popular hike! We did a lot of car camping in my friend's jeep as well just off the side of the road/around the town of Ouray.



Paddleboarding at Alta Lakes

There's lots of (very cold) alpine lakes for you to choose from here! Blue lakes is obviously gorgeous, and while i did see people carrying their SUPs up, it was way too much for me or my friends! If you don't mind a very rough road/drive then check out Alta Lakes campground area. We were able to drive this with AWD, but just had to go VERY slow! We didn't visit Trout lake, but have also heard it's scenic for SUP too. You can also do dispersed camping here, but we already had a hotel room! Despite being summer, it was pretty chilly by the lake.


Lake day with a Hammock

I am a huge fan of taking a day to relax by a lake. While I enjoy intense hikes, it's nice to also recharge! If you're looking for a place to relax right off the highway then Crystal Lake outside of Ouray is a great choice. You can paddle here or just set up the hammock for a chill day. I have a cheap hammock from amazon and my inflatable paddleboard as well.



Climbing

Along the outskirts of the town Telluride rests a rock wall about 500ft in the air that has iron footholds installed into it for you to climb. I had no prior climbing experience, but went with a very experienced climber who helped guide me through it. If you don't have your own gear or experience, then I recommend you get a professional guide to help you. We had to hike up to where the via ferrata started, but once you start, it's more dangerous to turn back around since there could be others on there that you would need to maneuver around, so you should fully commit to those ~2.5 miles of climbing. Even though it was up there as the most terrifying thing i've ever done in my life, I am super proud of myself for completing it. I dont have a ton of photos, only ones that someone else captured for me because I was too afraid of dropping my phone or camera. The views are incredible of the mountains and town and you feel so strong and accomplished afterwards!


If you've done the telluride via ferrata and want to try another, there's another via feratta in Ouray. Also there's a climbing wall at Ouray rotary park, right by the town. (pro-tip: they have public restrooms here so if you're car camping, you might want to pin these!)


Other Things to Do

The Telluride gondola is completely free and runs from I believe 6AM to midnight in the summer months. Dogs are welcome for free to ride and you can enjoy a lunch or coffee at the top of the summit. It can also be a romantic way to enjoy the sunset at night after dinner. The view at the top is where I got the photo below with my dog! It's actually an insanely gorgeous spot where you'll want to have a picnic and just relax for awhile. It's great for photography.


Hot Springs: If you're looking to relax after a long day of hiking, there are plenty of options in the surrounding area. I've stayed at Box Canyon hot springs hotel in Ouray, which was stunning and more private. I've also been to the Orvis hot springs - just keep in mind it's mainly a nude/clothing optional hot springs, and you'll probably get strange looks if you're wearing a swimsuit.


Take photos at Last Dollar Road: you've probably seen this scenic area on Instagram; it's a stretch of road which has lots of beautiful wildflowers in the summer and views of the mountains! It's a must-see at golden hour!


Rafting: I love whitewater rafting and have done it all across Colorado. I always go with a guided tour and it's such a fun experience to be on the water for a change!


Jeep Tour and OVH Road Exploring: My friend took me around Imogene Pass and it was so scary, but really pretty. I highly recommend getting a professional guide since the roads are dangerous and they do have jeeps that roll over.


Million Dollar Highway Sign: Drive along the Switzerland of America highway and take in the views! You can find the sign right on the outskirts of Ouray.



Tips for Before You Go

  1. I highly recommend setting an alarm for reapplying sunscreen and keep your hat on! I got sun poisoning after doing a 14er hike here and was very sick from my burn and I had applied sunscreen, but didn't reapply every 2 hours. Wear a hat + sunglasses + long sleeves if exposed for long hours here.

  2. Book accommodations early: these mountain towns can be very expensive since lodging is limited. I have also camped around the surrounding towns, slept in our jeep rental and stayed in Ridgeway which is 45 minutes away. When we stayed in Telluride, we stayed at Mountainside Inn which was more affordable than other options and right along the river.

  3. Rent a high clearance jeep if you can. There are many mountain passes (Imogene, Ophir, etc.) that can only be driven with a high clearance vehicle. If you don't have experience driving them then it's better to just do a guided tour; the roads are narrow and sketchy. Many of the roads can be pretty rough too, even to trailheads that are further outside of the city.

  4. Be aware of wildlife! We saw a bear cub right in downtown Ouray and plenty of elk/deer while driving on the main roads in the evening. Bring bear spray on your hikes for safety. If you have a firearm, research local/state laws for concealed carry.

  5. Altitude sickness is more common due to it being at high elevation. If you're not visiting from a town that has elevation, then stay in Denver (or somewhere lower) for a night before traveling to this area. Follow the rule "hike high, camp low"; my friend and I hiked a 14,000ft mountain then tried to camp at 11,000 ft nearby, and he ended up vomiting (he just flew in from sea level the night before) and we had to get down to Ouray quickly to clear up his altitude symptoms. If you have an inhaler, remember to bring that and/or purchase oxygen canisters. Energy gels and gummies also help prevent dizziness and increase salt intake. I also take liquid IV if i'm doing strenuous activity out in the sun. This stuff really makes a difference in preventing suffering.

  6. Pack sturdy hiking shoes! I swear by my merrels and I used them for climbing the via ferrata as well.


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Hi! I'm Jackie and my dog is Sora. I work remote as an engineer, but I love to spend my free time in nature and by traveling to new places. I take my camera wherever I go, and sometimes my drone.

Somewhere With Sora is a Seattle-based lifestyle and travel blog that provides helpful travel and adventure tips for all kinds of trips, with or without the dogs.

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