Embarking on a road trip in the beautiful state of colourful Colorado should be on everybody’s bucket list. With Colorado’s many great destination cities, amazing natural landscape, and quirky small towns that are always worth a visit, a road trip through the state is sure to be an exciting and memorable experience. A great option for a road trip in Colorado is a Denver to Telluride drive along the US Highway 285 South.
Denver and Telluride are two of the most exciting destinations in the state, and the drive between the two of them is incredibly scenic and full of so many amazing stops. You’ll be sure to see all the best of Colorado on a Denver to Telluride road trip.
Planning a Denver to Telluride Road Trip
Before embarking on this road trip, it is important to decide which route you’d like to take. The two major routes from Denver into Telluride are along the I-70 West or along the US Highway 285 South. Both options take about the same amount of driving time, but I’d recommend the 285 route — it is absolutely stunning, as the highway takes you through about 100 miles of the Pike and San Isabel National Forest, and there are great, unique stops along the way.
However, keep in mind that the drive along the 285 is a bit more remote than the I-70 West. There are fewer larger towns and cities, which means fewer places to stop for gas or food in between destinations. I’d recommend planning ahead and always making sure you have enough fuel and food before hitting the road when driving from one stop to the next.
Other than that, you’ll find the drive easy enough — while you will be gaining elevation, it will happen gradually, and you won’t be caught off guard by many sharp turns and steep edges.
If you’re not from Colorado and are coming from far away, you might need to rent a car before starting this trip. We suggest browsing RentalCars.com as it aggregates all the major car hire companies helping you find the best deal available.
Alternatively, you can also rent a motorhome or RV from Outdoorsy which has a huge selection of options available.
How Far is Telluride from Denver?
The distance from Denver to Telluride is about 350 miles, regardless of which route you decide to take, though I will be focusing on the Highway 285 route in this guide.
The total Denver to Telluride drive time is around six and a half hours, but I would recommend allocating more time than that to this drive — there are so many great stops, and if you rush through them you won’t get the same experience! Plan on taking at least two days to do this drive, stopping for a night in Salida.
Best Denver to Telluride Drive Stops
Your first destination on this trip is in the capital city of Denver, Colorado. Denver is an amazing and vibrant place, so make sure you spend some time getting to know it! Stroll through downtown, making sure to check out Larimer Square, the historic heart of the city, and do some shopping on the outdoor pedestrian 16th Street Mall.
From here, walk the Millennium Bridge to check out the newly renovated Union Station, then head to the hip Highlands Neighborhood for lunch at any of the incredible restaurants in this area. After checking out the Highlands, head to the River North art district (nicknamed RiNo by Denver locals) to take a look at some of the galleries or try some local craft beers at one of the many popular breweries in the area.
After spending the day exploring Denver, make sure to get a good night’s sleep so you’re ready to take on the road trip in the morning.
The first must-see stop on the Denver to Telluride drive is Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre, a world-famous open-air concert venue and surrounding park. From Denver, drive for about 30 minutes along the US-6 West until you reach the small town of Morrison, where Red Rocks is located.
Marvel at the incredible outdoor Amphitheatre, which is built into the natural red rock structures, and wander around some of the trails to experience all that this unique venue has to offer. If you’re travelling in the summer months, definitely try to arrange your trip so that you can catch a concert here- Red Rocks has been voted the best outdoor concert venue in the country more than ten times.
Alternatively, if concerts aren’t your thing, you can participate in Yoga on the Rocks – a series of early morning outdoor yoga classes in the Amphitheatre that occur every weekend morning in the summer. Regardless of how you choose to experience Red Rocks, it is definitely a must-see stop en route to Telluride.
After checking out Red Rocks, consider making a quick detour to Tiny Town, just fifteen minutes down the US-285 South. While this stop is definitely a great one if you’re travelling with children, even adults will find this quirky theme park to be an entertaining and unique experience.
Tiny Town is just what it sounds like- a small “town” composed of miniature buildings and a railroad. Take an hour or so to stroll through Tiny Town and take some photos at this iconic Colorado attraction.
From Tiny Town, head down the 285 South for about 45 minutes and you’ll find yourself driving over the stunning Kenosha Pass. While you’ll be gaining elevation during this portion of the drive, the road is wide and well maintained, and the scenery over the pass is absolutely stunning.
This drive is especially incredible during the fall months when the Aspen trees are at their most vibrant yellow, orange and red. You can even opt to stop at the Kenosha Pass trailhead if you’re looking to stretch your legs and go for a quick hike. For a glimpse at some quintessential Colorado scenery, this route through the state is absolutely unmatched.
Fairplay and South Park City
Keep driving along the 285 South and Kenosha Pass for about half an hour until reaching Fairplay, Colorado. Fairplay is considered the trout-fishing capital of the state, with over 50 miles of trout streams located within the city.
If you like fishing, there’s no better place to stop for an hour or two! In addition, make sure to check out Historic South Park City, located right on the edge of Fairplay. Made famous by being both the setting and namesake of the popular animated series South Park, today, the real South Park City is an amazing open-air museum that consists of more than 40 historic buildings meant to re-create what a mining town during the Gold Rush would’ve been like.
Spend some time exploring South Park and experiencing the feeling of going back in time before hitting the road.
After stopping in Fairplay and South Park, head back on the 285 South for about another hour before reaching Salida, Colorado, a cool, artsy little mountain town that is the perfect place to stop and stay for the night, as it’s right about halfway to Telluride.
Salida, located adjacent to the Arkansas River, is full of great things to do. Shop around downtown, check out some of the local craft breweries, grab a bite to eat at one of the restaurants right along the river, or if you’re feeling adventurous, book a rafting trip down the Arkansas River!
Another great activity option near Salida is a visit to the Mount Princeton Hot Springs. About a 25-minute drive from downtown Salida, these sprawling hot springs are the perfect place to relax after a busy day of exploring Colorado.
Start the second day of this Denver to Telluride road trip with some outdoor time in the Colorado sunshine! After leaving Salida, drive for about half an hour down the 285 South, and you’ll reach the beautiful Monarch Mountain.
If you’re travelling during ski season, consider stopping here to do some runs — Monarch Mountain is one of the most affordable ski destinations in the state, and far less touristy and crowded than many other mountains in the area.
Alternatively, if you’re doing this road trip in the Summer or Fall, embark one of the amazing hikes around the mountain. I’d recommend the Waterdog Lakes hike, a wonderful 5km trail that leads to two sparkling alpine lakes.
After a morning of exercise, drive about 45 minutes from Monarch Mountain to the old mining and cattle town of Gunnison, Colorado, located right in the heart of the Rockies. Gunnison may seem small, but it is the largest town in this area for a while, so it’s the perfect place to stop to get some lunch and relax before taking on the rest of the afternoon.
Stroll through the picturesque downtown to grab a bite to eat at one of the restaurants or cafes on Main Street, then check out the campus of Western Colorado University located in town to get a glimpse of student life in the Colorado backcountry.
Finally, consider checking out the Gunnison Pioneer Museum before hitting the road- this outdoor experience includes preserved schoolhouses, a post office, and a railroad from the 1880s, creating a perfect depiction of what life would’ve been like for the early settlers of this area.
Blue Mesa Reservoir
From Gunnison, get on the US-50 West and drive for around 25 minutes to the Blue Mesa Reservoir, located in the Curecanti National Recreation Area. The Blue Mesa Reservoir is the state’s largest body of water at 29 miles long, and the perfect place to enjoy some water sports or simply relax on the shore in the Colorado sun.
Fishing, sailing, paddle boarding, water skiing, and windsurfing are all popular activity options at the reservoir and equipment for almost any water sport your heart desires can be rented at the Elk Creek Marina. Consider renting a pontoon boat or a kayak for a few hours to explore the beautiful reservoir before heading on to the next stop!
Bachelor Syracuse Mine on Gold Mountain
After spending the afternoon on the reservoir, make one final stop before reaching Telluride at the Bachelor Syracuse Mine in Ouray, Colorado, about an hour and a half along the US-50 West and US-550 South, respectively. Here, embark on a tour of one of the most prosperous gold mines in the San Juan mountains to learn about the mining industry and how instrumental it was in the development of Colorado.
The tour leads you 1,500 feet into the mine on Gold Mountain where you’ll experience what it would’ve been like to be a working miner. After the tour, you can even pan for gold at a stream coming out of the mountain to see what treasures you might uncover!
And at last, from the mine, drive the final hour along the CO-62 West until you reach the final destination of Telluride, Colorado! Telluride is one of the most charming mountain towns you’ll find in Colorado and a perfect place to stop and explore for a few days.
Before doing anything else, make sure to take the free gondola ride over the San Sophia mountain ridge to take in the town and the stunning aerial views. The gondola will then drop you off at the Mountain Village, the base of the ski mountain. Explore the mountain base before heading back down to historic downtown Telluride to check out the beautiful old Victorian houses, unique boutiques, and surprisingly upscale dining and drinking establishments.
In addition to all the fun to be had in the town itself, the surrounding wilderness is perfect for hiking, biking, fishing, boating, and more. Telluride is truly the perfect home base for the outdoor adventure enthusiast! Telluride is also well known for being a destination for some of Colorado’s greatest festivals, including the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, Telluride Film Festival, and many more.
If you can plan your trip to coincide with one of these popular events, definitely do! These festivals are world-renowned and a great way to experience the town when it is bound to be buzzing with activity and excitement. Just note that on festival weekends, accommodation gets booked up very quickly since Telluride is so small!
Where to Stay on the Denver to Telluride Drive
If you’re wondering where to stay while making all of these amazing stops, your best bet would be to spend the night in Salida, a great halfway point. If you’re looking for the perfect place to rest your head on the drive from Denver to Telluride, then have a browse through these suggestions:
Where to Stay in Denver
Ember Hostel — If you’re travelling on a budget or solo, then this hostel is a great choice. They offer both dorm beds and private rooms, have great common areas, and have clean facilities. Click here to see their availability
Holiday Inn Express Downtown Denver — A good option if you’re looking for a reliable and comfortable hotel that is well-located in downtown Denver. There are numerous rooms available and there is a free breakfast included in the rate. Click here to see their availability
Westin Denver Downton — Another great hotel option in downtown Denver, well-located for exploring all that the city has to offer. They have numerous clean and comfortable rooms available along with other amenities to ensure you have a lovely stay. Click here to see their availability
Airbnb — Airbnb can be a great option for those looking for alternative accommodation options or a bit more privacy. Denver has everything form affordable private rooms in local homes to cool central bungalows like this one. You’re sure to find something that suits your needs. Click here to browse more Denver Airbnbs!
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Denver hotels
Where to Stay in Salida
Mountain Goat Lodge — If you’re looking for a little bit of luxury on your road trip through Colorado, then you can’t go wrong with this boutique B&B. They have a range of plush and comfortable rooms available, a convenient location, and a great breakfast included with dairy products from the properties’ own goats. Click here to see their availability
The Salida Inn & Hostel — If you’re on a bit of a tighter budget, then this is a great option for you. This centrally located hotel has a number of clean and comfortable private, ensuite rooms available and even a hostel dorm for those looking to save some cash. They also provide a homemade breakfast in the morning. Click here to see their availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Salida hotels!
Where to Stay in Telluride
Madeline Hotel and Residences — If you’re after a stay in Telluride at the height of luxury, then you’re sure to love this hotel. They have a number of luxe rooms available that are plush and comfortable and countless amenities to ensure that your stay is a fantastic one. Click here to see their availability
Camel’s Garden Hotel — If you’re looking for something slightly more budget-friendly, then this is a great option. Located next to Gondola Square, they have a range of rooms available (most with its own fireplace!), ski-in/ski-out abilities, and there is an on-site restaurant and a full-service spa available. Click here to see their availability
Airbnb — If you would rather stay in your own apartment or even a private room in a local’s home, then Airbnb is a great option. There are lots of properties available on the platform (like this cosy studio apartment) and you’re sure to find something that suits your needs. Click here to browse Telluride Airbnbs!
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Telluride hotels!
So, for those wondering how to get to Telluride from Denver, hopefully this guide helped illustrate that a road trip along the US-285 South is one of the best ways to do it! This road trip is full of unique and beautiful stops that truly showcase all the best of what Colorado has to offer and allows you to really get to know some of the best destinations in the state!
When travelling in the USA, it’s always a good idea to make sure you have a travel insurance policy so you’re covered for any unfortunate events! We like WorldNomads and always use them for our trips – click here to get a quote from WorldNomads
Are you planning a Denver to Telluride drive? Have you been to either of these destinations before? Let us know in the comments!