It’ll take one tank of gas, a full bag of Garden of Eatin’ Red Hot Blues corn chips, and more coffee than you’d like to admit, but take it from someone who once called Telluride home—the six-hour trek down to the San Juans from the Front Range will be the best road trip you do this fall. Once you’ve experienced a Telluride fall, you’ll understand why that magical place and its mountains call to you from whatever corner of the globe you find yourself wandering.
Friday, 10 p.m. — Arrive in Telluride
Proceed directly to the New Sheridan’s Historic Bar on Main Street in downtown Telluride. The warm lighting and dark wood of one of the West’s oldest bars (established 1895) welcomes you with a fun mix of visitors and locals (and the $5 Jack Daniels drinks don’t hurt either). If it’s particularly chilly outside, they’ll have a roaring fire lit in the fireplace. Play a game of pool or relax in a corner on one of the crushed velvet sofas.
Saturday, 7 a.m. — Hike to Hope Lake
Fall in Telluride is the perfect time of year for an early morning hike. Follow CO-145 South for about 10 miles to the left side turn off for Trout Lake and Priest Lake (County Road 63A). The Hope Lake Trailhead begins approximately four miles up the dirt roads that ring Trout Lake and climb through meadows and aspens. A high clearance, four-wheel drive vehicle is recommended.
The 3.3-mile trek to Hope Lake is a moderate hike that travels through evergreen forest, aspen tree groves, and high alpine meadows. You’ll find striking views of the Wilson Range and Lizard Head Wilderness above timberline. The lake itself is man-made (dammed to store water for the Ames Power Plant) and is surrounded on three sides by 13,000-foot peaks.
Saturday, 12 p.m. — Lunch at Brown Dog
You’ve earned your lunch after your Hope Lake adventure. Head back to Telluride for award-winning pizza and a college football game at Brown Dog Pizza. The owners of this local favorite have decorated the restaurant with Boston sports paraphernalia in homage to hometown teams and University of Michigan football gear (owner Jeff “Smoke” Smokevitch was a player on the U of M 1997 National Championship team). Their passion for sports has extended to their food: wash down a “3-1-3” (the winner of the 2013 International Pizza Challenge) with a Telluride Brewing Company Face Down Brown ale. The combination of creamy ricotta, Genoa salami, and fresh arugula on this deep-dish delight is sure to rejuvenate you for the afternoon’s adventures.
Saturday, 2 p.m. — Bike the Valley Floor
The River Trail follows the San Miguel River along the Valley Floor. Rent a bike from Bootdoctors & Paragon Sports at the base of the Gondola in Telluride, and follow the mellow path from one end of the box canyon to the other. Signs and markers along the way illuminate the mining history of the beautiful town.
Saturday, 6 p.m. — Sunset Gondola Ride
Yes, the Gondola is free. Get out at the mid-station, walk around the top at the base of the famed See Forever ski trail, and don’t forget to take some selfies. You’re going to want to make that shot your profile pic.
Saturday, 7 p.m. — Back to the Front Range
The time has come to drive home the Front Range. Stop at Taco Del Gnar in Ridgway before you leave the San Juans. If you’re not already convinced that you’ve just spent 24 hours in a little slice of heaven, then Del Gnar’s Rock Shrimp tacos will send you over the edge.