We finally did it. We finally made our way down the six and half hour drive to fulfill one of my outdoorsy Colorado girl goals, car camping in Telluride, Colorado.
What can I say? With great free campsite within a couple hours from Denver, it is hard to justify the long drive. Especially, when only camping for a day or two, I often opt for one of my favorite go to spots to pitch a tent.
But this time was different. Given my recent lack of a 9-5 job and my fiancés week off for the Fourth of July holiday, we decided this was the time to do it.
I’ve been told by everyone that Telluride is one of the most beautiful mountain towns in the state, and well I already am in love with many Colorado’s mountain towns. Don’t even get me started on Crested Butte but that’s a story for another time. But, like everyone kept telling me, Telluride certainly did not disappoint. In fact, it exceeded my expectations on cool mountain towns.
I’ve seen the pictures. I’ve heard the stories. And on top of that, the surrounding areas are filled with awesome car camping opportunities which are hands down, my favorite summer activity.
So despite the fire bans, we headed down for some car camping in Telluride and boy did it not disappoint. I mean, these mountains are flat out epic. I honestly feel like pictures cannot do it justice, and there are some pretty awesome pictures to say the least. Those jaw dropping jagged edged peaks will simply blow you away. Add in your sprawling forests, blooming wildflowers, and enticing lakes and you are truly in a Colorado paradise.
So if you are planning on making a trek to this beautiful outdoor wonderland, here is a few tips to get you started while car camping in Telluride.
WHERE TO GO CAR CAMPING IN TELLURIDE
As the title states, and just generally how I like to travel in the warmer months, my favorite way to stay in a place like Telluride is to car camp. As a woman saving for a lavish wedding, renting rooms is simply not an option due to my financial constraints. Personally, I’d rather fully immerse myself in the mountain glory anyways and what better way than camping?
If you’ve never been camping before, this is a wonderful place to give it a go and I have awesome tips to get you started. Check out my Camping 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Camping here.
Anyways, where to actually camp? I have a couple great spots that I bet you would love.
So this one is about an hour or so from the actual town of Telluride but it is gorgeous. It also gives you the great opportunity to check out Ouray, which in my opinion can’t be missed if you are already down in this region. To get here, take 550 South pass Ouray and head towards Silverton on what is called the Million Dollar Highway. If nothing alone, this highway is absolutely stunning, but might make those with a fear of heights (like myself) sweat a bit. Not to fear, there are plenty of spots you can turn off to take a picture.
From there, you will turn onto CO Rd 7/Forest Rd 585. Drive down that road and there will be several great free river sites up until you hit the actual campground. You can drive pass the campground if you have four wheel drive and find a few more up the road. Warning though, the road is a bit treacherous.
You can also turn off towards Clear Lake which we found a cool spot near the bottom. This road is difficult too. Our Subaru struggled. If you do have high clearance, I hear that Clear Lake itself is sweet. It’s about 4 miles up this road leading to a crystal clear lake high in the mountains. I would have loved to go but our vehicle couldn’t handle it and I was feeling a bit too lazy to start a fully uphill hike in high elevation.
As you can see from the picture above, this camping area is pretty sweet regardless. There weren’t too many others close by to our particular spot besides the general jeepers getting a view of the lake. Depending where you do chose, it could be more or less crowded but there are several options. This was certainly secluded enough to be up all night without bothering a neighbor or hearing a neighbor which is what I look for in car camping.
Now, if you are trying to camp closer into town, Alta Lakes is where it is at. This is one of the more popular places for Telluride guests to camp and I definitely see why. To get there, you’ll want to head onto CO -145 South pass the Mountain Village until you hit Alta Lakes road. It is pretty well marked so it shouldn’t be hard to miss. It’s pretty conveniently located near the city itself.
You will drive up a beautiful but steep forest road until you see the old ghost town of Alta. When I was there, it looked like there were several great dispersed camping spots on this road but were closed to help restoration of the land. This may or may not be the case when you go. Either way, you can continue up until the lake itself which host several awesome dispersed sites all around the lake itself.
We ended up turning right towards Gold King Basin since it was Fourth of July weekend on a Saturday and the lake spots were crowded. Gold King Basin is pretty phenomenal so we had no problem staying there instead, well except that the roads are quite rutted and the Subaru struggled a bit. But hey, isn’t that what those cars are for?
I know this barely scratches the surface of camping in these regions but I was fully impressed by these spots and would highly recommend checking them out. As I’ve looked, I did see other spots that are farther south of CO-145 that seem worth checking out. I usually find my sites at freecampsite.net.
Another thing to note was we did check these places out while there were bad fires in Durango so we didn’t want to venture to far in that area. Of course, we did respect the fire ban and you know what? We didn’t miss a beat. You can check out my fireless camping tips at my story here.
WHAT TO DO WHILE CAR CAMPING IN TELLURIDE
So you found the spot, taken by the glory of the mountains, and ready to go. Now what to do? Well, in a town like Telluride, there are obvious things that range in all price ranges. I usually go for cheap. Maybe some other day I can try the tours but my lack of income certainly does not make this a reality today. It’s not a big deal in my opinion.
I mean, were here car camping in Telluride, one of the most beautiful places to be and we certainly don’t need to break the bank to see some adventure. So what is there to do that isn’t too expensive?
Of course, you’ve got to hike while in Telluride! It would be criminal to miss this if you’re physically capable of hiking. Telluride sports some of the most intense hikes in the state but still has a few moderate trails for those at all levels.
One of the most popular hikes is Bear Creek Falls. This is the one we chose to do given it’s moderate length and beautiful pay off. It’s a couple miles in and out with a rewarding view of a glorious waterfall at the end. Turn around and you’ll see great views of the sprawling mountains that make this town famous. It’s also very easy to reach given the trailhead starts in town.
If you are feeling adventurous, you can head up towards the Wasatch Trail and See Forever Trail. We ended our adventure here but ran into a couple that just finished the Wasatch Trail and told us that it was awesome.
Another popular hike that we unfortunately missed on this trip is the Blue Lake Trail. It’s a steep 4 – 6 mile hike to a series of three perfectly blue lakes. My friend who recommended it said it was one of the most beautiful hikes that she has ever done and well, the pictures do agree. You can just hike to the first lake but from the pictures, it looks like the second and third can’t be missed.
Lastly, Bridal Veil Falls is a popular spot to see Colorado’s tallest free falling waterfall. You can either hike up about a mile and a half or drive, depending on your vehicle.
Now if hiking isn’t your thing, you don’t have to sacrifice the wonderful views. In fact, you shouldn’t sacrifice taking in the wonderful views since that’s kind of why you’d choose to go car camping in Telluride in the first place. Luckily, the town offers a free gondola ride to the Mountain Village, giving you the luxury of views without the effort.
Any tour book would tell you that if you do anything in Telluride, you should probably do this. It only takes a few minutes and it’s free! My advice is to get off at the first stop and wander a bit. I got some pretty cool overlook pictures by just walking down below the gondola for roughly 500 yards.
We didn’t spend too much time in the village itself since we already ate in town but if you are hungry, there are plenty of places to go.
Ok, I can’t talk about Telluride without mentioning the thing that makes this town famous. It has a world class music scene that run though every Coloradan’s dreams. Many of my friends swear by the Telluride Bluegrass Festival and go every year. While bluegrass isn’t quite my genre of music, I can always appreciate a good music festival and those pictures sure make me envious.
Even while camping, it could be fun to take a bit of a break and see the artistic showcases within the town. Throughout the summer, Telluride hosts a ton of other awesome musical and artistic events that are definitely worth your time. Check out their schedule here.
Well, that’s it for my car camping in Telluride experience. I know there is so much more to see but time only gave me so many options. Have you camped in Telluride yourself? I would absolutely love to hear your tips, adventures, and stories to inspire my next trip. Please leave a comment below so I can check them out on my next trip. Trust me when I say this, that this will certainly not be the last time I go car camping in Telluride.