Updated: Oct 3, 2021
I have said it before and I will say it again, southern Colorado is one of my most favorite places. The San Juans are incredible and there is such a plethora of outdoor adventures year round. The blog posting opportunities are endless!
This was a long weekend trip where I picked Mickey and Jes up in Durango and we met some friends for a little camping outside of Telluride.
Telluride is picturesque. There are literal waterfalls in the distance as you drive into town and the mountains tower over you in all directions. While Telluride itself has become quite busy and touristy over the years, it is still charming and quaint.
For this trip we wanted to be close enough to town to explore and take the gondolas up the mountain, but also wanted to camp. Which is exactly what we did. This was somewhat of a whirlwind trip but if you have read any of my other posts you know that is just how it goes around here.
Day 1: Durango and Telluride
The drive to Durango is so easy from Phoenix and for me always seems to go by quickly.
Telluride was our main goal for the day but since we were in town we decided to stop at Ska Brewing. Which if you have not been, I highly recommend. They have a great patio and their food is delicious. Thursday nights during the summer there's live music which always makes for a great evening.
I also recommend wandering around the downtown in Durango. There are ton of little shops and restaurants all worth checking out.
We then set out to Telluride opting for the route through Dolores. Another option would be to take red mountain pass through Ouray and Ridgway. This would add a little time to the final destination, but is totally worth it if you have some extra time on your hands. We stopped in Telluride for a drink and to plan out a campsite for the evening. We used the ioverlander app which if you do not have, please do yourself a favor and get it now. It is one of my favorite apps for boondocking. We found some possible spots along last dollar road which takes you up past the airport. The drive alone is worth it even if you aren't camping, the views are incredible. The road looks like it goes all the way out to the 62 (near the Dallas divide) but unfortunately we did not have time or cooperating weather to go that far, guess we will have to save that for another trip.
We found a camp spot off of the road and set up for the evening. It was a quiet and for how close it is to town, hard to beat.
Summer brings quite a bit of rain in this area. Luckily, a lot of the storms roll in during the afternoon. Hiking and doing anything active early seems to be the best bet. When camping choose spots that are going to be safe if there is flooding or lightening. And most importantly, pack appropriately. We recommend bringing some sort of canopy so that you do not have to stay huddled in your car during the storms. Unfortunately, we had a lot of rain on this trip but we were able to relax under our canopy and enjoy the cool weather and the rain.
Day 2: Alta Lakes
We hung out at our campsite for a bit that morning enjoying the views and then headed into town and out to our next destination, Alta Lakes Dispersed campground. We were meeting some friends and wanted to have a place with a little more space / room as our campsite was pretty small.
Here is a link to the FS website about Alta Lakes https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/gmug/recarea/?recid=34056ealyalree. We really enjoyed our time here. There are 20 designated camp spots and a day use area. It was pretty crowded when we got there but we managed to snag a spot that was close to the water. The road getting to the campsites is quite steep and narrow in areas. We did see a few cars up there but high clearance would certainly be better. We did not need 4x4 but after the rain storms by the second day the road was pretty washed out and potentially would need 4x4 if conditions worsened.
Day 3: Ridgway Telluride and Doggies on the Gondolas
We had to make a pit stop in Montrose on day 3 to drop Mickey off at the airport, so part of the group headed to do bridal veil falls in Telluride and the other part of the group went to Ridgway for lunch and up to Montrose. Durango and Montrose now offer quite a few flights to Phoenix direct. And Jes even popped in to visit from Minnesota! If you have friends from out of state you want to meet in southern Colorado definitely look into flights in both towns.
We stopped for lunch at Eatery 66 in Ridgway, which if you are in town you should check out! They have delicious cocktails/ food and their patio boasts incredible views of the Cimarron's.
After the quick trip to Montrose, we met up with the group for a little Happy Hour on the hill. One of the really cool things about Telluride is their free gondola system acts as a kind of taxi service from the mountain village into town. We parked at mountain village and took the gondolas up. A good hack is to park in the mountain village if you are camping at Alta Lakes. It is free parking, less traffic, closer to the campsite and you don't have to fight for parking like you sometimes do in town.
The other really cool thing is that the gondolas are dog friendly, that's right, they are dog friendly! We got off the Gondola and hiked to a nice spot and just sat down and let the dogs run free while we enjoyed the weather and the views.
It rained again just as we were heading back from the gondola adventure. But, that didn't stop us from having a nice "gourmet" camp dinner. Pasta and charcuterie in the wilderness? It doesn't get much better than that!
We spent the evening playing games and listening to the rain / thunder. The pups were exhausted and so were we.
We were told by a fellow camper at the campground that there was a smaller less crowded lake about a mile from the campsite. Perfect for a last little jaunt before our trek back to AZ.
Day 4: Hike - Telluride - Home
The mornings at this campsite are magical. Wet from the rains the night before the plants shimmer in the sunlight as does the lake. The storms made it chilly enough for a beanie and jacket in the early morning, which is so very pleasant. We sipped coffee, made breakfast and then headed on our little jaunt. There were wildflowers everywhere and since we went early we were the only people at the lake for about an hour.
After enjoying the morning we popped into town to grab some souvenirs and coffee. The drive back to Phoenix from Telluride is 8 hours but in the summer because of daylight savings time we gain an hour on the way back, really only making it 7 hours. We left around 1:30 and were back by 9. Sometimes doing a quick trip can be daunting but I think that the little bit of sleep deprivation is so worth it. The Sunday scaries definitely hit differently when coming back from a beautiful place and thinking about the upcoming workweek can be stressful. Something I have learned to help when coming back after a long trip is to be prepared before you leave. Make a list of things you will need to do the following week so that you have that ready when you get home. Do your laundry and prep for your work week before leaving. That way, once you are home you do not have to stress about the work week ahead. Cleaning the house prior to leaving also makes for a nice arrival home. It is so much less stressful to come home to a house that is prepared for the week ahead. That way you only have to worry about a quick trip clean up.
One other thing that really makes a big difference is to clean out the car / unpack as much as possible the night you get home. I know the thought of doing this after a long trip is cringeworthy but it is so much better than dealing with it after a long day of work the following day or during the busy work week.
We also have designated camping boxes that are organized with everything. We wash and restock what we need right when we get home and then it gets put away ready for the next camping trip (which makes the prep easier the next time as well).
As always please feel free to reach out with any questions. Once you start getting the hang of this whole weekend away thing, it honestly is hard to not want to go on an adventure every weekend. It takes a little planning and preparation but the memories and experiences certainly trump any negatives associated with these trips! Cheers and happy planning!