Telluride is arguably one of the most beautiful places in Colorado. It’s a perfectly maintained Victorian-style town surrounded by tall, rugged mountains.
Despite being a go-to destination for celebrities and the ultra-wealthy, it’s still possible to visit Telluride on a budget. With careful planning and research, you can have an incredible Telluride vacation without breaking the bank. This article will provide tips to keep costs low.
That being said, you don’t have to follow every tip on here. Splurging can be great + fun! In fact, saving in one area you don’t care as much about could allow you to have more funds for other things you want to do!
For example, you may want to go on a Jeep tour but don’t care about staying in a luxe resort or vacation rental. Consider booking a room or bunk at the hostel instead, then use the extra money to make your off-roading dreams come true!
Whatever your preference is, I recommend going through these tips and using whatever works best for you!
6. Fill up your gas tank outside of town
This first tip sounds like a small one and isn’t that exciting. However, gas in a secluded mountain town like Telluride gets quite expensive. You can save a lot of money simply by filling up in a neighboring town like Ridgeway before and after your trip.
You can stash the extra cash in your savings or splurge on a nice meal or fun activity!
5. DIY your meals, and eat them surrounded by the town’s beautiful scenery
Eating out adds up quickly. Especially if you have several people to feed. Like gas, expect food here to be more expensive than usual. One way to bypass this is to DIY some or all of your meals. Better yet, you can bring in your ingredients from out of town.
To elevate your DIY meal experience, consider preparing a picnic. Telluride is a gorgeous place with 360° views. Why not eat your meal surrounded by nature? Pack a charcuterie board or sandwiches and bring them to a beautiful spot like the San Sophia Overlook. Or, you could bring burgers and have a cookout at Town Park.
Many vacation rentals include a small to full-size kitchen. See what’s available where you intend to stay, and plan your meals from there! I’m a huge fan of making my own breakfast and coffee in the morning, then enjoying it from the patio of my vacation rental.
Looking for meal inspiration? Check out these articles:
Food for the Cabin: Easy Recipes to Make Ahead (by Chew Out Loud)
This incredible article by Chew Out Loud features delicious and hearty meals you can prepare beforehand. This way, you can save time AND money on your vacation! Spend more time having fun and less on cooking.
My favorites from this article: breakfast potato casserole, pulled pork sandwiches, no-bake energy balls
72 Best Burger Recipes for Summer Cookouts (by the Today Show)
My mouth is watering just looking through these recipes. There are so many incredible burger recipes in this article by the Today Show. You’ll find classic and creative beef burgers, plus chicken, pork, sliders, salmon, and more!
My favorites from this article: Beef Burgers with Jalapeño-Bacon Jam, Italian Chicken Smashburger, Cheeseburger Sliders, In-N-Out Burger Copycat
How to Make a Summer Picnic Charcuterie Board (by Fueling a Southern Soul)
This incredible article covers everything you need to know for a delicious summer charcuterie board picnic. It goes over everything from ingredients and supplies to how to build the charcuterie board and have a seamless picnic experience.
4. When you do eat out, opt for less expensive options
You don’t have to stress about avoiding eating out altogether to save money. There are budget-friendly restaurants around Telluride, but you may have to do your research beforehand! Some places may be pricey but have cheaper items on their menu. I recommend researching beforehand and listing budget-friendly restaurants you want to try!
Here are some of our favorites. Please keep in mind menus, and pricing is subject to change.
Stronghouse Brewpub is an excellent place for a hearty, budget-friendly meal. You can get delicious bratwurst, chili, or salads for under $15. Additionally, they have delicious beer that’s brewed onsite.
For a quick, delicious, and inexpensive breakfast or lunch, check out Baked in Telluride. They serve freshly baked pastries, sandwiches, bagels, burritos, coffee, and more! Additionally, it’s great place if you’re looking for a sweet treat. They have giant pastry desserts such as doughnuts, cinnamon rolls, and various pastries. They have SO much on their menu that you’ll need to read it to get a full scope of what they serve!
Brown Dog Pizza is a great budget-friendly option for groups. They serve delicious pizza and appetizers in a laid-back environment. You can get a large specialty pizza that feeds 3 to 4 people for only $30. They have classic and Detroit-style pizza, subs, wraps, salads, and burgers.
3. Take advantage of all the free activities
Like many other mountain towns, there are a TON of free activities to take advantage of in Telluride. Even more so if you already have your own gear for certain things, like mountain biking, off-roading, or fishing.
I love hiking and typically spend the first part of my day on the trails. Afterward, I’ll grab an inexpensive meal or make my own. Then, I’ll spend the second part of my day relaxing. I love finding a nice spot by a river or lake to hang up my hammock, read a book, or nap.
There are many incredible hiking trails in and near Telluride, from relaxed river walks to epic mountain treks. You can hike to waterfalls, alpine lakes, and mountain peaks from trails starting in downtown. Some of the best trails include:
Bear Creek Trail
Distance: 4.5 miles
Elevation gain: 1,092 ft of elevation gain
Average time to complete: 2.5 hours
The Bear Creek Trail begins in downtown Telluride and ends at a large, stunning waterfall. The trail is beautiful the entire route but gets even more astonishing the further you get into the mountains.
Bring a swimsuit or clothes you don’t mind getting wet to add to the fun. You can swim at the waterfall or enjoy the mist it produces (which feels incredible during summer, by the way!).
More photos from the Bear Creek Trail:
Hope Lake Trail
Distance: 6 miles
Elevation gain: 1,515 ft of elevation gain
Average time to complete: 3.5 hours
Hope Lake is arguably one of the most beautiful lakes near Telluride. Picture a large, turquoise lake below a mix of curved and jagged mountain peaks.
Additionally, it’s one of the best places to see wildflowers near Telluride in the summer. Not only is Hope Lake surrounded by them, but you’ll also see them everywhere once you reach the alpine meadow portion of the trail.
The first part of the hike is quite challenging, with steep elevation gain. There is a stretch where you climb 800 ft of elevation in only .6 miles. After that, the trail opens to a beautiful alpine meadow where abundant wildflowers can be seen.
Telluride River Trail
Distance: 4.1 miles
Elevation gain: 252 ft of elevation gain
Average time to complete: 1.5 hours
For those looking for a relaxing nature walk, check out the Telluride River Trail. It starts downtown and follows the San Miguel River through the Box Canyon. The trail technically ends at the Pandora Mill, but you can take it to the Bridal Veil Falls Trailhead.
On the way, you’ll pass through the beautiful Telluride Town Park. It’s the cleanest, most beautiful town park I’ve ever seen. It has a small fishing pond, large open fields for relaxing, sports, concerts, and even a campground.
The Telluride River Trail is very relaxing. It’s relatively flat, with all the elevation gain towards the end. You’ll hear the pleasant sound of the flowing water right next to you the entire way. There’s not a moment where you won’t see the surrounding mountains.
If you’re down to add an additional three miles (and 826 ft of elevation gain) to your hike, you can also hike to Bridal Veil Falls from here. When you get to Pandora Mill, keep heading up the road until you get to the Bridal Veil Falls trailhead. It’s relatively short, but the high elevation gain on the way up turns it into a moderately difficult trail.
Jud Wiebe Memorial Trail
Distance: 4.7 miles
Elevation gain: 1,213 ft of elevation gain
Average time to complete: 2.25 hours
The Jud Wiebe Memorial Trail is a local favorite. It starts on the north end of downtown at the end of Aspen Street. From there, it winds through a beautiful forest with a very steep incline at the beginning.
Towards the end, the trail opens to a small meadow. There’s a bench where you can sit and enjoy the incredible views. You’ll see a high-up view of downtown Telluride and the mountains and ski slopes south of downtown.
Bonus: Ice and Island Lakes
Distance: 7 miles
Elevation gain: 2,650 ft of elevation gain
Average time to complete: 5 hours
The Ice Lake Basin trailhead is two hours from Telluride. However, it’s one of my favorite hikes in Colorado. I wanted to add it as a ‘bonus’ option for anyone willing to make the drive. It’s located in Silverton, right off the Million Dollar Highway. It’s an incredible day trip from Telluride.
On this trail, you’ll see two of the prettiest lakes in Colorado. Island Lake has a large ‘island’ in the center. Ice Lake is large and bright blue. Both are below stunning, rugged peaks. Additionally, you’ll see a tall waterfall, lush forest, and alpine meadows.
Want to learn more? Read our blog post about Ice and Island Lake to learn more & see all of our photos from this gorgeous hike!
Looking for more? Check Out the 10 Top Rated Trails in Telluride
Want to see more trails in Telluride? Check out the top 10 rated Telluride Trails on AllTrails.com. It’s my go-to place for researching new trails.
See Bridal Veil Falls
Bridal Veil Falls is the most iconic waterfall in Colorado. At 365 feet, it’s the tallest free-falling waterfall in Colorado. In fact, it’s so large that you can actually see it from downtown Telluride.
Bridal Veil Falls is absolutely gorgeous. The cascading shape of the waterfall is so unique. It makes sense why it’s called “Bridal Veil” Falls when you see it. The base of the falls is in a misty forest grove, with a similar feel to the PNW.
Towards the top, you can get a more distant view from the falls, where you can see it as a whole. My favorite vantage point is towards the top of the OHV route, where you can see the waterfall with downtown and Box Canyon as the backdrop.
Hiking to Bridal Veil Falls
Distance: 2 miles*
Elevation gain: 826 ft of elevation gain*
Average time to complete: 1.5 hours*
*Double this if you want to hike to the top of the falls.
The best way to see Bridal Veil Falls is to hike it. The trail begins at a parking lot about a mile below the falls. Although short, the steep elevation makes it a moderately challenging hike.
You can continue hiking to the top from the lower falls if you’d like! It’s a beautiful trail, but expect the same distance and elevation gain you experienced from the first part of the trail.
Driving up Bridal Veil Falls (OHV Route)
Alternatively, there is a road leading to the top as well. Keep in mind it’s not for the faint of heart. There isn’t parking along the road, so you must keep driving to avoid blocking traffic.
We tried this early morning in a 4WD SUV. It was quite scary and not worth it in our opinion. However, you should be fine if you have a smaller OHV and are comfortable driving in sketchy mountain terrain!
Ride the Gondola
The Telluride Gondola connects downtown to Mountain Village. It’s a free and convenient way to travel between the two areas and a fun experience. Relax as the Gondola takes you to the top of the San Sophia Overlook and back to your chosen destination.
The views are breathtaking. I 100% recommend getting off at the San Sophia Overlook to take it all in. The San Sophia Overlook is the second stop on the Gondola, no matter where you come from. There are hiking and biking trails up here, with plenty of space close by to relax and take in the views.
The San Sophia Overlook (aka the highest point on the gondola) provides views of:
• Downtown Telluride
• Nearly the entire box canyon area Telluride sits in
• Mount Sneffels and the surrounding mountains north of Telluride
• Mount Wilson (the iconic mountain featured on the Coors Can)
More photos from the San Sophia Overlook:
No mountain town vacation is complete without exploring downtown! Even if you’re not planning on buying anything, exploring Telluride’s cultural center is a great way to connect with the community.
Telluride has two different “downtown” districts. The most obvious is downtown Telluride. It’s a more historic and authentic feeling area with a true mountain town vibe. Mountain Village has a more ski resort feel.
Telluride often hosts various events throughout the summer. I recommend checking out their events calendar to see if anything is happening that interests you!
Go on a Scenic Drive
Interested in exploring more of the San Juan Mountains? Consider going on a scenic drive! Not only will you see more of this beautiful area, but you’ll also be able to see other beautiful mountain towns. It’s an excellent option for longer trips to Telluride, where you may want to explore the region more. Depending on where you go, you could also see Ouray, Silverton, Durango, and Ridgeway.
These are the most popular scenic drive routes in the area. If you have an OHV, you have even more incredible options. You can check out the best OHV routes near Telluride here.
Last Dollar Road
The Last Dollar Road is a 13-mile stretch through the mountainous wilderness connecting Telluride and Ridgeway. It’s an incredibly scenic, alternative route from taking the highways.
I have yet to get to this drive, but people on AllTrails describe it as a rugged but beautiful drive and mention that you’ll need a 4×4 vehicle.
San Juan Skyway
The San Juan Skyway is a scenic loop connecting all the major towns in the San Juan Mountains. Driving it will take you through Ridgeway, Ouray, Silverton, Durango, Cortez, then back to Telluride. Additionally, you’ll see rugged mountain views, beautiful lakes, forests, and historic mining operations.
The drive takes 5 hours nonstop. However, with all the fantastic things on the way, I recommend making some stops along the way. There are many incredible hikes, hot springs, lakes, and towns to explore.
If you plan on camping, you’ll be happy to know that there are plenty of sites along the San Juan Skyway. The San Juan National Forest encompasses much of this area, meaning there’s plenty of dispersed camping along the way. Additionally, there are plenty of established campsites with amenities, such as Molas Lake, which is about halfway in.
Million Dollar Highway
The Million Dollar Highway is considered one of the most beautiful scenic drives in the U.S. It’s the stretch of the San Juan Skyway stretching between Ouray and Silverton. Some also consider the part between Silverton and Durango to be part of the Million Dollar Highway, but the former is the most beautiful.
This is the drive to take if you want to see a part of the San Juan Skyway without doing the whole thing. You can plan stops in Silverton and Ouray and take more time to explore each. The drive to Silverton and back from Telluride takes about 3 hours. This will give you more time to take in the area versus driving the entire loop.
Interested in learning more? Check out our guide to the Million Dollar Highway.
Relax and play at Telluride Town Park
Telluride Town Park is a beautiful and spacious public park east of downtown. It’s a favorite of locals and tourists alike. Town Park offers numerous activities and events throughout the year, including concerts, sports, swimming, and relaxing.
It’s the perfect spot for families with kids or adults looking for a relaxing space. Kids will love the children’s fishing area, playground, swimming pool, and open spaces. There’s plenty of room for adults to set up their hammock or blanket for post-hike relaxation.
Other activities in Telluride Town Park include:
• Taking a dip in the swimming pool
• Playing basketball, soccer, or softball
• Catching trout in the kid’s pond
• A playground for the kids
• A skate park
• Going on a picnic
• Seeing live music on the stage
• Walking to a waterfall
Speaking of Town Park…
2. Camp in Town Park, right next to downtown
This is my FAVORITE tip for saving money on a Telluride vacation. Hotels and vacation rentals in this small yet famous city can get expensive. The average cost for a hotel is $486, and that’s about where vacation rentals also start.
But, if you already have the gear and enjoy camping, I recommend reserving a campsite in Town Park. Campsites start at only $26 per night for walk-ins and go up to $46 per night for large, premium sites next to the river. We opted for the standard drive-up site, which costs $36 per night. Seniors get a nightly discount.
So for a three-day trip, we spent $82 on lodging (taxes & fees included). Compare that to around $1500 average that we would’ve spent at a hotel.
1. If camping’s not your thing, consider staying at a hostel
Sleeping outside doesn’t interest you? Still want to stay somewhere that is budget-friendly? Consider staying at the Bivvy Hostel. They offer shared dorms and private rooms for adventurous adults.
Prices fluctuate depending on the season, time of week, and availability. However, I’ve seen the dorm bunks go for as low as $45 per night per person. Private rooms generally range from $130 to $250. Remember we’re not affiliated with the Bivvy Hostel, and prices are subject to fluctuation and change.
The Bivvy also has great amenities for the price. They have an onsite bar selling local beer and wine, an 8-person hot tub, complimentary continental breakfast, firepits, and free Wi-Fi. They also have a gear room where guests can store their skis, boards, bikes, and more.
It’s the perfect option for adults traveling on a budget, alone or in a group. Due to the communal nature of the hostel, kids and pets aren’t allowed (except for service animals). However, you’ll make lasting new memories here and maybe even new lifelong friends!