The Best Time of Year to Visit Telluride
Telluride, Colorado, isn't what you think it is (if you're unfamiliar with it). There are the most popular ski towns in Colorado like Vail and Breckenridge, and then there's Telluride: a remote town with one road and one road out, a Wild West heritage that's alive to this day, and scenery that's rivaled by perhaps only the Alps and Switzerland's famous valleys.
And just as Telluride is different from Colorado's other resorts in so many ways, its schedule also differs, and the best times to visit completely depend on what you're looking for in a vacation. From November to April, you'll find the typical ski crowd. When May hits, the hardcore skiers come out to hit what's left of the terrain without operating lifts. Between June and August, Festivarians from all over the world descend upon the box canyon to attend any of the town's 15+ famous festivals, and cozy up alongside outdoor adventurers looking to climb, hike, paraglide, raft, and 4x4 their way through the mountains before the snow return by September/October. Until ski season officially opens, Telluride is a town of staggering, quiet beauty, with the leaves turning, the first snows falling, and the town preparing once again for its busiest season.
However, while this may sound like Telluride is a year-round mountain dream, that's not the case for everyone. Crowd sizes, weather patterns, prices, and town offerings all fluctuate widely throughout the year, so it's crucial to know what to expect for the period during which you're heading to town.
In this post, we'll break down Telluride by season, including weather, activities, and closures, so you know what to expect and can plan accordingly.
The shoulder seasons aren't for everyone. By mid-October to mid-November, Telluride's leaves have fallen, but the snow is still accumulating. The gondola officially closes on October 20 and opens again on ski opening day, (November 22), and often, local shops and restaurants use this as a breather period after a busy summer season.
If you're heading to Telluride in late October or early November, remember:
A similar effect hits the town in the month after ski season, between mid-April to mid-May. The gondola officially shuts down the day after the resort closes for the season (typically the first or second Sunday in April) and opens up again the last week in May. This shoulder season, known as Mud Season, is even quieter than the fall. In autumn, hiking, biking, and climbing are all not only possible, but the conditions can be excellent. In May, it's much less likely to see perfect conditions for outdoor adventure sports. Put simply, it's just too wet. Snowmelt creates temporary rivers and waterfalls throughout the valley, creating muddy messes for hiking and biking, and slippery crags for climbing.
Telluride is at its busiest in the winter, with hotel and vacation rental occupancy rates above 70% (compared to about 65% in the summer). In March, these can fall to rates around 50%, and will only get lower through April and May before ticking up again in June. This means Telluride in May is one of the quietest, sleepiest, and most affordable months of the year, as much of the town shuts down to regroup, repair, and reassess for the coming summer. Keep in mind though that, just like in autumn, the gondola and many restaurants/shops/bars will be closed. However, unlike the fall season, many outdoor activities aren't available. It's certainly a give-and-take situation. To give you an idea, here are the few restaurants that remain open throughout the entire offseason in Telluride:
The ski resort won't yet be open, but we have a few homes that are absolutely worth checking out in the off-season.
The Historic Thompson House is a charming Victorian that's been completely remodeled to offer both a taste of Telluride's heritage and the luxury of InvitedHome. With four bedrooms and an additional sleeping area, it can accommodate up to eight guests.
Why it's a perfect off-season home: Location. Walk to all of Main Street when the gondola isn't running, and feel the history of the town for yourself.
Russell Estate comprises two houses -- a guest home and the main home -- and is built at the end of the road next to the slopes, giving you total privacy and enough space for large groups or family reunions. It has eight bedrooms in total and can sleep up to 20 guests. Why it's perfect for offseason: The Experience. The slopes may not yet be open, but in a house as beautiful as this, you may not want to venture out anyways. Cozy up in the great room with a fire, rejuvenate in the outdoor hot tub and take some time for yourself in this private, beautiful mountain getaway.
Russell Estate comprises two houses -- a guest home and the main home -- and is built at the end of the road next to the slopes, giving you total privacy and enough space for large groups or family reunions. It has eight bedrooms in total and can sleep up to 20 guests.
Why it's perfect for offseason: The Experience. The slopes may not yet be open, but in a house as beautiful as this, you may not want to venture out anyways. Cozy up in the great room with a fire, rejuvenate in the outdoor hot tub and take some time for yourself in this private, beautiful mountain getaway.
Knoll Top Retreat isn't located on the slopes or in the Core, but that only adds to its appeal. From the hilltop hot tub, you can overlook the Telluride Golf Course, and from just about every window, you'll have staggering views of the rugged landscape that surrounds Telluride. With four bedrooms, this home can sleep up to nine guests.
Why it's great for offseason: The tranquility. Whether it's to see an early snow or the lingering turning leaves, the views from Knoll Top Retreat extend all the way out to Mt. Wilson in the distance. It's secluded and peaceful and makes for an excellent place to spend a quiet downtime period.
Plaza at Granita Penthouse is the ultimate way to experience Mountain Village Core living in ultimate luxury. Located in a penthouse high about the shops, bars, and restaurants, you'll have exquisite views of the San Sophia Ridge, as well as the opportunity to spend a vacation surrounded by mountain modern architecture and design at every turn. It also may be a condo, but it has plenty of room for up to 10 guests in four bedrooms.
Why it's great for offseason: The design. For most of October, there won't be any skiing, the gondola won't be running, and Mountain Village will be pretty quiet, but you'll have the best opportunity from a price standpoint to experience truly grande architectural design. Watch the autumn sun dip below the mountains and spend time with family and friends in one of the most desirable residences in Mountain Village.
June to August in Telluride—now we're talking. The mud and snowmelt have given way to green grass, wildflowers, blue skies, snow-capped peaks, and perfect temperatures. And with all that beauty, crowds. The average number of visitors to Telluride every summer is about 211,000, which ebbs and flows depending on the popularity of the festival or event. However, crowds flock to this gorgeous box canyon for good reason. In addition to its beauty and unending outdoor adventure options, the town hosts some kind of festival virtually every weekend, which has helped the town earn its nickname as the Festival Capital of Colorado.
Click here for a complete list of every Telluride summer festival.
Frrom June to August, the heart of it all lies in the Town of Telluride, as opposed to Mountain Village (learn more about the differences between Town and Mountain Village here). Most of the festivals take place in town, and the concentrated nature of the bars, restaurants, parks, hotels, and vacation rentals gives it a true small-town feel. Mountain Village in the summer, on the other hand, is for peace and quiet. You can still easily access town via the gondola—and there are plenty of activities in Mountain Village Core—but these gorgeous homes and condos tend to fill with families and friends looking for a relaxing mountain escape paired with hiking, mountain biking, climbing, or any other outdoor activity.
Weather in Telluride in June, July, and August
As far as summer weather in Telluride goes, it's hard to beat. In June, the average high is 72, and the average low is 32, with a mere four days of precipitation for the entire month. July temperatures are slightly higher at 77/41, however, the occasional afternoon mountain thunderstorm brings the total days of rain up to about 10. By August, the town is already cooling down, with an average high of 74 and an average low of 41. You can expect about 11 days of rain throughout August.
As you would expect, this period of higher demand comes with higher prices, though still not as high as peak ski season.
Off-the-beaten-path Telluride summer ideas
The most common reasons to head to Telluride in the summer are for the festivals, outdoor adventures, and sheer beauty. But there's more than that. Here are two of our favorite not-so-known summer activities in Telluride:
1. Stand-up paddling boarding. It may not be the first thing you think to do in Telluride, but trust us, when you SUP from Town to Lawson Hill on the San Miguel River, then cap it off with lunch as Cindybread and a beer from Telluride Brewing Company, you'll consider doing it all again the next day. (Photo courtesy of Bootdoctors.com)
2. Taking on the Via Ferrata. One of several such climbs around the world, you'll traverse 90-degree crags via a network of iron bars hundreds of feet in the air. It's not for everyone, and certainly not for anyone with fear of heights, but if you've got some technical climbing under your belt already, this is a must-do experience.
September in Telluride is a month of transition, very much the way April is. The beginning of the month is still packed with beautiful weather and events (indeed, one of Telluride's biggest festivals, the Film Festival, takes place over Labor Day every year), but by the end of the month, there's an unmistakable shift toward winter, as the graph to the left, courtesy of WeatherSpark, points out.
The historical average high for September 1 is 62 degrees, while the historical average low is 40 degrees. By September 30, the average high drops to 54 degrees, and the average low drops below freezing to 31 degrees. The first snows often appear in September as well, with an average of an inch of snowfall in town in September every year.
We touched on October earlier when discussing the most affordable time to go to Telluride, but the box canyon during this month has more going for it than just a pleasing price tag. Telluride in October is full of cold-weather hiking (but not necessarily winter mountaineering), heavy first snows, autumnal themes and celebrations, and very few crowds. While it's spring counterpart may be the month of May, there's a lot more going on in October. The Telluride Horror Show is an autumn-time take on the famous Film Festival, featuring 3 days of horror film fanaticism, and many of the bars host smaller local live music and comedy acts. Visiting in October is a great way to see the town as locals do.
Explore the magic of Telluride in the winter with this video of the majestic landscape:
A local's delight
Telluride in the winter is perfect in nearly every way. As long as you're ok with crowds on Main Street in town, this is absolutely when you should visit Telluride. Even the lift lines rarely exceed long-wait status, and when they do, it's not an influx of Epic-pass wielding outsiders. If there's ever a wait, it's usually because a heavy storm dropped feet of powder overnight, and all the locals come out to take advantage of it.
Telluride Ski Resort CEO Bill Jensen said that during the 2018-2019 ski season, on the 12 busiest days, local season pass holders accounted for up to 50% of skier visits. That's an enormous testament to how this fairy tale mountain town has managed to maintain its small, local profile.
Much like the peak seasons of summer, the Town of Telluride swells during ski season. However, the biggest difference is that it feels a little more snug and cozy thanks to the shorter days, the snow on the streets, and the cold. The rooftop bars are closed and the patios shuttered, so bars and restaurants take on a different feel, and can certainly be crowded on peak days.
However, don't let that deter you. It's safe to say there are few places in Colorado as charming as Telluride in the winter, and the wintry mountain vibe is inimitable.
Whereas October still has some hints of autumn, Telluride in November is, for the most part, full-blown winter. Average lows drop into the teens, and by December, average daily lows are in the single digits. This bitter cold continues into January and February before a warming trend in March, when temperatures average in the 20s and 30s.
Mountain Village, which can be accessed to town by a maintained road or by gondola, can have a similar energy to town, or a private, quiet, and serene feel that doesn't exist near Main Street. However, one thing is certain: When snow blankets the rolling hills, the jagged peaks of the San Juans break through the ice, and you step onto your porch as the sun comes up, the sheer beauty of Mountain Village will be like nothing else you've experienced.
If you stay near Mountain Village Core, you'll likely have either ski-in, ski-out access or you'll be close enough to walk to the slopes. If you're a bit outside the Core, you can always use Mountain Village's free Dial-a-Ride service to get to the lifts. In the core, you'll find plenty of bars, restaurants, shops, and activities that suit the whole family, including ice skating, concerts, and more.
The best time of year to visit Telluride completely depends on what you want to get out of your vacation. We hope we've outlined each of Telluride's seasons in enough detail to help you make the right decision for you and your family. Still have questions? Give us a call at 970-536-1250 and we'd love to help you find the best Telluride lodging.
To give you an idea of what restaurants close in Telluride for the offseason (when the gondola isn't running) and for how long, below is a list of closures and their reopening dates for the 2019 spring season.
How to Get to Telluride
This town is remote. Luckily, there are now more ways than ever to get to Telluride, whether that's a 40-minute flight or an 8-hour scenic drive. We detail all your options in our post here.
The Best Places to Stay in Telluride
Look through our detailed breakdown of Town vs Mountain Village, as well as other prime locations, such as Ski Ranches, Aldasoro Ranch, pet-friendly lodging, and more.
Telluride Altitude Sickness Prevention and Treatment
Telluride and Mountain Village are both at high altitudes. Find out the facts, the myths, and what you can do to best prepare for your upcoming vacation to this stunning destination.
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