How to Road Trip Through Southern Colorado

I have trekked across most of Colorado’s western slope. While studying geology at Colorado School of Mines, I lived in Golden, a cozy town nestled against the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. I spent several weekends going to places like the Great Sand Dunes, Garden of the Gods, and Black Canyon, all in the name of education. Summer after junior year was my field session, a six-week program that requires all geology students to map six different locations throughout Colorado and Utah. I traversed through Moab, Durango, Salida, Saguache, Molas Lake, and Idaho Springs, mapping different landscapes and geological formations.

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Just passed Molas Lake, driving the Million Dollar Highway towards Ouray, Colorado.

Living in Denver post-graduation was a dream. A couple hours north and you’re in Boulder, Nederland or Fort Collins where the fall foliage is second to none.

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Driving toward Nederland, Colorado in early September.

An hour south and you’re in Colorado Springs where you have countless amazing hikes to choose from. Head two to four hours west and you stumble upon Breckenridge, Vail, Aspen, and Crested Butte.

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The Dillion Pinnacles of Gunnison, Colorado, located less than an hour from Crested Butte.

Unfortunately, not all mountain towns are as easily accessible. The wonders of Pagosa Springs, Durango, Ouray and Telluride are more than six hours southwest of Denver. From Santa Fe however, Pagosa Springs is just under a three-hour drive. From there, Durango, Silverton, and Ouray, are each an hour from the last. Telluride is furthest away, six hours from Santa Fe, but an easy hour drive from Ouray, in good weather that is.

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Silverton, located between Durango and Ouray.

So if you’ve got a long weekend coming up and you’re eager to tackle Southern Colorado, read on.

Day 1: Through Pagosa Springs to Durango & Ouray

Having already soaked in the deepest hot springs in the world, Jake and I drove through Pagosa Springs and straight into Durango. (However, Pagosa Springs is a great pitstop if you’ve got the time.) Arriving just in time for lunch, pizza and beer hit the spot, and a quick stroll down the Colorado Trail rounded out our time reminiscing about the good old college days.

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The first of many mountain views as we left Durango.

You’ll want to keep your camera handy as you drive down the Million Dollar Highway. After passing Molas Lake and Silverton, we ventured deeper into the canyon, and found Ouray, nestled comfortably among the mountains.

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The view of the canyon walls and mountains that encompass the town of Ouray from the top of Box Canyon.

Just an hour from Ouray is Delta, the Gunnison equivalent. Just as Gunnison sits near Crested Butte—a well-known ski town—Delta sits outside of Ouray—a well-known location for ice climbing. After a long first day, driving and hiking, we rested at an old college friend’s house in Delta.

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Garrett, an old friend from college, and Melanie, a new friend, live in Delta and volunteered to show us around Ouray.

Day 2: Box Canyon Before Telluride

The next morning, Garrett, Melanie, Jake and I headed to Ouray, but not before stopping in at Moca Joe’s, a newly renovated coffee shop located in downtown Delta. After a pick-me-up, we climbed into Box Canyon.

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Inside the canyon flows an icy waterfall.

After safely making it down each and every step to the bottom of the canyon, we turned right around and climbed to the top.

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View from the top of Box Canyon.

One leg workout later, we eagerly made our way to Ouray Brewing Company—a funky brewery located downtown.

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Breathtaking 360-degree mountain views as you stroll down the main street of downtown.

Being mindful of the winter storm warning that promised an afternoon blizzard, we went our separate ways around 2 p.m. Jake and I headed to Telluride as Garrett and Melanie headed back to Delta. Luckily, the blizzard had only just started as we parked the Subaru. As snow blanketed the town, we were cozy and warm, crashing at yet another friend’s house.

Day 3: Ride Up and Over Telluride

The morning held onto the frosty chill from the night before but with blue skies above, we were determined to explore as much as we could. And what better way to see Telluride, than to take the gondola up the side of the ski mountain and enjoy a view of the entire town.

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Riding up the side of Telluride’s skin slope.

From the top you can either continue down the opposite side of the mountain to Mountain Village or head back down the same slope. We decided to head back down the way we came and stroll down Telluride’s Main Street before heading home.

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Main Street of Telluride, Colorado.

Leaving Telluride doesn’t mean leaving the views behind. Driving through Lizard Head Pass the morning after a blizzard was like driving through a snowy paradise, with blue skies and snow covered peaks in all directions.

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A scenic stop atop Lizard Head Pass.

Until next time,

Leah Pinkus

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