C&I rounds up our favorite interior Colorado towns and where to eat, sleep, and play.
Telluride: This Victorian mining town is known as the Festival Capital of Colorado. There’s the famous music festival and film festival, but the most unknown, unusual gathering might be the Art + Architecture Weekend, held each July. Not only can you see the building (no longer a bank) on Colorado Avenue where Butch Cassidy pulled off his first stickup, but you can also ride the free gondola to the nearby town of Mountain Village.
Silverton: Founded in 1874, this town is a National Historic Landmark. One fun spot: the notorious Blair Street, with underground tunnels that supposedly conveyed gentlemen from the proper side of town to the brothels. “We are the ghost town that wasn’t,” a local told me. “We are the last one standing.” Indeed, we arrived just after the town was used as the primary filming location for an upcoming movie about Hunter S. Thompson’s run for Pitkin County sheriff.
Ridgway: Nestled in the Uncompahgre Valley, this little town boasts some of the most photographed mountains in the world: the peaks of the Cimarrons and the San Juans. Up until two years ago, the streets were unpaved. Now Ridgway has its own film festival, tons of trails for biking and hiking, and a thriving arts district — indeed, in a population of 1,000, 200 are creatives.
Ouray: Some call it the Switzerland of America, situated as it is in a river valley at nearly 8,000 feet with peaks all around. Built in the 1870s, the town hosts one of Smithsonian’s “10 Best Museums in the West” and John Wayne’s hat sitting behind the bar at The Outlaw Restaurant. There are also hot springs first used by the Ute Indians, including, it’s said, Chief Ouray, the Uncompahgre band leader after whom the town is named.
Durango: It has its own international film festival, the longest zip-line course in the country, and ice climbing (a local resident is working on getting it made an official Winter Olympic sport, now that sport climbing is in the Summer Olympics). Plus, Durango is a great place to stay if you want to visit nearby Mesa Verde National Park. A lesser-known gem is Crow Canyon, where a dig is currently underway.
Telluride: The New Sheridan Hotel boasts the first alternating current lighting in the world, thereby giving Telluride the right to call itself America’s “city of lights.”
Ouray: Hotel Ouray, built in 1893, features Victorian architecture and stunning views, outside and in.
Durango: The Rochester Hotel & Leland House, built in 1892 and 1927 respectively, are sweet spots. Filled with the decor of the most popular movies filmed in the West, it’s a movie buff’s delight. Plus, there’s a complimentary full gourmet breakfast prepared by a chef who’s been there for more than 20 years, and a new high-tech work-sharing space next door.
Telluride: 221 South Oak is both the name of the restaurant and its location. Top Chef Eliza Gavin was on Season 10 of TV’s Top Chef. Steps away from the gondola, this little place had the most unique menu I encountered.
Ouray: The Outlaw Restaurant on Main Street is the “Legendary Home of John Wayne’s Hat.” Apparently, he frequented the place while filming True Grit, and the decor is as Western as the food.
Durango: The Ore House is one of Durango’s oldest eateries, and this fine dining spot is famous for its steak and seafood (the Surf & Surf & Turf being a most excellent combo). There’s a full bar and nice wine cellar, too.
Ridgway: If you think you recognize the place, it might be because it was the setting of the original True Grit, How the West Was Won, and Tribute to a Bad Man. For such a tiny town (it literally has the only stoplight in all of Ouray County), it has a huge Creative District — in fact, it’s one of the state’s first certified Colorado creative districts. Here you’ll discover all kinds of art-filled and unique stores, including Panji Bags, which sells eco-friendly hard cases for instruments, made by a local couple.
Silverton: Rock Pirates Backcountry Adventure Tours & Rentals has a full fleet of 2019 Polaris side-by-sides and Slingshots for your next (or first!) off-highway vehicle adventure. Rent your own or spring for a guided tour — and yes, the guides do know the best routes and secret spots and local lore. The Animas Forks ghost town and Alpine Loop are favorites.
Between Durango and Silverton: An adventurer’s or photographer’s — or beer lover’s — delight, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is interesting enough on its own. But it also hosts themed trips, such as a photographers run with special stops for snapping away, and a Brew Train featuring local brews and eats.
Telluride: Now the Mahr Building, 129/131 W. Colorado Ave., used to be the San Miguel Valley Bank, the site of Butch Cassidy’s first real heist. Marked by a plaque, this is where on the morning of June 24, 1889, he went from small-time horse thief to big-time bank robber, making off with upwards of $20,000 — about half a million today.
Killed in 1908 in San Vicente, Bolivia, Cassidy wouldn’t have been around to see vaudeville acts take the stage when the town’s Sheridan Opera House opened in 1913. Still an impressive performing arts center, it’s had more film world premieres than in any other place outside of New York and L.A.
Ouray: The Box Canyon Falls in Ouray offer a short, strange hike through towering walls of quartzite, where visitors come upon water shooting out of rock and dropping nearly 300 feet. The Ouray Ice Park hosts the Ouray Ice Festival in late January; from mid-December to March, you can try your hand (and crampons) at ice climbing — snowy vistas included.
Don’t-miss Side Excursion: Mesa Verde National Park and Crow Canyon, sites of Ancestral Puebloan settlements.
Photography: Michael Heiner
From the April 2019 issue.