Telluride: A Festival for Every Occasion – Telluride, Colorado, USA

Telluride: A Festival for Every Occasion
Telluride, Colorado, USA

In this era of jaded cynicism, lurking terrorist threat, and anti-Bush sentiments, it’s hard to find a place that still embraces the down home, small town Americana essence of an old fashioned Fourth of July, albeit tweaked for the new millennium. Recently named by Outside magazine as one of the top 3 places to celebrate the holiday, Telluride, Colorado is definitely worthy of the accolade.

I first experienced a Telluride Fourth in 2001, and have been dreaming of coming back to recapture the experience ever since. This year, I decided to do it the right way. I’m a new resident of this former mining town and world-class ski resort, located deep in a box canyon in Southwestern Colorado’s San Juan mountain range. Visitors from all over the world flock to Telluride on summer weekends, as this funky little community of just over 2,000+ is renowned for its weekly festivals, including the famed Bluegrass Festival, Wine Festival, Culinary Arts Festival, Blues and Brews, Wild Mushroom Festival…even a Nothing Festival (a break for locals from festivals). Fourth of July is considered one of the town’s premier parties, featuring a truly entertaining parade that spans the five-block Main Street, followed by a barbecue in Town Park, root beer floats at the Telluride Historical Museum, and one of the most eye-popping fireworks displays anywhere. Held in the softball field at the park, the fireworks are shot into a natural amphitheatre of sorts, framed by snow-capped mountains and pines. Thousands of attendees lie on their backs, watching the display explode directly overhead. You may get a bit of ash on you, but I can’t think of anywhere else you can have such an exhilarating pyrotechnical experience in such a profoundly spectacular natural setting.

At the Festival
The Bluegrass Festival, held every June and featuring the nation’s top bluegrass musicians, is held in the same location, and is tantamount to a massive, four-day camping party at the Town Park campground, as music lovers from all over the world convene to sit in the sun, listen to bluegrass talent from Wilco to Yonder Mountain String Band, Allison Krause, and Gillian Welch, and party on the river. Music seminars and workshops are also on-going throughout town. If you have any appreciation at all for down home music, don’t miss this event. I saw Wilco from the front row, against a backdrop of jagged peaks and rising moon – an unforgettable experience.

But back to the Fourth of July. Post-display, revelers head to local dives such as The Last Dollar Saloon, affectionately dubbed “The Buck.” But the Fourth is largely a family holiday in Telluride, and there’s no shortage of activities for both hardcore adventure seekers and those looking for tamer outdoor pursuits. A mecca for whitewater enthusiasts, hikers, mountain bikers, rock climbers, fly fishermen, and horseback riders, Telluride has enough outdoor adventure companies to suit every taste and skill level.

As a longtime whitewater rafting junkie, I decided to instead improve my kayaking skills. San Juan Rivers Paddling School offers co-ed and special women’s clinics, as well as multi-day trips on the San Juan River. My full-day women’s clinic consisted of a small group of mostly novice and beginning paddlers, taught by two of San Juan’s excellent guides, both hard-charging female kayakers. We practiced paddling techniques on one portion of the river before a massive picnic lunch, then hit the spectacular Hanging Flume section of Dolores Canyone. The 13-mile flume, a relic from hydraulic gold mining in the 1890s, is on the National Historic Register, and hangs midway up a nearly 100-foot sheer sandstone cliff wall – a remarkable feat of engineering even by today’s standards.

Post-paddle, hit one of the town’s lively nightspots or restaurants. For such a small, isolated community, Telluride also boasts a shocking number of great eateries and bars, and a sophisticated wine and food scene, including the delicious, natural yeast-fermented breads at CindyBread, sparkling fresh sushi at hotspot Honga’s, and the decadent, kasbah-like atmosphere at the bar section of Excelsior Cafe. And don’t miss the Friday farmer’s market, held on Oak Street from noon to 4 p.m., and featuring sustainably grown and organic produce, meat, cheese, and baked goods from local family farms. Telluride may be tiny, but it’s a force to be reckoned with when it comes to community spirit, cultural activities, sheer physical beauty, great eat and drink, and tourism done right. See you at The Buck.

For information on whitewater trips, call 1.866.728.6250 or 970.728.6250, or go to
For Bluegrass Festival information, go to
For Telluride visitor’s and other festival information, go to