Telluride, for free? Yes. Alta Lakes offers free camping about six miles outside the town of Telluride and the scenery will rock your soul like no other. At eleven-thousand feet, this location offers clean air, massive wildflowers, and some serious Zen.

I arrived and was transfixed by the quiet solitude as fog rolled in and out.

Wildflowers 2
Stunning wildflowers

The only thing to know about this slice of heaven is that the rutted five mile dirt/gravel road needs to be traversed carefully. A Hyundai Accent made it and other cars like it were observed but they were far fewer than the higher-clearance SUVs and four wheel drive vehicles so take it easy. Once you arrive you’ll know it was worth the trip.

On this trip, I was solo camping and due to thunder storms, ended up cozily car camping but the sites were so varied that choices for tent campers ranged from a more private woodsy feel to kicking back directly on the edge of the lake. The roads make RVs not an option but there were several campers atop trucks that navigated the terrain successfully. Below are examples of camping areas.

There seemed to be plenty of people fishing with a fair amount fly-fishing. Also enjoying the lake were paddle boarders. One thing to note is that there are actually two lakes but the second is harder to access by car. No one was camped on Lake #2 while I was there but it was obvious that this is not always the case.

Lake # 2 A
Lake #2

Stone fire rings are provided at sites on both lakes but pit toilets were only situated on Lake #1. There is no running water so bring it and/or a water filter with you. Also no trash pickup so pack it out, PLEASE. What some folks don’t realize is that left behind trash encourages animals to visit the campground and next thing you know a non-habituated bear of yesteryear is seen dismantling a car door for a s’mores kit and campers are freaking out. To put down a bear because campers neglect to carry out their trash is tragic. None of us are perfect, many of us have been irresponsible but it’s easy to shift and correct. And as a final note on this topic, NOTHING is to be left behind because it seems biodegradable. Apple seeds and banana peels are not indigenous, they don’t belong here. Wipe biodegradable out of your mind.  🙂

On the ground near a campsite

 Moving on to hiking and Ghost Towns! Alta Lakes was once a thriving community and the ghost town that remains is fantastic to hike to at about a half mile from the campground. You’ll make your way through gorgeous scenery and tons of wildflowers and come out between two abandoned houses. There are no gift shops or carriage rides and gunfights but that seems to only enhance the ghostly feel. Be careful around the wooden structures as they are not stable and I can speak from experience that a marmot occupies the upstairs of one. *Photos below are of the hike through the forest and the ghost town.

House #1

House view #2

Camping here and exploring the area alone was a wonderful experience and Alta Lakes definitely goes on the return list. The last evening I camped, the colors over the lake morphed into pure magic and that made it very hard to depart the following morning but a quick trip to Telluride before heading to Ouray and Silverton awaited.

Sunset final night
Alta Lakes, Telluride Sunset

Driving into Telluride early is suggested if you are doing so on a weekend in the summer as the place gets hopping as the day moves on. I found free parking and headed to The Steaming Bean, a wonderful coffee house I’d visited years before that offers outrageously great coffee and free WIFI and they are generous about letting travelers catch up on personal and business correspondence. Additionally, I encountered and had a lovely chat with local artist Roger Mason as he stood at his canvas in the center of the street. Check his beautiful oils on canvas. One thing you’ll notice about Telluride is the lack of chain restaurants/businesses. Individually owned is revered here and visitors are gifted with this mentality.

This trip, I only spent a morning in Telluride but from two previous stops, I can tell you their winter snow is like fairyland and summer hiking, after taking a ski lift to the top of a mountain, is heavenly.  On both my entrance and my departure this time around, I was transfixed to see hang gliders floating like butterflies across the town and my total cash outlay for this magical morning was two bucks for my coffee. Telluride is truly for everyone.

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