Telluride, Camping at 11,000 ft in September

Travel diary on exploring Telluride


My favorite campsites are the ones you discover in the middle of the night, the ones that surprise and stun you when the sun rises.

We’d pulled up in the middle of the night, so had no idea what we’d wake up to. The temperature had plummeted in the wee hours of the morning and when I woke, in my hat, gloves, two pairs of pants and down jacket inside my zero degree sleeping bag, a hot cup of coffee was the only thing on my mind.

I unzipped the door and numbly shoved my socked feet into my hiking boots. I went to pull aside the fly and froze, my breath a cloud billowing above me.

We were camped maybe two hundred feet from a pristine alpine lake, its surface perfectly still in the dawn light (thank you, US Forest Service for placing boulders to keep people like us from driving into Alta Lake at midnight.)

Across the lake from us, treeline abruptly ended and I gazed in awe upon three gorgeous peaks, dusted with snow, the sun just about to peek out above them.

Lightroom Edit


This was my first taste of Telluride, a magical place that continued to amaze.

Later that morning, we found ourselves hiking above the town, listening to the sounds of a music festival as we climbed farther down the valley to the most picturesque waterfall. We scrambled up to its base and let the mist hit our faces, then quickly hustled back to move the car before our two-hour free parking was up.

That evening, we walked around the lake, watching a family of ducks bob for food and hiked through the woods to find the other two lakes that make up Alta Lakes. They were abandoned and beautiful.

That night, it got down to 27° and we barely slept, trying to add on as many clothes as possible to stay warm. Camping in September at 11,000 feet is not for the faint of heart.

The next morning, the sky was dotted with clouds and they rolled by fast and frequently, hiding the sun from warming our campsite. After playing peek-a-boo with the sun and trying to warm up over some oatmeal, we turned on the car and gratefully drove into the town of Telluride with the heat blasting.

We drove to the base of the road leading to Bridal Veil Falls, which the internet had said was suitable only for high clearance, four-wheel drive vehicles – like Wranglers. The sky was on and off spitting rain, so we weren’t about to hike up the steep road to the falls.

We looked at each other for a moment before deciding to be reckless and test the off-road capabilities of our less-than-week-old Subaru Crosstrek.

We crawled up the ridiculously steep and rocky road that cut zigzags in the mountainside. We passed lots of Jeeps and a few other larger SUVs, but we were the only Subaru on the road.

Nervously watching the darkening sky, hoping the rain wouldn’t come and turn the road into a slippery mess, we made it to the base of the falls and after snapping a few pictures, eagerly continued to the house at the top of the falls. We walked out onto the precarious platforms, examining the crumbling structure that looked as if any minute it could tumble down the cliffs below.


The rain came as soon as we safely made it back down to the valley below. We spent the rest of the day popping in and out of coffee shops, stores and riding the gondola down the mountain, waiting for the rain to pass.

We discussed trying to pack up and drive the six hour journey home in the dark, still numb from the previous night of below-freezing temps, but we decided to buy two bundles of firewood and some hot cocoa and stick it out.

When we got back to camp, the rain cleared and we were treated to the most incredible sunset. Our fire lasted for hours and the temperature didn’t sink as far as we had expected.

I was awakened at three am to the sound of celebrating coyotes as they yipped over a kill. There’s something absolutely wild about living amongst the wild for a few days.

We explored the ghost town of Alta before hitting the road again in our newly christened, pumpkin spice Subaru, sure to return to Telluride soon to hit the Via Ferrata and hike to many more beautiful spots.


Author: mikaelayanagihara

I'm Mikaela and I'm an Outside Millennial.

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