Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Alta Lakes Camping near Telluride

Alta Lakes Campground
Free camping near Telluride

Now here's a San Juan gem for free camping!
Just south of Telluride/Mountain Village, immediately across the street from the pay/crowded Sunshine Campground, is Alta Lakes Road. This road is a semi-rough 5 miles upward to Alta Lakes, with some dropoffs (aka "Great Views!") off the side of the road. As you get higher, in fact, you'll have great views of Lizard Head in the distance. The road isn't too bad but high clearance is recommended and perhaps necessary.

Near the top, pass some photo-worthy mining buildings and streams, before reaching the lakes themselves.

Your reward is a pick of one of the best car campsites I've seen in Colorado, if not a wonderful day area for a picnic and some hiking, biking, or fishing. Again, even trying our luck on Labor Day/Telluride Film Festival weekend, we had a choice of spots. Three alpine lakes are filled with jumping fish that were simply teasing the fishermen trying to catch them, but not that they didn't have fun trying.

We chose the first spot on the backside, along the large cliff wall that formed Silver Mountain and Palmyra Peak. With some downtime, I climbed these peaks about half a dozen times, tracing out different routes -- in my mind, with a beer in hand. Climbing is much safer this way! Since we plan on kicking around in Colorado for years to come, I anticipate coming back there and heading up some other time.

Tracing the ridge around the lake, it eventually gives way to a softer tundra shoulder, and the poky outlier named "Bald Peak." This area is the top of Telluride ski area, so a quick 20-25 minute jaunt above treeline gives views towards the ski area, as well as up toward Lizard Head. Otherwise, some singletrack skirts around the mountains and makes for a nice mountain biking loop from the ski area, down Alta Lakes road, and across to Sunshine.

There is no shortage of activities at Alta Lakes!


  1. Great stuff, Mike. We were up at Alta a few years ago when I ran the Imogene Pass race. My mom spent a winter living there at the mine back in the 40s, as my grandfather was a miner (mainly in Silverton). We even found the house they lived in!

  2. That's awesome! I can only imagine what it would have been like decades ago, and how isolated it must have felt. That's really cool to have a personal attachment to the history and geography like that.

    To me, it suggests strongly that you should run Hardrock sometime! ;) (Hey, it's easy to volunteer /other/ people!)

  3. Trust me, I've thought about Hardrock, but I don't think I'm ready for that! Am planning on doing the Lake City 50 in the next couple years as a proxy!!