Since the entire town of Telluride is located in black bear habitat, you have a good chance of seeing one these gentle giants and other wildlife when you least expect it. Sitting out on your rental’s deck or balcony is perhaps the safest, and certainly the easiest way to watch wildlife here in Telluride, especially if your rental overlooks water. That said, here are a few places to see in Telluride for wildlife viewing while you’re out hiking or skiing in the area.
Places to See in Telluride: Hope Lake Trail
This popular out-and-back trail near Telluride has plenty of views of the surrounding mountains and lovely crystal-clear lakes. About a 6-mile hike, you’ll wander through grassy meadows filled with colorful wildflowers in the spring and summer, past a waterfall, and up the rocky mountain trail to the pretty alpine lake. The distinctive Lizard Head Peak, colorful Vermilion Peak, and the Wilson Group of 14ers make for a pretty spectacular backdrop for your hike.
You’ll be sharing the trail with the usual suspects as you hike along the heavily forested trail to the lake. Look for grouse, peregrine falcons, and other birds hiding in the grass or soaring high above. Watch the mountain slopes for bighorn sheep and the like. Get there early to avoid the crowds on this kid-friendly, dog-friendly trail in the beautiful Lizard Head Wilderness Area.
San Miguel River South Fork Preserve
Originating in the San Juan Mountains southeast of Telluride and flowing northwest is the scenic San Miguel River. Protected by the Nature Conservancy since 1989, the South Fork section of the preserve on the San Miguel River contains one of the best-known areas of the very rare narrowleaf cottonwood, Colorado blue spruce, and black twinberry plant communities in the world, and the conservancy is focused on protecting this important riparian habitat.
The accessible elevated boardwalk and viewing platform makes birdwatching and wildlife viewing as easy as it gets. There’s a short gravel hiking trail too. Be on the lookout for the occasional black bear, beavers, otters, elusive mountain lions, and peregrine falcons. The Audubon Society lists this site as an Important Bird Area. While you’re out enjoying a drive on the San Juan Skyway, be sure to stop at this quiet, beautiful spot. It’s just a little over 12 miles from Telluride to the south.
Telluride River Trail
Officially known as the San Miguel River Trail, this popular trail runs alongside and through Telluride as it follows the river and offers plenty of good fishing spots and swimming holes along the way. It’s also the most popular dog walking hike around. If you’re new to the area, this trail is a great way to get acclimated to the mountain air, as there is only a 170-foot elevation gain along the entire 4+ mile trail. You can gain access to the trail in several spots throughout Telluride, and while the trail (and Telluride) are both on the valley floor, the views are still spectacular.
Besides dogs, you’ll see plenty of waterfowl, beavers, skunks, mule deer, marmot, and more. The trail also goes through the Hobgood/Drew Wetlands and Nature Preserve, another great spot for bird watching and wildlife viewing. There are so many amazing things to see in Telluride on this famous River Trail!
San Juan Skyway Scenic and Historic Byway
If you’re going to be spending a while here in the Telluride area, be sure to schedule some time in for a drive along the San Juan Skyway. This scenic road cuts through the beautiful San Juan Mountains, stopping in historic towns like Telluride, Durango, Ouray, and Ridgway along the way. Considered Colorado’s most spectacular mountain pass, this route has gorgeous views along every mile and is a must for your itinerary.
Viewing spots along the way give you ample opportunity to sit and soak in the majestic view. You’ll be able to do some prime birdwatching and wildlife viewing while enjoying the scenery. Bald eagles, kestrels, red-tailed hawks, bluebirds, and more are commonly spotted, as are foxes, elk, and maybe a black bear or two. This is one of the best things to see in Telluride!
The Valley Floor
Look for the entrance to the Valley Floor just before Telluride. Once a prime placer mining operation, then slated for condos and major development, this 570-acrea area is now owned by Telluride and is a preserved open space for year-round activities like hiking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and biking. As part of the Valley Floor’s restoration, the San Miguel (beloved by fly fishermen, kayakers, and rafters) was returned to its original, meandering path and the accompanying wetlands and riparian areas restored. These restored swampy areas and wetlands have become great spot for birdwatching for all sorts of waterfowl (including mallards and Canadian geese), magpies, warblers and more. A loop trail (well-maintained and mostly flat), winds along the Valley Floor and you’ll be able to see badgers, chipmunks, rabbits, prairie dogs, and a shy coyote or two. At pretty much any point during the year, you’ll see herds of elk contentedly browsing.