Colorado is famous for its 14ers, the Denver Broncos, and now, marijuana. But tucked away in the corner of southwest Colorado, you’ll find the San Juan Mountains and a small chunk of desert that promises a lifetime’s worth of adventures.

All photos by the author.

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Via Ferrata

High above the valley floor, Telluride’s via ferrata route is one of the few of its kind in the United States.

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Via Ferrata

Italian for “iron road,” the via feratta climbing style is popular in the Eurpoean Alps. Climbers attach themselves to a steel cable and use metal steps to travel through exposed sections of cliff.

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Via Ferrata

How to: Climbing the via feratta requires previous climbing experience or a professional mountain guide like the ones at Mountain Trip.

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Hiking

There are thousands of miles of trails running throughout southwest Colorado that take you through spectacular mountain scenery. Here a hiker passes by Colorado’s state flower, the Rocky Mountain Columbine.

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Hiking

Many of Colorado’s high mountain lakes really are this blue. They provide a stark contrast to alpine tundra and talus fields making for perfect photos at any time of day and are ready for a refreshing dip after a long hike.

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Hiking

How to: US Forest Service Ranger Stations have maps and info on local hiking trails. It is wise to inquire about road conditions because many forest roads require a 4x4 vehicle to access remote trailheads.

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Fishing

Southwest Colorado is a top destination for trout fishing. Monster fish like this Rainbow trout can be found in the Dolores and other surrounding rivers.

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Fishing

Lots of critters crawling around under the water are a sign of a healthy river. These larvae are some of the food that fisherman try to mimic to catch fish.

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Fishing

Catch and release is the name of the game. After catching a fish it is held only long enough to snap a photo and then gently released back into the river to minimize the stress on each trout.

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Fishing

How to: Telluride Outside is your best bet for a quality fishing experience in the San Juan Mountains.

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Paragliding

For even more of a birds-eye view of the Telluride Valley than you can get from the surrounding mountains paragliding from the top of the Telluride Mountain Gondola provides the best view around.

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Paragliding

From the launch site at 10,500 feet it takes between six and thirty minutes to float down to the valley flower 1,800 feet below. Morning is the ideal time to fly because the up-mountain winds allow for an easy takeoff and smooth flying.

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Paragliding

How to: Telluride Paragliding is one of the local companies that offer flights in the area. The short July-September flying season is best for good weather and green mountain views.

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Running

In July and August the wildflowers in the San Juan Mountains are going crazy. Many trails reach above tree line and cut through alpine meadows of Indian paintbrush and mountain bluebells.

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Running

Above the meadows of wildflowers, trails hit the barren rock of Colorado’s endless 13,000 and 14,000-foot peaks and the views of the surrounding mountains seem to go on forever.

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Running

Thankfully most tourists don’t get more than a few miles from the trailheads so if you’re bold enough to put on your running shoes and head deep into the mountains you’ll probably have the trail to yourself.

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Running

How to: To hit up the best runs in the San Juan Mountains check out professionally guided runs from Highline Running Adventures.

18

Mesa Verde

Mesa Verde National Park holds some of the most extensive and well preserved Ancestral Puebloan ruins in the country.

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Mesa Verde

The National Park Service gives guided tours of the larger archeological sights such as Cliff Palace, which is the largest cliff dwelling in all of North America.

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Mesa Verde

How to: The one entrance to Mesa Verde National Park is between Durango and Coretz in the four corners region of Colorado. There is an entrance fee and tour tickets are best purchased in advance.

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