Location: Telluride, Colorado
Distance: 14 miles
Elevation Gain: 3520ft
There is no doubt that Telluride offers some of the most beautiful, inspiring & challenging hiking of anywhere in Colorado. There are literally hundreds of miles of trail that you can access right from town, without needing to get in a vehicle. I’ve been a bit of a slacker this summer – I was visiting family in Australia for all of June. When I returned to Telluride I had a few weeks at home on my own with baby, not giving me an opportunity to get into the high country. We then hosted our Mountain Maiden Yoga & Hiking RE:treat which was a lot of low(er) altitude hiking, then my Dad came to visit for 2 weeks. My Dad loves hiking, but he got quite the shock coming from Sydney sea level to lofty Telluride. The altitude here can be brutal – even for people who are fit!
Right after my Dad left last week, I was itching to just get out there and do a solid hike. I had never hiked the Sneffel’s Highline before which is an embarrassing admission seeing as I have lived in Telluride for almost 7 years. The Sneffel’s Highline Trail is a Telluride Classic. It is a 14 mile loop on the north side of Telluride town with a 3520ft elevation gain. It definitely classifies as difficult but it offers some of the most beautiful scenery of any hike in Telluride.
There are a few ways to approach the hike. You can access the trail from Telluride town by walking up North Aspen Street, and starting on the Jud Weibe Trail. After 1/2 a mile you can turn left onto the Deep Creek Trail which leads you to the Sneffel’s Highline Trail. This approach gives you more intense uphill in the beginning, and once you reach the summit it’s a much longer, more gentle decline.
Another way you can approach the trail is by hiking the longer, more gentle segment first (from the western end). This is the way we did it. We actually cut off a few miles at the beginning by driving our car to the Mill Creek Trailhead. From there, we gradually wound our way up into the peak over a 7 mile distance, through Aspen groves & wildflower meadows. Some sections are almost flat, while other sections are tight switchbacks. This section of the hike offers incredible ski area & Wilson views. If you are wanting to ease your way into the hike this is a nice way to do it.
Once you are up above tree line, there is a beautiful high alpine meadow which was exploding with wildflowers. There is a stream meandering through the basin and a gorgeous waterfall. The most difficult part of the uphill section is the final 200 yards where you navigate a decent amount of scree to summit the saddle. We sat on the saddle & enjoyed lunch, before making our way down. The downhill section is fairly moderate. There are a lot of tight switch backs through fir & spruce groves, and down further you are back in the Aspens again. We linked back up with the Jud Weibe Trail which funneled us right back into town. It took us 5 hours including our half hour lunch stop which is probably on the faster side. My legs were like jelly.
I would say the difficulty of this hike has more to do with distance than the terrain. It is a big loop, and would only be recommended for those who are confident with their fitness & hiking ability in high altitude settings.