Last updated on December 20, 2023 by Wandering our World
Colorado is one of the best states of all when it comes to outdoor recreation, boasting several spectacular ski resorts and mountain towns. Telluride and Aspen are two of the Centennial State’s most precious treasures, boasting world-class skiing and jaw-dropping views. But which one is best?
On the one hand, there’s Telluride. The smaller, cozier, and quieter of the two towns, Telluride is famed for its remote location, authentic vibes, and quiet, traditional feel. It’s a relaxing, romantic place, a far cry from the touristic attractions and bustling nightlife of other ski resorts. It might be the ideal option for those seeking the most peaceful escape.
Then, there’s Aspen. Bigger, busier, and more touristic than Telluride, this Colorado mountain town offers incredible skiing opportunities, with no less than four distinct ski areas dotted across the surrounding landscape. It’s also got a bit more going on compared to Telluride, with Aspen offering more stores, restaurants, and places to hang out in the evenings.
Of course, we can’t sum up all the best bits and big differences in just a couple of paragraphs. There’s so much more to say about both of these places, and so many ways in which to compare them. Fortunately, that’s what this guide is here to do. So, without delay, let’s dig into Telluride vs Aspen and see which classic Colorado resort comes out on top.
- A Quick Overview Of Telluride vs Aspen
- Which Is Best For Skiing And Winter Activities?
- Which Is Best For Summer Activities?
- Which Is Best For Nature And Wildlife?
- Which Is Best For Nightlife And Entertainment?
- Which Is Best For Food?
- Which Is Best For Families?
- Which Is Best For Couples?
- Which Is Cheapest?
- Where To Stay According To Your Budget
- Telluride vs Aspen: Which Is Better?
A Quick Overview Of Telluride vs Aspen
Telluride: A Quick Overview
Telluride is a mountain town in San Miguel County (of which it is the county seat) in the southwest part of Colorado. It has a prime box canyon location, surrounded by the San Juan Mountains, on the banks of the San Miguel River. Around 2,600 people live here permanently, and the town itself is 2.22 square miles in size.
The history of Telluride goes back to the 1870s. The so-called “Smuggler Gold Vein” was found in the area in 1875, to be precise, and the town itself was settled just a few years later, in 1878. It was originally called “Columbia,” but later had its name changed. The “Telluride” name was chosen due to the high amounts of the element tellurium which were found nearby.
Due to its very remote location, Telluride took a lot of time to grow and develop. For a long time, mining was the only real reason for anyone to make the long journey to this sleepy town. But things changed in the 1970s, when the Telluride Ski Resort was developed and the area started to become much more appealing to tourists.
Since then, Telluride has never quite reached the same busy heights as Aspen and other famous resorts, but it’s still very popular, beloved by many for its distinctive vibe, blending elements and heritage of a true Wild West town – Butch Cassidy once robbed a bank here – with all the grace and comfort of a modern, luxurious winter resort.
Aspen: A Quick Overview
Aspen is another Colorado mountain town, located in a remote section of the Rocky Mountains, nestled between the Sawatch Range and the Elks. Roaring Fork River runs alongside the town, which is home to a little over 7,000 people. Size-wise, it extends across 3.85 square miles, making it notably bigger and busier compared to Telluride.
Aspen was founded around the same time as Telluride, with the first mining settlers setting up homes in the area in 1879. And, like Telluride, it was originally known under a different name – Ute City, in honor of the indigenous Ute people. The name Aspen was introduced in 1880, and it rapidly grew into a major silver mining operation.
Indeed, the vast quantities of silver in Aspen fueled rapid growth, with banks, a hospital, theaters, and more all arriving before the turn of the 20th century. However, the mining industry gradually died out and Aspen became sleepier and quieter until a group of investors saw an opportunity to develop the town as a ski resort.
Their plan was a success. Aspen has since become one of the premier winter sports resorts in North America, finding favor with people from all walks of life, from wealthy film stars to families of skiing enthusiasts. It draws in huge crowds annually and is known for its luxury accommodation, lively downtown area, and easy access to no less than four different ski zones.
Which Is Best For Skiing And Winter Activities?
Of course, when most people think about Aspen and Telluride, they think about the ski slopes and other snowy activities that these mountain towns are most commonly associated with. And most travelers tend to visit these two towns during the colder, snowier months of the year. But which one is best for a winter getaway?
Telluride: Winter Activities
Telluride easily ranks among the best winter sports destinations in the United States. It’s not got quite as much skiing terrain as Aspen, nor does it have as many slopes, trails, and runs, but what it lacks in quantity, it makes up for in quality. The trails here are really fun to explore, and there are plenty of beginner and intermediate-level options to suit most visitors.
The scenery in Telluride is also particularly special, with its box canyon setting creating some truly mind-blowing views, whether you’re down in the town or up high on the slopes. And even in downhill skiing isn’t your thing, Telluride’s terrain can work for other activities, like dog sledding, fat biking, ice climbing, and cross-country, too
Telluride is also the only place in Colorado where you can enjoy helicopter skiing, if you’re looking for a truly unique thrill. What’s more ski passes tend to be notably cheaper here than in Aspen – the gondola in Telluride also happens to be free, while Aspen’s comes with a pretty hefty price tag.
Aspen: Winter Activities
It’s no secret that Aspen has access to some of the best ski slopes in North America, and one of the big selling points of this town is its close proximity to four distinct skiing areas: Aspen Mountain, Buttermilk, Aspen Highlands, and Snowmass. That gives you an almost endless array of slopes and trails to explore, with options for all ages and ability levels.
The diversity of Aspen’s skiing simply can’t be matched, and if you want to hit a different slope or trail every single day, you’ll have no problem doing that here. What’s more, each of the four ski areas feels truly unique, with its own personality, views, and character. Visitors will have lots of fun visiting each one to discover their own favorites.
If skiing isn’t your thing, Aspen’s terrain is also well-suited to other forms of winter fun, like snowshoeing, snowcat rats, and tubing. There’s even an awesome alpine coaster – a surefire hit for families – over on Snowmass mountain. Also, it’s worth noting that Aspen isn’t quite as high up as Telluride. So, if you feel uncomfortable at high altitude, you might prefer it here.
Overall, when it comes to skiing and all the classic winter activities, Aspen is the better choice. It’s got over twice as much terrain as Telluride, with four massive zones to explore and lots of trails for every possible kind of skier. With that said, Telluride does have the benefit of being quieter and cheaper, both of which are important factors to take into account.
Which Is Best For Summer Activities?
Of course, winter isn’t the only time of year in which you can visit Telluride and Aspen. Both of these mountain towns welcome visitors all-year long. And, if skiing and snow aren’t quite right for you, you might be pleasantly surprised by the sheer variety of things to do in both of these locations during the warmer summer months.
Telluride: Summer Activities
Telluride may be the smaller of these two resorts, but it’s jam-packed full of things to do in summer, and one of the best places to start is in the town itself. There, when the sun’s shining, families and groups of friends can roam around and find plenty to fill their days, like fun play areas for the kids, charming art galleries, and quaint, traditional stores to browse.
The Telluride Historical Museum is also worth a visit, telling the fascinating tale of the town’s past and distinctive culture. Or, if you’d prefer to spend your days outside, soaking up the sunshine, visit the area’s many hiking trails, dotted across the San Juan Mountains. From family-friendly jaunts to hardcore treks, there are lots of options for every hiker.
Telluride is also well-placed for water-based activities. You’ll find many lakes, ponds, creeks, and streams in the surrounding area, ideal for fishing, swimming, kayaking, or paddleboarding. Or, if you’re in the mood for some live entertainment, the summer in Telluride is packed with events, like the Telluride Mountain Film Festival in May.
Aspen: Summer Activities
Aspen is well and truly an all-season resort, offering just as many activities in summer as it does in winter, if not more! It’s a fabulous place to head during June, July, August, and the shoulder months, and one of the best ways to explore this area when the weather’s warm is by hiking its many trails, like the Rio Grande route or the paths around nearby Maroon Bells.
Aspen also has a ton of live events and festivals to mark on your calendar for summer fun, like its iconic Aspen Music Festival, which runs from the end of June through to late August. There’s a super shopping scene here, too, with over 200 stores from high-end boutiques of Gucci and Prada to more affordable thrift shops and sporting goods stores.
Still want more? Well, Aspen’s got you covered. From cozy art galleries and indulgent spas to indoor swimming pools, play areas for the kids, horseback riding through the backcountry, kayaking on the Roaring Fork River, paragliding, rock climbing, and even hot air balloon rides, there’s such a lot to do in this picturesque part of the Centennial State.
Overall, both of these towns are terrific to see in the summer, with more than enough activities and events to put a smile on the face of any traveler. Aspen definitely has a wider variety of things to do and a bigger, more vibrant town, but Telluride’s quiet charm may appeal to those seeking a calmer retreat.
Which Is Best For Nature And Wildlife?
Surrounded by mountains, lakes, and other beautiful natural scenery, Telluride and Aspen are also both fantastic places for nature lovers. You can discover and encounter all kinds of wildlife here, from beavers and birds to black bears and mountain lions. But which one is best for those seeking to spot some animals on their adventures?
Well, this is one category where Telluride takes the crown, and that’s mainly thanks to the fact that it’s the quieter of the two. With fewer crowds, less noise, and less touristic development in general, this place feels a little more in tune with nature. As such, travelers can hope to spot all sorts of critters, from skunks and moose to lynx and more.
Aspen is also home to a plethora of amazing animals, like elk, deer, marmots, moose, bears, and a wide range of birds of prey, soaring through the skies. You may spot some of them while exploring the backcountry areas on hikes or snowshoe tours. However, due to the noise and crowds that this area draws in, it’s not quite as easy to see animals as it is in Telluride.
Which Is Best For Nightlife And Entertainment?
Clearly, there’s lots to do during the daytime in Telluride and Aspen, from skiing and snowboarding to hiking and shopping. But how about in the evenings? Well, if you’re the kind of person who likes to stay out late and make the most of every moment of your vacation, here’s a quick breakdown of the nightlife scenes in these mountain towns.
Despite being a pretty small town, Aspen has a big nightlife scene. Especially in summer, you’ll find all sorts going on after dark, from craft beer and cocktail bars to live DJ performances, concerts, and more. The town also has lots of major festivals, like Belly Up Aspen, which often draws in big headline acts, as well as an opera house.
Telluride, too, has a surprisingly big nightlife scene for such a small and sleepy town. People here like to party, and there are several venues you can head to after dark to enjoy drinks, dancing, music, and more. Telluride especially has a great range of Wild West-style saloons and parlor bars, with awesome décor and world-class whiskey behind the bar.
Overall, both towns are pretty decent places to be in the evenings. Aspen is a little livelier and has more options, but some visitors may prefer the traditional feel of Telluride’s bars (along with their lower prices).
Which Is Best For Food?
At the end of a long day of skiing, it feels so nice to head back into town and put your feet up to enjoy a delicious, filling meal, getting your energy levels back up before the next day begins. And one of the best things about Telluride and Aspen is that they both have decent dining scenes to cater to the many visitors they attract each year.
Aspen is famed for its high-end, luxury establishments, with gourmet-grade, Michelin star dining. If you love the finer things in life and don’t mind paying for the privilege, you can eat very, very well here. There are some simply spectacular places to dine, ideal for romantic evenings with someone special or happy memory-making with your friends and family.
Over in Telluride, you’ll find more traditional mountain town fare and a wider selection of affordable, comfort food classics. In the mood for something simple at the end of your skiing session, like French fries, tacos, or ramen? You’ll have no trouble finding all of that in Telluride. Menus here may not be as sophisticated as Aspen, but they’re still very delicious.
Which Is Best For Families?
Telluride and Aspen can both be super destinations for family vacations, especially for families who love to get out and enjoy activities like skiing and hiking. But which one of these mountain towns will suit your family the best? Well, that all depends on personal preferences.
Families looking for the best possible skiing action will surely favor Aspen. With its four massive ski areas, it’s one of the top spots in the world for winter fun. If your family is made up of seasoned skiers, you’ll surely have the time of your lives testing your skills on Aspen’s famed slopes or enjoying the many other activities of this mountain resort.
On the other hand, Telluride has the benefit of being more affordable, which may appeal to many families, as well as quieter, which can be a benefit when it comes to enjoying a peaceful and pleasant family getaway. It’s also remarkably picturesque, and kids are sure to live the Wild West vibes that permeate through the town.
Overall, there’s no obvious winner here. It all just depends on what you and your family tend to enjoy the most.
Which Is Best For Couples?
Couples can also have a spectacular time in either Telluride or Aspen, and both destinations have something to offer for lovers of all ages. So, once again, it’s important to consider your own tastes and desires in order to pick the most idyllic destination for your next romantic escape.
If indulgence, luxury, and action-packed activities are what you crave, Aspen’s the place to be. Often described as one of the most romantic ski resorts in the world, this place is a couple’s paradise, with so many luxurious accommodation options for you and your partner to relax in, as well as gourmet dining, relaxing spas, and so many ski slopes to explore.
On the other hand, if you and your partner are seeking something a little quieter and calmer, but still fun-filled and breathtakingly beautiful, Telluride could be the option. With its more peaceful atmosphere, it may be a little more romantic than Aspen to some, and it’s got more of a laid-back feel, which is quite a contrast to Aspen’s exclusive vibes.
Which Is Cheapest?
If you’re planning a trip to either Telluride or Aspen, you’ll need to be ready to hand over some serious cash, as both of these destinations are pretty pricey. However, there is a notable difference between the two, with Telluride being much cheaper in all of the key areas, from the gondola rides (which are free) to the accommodation and food.
Indeed, pretty much everything is cheaper in Telluride compared to Aspen, making it much more appealing for those who want a skiing escapade or summer adventure on a budget, as well as those who want to get maximum value for every dollar they spend. In contrast, over in Aspen, you may sometimes feel like you’re having to overpay for certain things.
Where To Stay According To Your Budget
Budget: In the heart of Telluride, The Hotel Telluride exudes mountain elegance. Embraced by the awe-inspiring San Juan Mountains, its rustic-chic exterior beckons guests to luxurious interiors adorned with warm woods and upscale furnishings. A sophisticated haven where alpine beauty seamlessly merges with upscale comfort.
Luxury: Hotel Columbia in Telluride, an architectural gem, enchants with alpine elegance. Set against the backdrop of majestic mountains, its façade blends rustic charm with modern luxury. Inside, opulent interiors showcase refined furnishings, creating a haven of beauty. A symphony of style and comfort, capturing the essence of Telluride’s allure.
Budget: Set against the stunning backdrop of the Rockies, The Inn at Aspen is a beacon of mountain chic. Embraced by nature’s grandeur, its architecture seamlessly integrates with the surrounding landscape. Inside, contemporary elegance meets alpine warmth, providing a stylish retreat. A picturesque escape where beauty and comfort converge in the heart of Aspen’s natural splendor.
Luxury: Limelight Hotel Aspen stands as a pinnacle of mountain luxury. Architectural grandeur meets alpine elegance against the backdrop of Aspen’s scenic beauty. Inside, opulent interiors are adorned with modern flair and warmth, creating a haven of sophistication. A stunning retreat where beauty and comfort intertwine, epitomizing Aspen’s allure.
Telluride vs Aspen: Which Is Better?
All in all, there can be no doubt that Telluride and Aspen are both top class all-season mountain resorts, each one with its own charms. There are plenty of reasons to visit them both, and you should certainly try to see both, if you can. But, if you’ve only got the time or money for one right now, which should it be?
Well, even though Aspen is the more famous of the two, we have to give the win to Telluride in this comparison. It’s a little quieter, with not quite as much going on, but it’s got a lot of big advantages over Aspen in terms of affordability, vibes, stunning scenery, and food, with options to suit all tastes. It’s the ideal family destination, while also being romantic enough for couples.
At the same time, Aspen is still more than worth considering, especially if you’re a lover of skiing, snowboarding, and other winter activities. It’s got so much snowy terrain to explore, so many peaks to climb, and so many slopes to race your way down, though it does have higher prices and more of an exclusive, elitist atmosphere that may put some people off.