Congratulations! You’re headed to Telluride Bluegrass Festival. This is a trip you will remember for the rest of your life. Telluride alone is a magical little town nestled in the San Juan Mountains, but when you add in bluegrass the experience is next level.
Don’t be surprised by the overwhelming positive energy and love bursting from this place when you arrive. Everyone is there to enjoy the music, bask in the mountain sunshine and have a damn good time.
In this post, I will walk you through the basics like how to get there, where to stay and what to eat and drink, outside and inside the festival. I will also go into detail on some long-standing traditions and let you in on you some veteran festivarian tricks. And of course, what exactly to pack so you can have fun in the sun, not get sunburn and be prepared for the cold weather when the sun goes down.
How To Get There
From Denver, it’s about a six-hour drive. There are two routes you can take, I-70 to Grand Junction, then head south or take the more scenic route down 285 through Gunnison. Depending on the traffic they can end up being almost the same amount of time so check Google before you leave.
There are a few airports that will get you closer to Telluride than Denver but you will still need a car as you are about an hour plus drive away.
Grand Junction – 2 1/2 hours
Durango – 2 hours
Montrose – 1 hour
Only those with Town Park camping, Warner Field camping or a Telluride car pass will be allowed to drive in town. Everyone else will be directed to park outside of town or in Mountain Village. It’s totally okay you won’t need your car until it’s time to leave anyway!
Where to stay
Ideal camping is in town at Town Park or Warner Field. Congrats if you were lucky enough to get one of these spots during the lottery!
Town Park: All of the OG “Festivarians” camp in Town Park and only those with a wristband can enter. Late night jams, costume parties, and creekside swimming can be found in this magical campsite in the woods.
Warner Field: A coveted camping spot located on the baseball field right next to the festival. Pack a shade tent as you are literally on a baseball field. Also, earplugs as you are basically inside the festival grounds.
The High School: Located at the other end of town is Family Camping. This is the only other in-town camping option. Be aware this is an alcohol and drug-free camping site with quiet hours.
Lawson Hill and Mary E. Ilium: Both campgrounds are both located outside of town, the only way you can get two and from these campsites is by bus. The buses run constantly so it’s not too much trouble getting back and forth.
Hotels & Airbnb
If you haven’t booked a spot you need to start looking now. Spots fill up way in advance. Airbnb and VRBO are great options. You can also check local rentals on Craigslist.
Telluride vs. Mountain Village
The earlier you can book the better. Securing a house in Telluride is hard and expensive. We typically opt to stay in Mountain Village at bigger homes and condos.
Mountain Village is on the other side of the ski mountain from town, connected by gondola. Since you can’t drive around during the festival, the gondola will be your ride to and from Telluride. The gondola runs from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. so if you go to NightGrass, you will want to hurry back to catch the last gondola. We typically ride down in the morning then head back up around 4 or so to change for the night and then head back down for more music. When looking for houses, the closer you can get to the gondola the better. Some condos do offer complimentary shuttles service to and from the gondola as well.
Eating and Drinking Outside the festival
Truth be told I eat almost exclusively in the festival because the food vendors are soo good!
For a coffee, breakfast or a sandwich check out the Baked in Telluride for to-go breakfast, pizza and sandwiches for lunch. There is also a small grocery store next store. Another great breakfast spot is The Butcher & The Baker. For lunch or dinner outside on a patio head to Smugglers Brew Pub.
Again most of your time will be spent in the festival but after the shows, if you are looking for a drink check out the Sheridan, the quintessential Telluride bar. The Sheridan Hotel next-door just opened a new rooftop that is amazing!
Groceries – Telluride has a two small (read $$$) grocery stores. Your best bet is to stop in Montrose on your way in to get all the supplies you need for the weekend. There are a few liquor store around town so no need to panic. And for all the southern this one Liquor Store – Wine Mine caries SweetWater!
Inside the Festival Booze and Food
Your options are beer and wine. On the first day be green and purchase a souvenir cup that can be reused all weekend!
Beer – New Belgium is the exclusive brewery to the festival. So if you are looking for something lighter like a coors light… might not happen.
Wine – There is great red and white wine available that is served in an awesome sippy cup as well so you don’t spill everywhere.
Water – Water is free! Bring your own water bottle and fill it up near the food vendors or porta poties. Watch out for the thousands of children with water guns.
Coolers – You can bring in your own cooler and probably everything else you may need…
Festival Food – There will be a line for dumplings and its totally worth the wait. I love getting a sweet tea from the southern BBQ joint too. You can even get breakfast in the venue.
Telluride Bluegrass Festival Traditions
Ah, one of my favorite traditions of Telluride Bluegrass. Let me set the scene. The venue is divided into four sections by a walkway. The front two and back right are all for tarps and shorts chairs, the very back left is for shade tents. In order to stake your claim in the venue, you lay down a tarp. To lay down a tarp you need to do a tarp run. To do a tarp run you gotta sleep in line. To sleep in line ya gotta get in line the night before!
Settle down this is actually a super fun tradition that once you do it will you want to do it again! Tarp Line Party! Yep sleep in line with over 100 other festivarians. You can read the full rules and regulations about the tarp run here.
You might be like WTF! I don’t want to do that! I can stand wherever I want! I don’t need a tarp! Totally cool. Anyone is allowed to stand on an empty tarp as long as they leave when the owner returns. Plenty of people run early to stake out a spot near the front of the stage then don’t come back until later in the day.
Sleeping in line is fun. And doing the tarp run is even more fun! We alternate so every night another crew gets to run. Some people get in line really early, but I have always dropped our stuff after the last show, gone to the bars and then come back. Around 5 a.m., numbers are handed out to those sleeping in line, at that point you are allowed to tag in and out. Someone can go to the bathroom, get coffee while the others stay. Around 9 a.m. you will line up in number order to run in. Here are some
videos of pass runs.
If you’re up early just head over to the venue to watch the tarp run! It is quite the spectacle. If you have kids or would like a shaded area with a good view you will need to sleep in line and run in as well. Here are the types of tents and chairs you can bring in.
Saturday Afternoon – Leftover Salmon
When Leftover Salmon takes the stage on Saturday afternoon something strange happens. A giant dance party will break out with flying marshmallows! Not sure how or when this tradition started but they will start flying, so here is your warning. If one lands near you, throw it before it melts!
Here is a video of last Saturday’s Festivities
Nightgrass are “late night” shows that start after the festival ends. Shows are at Fly Me to the Moon Saloon, The Sheridan Opera House, and the Palm Theater. Tickets are sold via lottery in the early spring. Again if you don’t have tickets you may have luck outside the venue buying or trading. The Sheridan Opera House is a super intimate venue and it’s such a treat to so see some of your favorite bands there.
What to Bring Into the Festival
Chairs – You are only permitted to bring low back chairs or a crazy creek type chairs. The point is to not block everyone’s view.
Tarp – To stand on you are going to want a big one. And then maybe a sheet/tapestry to put over if its to hot to stand on.
Tarpestry – A tarp and tapestry combo! I purchased mine my first year at Telluride and there is even a picture of me in their tent!
Sunscreen – It will be hot and I mean HOT and sunny you will want to lather up constantly
Water bottle – Free water for refills
Spray bottle or personal fan – Again it’s super hot but there will be kids walking around spraying you as well
Bandana – Great for keeping cold just get it wet or stick a few ice cubes in it and wrap it around your neck
Sunglasses – Bring two in case you lose one!
Hat – You will want a hat, preferably a wide brim hat over a baseball cap to keep the sun off your face and the back of your neck
Turkish Towel, Surong, Kimono – Basically a lightweight fabric to keep the sun off you. You can also go dunk it in the river and use it to cool down.
Backpack – if your not gonna go home to change then pack pants, jacket and beanie for when the sun goes down and the temperature drops
Headlamp – trying to find your belongings in the dark is hard, bring a headlamp
Glowsticks – when the sun goes down the tarps start to get folded up and made into giant piles of stuff. It is often hard to find your belongs and everyone has the same black jacket. use glow sticks to identify your stuff.
**Write your name and number on everything so it can all be returned. There are a few lost and found were your stuff could be returned if found. I have lots a jacket and speaker and because my name & number was on the speaker I got them back!
What to do Outside of the Festival
If you only get a single day pass or only plan to attend one day there is still plenty to do in town. Walking around town there is plenty of shopping, art galleries and cool bars and restaurant to explore.
Gondola – If you are not staying in Mountain Village, take the free gondola up the mountain and walk around. There is a stunning viewpoint overlooking all of Telluride. But the real treat is coming back down. Then the gondola dips down and all of Telluride reveals itself. Might be my favorite view in Colorado. It’s actually the background on my phone!
Hike To Bridal Veil – High in telluride upon Bridal Veil! Telluride is a “box town” surrounded by mountains on all sides. That beautiful waterfall you can see from the middle of town and Town Park is Bridal Vail Falls. You can either hike or dive up to the falls with a 4 wheel drive vehicle. Be very comfortable driving narrow switchback mountain roads if you are going to do this.
Another great hike near town is to a beautiful waterfall is Bear Creek Falls. This hike has less of an elevation gain except at the end to the base of the beautiful waterfall. SO PRETTY!
So if you hadn’t planned on going but my awesome post convinced you, now you need to find tickets! Tickets go on sale in early November and are selling out faster and faster each year. Town Park and Warner Field tickets are only sold via an online lottery. Single day passes typically go on sale when 4-day passes go on sale as well. If you missed out on the public onsale there is typically one re-release around February.
It is illegal to scalp tickets so don’t! And don’t buy anything over face. Once you purchase a ticket you commit to not selling that ticket for more than face value so don’t do it and do not promote it! There will be tickets on Cash Or Trade, Craigslist or The Festivarian forums. You just have to be super diligent.
Your other option is to just wing it and go. I have had plenty of friends luck out and get tickets day of. You can hang around the entrance and there is often a bulletin board where people will post information about extra tickets.