Durango to Telluride in a Day – For San Miguel Rafters

By Kim Cassels   •   April 16, 2024

Durango to Telluride in a Day – For San Miguel Rafters 

San Miguel River - Sawpit rapid - Guests paddling through whitewater - Mild to WIld

For Durango visitors who want to check out Telluride for the day (and partake in the righteous rafting supplied by the San Miguel River nearby) here’s a few how-to’s for enjoying the journey. 

How far is Telluride from Durango? 

Driving to Telluride from Durango takes between 2 to 3 hours depending on which route you choose. Going around the San Juan Mountains is naturally quicker, but going straight through them is of course wonderfully scenic. Here’s some details about the two options: 

Shorter Route: Highway 160 to 145 (2 hours, 10 minutes)

Check out the route on Google Maps here

This drive takes you west to Dolores and then heads north to Telluride. While it’s not as jaw droppingly dramatic as the Million Dollar Highway— don’t get it in your head that it’s not beautiful. This is Southwest Colorado after all, and every inch of the terrain happens to be pretty good looking. Plus you’ll get to drive through lesser known alpine along the Dolores River. 

We recommend this route if you’re looking to raft San Miguel in the morning, as driving the Million Dollar Highway can go slower with tourism (especially if you don’t leave early). San Miguel trips meet at Caddis Flats, which is about 2 hours and 20 minutes from Durango. 

Scenic Drone Photo - Silverton, Colorado - Mild to Wild Rafting & Jeep Tours

Bucket List Route: Highway 550 (up to 3 hours)

Check out the route on Google Maps here

You probably already know where this drive is going to take you, but we’ll say it anyway. Highway 550, aka the Million Dollar Highway, traverses the San Juan Mountains, dropping into Silverton, then trimming the cliffs over to Ouray, before winding around into Telluride. It’s nothing short of spectacular.    

If you’re rafting the San Miguel in the morning, we recommend this route for the drive home— Unless you’re an early riser, as this drive in the morning is ahh-mazing.

Your maps app might say it’s the same amount of time to drive to the Caddis Flats meeting point as the Dolores route, but it doesn’t usually account for tourist traffic. Especially in the busy months of June and July when the San Miguel rafting season is going. 

Things to Do in Telluride Before or After Your San Miguel Trip: 

The San Miguel meet location at Caddis Flats campground is about 25 minutes from Telluride.

Morning and full day rafting trips meet at 10 AM, and the afternoon trips meet at 2 PM. Some folks like to start their rafting trip in the morning so they can enjoy the rest of the day in Telluride. 

If you’re okay with some no frills camping, you can come the evening prior and camp at the Caddis Flats put-in for free. But if you don’t want to camp, and you can’t get on the road by 7:30 AM at the latest, there’s still plenty of time to enjoy the town once you’re there. 

Also, the Mountain Village Gondola parking lot is 30 minutes from Caddis Flats, so you can choose to start up in the mountains, and ride the gondola into town. This is a great option to ensure you check off this must-do in Telluride, and avoid the struggle of finding the already limited parking in Telluride. The gondola runs until midnight. 

Here’s some of our top recommendations of things to do in Telluride before or after rafting with us:

Wide view of Mountain Village, Telluride from the Gondola - Mild to Wild

Morning Trips (10 AM – 12:30 PM)

  • Lunch at the Cornerhouse Grille or Brown Dog Pizza
  • Shop around Colorado Avenue on the way to the gondola
  • Ride the gondola up to Mountain Village
  • Stay for dinner, or head back on Highway 550 to sup in Silverton (Handlebars is our favorite). 

Afternoon Trips (2 PM – 4:30 PM)

For afternoon rafters, keep in mind that many of Telluride’s shops close by 6 PM, so there won’t be tons of time for perusing after your rafting trip. If you want to walk around Telluride and enjoy the shops before heading to the San Miguel, we recommend leaving Durango by 9 AM at the latest.  

  • If you’re grabbing lunch (or brunch) in Telluride before your trip, we love the Butcher & The Baker. 
  • For dinner after your trip, either ride the Gondola up to Mountain Village (we’re partial to the Tomboy Tavern), or head down Colorado Avenue for plenty of options. 

Rafters hold up their paddlers to each other in the boat on the San Miguel River - Mild to Wild

Full Day Trips (10 AM – 4:30 PM)

Since this choice makes rafting the San Miguel the main event of the day (which includes a riverside lunch), this recommended itinerary is more about enjoying the journey itself before and after your day on the river. It’s a long day meant for early birds, but it’s a memorable one!   

7 AM (at the latest):  Leave Durango and enjoy the solitude and morning light of the Million Dollar Highway. 

Stop for breakfast in Silverton. If you’re short on time, head to the Coffee Bear for a delicious breakfast burrito and pastries to take to go. 

8:30 AM (at the latest): Leave Silverton to get to Caddis Flats Campground by 10 AM. 

10 AM: Meet your guide, suit up, and enjoy an amazing day on the San Miguel River, paddling it out through winding canyons and class II-III rapids with awesome river guides. 

4:30 PM-ish: Return to your vehicle at Caddis Flats, and head over Telluride. 

5:00 PM-ish: Head up to Mountain Village, park at the gondola and ride down into town. Many of the shops close by 6 PM, but check out our favorites listed below that are usually open later. For dinner, we love the Floradora Saloon. There’s plenty of options though, and all are delicious. Mountain Village also offers a few restaurants. 

7:00 PM (or whenever you wish): Head home either back on Highway 550, or the shorter route through Dolores and Mancos— Just keep in mind if you’re going westbound for sunset, you might get blasted with rays. 

View of Colorado Avenue in Telluride, Colorado

Our Favorite Telluride Shops: 

Between the Covers Bookstore: A great place to find historical and adventure reads of the area. 

Telluride Trappings and Toggery: Telluride’s oldest store! Great for souvenirs. 

Hell Bent Leather and Silver: The best spot to buy local art, jewelry, pottery, and such. 

Telluride Truffle Artisan Chocolate: Does this one really need an explanation or justification?

View of the courthouse on a dirt street in Rico, Colorado

Great Stops outside of Telluride:

Sawpit Mercantile: Located in the tiny township of Sawpit along CO 145, you’ll pass through it going to Telluride. Great for snacks, BBQ, and souvenirs! 

Town of Rico: A lesser known, tiny historic mining town with great restaurants and museum. For folks who just want to head back to Durango after their San Miguel Rafting trip, go through Rico! 

Orivs Hot Springs outside of Ridgeway: Complete with a sauna, this is the place to unwind after rafting if you’re headed back via Highway 550. 

two boats drifting down the San Miguel River with red cliffs in the background - Mild to Wild

Last Tips:

—> Rafting the San Miguel promises an active experience! So be sure to keep yourself hydrated and well fed throughout the day. Don’t skimp on the road trip snacks! 

—> Remember, you can camp for free at Caddis Flats if you decide that driving from Durango and back for the day is too much.  

—> If you really, really want to experience the town of Telluride, we recommend just doing a morning rafting trip on the San Miguel River. You’ll be be done by 12:30, and have the rest of the day to enjoy the area. Plus, the morning trip serves up the bigger rapids in the narrow section of the canyon.  

—> If you choose to drive through Dolores on the way back, keep in mind you might be driving right into the sun since it’s westbound along CO 145. It’s a two-lane windy road that can also have stark shadows from the surrounding cliffs, so leave before or after sunset if that seems troublesome! 

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