If you’re a hiker who wants to try rock climbing, a via ferrata is the perfect way to get a taste. A Via Ferrata is a mix between hiking and climbing where you wear a climbing harness and are clipped into a series of cables that are bolted to the rock face. You then use metal rungs, ladders, and occasionally a natural rock hold to safely “climb” and traverse your way along a cliff that would otherwise be impossible to hike across.
The Telluride Via Ferrata was installed in 2006, but it’s only been gaining in popularity in recent years. After seeing a photo on Instagram, I knew I wanted to try it out.
While the Telluride Via Ferrata doesn’t require a guide, I thought it would be a smart idea to go with someone who was familiar with the route and equipment. So we hired local outfitter San Juan Mountain Guides to show us the ropes.
The Telluride Via Ferrata ended up being a super fun, intense, and exhilarating experience. It was a great way to push my comfort level on exposed terrain, and the views of Telluride from the Via Ferrata can’t be beat.
In this blog post, I share some photos and important info so you can plan your own excursion on the Via Ferrata.
Where is the Telluride Via Ferrata route?
The route begins at near the base of Bridal Veil Falls, the 365- foot waterfall that you can see from the east end of town. There isn’t a required direction, but starting at Bridal Veil Falls and traversing west has a couple of advantages.
Our guide Andrew picked us up the Telluride Town Campsite where we left our van. He drove us up the dirt road, and we parked at the finish point. From there, we took a gradual hike further up the road to the starting point. It was a nice, easy way to warm up in the morning before starting the real action. This direction also allowed us to ease into the more technical parts of the Via Feratta, getting more challenging as we went.
Then, once we finished the Via Ferrata, there was a short, fairly steep hike down a trail that spit us right back out at the car. Going the opposite direction would have meant starting our morning with a thigh burner on the steep trail and finishing by a 30 minute walk down the road.
Second, a majority of other people start at Bridal Veil Falls, and it’s much better to go with the flow of “traffic” than going against the grain since some areas are single file.
The entire route took us about 4 hours, but the total time requirement varies from group to group. It all depends on how quickly you move and how many breaks you take along the way.
How difficult is the Telluride Via Ferrata?
The Via Ferrata was a bit more intense than I expected but totally doable for anyone in decent physical shape. With that said, it’s not for the faint of heart or those with a fear of heights.
Apart from the hiking, which required some short bursts of up and down, the via ferrata had its challenging moments where you have to use all of your body strength. Some of the moves were tricky, and I was happy to have our guide Andrew giving us some tips on how to most efficiently move across the rock face.
Most of the rungs and handholds were spaced in a way that made it easy to grab on to the next one, but there were a few in the Main Agenda area (the most exposed section) I really had to reach for. There was also a short section near the end were you had to traverse upwards that required a fair amount of upper body strength.
The biggest challenge on the Via Ferrata is mental. In some areas, you are completely exposed more than 500 feet up in the air. It requires keeping your cool and trusting the equipment.
Is a Guide Necessary?
If you are an avid rock climber, then you probably don’t need a guide. Just make sure you give other groups appropriate space on the difficult parts. The equipment is also slightly different than climbing, so do your homework beforehand.
If this is your first time on a Via Ferrata and you aren’t familiar with rock climbing, than I’d definitely recommend getting a guide. That way if you run into any obstacles you aren’t comfortable on, your guide can help you through them.
I also personally enjoyed getting to know our guide Andrew. He’s been guiding in the San Juan Mountains for years and gave us a ton of other tips about cool stuff to see and do in the area.
What should you bring on the Via Ferrata?
Apart from the technical equipment, you want to have the following:
- good hiking shoes
- a small daypack
- extra layers (the weather can change rapidly in the mountains around Telluride)
- 2-3 liters of water (I recommend a hydration reservoir so you can drink water hands free)
How do I sign up?
San Juan Mountain Guides only offers private trips. On the Telluride Via Ferrata, I think this is the best way to go. You get more personalized attention and get to move at whatever pace you are comfortable with. The price depends on the total number of people in your group, with a maximum ratio of 4 people to 1 guide.
To sign up, simply call San Juan Mountain Guides. In the busy summer months, they do book up, so calling in advance in recommended. In September when we went, we were pretty much able to book on the spot. Fall is a wonderful time with fewer people, beautiful colors, and comfortable temperatures, and San Juan Mountain Guides will run trips until the weather no longer allows.
One final bit, if you are staying in Ouray (which is a 45 minute drive from Telluride), they can also provide round trip transport from there.
Got questions about the Telluride Via Ferrata? Leave a comment below or join the discussion in our Bearfoot Theory Outdoor Adventurers Facebook Group!