Want to get above it all in the Colorado Rockies? Try a free gondola ride in the summer or fall.
Gondolas are popular with folks of all ages. Some are even dog friendly and accessible for disabled people.
Southwestern Colorado is famous for its stunning San Juan Mountains and the historic mining town, Telluride, is tucked into a box canyon. That means that the highway ends in Telluride. To get to the peaks that soar above town, you need to hike, take one of the rugged jeep roads, or hop onto the free gondola.
Telluride’s gondola connects the historic town with the much newer Mountain Village. In town, you’ll start at 8,750 feet above sea level. As you ride up to the San Sophia station, you’ll reach 10,540 feet. On the way up, you can look north across town and see one of Telluride’s waterfalls, Cornet Creek Falls, as it spills over the valley’s trademark red rocks in the distance. At the San Sophia Station, you can hop out and hike or bike (there are fees for the bike trails) or you can ride down to the Mountain Village. Both from San Sophia and Mountain Village stops, you’ll get spectacular vistas to the southwest of surrounding peaks including giant Mount Wilson, one of Colorado’s 14ers.
If your dog has joined you on your vacation, no worries. Every third car in Telluride is dog friendly. Just look for the paw prints on the car and be sure to have your pet leashed. Attendants are always there to help you board and exit.
Details on free gondolas
Summer season operates through October 20.
Open daily from 6:30 a.m. to midnight and until 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays through Sept. 14.
Winter season begins on Nov. 22 and runs through April 5, 2020.
Where to park
If you are not staying overnight in Telluride or the Mountain Village, you can park for free in the Mountain Village parking garage and take the gondola into the town. Handicap-accessible cabins are available along with those for pets. Attendants can help load strollers, wheelchairs and bikes.
Runs daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. through Labor Day, Sept. 2, with an additional three-day weekend on Sept. 6-8. The BreckConnect gondola is closed during the fall and re-opens for winter operations on Nov. 8.
The gondola leads to the base of Peak 8, where the summer Epic Discovery park is located. (Please note: the gondola and hiking are free. There are fees for the activities at Epic Discovery.)
Where to park: Parking is available at the base of the BreckConnect. Summer cost: $10 before 3 p.m. Free after 3 p.m.
On Friday afternoons only, from 1 to 7 p.m. through Aug. 30, you may get tickets to ride the River Run Gondola for free. Tickets available at the River Run office. Enjoy great views, live music, games, activities and food and drink for purchase.
Very short free gondola ride:
This is a very short gondola ride that leads from a parking area and the Vintage Hotel near Winter Park to the base area. But, if you have young children, they still might enjoy the ride.
The Cabriolet is open and free year-round. (There is a fee to park in the adjacent lot during the winter.)
Summer hours: The gondola operates from 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays and from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesdays. On Fridays and Saturdays, the Cabriolet is open from 9 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Fridays are movie nights through Sept. 7.
Where to park: Turn in to the Vintage Lot from U.S. Highway 40, where you can park and hop on the Cabriolet.
Other gondolas that are not free:
Open daily 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (last ride down at 4:30 p.m.) through Sept. 2. Open weekends September 6-8 through Oct. 4-6.
Open daily through Sept. 2 from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (weather permitting).
Open weekends only from Sept. 7-29.
Open daily 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (last ride down at 4:15 p.m.) through Sept. 2. Open weekends from Sept. 6-8 through Oct. 4-6.
Open during the summer on weekends only, through Sept. 22. The gondola requires a scenic lift ticket to ride. It is free only for Friday Afternoon Club. Fees apply the rest of the time.
Summer Scenic Gondola at Winter Park Resort (free to winter ski pass holders. Fees for others.)
Winter ski pass holders can ride for free as can kids 12 and under with the purchase of an adult Scenic Ride Ticket. Dogs not allowed to ride up. Hikers may ride down with their dogs if they are on a leash.