A man fishes on a canoe on Alta Lakes by The Observatory at Alta Lakes near Telluride

The Observatory at Alta Lakes

It may be far flung — and not easy to get to — but The Observatory at Alta Lakes’ rugged glory makes it all the more worthy. Drive through the eerie structural remnants of the once bustling Alta ghost town to access a true backcountry getaway about 30 minutes above Telluride.

Forged with natural materials like locally sourced timber and rock, this magical cabin was built with all the details in mind — from its vibrantly hued stained-glass windows to the floor-to-ceiling stone fireplace and eyefuls of nearby water. Depending on the season, you’ll need either a 4x4 vehicle or snowmobile to get here. Once at The Observatory, gather at the glossy dining table (it seats 10) in a cabin interior made primarily of cedar and Douglas fir. The cabin is the perfect spot for midnight moongazing, chilly morning paddling on the reflective Alta Lakes and board games by the flickering fire (cut wood is provided).

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What makes it special?

Inside the cabin, it’s all about the fine points. Come night, the dining-room chandeliers look like glittering orbs. And back to the stained-glass windows: Scarlet blossoms, golden butterflies and emerald leaves all glimmer brightly as the sun streams in during daylight hours.

A starry night sky, a campfire and mountains and trees all around at The Observatory at Alta Lakes

The most “Colorado” thing about this place

Driving through a ghost town definitely oozes Colorado. Originally a tiny mining hub, Alta last saw a resident in 1948. Old log structures stand out amid the startling San Juan Mountain glory you’ll find here.

Coolest amenity

Kids and grownups alike will love having Alta Lakes just outside the cabin door for canoeing, stand-up paddleboarding and tubing. Being at more than 11,000 feet in elevation, however, means the water will feel glacial, so it’s not for swimming and always wear a life jacket.

The Observatory at Alta Lakes blanketed in snow with a bright bluebird sky overhead
Interior cabin view of The Observatory at Alta Lakes with a moose head on the wall and the kitchen below
A group of people sit around a campfire with The Observatory at Alta Lakes in the background

Quirkiest thing to expect

There’s a cherry-red telephone booth standing by a fir tree near the lakes. It’s the kind you’d expect to see in downtown London rather than surrounded by craggy peaks in the middle of nowhere.

Our favorite traveler review

“This uniquely special spot is a treasure! The surrounding majestic mountains envelop you as you look onto your own pristine lake ... heaven on earth!! Whether we were canoeing in solitude with the mountains reflecting on the still waters, looking up at endless starry skies and spotting meteors, sitting around the campfire, preparing delicious meals together in the well-equipped kitchen, or taking in the stunning sunsets right out the back door, Alta Lakes Observatory was truly a treasured spot for our family to share a magical time together ... one that will always hold a bright place in our hearts and minds!! AND, what a treat to make new friends, Mattie and the pine martin!!!” — Gayle H., Vrbo

A master bedroom at The Observatory at Alta Lakes with a wood-burning fireplace

Things to see & do nearby

Drive into downtown Telluride for a gourmet meal — our picks are La Cocina de Luz for lunch and the New Sheridan Chophouse for dinner. Got more time? Extend your vacation with a trip along the Million Dollar Highway for winding mountain panoramas with stops in Ouray, Silverton and Durango.


Photos courtesy of The Observatory at Alta Lakes

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