While you may not have heard about Durango, it’s one of the most classic towns in the southwestern Colorado Rockies. It’s the place to go if you want an authentic Wild West experience, as this historic town boasts one of the oldest steam trains in the country. It offers a combination of old-world charm and outdoor adventures in the form of skiing, hiking, mountain biking, ice climbing, kayaking, and freshwater rafting. It’s truly a holidaymaker’s paradise and offers an array of activities for the entire family.
Here’s our pick of the best things to do while in Durango, Colorado.
Ride the Silverton & Durango Narrow Gauge Railroad
The Silverton & Durango Narrow Gauge Railroad is not your average train ride. From the well-appointed carriages that have been restored to their former glory, to the authentic, coal-powered steam engine, this train ride will take you back in time. You’ll feel what it was like to go through the stunning mountain canyon which looks like a scene out of a Hollywood blockbuster. The train mainly meanders through the Animas River alongside a towering mountain range that inspires awe and wonder.
Visit the Mesa Verde National Park
Mesa Verde is a beautiful Native American site that pays tribute to the region’s ancient culture. Here, you’ll find authentic cliff dwellings that extend through multi-story complexes. These are connected with specially built ladders and guided tours into the dwellings are on offer to interested visitors. Alternatively, you could visit nearby lookouts and enjoy a view of the remains.
Hike the Colorado Trail
The Colorado Trail takes on a 500-mile scenic tour of the Rocky Mountains, starting from Denver and ending in Durango. It’s open to bikers, hikers and runners alike or you can ride a non-motorized vehicle through it. This trail is mostly famous for offering magnificent mountain biking and striking day hikes. You’ll start your journey from Junction Creek and this 2.5-mile stream will lead you to a footbridge which you’ll cross in order to ascent to Gudy’s Rest. This lookout is not to be missed, as it offers breathtaking views of the valley below.
Ski at the Purgatory Ski Resort
The Purgatory Ski Resort is a family favorite because it has something for everybody. In the winter, this area is completely covered in snow thanks to constant snowstorms that turn it into powder heaven. They also offer groomed runs for beginner and intermediate visitors.
New owners took over the resort in 2015 and since then a number of improvements have been made. There’s new equipment and the mountain itself offers an even better skiing experience than ever. They’ve also added new chairlifts, cat skiing areas, and there’s a new tree skiing section now which offers intermediate and expert runs. Not only that but the resort has a higher snowmaking capacity now.
Go to the San Juan National Forest
Durango is the perfect place for outdoorsy adventurers because there are many outdoor attractions to choose from, including humungous San Juan National Forest which spans a whopping 1.8 million miles!
This gorgeous natural reserve offers breathtaking scenery everywhere you look, from snow-capped mountains to miles of fragrant ponderosa pine and fast-flowing rivers. There’s no shortage of flora and fauna to enjoy while river rafting, skiing, snowmobiling, camping, biking or hiking through this amazing landmark. Apart from the activities we’ve mentioned, there are a lot of other things to do on this reserve, and you can take it all in as you drive home through the San Juan Scenic Byway.
Visit the Historic Downtown
The town of Durango was initially established in the 1880s when horses and carriages were still the preferred mode of transport. A lot of the historic structures from this era remain almost untouched, and this includes the Strater Hotel which is famous for hosting writer Louis L’Amour several times. Gerard Ford and JFK are also rumored to have stayed here and once you see the delicate woodwork and exquisite Victorian finishes, you’ll understand why.
Learn History at the D&SNGRR Railroad Museum
The unique Railroad Museum is a treasure-trove of knowledge about the history of steam engines, but it houses more than just railroad memorabilia. Get ready to be wowed by an eclectic collection of solar-powered vehicles, antique farm equipment, mounted animals, covered wagons and just about all the different types of ancient and modern transportation modes. Whether you’re a history buff or an innovation enthusiast, you’re bound to have a good time when visiting this fantastic museum.
Raft Down the Animas River
The Animas River is perfect for rafting as it boasts class 1 to 5 rapids which are easier, lower and safer. But, the higher up you go to the Upper Animas River you’ll come across challenging and more intense rapids which are more suitable for experienced rafters.
The rafts come in different sizes depending on how far you’re willing to take it and there are even man-made rapid features on the newly expanded Lower Animas River, courtesy of the city of Durango.
Hit the Mountain Biking Trails
Durango is particularly famous for its gorgeous mountain biking trails which make it a cyclist’s paradise. There are over 30 miles of trails in the Horse Gulch Area alone while the Colorado Trail will take you all the way up in the mountains where you’ll enjoy marvelous views of the town. This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience so make sure to bring your camera with you so you can capture it. Lastly, be sure to check out the Alien Run Mountain Biking Trail as well as New Mexico and Aztec.
Visit the Fish Hatchery and Wildlife Museum
The Fish Hatchery and Wildlife Museum only opens in the summer and it’s one of the main attractions for families and groups of friends. During this time, tourists are allowed to tour the facilities and learn about how fish are grown for preservation. For a nominal fee, you can purchase fish food to give to the fish and you’ll see four different trout species in the hatchery, including the Snake River Cutthroat, Brown, Rainbow and Colorado River Cutthroat.