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Planning the Perfect Adventure Trip to Durango, Colorado

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Durango, Colorado is a picturesque destination in the San Juan Mountains, offering a blend of history and outdoor adventure. Explore the historic downtown, ride the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, and enjoy activities like hiking, biking, and skiing.



Overview

Durango, Colorado: 16,887 population, 6522’ elevation

Durango is best known for its extensive trail systems that cater to hikers, mountain bikers, and trail runners. The Animas River Trail, a picturesque path that winds along the river, is perfect for a leisurely walk or bike ride. For more challenging hikes, the Colorado Trail and the Weminuche Wilderness offer breathtaking vistas and rugged terrain.

Mountain bikers flock to Durango for its world-class trails. The renowned Colorado Trail provides exhilarating rides with stunning mountain views. Horse Gulch and Twin Buttes are also popular spots, offering a mix of technical singletrack and flowing descents. In winter, these trails transform into excellent routes for fat biking and snowshoeing.

Durango is also a paradise for water sports enthusiasts. The Animas River offers thrilling whitewater rafting and kayaking opportunities, with various sections suitable for different skill levels. Fly fishing is another popular activity, with the river teeming with trout and other fish species.

For those seeking a unique adventure, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad offers a historic ride through the San Juan National Forest, providing stunning views and access to remote hiking and camping areas. In winter, Purgatory Resort becomes a hub for skiing and snowboarding, offering diverse terrain for all skill levels.

Rock climbers will find numerous crags and bouldering spots around Durango, such as X-Rock and the cliffs at East Animas. These areas offer routes for both beginners and advanced climbers, set against the backdrop of beautiful landscapes.

Durango’s vibrant downtown complements its outdoor offerings, with numerous shops, restaurants, and breweries where adventurers can relax and refuel. The town’s rich history and cultural events add to its charm, making Durango a must-visit destination for anyone seeking adventure and natural beauty.

Molas Lake and Needle Mountains in the Weminuche Wilderness near Durango, Colorado.

Molas Lake and Needle Mountains in the Weminuche Wilderness near Durango, Colorado.

Local Adventure Vibe

Durango folks are active! Bike and ski shops abound, and Jeeps and Subaru wagons are everywhere. With all that national forest land and trails to use it’s no wonder. Most awesomely fun outdoor activities can be done—and done well—around Durango.

People like to have a good time, too! Durango’s winter festival, Snowdown, takes place in late January and has been rated as one of the top winter festivals in the US by Outside Magazine. Of course there’s live music, abundant alcohol, and silly outfits and costumes as people cope with long winter nights by dancing and carousing.

Durango’s history as a mining town is interwoven with the present, as some Forest Service roads trace their origin to routes used by 19th century miners. Those roads and trails now provide access to hikers, bikers, and four wheelers all around Durango.

Durango offers the opportunity to enjoy at least a couple fun adventures per day, if you want. Go paddling on the Animas River, which runs right through town, in the morning and then go for a hike or a trail ride after lunch.

After adventures, many folks meet at one of excellent brewpubs or coffee shops.

Uniquely Durango

Many people know Durango because of the historic Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad that runs between Durango and Silverton. The train once carried millions of dollars worth of precious metals, and now it carries passengers. If you’re going into the wilderness, you can take the train to and from your dropoff point, leaving a car in Durango or Silverton.

Thanks to the train, Durango also boasts the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic, a 50-mile bicycle race from Durango to Silverton over two 10,000’ passes. The race traces its roots back to 1971 when local bicyclist Tom Mayer bet his brother Jim, a brakeman on the train, that he could beat the train to Silverton. Tom won the bet and the next year started the race with about 35 riders.

Durango has also been featured in several popular films. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was filmed in the area, with the famous jump scene into the Animas River taking place near Baker’s Bridge north of town.

The Durango Running Club traces its roots back to the late 1970s and now hosts weekly group runs in the warmer months as well as a few races. The Narrow Gauge 10 Mile Run takes place every Memorial Day weekend and was first held in 1978, making it one of the oldest continuously held running events in Colorado. The popular Steamworks Half Marathon takes place in late June and welcomes runners of all abilities with its fast and flat course along the Animas River.

The Durango Wheel Club is, you guessed it, a club for road, cyclocross, and mountain bike enthusiasts. Their Facebook page looks to be most current, though they don’t list any events for 2021.

The grueling Hardrock 100 mountain run starts and ends in nearby Silverton, with participants enduring 33,000’ of elevation gain and often challenging weather conditions.

The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad once carried precious metals, but now carries passengers between Durango and Silverton, Colorado.

The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad once carried precious metals, but now carries passengers between Durango and Silverton, Colorado.

Food & Drink

Durango, Colorado, is not only an adventurer’s paradise but also a haven for food and drink enthusiasts. After a day of exploring the great outdoors, adventure travelers can unwind and refuel at some of the town’s best bars and restaurants.

Steamworks Brewing Company: Steamworks Brewing Company is a must-visit for craft beer lovers. This lively brewpub offers a wide selection of house-made beers, from hoppy IPAs to rich stouts. The menu features delicious pub fare, including burgers, pizzas, and hearty sandwiches. With its relaxed atmosphere and outdoor seating, it’s a great spot to unwind with friends and share stories from the trail.

El Moro Spirits and Tavern: Located in a historic building, El Moro Spirits and Tavern combines a unique atmosphere with a diverse menu. Known for its creative cocktails and extensive whiskey selection, it’s a perfect place for an evening drink. The food menu features locally sourced ingredients and includes dishes such as duck confit, lamb shank, and gourmet burgers. The rustic yet modern decor adds to the charm.

Carver Brewing Company: As one of Colorado’s oldest brewpubs, Carver Brewing Company is a staple in Durango’s dining scene. This brewery offers a range of craft beers and a menu full of comfort food favorites, including hearty breakfasts, fresh salads, and savory entrees. The outdoor patio is a popular spot, especially during the warmer months.

The Ore House: For a more upscale dining experience, The Ore House is an excellent choice. This steakhouse is renowned for its perfectly cooked steaks, fresh seafood, and extensive wine list. The rustic, Western-inspired decor creates a cozy ambiance, making it a great place to celebrate a successful day of adventures.

11th Street Station: 11th Street Station is a food truck collective offering a variety of culinary delights. With multiple food trucks serving everything from tacos to sushi, there’s something for everyone. The communal seating area and lively atmosphere make it a fun and casual spot to grab a bite and a drink after a day of exploring.

Ska Brewing: Ska Brewing is another top destination for craft beer aficionados. Known for its creative brews and laid-back vibe, Ska offers a variety of beers that are perfect for quenching your thirst after an outdoor adventure. The on-site food truck, The Container, serves tasty bites like street tacos and sliders to complement your drink.

These bars and restaurants in Durango provide the perfect mix of delicious food, refreshing drinks, and welcoming atmospheres, making them ideal for adventure travelers looking to relax and recharge. Whether you’re in the mood for a craft beer, a hearty meal, or a gourmet dining experience, Durango has something to satisfy every palate.

Places to Stay

Durango, Colorado, offers a variety of accommodations that cater to adventure travelers. Whether you’re seeking rustic charm, modern amenities, or proximity to outdoor activities, here are some top places to stay in Durango that will enhance your adventure experience.

Strater Hotel: The historic Strater Hotel, located in downtown Durango, is a perfect blend of Victorian charm and modern comfort. This iconic hotel offers beautifully decorated rooms, each with unique antique furnishings. Its central location provides easy access to dining, shopping, and entertainment options, as well as nearby outdoor activities like hiking, biking, and rafting. The Strater also features the Diamond Belle Saloon, where you can enjoy live music and a lively atmosphere.

Adventure Inn Durango: Adventure Inn Durango is a budget-friendly option that caters specifically to adventure travelers. The motel offers comfortable rooms with modern amenities, including free Wi-Fi and a continental breakfast. Its location on North Main Avenue provides quick access to the Animas River Trail and numerous outdoor activities. The friendly staff is knowledgeable about local adventure spots and can help you plan your excursions.

Blue Lake Ranch: For a more secluded and luxurious experience, Blue Lake Ranch offers a peaceful retreat just outside of Durango. This bed-and-breakfast features charming cottages and suites with stunning views of the La Plata Mountains. The ranch’s private lake and gardens provide a tranquil setting, while its proximity to hiking, fishing, and skiing makes it an ideal base for adventure travelers.

Purgatory Resort: Located 25 miles north of Durango, Purgatory Resort is a top choice for winter sports enthusiasts. The resort offers a variety of accommodations, from cozy condos to luxurious townhomes, all with ski-in/ski-out access. In the summer, Purgatory transforms into a hub for mountain biking, hiking, and alpine slide adventures. The resort’s amenities include restaurants, shops, and a fitness center, ensuring a comfortable and convenient stay.

Rochester Hotel & Leland House: The Rochester Hotel & Leland House, a charming boutique hotel, is located in the heart of Durango. The hotel offers uniquely themed rooms inspired by Western movies filmed in the area. Guests can enjoy a complimentary gourmet breakfast and access to cruiser bikes for exploring the town. Its central location makes it easy to access outdoor activities and downtown attractions.

DoubleTree by Hilton Durango: The DoubleTree by Hilton Durango provides a mix of luxury and convenience. Located on the banks of the Animas River, the hotel offers stunning views and easy access to outdoor activities. The spacious rooms feature modern amenities, and the on-site restaurant and bar provide great dining options. After a day of adventure, you can relax in the indoor pool or hot tub.

These accommodations in Durango cater to adventure travelers by offering comfort, convenience, and proximity to the area’s best outdoor activities. Whether you prefer historic charm, modern amenities, or a luxurious retreat, Durango has a place that will make your adventure-filled stay memorable.

The Strater Hotel is Durango’s living history museum.

Camping

Discover your new favorite camping spot near Durango. The perfect campsite is waiting for you. Search over 1 million listings, reviews, and tips from campers like you at The Dyrt. As for campsites, check out our favorites:

Adventures

Rock Climbing

You won’t find anything like Half Dome around Durango, but there is plenty of fun to be had. Head to the Animas Mountain trail system on the north side of town for bouldering on Sailing Hawks.

X-Rock is a popular choice and is just outside town on the north side. You’ll have many choices, including bouldering, sport, trad, and crack climbing.

Cascade Canyon offers several routes rated 5.11-5.12. Head north on Highway 550 past Purgatory ski area and Cascade Village.

Hermosa offers some of the best local climbing on the West Coast Cliffs, Pinnacle, and Hang em’ High routes and is typically not crowded. You’ll find both traditional and bolted routes, as well as the largest roof routes in the area.

Hiking/Backpacking

Hiking around Durango offers dozens of options, including easy in-town hikes and hikes rated as “very difficult.”

The Haflin Creek Trail #557 is a 3.9-mile point-to-point hike with an average 14% grade, but you can start at the top and enjoy the long descent and some views of the Animas River Valley.

A bit farther north is the 7.3-mile Steven’s Creek Trail #728, rated “difficult.” It intersects with the Missionary Ridge Trail, in case you want a longer hike.

Just west of downtown and the Animas River you’ll find Overend Mountain Park and a slew of short trails such as Perins Gulch Trail and Spirit Trail. Pretty easy, accessible in a moment, and fun!

If you’re looking for backpacking fun and feeling ambitious, try Emerald Lake. This 24-mile round trip hike along the Pine River Trail culminates with a six-mile uphill slog, so you’ll be ready for a break when you reach the lake. Find yourself a campsite at the north or south end of the lake and rest, relax, and enjoy.

Ice Lake Trail is a heavily trafficked loop trail located near Ophir, Colorado. This is a beautiful trail with awesome views all the way up. Very difficult if you aren’t used to the elevation, as there is so much climbing. Waterfalls, creeks, colors galore, and the most insanely colored lake you will ever seen!

The Ice Lake Trail is a beautiful trail in San Juan National Forest has awesome views all the way up to the lake.

The Ice Lake Trail is a beautiful trail in San Juan National Forest has awesome views all the way up to the lake.

Mountain Biking

The Mountain Bike Project lists 71 trails within Durango. Some of those are short spur trails, but it’s possible to stitch together some longer routes to your liking.

Located right in town, the Grandview Ridge and Horse Gulch Loop will have you riding mostly singletrack on the 16.1-mile, intermediate/difficult route. If you’re staying in Durango, you can easily ride to the Horse Gulch trailhead and off you go!

Animas City Mountain on Durango’s north side is one of those places that has it all. The Animas Mountain Loop is a 5.7-mile ride with both shaded riding in the trees and fast riding through open spaces. You can start with a steep ascent or take the switchbacks for an easier start. Several trails and varied terrain make for a great day!

Segment 28 of the Colorado Trail, Kennebec to Junction Creek, is rated “difficult” and is also a blast! Drive or ride @18 miles up Junction Creek Road and pick up the trailhead for the ride back to Durango, around 22 miles, mostly descending but with a few climbs. Check out the waterfall at Flagler Fork Creek and remember to take in the views now and then.

Photo by amygdala_imagery/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by amygdala_imagery/iStock/Getty Images

Trail Running

Trail running will obviously share trails with hiking and mountain biking aficionados, and with 70 trails close to Durango, you’ll have many to choose from. In addition to the routes mentioned above, the Squawker trail is a fun loop around Ft. Lewis College that offers great views of the valley and also connects with the Horse Gulch trails.

Carbon Junction on the south side of town takes you from the parking area off of Highway 550 up a short section of switchbacks to the mesa, where you can enjoy the views, usually without many other people about.

For a different experience, the Dry Fork trail west of town, off Lightner Creek Road, gives you mostly forested single track and a gentle climb. You can do the four miles out and back or use the Colorado Trail segment and Hofhein’s Connector as a loop.

4WD Touring/Overlanding

Thanks to the mega-abundant San Juan National Forest and old mining trails and ghost towns, the Durango area is a four-wheeler’s paradise.

Animas Forks is a defunct mining town and is near Silverton. It’s a busy tourist destination, but is also fascinating and worth the effort. Accessed by a rough gravel road, you’ll see plenty of cars getting beat up on the way to the town. Standing in rough-and-tumble Animas Forks, think of how tough people used to be. Amazing.

From Animas Forks you can get into the real fun, and the high country. After Animas Forks, you just pick a road/trail and go. Maggie Gulch, Minnie Gulch, and Cunningham Gulch are fun excursions, and you can check out the Eureka campground if you’re not boondocking.

Getting into more difficult terrain, try Imogene Pass. This 18-mile 4-hour excursion is the highest pass in the San Juans at over 13,000 feet and connects Ouray and Telluride. Expect moderate to difficult terrain, and obviously you’ll need a high-clearance rig. You’ll need to check trail conditions in advance, as deep snow can linger well into summer.

And now for the big dog: Black Bear Pass. This difficult 13-mile “road” runs from Highway 550 at Red Mountain Pass into Telluride and sees its share of vehicle damage and rollovers. Sound like fun? Best if you have some experience.

An autumn day on a scenic but treacherous 4X4 Black Bear Pass route, located between top of Red Mountain Pass on U.S. Highway 550 and Telluride in San Juan Mountains, Colorado.

An autumn day on a scenic but treacherous 4X4 Black Bear Pass route, located between top of Red Mountain Pass on U.S. Highway 550 and Telluride in San Juan Mountains, Colorado.

Paddling

Paddling around Durango revolves around the Animas River, but there are several other options. Flowing out from the high peaks of the San Juans, the Animas offers a trip for every skill level. Near Silverton the river offers Class IV-V whitewater and plenty of fun. Between Trimble and 32nd Street in Durango is a pleasant Class I-II section that most people can handle in a canoe, kayak, or raft.

Downstream from there you’ll encounter some Class III sections, so if you’re unskilled you might want to go with a rafting outfitter. It’s a great idea to learn skills and the river before you commit to paddling on your own.

Reminder: as it’s snowmelt, the water is always cold, so dress accordingly.

One of the great things about paddling in Durango is the proximity: the Animas runs right through town, and Lake Nighthorse, another fun venue, is just a couple of miles west. At the lake, you can put in with your own craft, or rent a standup paddleboard.

Another paddling option is to take your craft to one of the high mountain lakes, such as Electra Lake near Engineer Mountain and Twilight Lake near Purgatory Resort. Both are for paddling and fishing only, so no powercraft allowed. Of course, those adventures are easy to combine with fourteeners, hiking, mountain biking, and four wheeling!

Backcountry Skiing

Backcountry skiers will have a blast in the Durango area. The Silverton area has several routes, including Coal Creek. Pick a line from the Coal Bank Pass Ascent and head northeast, ending up at Highway 550.

Purgatory Resort runs snowcat trips and has access to over 35,000 acres of backcountry. Guests typically enjoy 8-10 500-1500’ runs per trip, and have expert guides along for pointers.

Best guided adventures

We’ve mentioned several guided adventures so far, such as rafting and backcountry skiing. Another popular option is guided jeep and ATV tours, offered by several companies in or near Durango. You can choose mild sightseeing trails in open-top Jeeps, as well as backcountry fun all over the National Forest. Tours of Mesa Verde National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are also popular and include transportation, lunch, and a knowledgeable guide. Such a fascinating place!

Conclusion

Durango, Colorado, is a dream destination for adventure travelers. Nestled in the stunning San Juan Mountains, it offers a wide array of outdoor activities, from hiking and mountain biking to rafting and skiing. The town’s vibrant downtown area, filled with historic charm, delicious dining options, and cozy accommodations, provides the perfect base for exploring the natural beauty that surrounds it. Whether you’re seeking adrenaline-pumping adventures or tranquil moments in nature, Durango has something to offer every type of adventurer. Embrace the spirit of adventure and discover all that this incredible destination has to offer.


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