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Durango, located in the southwestern Colorado Rockies, may be one of the state’s lesser-known towns, but this charming mountain town in Colorado is ideal for history buffs. It offers plenty of Wild West charm along with its Main Street, as well as the chance to hop aboard a historic steam train. Outdoor adventurers love it too, with everything from rafting and kayaking to mountain biking, hiking, skiing and ice climbing in the out-of-this-world alpine. Add these top activities to your Durango itinerary.
Hop Aboard Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
What Is It? Visiting Durango brings the opportunity to travel back in time over 130 years by hopping aboard this historic steam train.
Why Do It? You can travel to the picture-perfect town of Silverton. The small town is tucked between two rugged San Juan Mountain passes, Red Mountain and Molas, looking as if it could be in Alaska. It boasts an impressive National Historic District with a number of interesting places to visit, including the San Juan County Historical Society, housed in the old county jail, as well as the Mayflower Gold Mill National Historic Site and the Old Hundred Gold Mine.
Good to Know: If it looks familiar, that may be because it was featured in the 1969 film, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” The circa-1882, coal-fired, steam-operated train was specifically built to handle the narrow mountain routes, chugging along at 18 miles per hour as it climbs the steep and magnificent mountain passes between Durango and Silverton, 45 miles north.
Explore the Historic Downtown
What Is It? Historic Downtown Durango is where the Southwest meets the Old West.
Why Do It? You’ll find modern amenities among the many historic charms that intertwine throughout the area. The main streets are lined with award-winning eateries, fabulous museums, shops and art galleries. While the elegant Victorian-era saloons have Wi-Fi these days, you’ll notice that the welcoming feel of the Old West has remained as strong as ever.
Good to Know: Enjoy a drink at one of the saloons or brewpubs, check out historic sites and shop for local goods in one-of-a-kind stores.
Walk or Bike the Animas River Trail
What Is It? The Animas River Trail starts from Animas City Park and runs for seven miles along the Animas River.
Why Do It? There are ideal spots for watching the Narrow Gauge Railroad pass by throughout, with eight trains running along it daily. Locals and visitors alike enjoy waiting for it to arrive to snap that postcard-perfect pic. Walkers can simply enjoy the scenic beauty of the river and its lush surroundings.
Good to Know: Enjoy people watching, picnicking on the river banks or fishing – the entire length of the river along the trail is accessible, and the Animas provides premier habitat for rainbow and brown trout.
Kayak, Tube or Raft the Animas River
What Is It? The river that flows through Durango also offers the opportunity for water activities like tubing, rafting, and kayaking.
Why Do It? It’s known for some of the best rafting and kayaking in the entire state. The Animas River stretches for 126 miles and is an arm of the San Juan River. The Upper Animas offers amazing whitewater – when the water level is high in early-mid June, it provides non-stop Class IV-V action that’s only for experts seeking big thrills, but once the river drops in late June and July the intensity decreases dramatically and is suitable for anyone who wants to enjoy it.
Good to Know: The Lower Animas is more gentle, ideal for tubing during the warm summer months. You’ll find a number of places to rent tubes in Durango, along with outfitters offering both rafting and kayaking tours.
Take the Scenic Chairlift at Purgatory Resort
What Is It? Just 25 miles north of downtown is Purgatory Resort, set within the spectacular San Juan Mountains among glaciers that were carved thousands of years ago.
Why Do It? The summer and fall months are ideal for taking the scenic chairlift ride to soak up some of the most breathtaking vistas in southwestern Colorado. But that’s not all there is to do in the warmer months, in fact, there is so much it would be impossible to fit it all in just one day.
Good to Know: There’s an alpine slide that you can ride down after taking the chairlift up, zip line rides, a climbing wall, miniature golf, a ropes course and a new summer tubing slope with multiple lanes.
Visit the Slopes at Ski Purgatory Resort
What Is It? During the winter, Purgatory draws skiers and boarders from around the world to glide down the steep trails that receive an annual snowfall of 260 inches while taking in jaw-dropping views of the San Juan Mountain Range.
Why Do It? The mountain features 10 lifts that can bring you to 85 groomed trails that span over 40 miles, with about one-quarter for beginners, half for intermediates and the rest for experts.
Good to Know: With more than 1,700 skiable acres and such a wide variety of trails and slopes, along with fewer visitors than the majority of other Colorado ski resorts, Purgatory was named the second least crowded ski area in North America.
Enjoy a Chuckwagon Supper at Bar D
What Is It? The Bar D Chuckwagon is considered one of Durango’s top attractions, offering the chance to step back in time to the Old West, complete with delicious chuckwagon dinners like the cowboys often enjoyed around the fire after a long day of driving steer.
Why Do It? Back in the day, they’d gather at the campfire eating their meals while exchanging tales, telling jokes and singing trail songs. The Bar D offers a similar experience that comes complete with musical and comedy performances and lively dances. There is a wide range of activities too, like a mini train ride and playground for the little ones, hay rides, gold panning, horseshoes, roping, and hiking on nature trails.
Good to Know: The property also hosts an ice cream and java cafe, chocolate shop, gift gallery, blacksmith shop, leather shop, record shop, and cowboy chapel for weddings.
Visit Pinkerton Hot Springs
What Is It? When you visit Durango, you can also experience one of the world’s most incredible natural wonders: Pinkerton Hot Springs.
Why Do It? While there are lots of hot springs through the San Juan Mountains, this fascinating spot is one not be missed due to its unique history. It started out as a flow of water that used to seep from the hillside, and travelers began stopping to visit. After creating a traffic hazard, the Colorado Department of Transportation decided to redirect the spring’s water to a cement structure that was soon covered in mineral deposits, creating the red-hued rock pile structure that visitors see today.
Good to Know: It’s also been said that water from these springs was considered to offer medicinal healing properties,” drawing people from all around to soak in it, or drink the water in search of a cure. The water is a steamy 95 to 105 degrees Fahrenheit, so be aware if you want to touch it.