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Why Durango is Colorado’s Hidden Gem

There’s something intoxicating about Colorado (and no, I’m not talking about the legalized green stuff!). The majestic mountains, fresh air, and laidback vibe draw outdoor enthusiasts to this natural haven. While Denver, Rocky Mountain National Park, and ski towns like Vail and Aspen get a lot of press, they’re just the tip of the iceberg. I have personally found that small, unheralded towns are where the people, food and places nurtures a tender side of your soul. That’s why I love Durango. With a population of about 18,400, this old wild west town boasts great outdoor adventure, history and culture. Here’s what to do in Durango.


The Basics

Best known for…
Its roots as a small mining town. Founded in the 1880s by the Denver & Rio Grande Railway, there are many vestigial reminders of its past. Learn about Durango’s seedier history of miners, madams, mayhem, and murders with Horsefly History tours. These intimate walking tours explore everything from the historic main streets to underground tunnels from the old mining days.

Where to stay
If you’re visiting a historic mining town, you might as well lean in. Book your stay at the Strater Hotel. This grand hotel dates back to 1887 and feels like it (with the exception of its modern-day conveniences, like indoor plumbing). Beautiful woodwork, stained glass, and masonry, plus a bona fide saloon that’ll have you expecting John Wayne to strut into the joint.

Outside of town, the O-Bar-O Cabins make for a quiet retreat. There’s a rustic vibe without being too rustic, meaning cozy beads and clean, stylish bathrooms, with lots of antlers for flair. With tall pines and a mountain stream running past your cabin, it’s western perfection.

Where to eat
636 Main is an American bistro offers a personally crafted, diverse menu including gluten-free options, decadent desserts, daily specials, and some local favorites.

Durango is home to several craft breweries. Visit Steamworks Brewing Co. to sample local Kölsch, Imperial IPA, Steam Engine Lager, and more. Great sandwiches, pizza, burgers, and salads, too.

Where to shop
Historic Downtown Durango has it all— kids’ shops and clothing boutiques, art galleries and vintage stores… not to mention cool old buildings that harken back to a bygone era. I love independent bookstores, so a stop at Maria’s Bookshop. is a must. In addition to globally celebrated literature, the staff hand-picks books with local significance.

The nationally acclaimed Toh-Atin Gallery showcases fine art from Native artists. Think jewelry, weavings, pottery, and vintage collection. Their collection of Katsinas—carved wooden dolls representing the sacred spirits—will inspire and delight with their delicate details and personality.

The Great Outdoors

It’s always sunny in Durango
This lovely town gets a whopping 300 days of sunshine annually. It’s easy to see why everyone spends so much time outside. You don’t have to be particularly outdoorsy to enjoy the natural offerings. The Animas River Trail, a paved route stretching seven miles through Durango’s Animas River Greenway, connects recreational areas, parks, the Durango Recreation Center, Powerhouse Science Center, and more. Run it, walk it, bike it—it’s up to you!

Get wild
Love the great outdoors? Explore the Weminuche Wilderness, the largest wilderness area in the state. This rugged terrain runs the gamut when it comes to elevation– deep into the Animas river gorge all the way to the tops of the Needle Range. From short and sweet hikes (the Piedra Falls trail runs about 1.2 miles round trip) to epic trails to high-altitude lakes (like the 7.6-mile Highland Mary Lakes Cunningham Gulch Loop Trail), there are plenty of ways to explore on foot.

You say Purgatory like it’s a bad thing
Located in the rugged San Juan Mountains just 25 miles north of Durango, you’ll find Purgatory Ski Resort. Come winter, explore 1,605 acres of terrain ranging from steep tree trails to wide-open cruisers. This family-friendly resort is regarded as one of the country’s best-value destinations for skiing. During the summer and fall, you’ll find awesome mountain biking, hiking, and even a mountain coaster. The Inferno features a two-person car, outfitted with a hand brake, so riders can take their time or go full throttle, winding through the trees.

Scenic drive
Spend a day on the Million Dollar Highway, a 70-mile strip of blacktop between Durango and Ouray. The road climbs up and over three separate passes: Coal Bank, Molas, and Red Mountain Pass. The breathtaking views make navigating all those hairpin turns and sheer cliff drops worth the anxiety. If you’re there from late September through October, the fall colors dazzle.

History & Culture

Ride the train
Want to experience Weminuche Wilderness as they did in the 1880s? Hop aboard the historic Denver & Rio Grande Railway. Though it initially hauled freight as well, the railroad has always been promoted as a scenic route for passenger service. In addition to buying a train ticket, you can tack on adventure excursions, like zip-lining, white water rafting, horseback riding, ATV riding, and more.

If you’re in town, check out the free Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum. The 12,000-square-foot museum features artifacts and historical information about the railway. Kids will love exploring the giant interactive train model, authentic cars, and engines. I say anything to tire out the wee ones is time well spent.

Cultural significance
Durango puts you in close proximity to some of America’s most compelling first peoples, the Ancestral Pueblo. Spend a day at Mesa Verde National Park learning about the generations of people who built and lived in the cliffside cave dwellings. Want to get up close and personal? Take a ranger-guided tour. You must purchase tickets in person. Details here.

Have you been to Durango? What do you love about it? Share in the comments!

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With a population of about 18,400, this old wild west town boasts great outdoor adventure, history and culture. Here’s what to do in Durango.

This Post Has 16 Comments

  1. We have been and still are frequent visitors to Durango. The area fly fishing is great, the “bicycle path” along the Animas River is tranquil and a great walk, Oscar’s has great hardy breakfast and the locals are friendly and helpful.
    Beautiful area served by major airlines and a worth a few days from Samantha’s favorite Santa Fe. Mike

    1. I am utterly in love with Durango and dream of moving there someday. I brought my 16 yr old twin sons to Durango over the summer and they loved it as well. From the extensive and overwhelmingly beautiful wilderness surrounding the town, to the historic scenic train ride, to all the great food and shops in town, the friendly people and lovely weather, what’s not to love? I have been all over CO and the southwest and I would choose Durango as a home base or place to visit over anywhere. It’s also nice and close to Ouray which is also so beautiful and not too far from the Utah border, so as to access the national parks and red rock canyon country. Durango is like heaven on earth to me.

  2. Ya fogot the hotsprings “pilgrim”! Great Mexican food also , and art galleries . You can take the Silverton Railway up and bus back , gorgeous scenery. Awe Sam you gave the secrets away , now theyll be tourbusses and Prairie Schooners.

  3. We were there in late June and lived Durango. We ate at a restaurant called “Chamayo” and it was so good we ate there both nights and had the same thing! Brick oven pizza and warm vegetable salad.

    We stayed at the Doubletree. Not much atmosphere but located on the river with river views and access. Pet friendly too.

  4. We were there in late June and loved Durango. We ate at a restaurant called “Chamayo” and it was so good we ate there both nights and had the same thing! Brick oven pizza and warm vegetable salad.

    We stayed at the Doubletree. Not much atmosphere but located on the river with river views and access. Pet friendly too.

  5. I grew up near Durango and earned my BA at Fort Lewis College in Durango. Durango is an amazing town! I highly recommend Durango and all of southwestern Colorado for a summer getaway! Enjoy!

  6. I live about 50 miles from Durango, in Pagosa Springs. You mentioned Piedra Falks Trail , it is just north of me, so it’s not in the Durango vicinity. I love Durango , but I loved it more a long time before it got real popular, before real estate prices rose and crime and homeless increased. I’d say come visit Pagosa Springs, but I don’t want it to grow much.

  7. We camped at Lake Vallecito for more than 20 years until the big fire and then went back the year after the fire. We loved camping along the lakeside it was so beautiful and we met so many wonderful people. Since then we’ve stayed at the Statler Hotel and loved it also. It’s nice to be in town and just walk the town and enjoy the many places to eat and just drop in. The breweries are a lot of fun and the town is relatively quiet for a resort town. We live in Phoenix and it’s just a seven hour drive away, so now that I’m think of it maybe we’ll just pop in the car and leave the dogs at my sons home in Flagstaff and take a little 3 day trip.

  8. Samantha, you might want to check into Flagstaff at my son’s vacation rental at 411 Leroux Street. It used to belong to Governor Babbitt. It is owned by Ben Bethel 602 252 9349. He also has a condo for vacation rental in Flagstaff and 18 condo’s in downtown Phoenix including 2 absolutely beautiful high class Penthouses. Walking distance to everything in both cities.

    1. We live in Flagstaff! Visited Durango this past summer. We call it “Flagstaff with a River.” Stayed at Purgatory and did all the fun summer stuff the resort has to offer!

  9. I’ve now lived in Durango for 30 years and there’s a trail that I think everybody should walk up and down that shows how the beauty of the town in the valley in the mountains and that’s the nature trail that the bottom of it is off of 10th and fifth avenue and you will zigzag up to the Fort Lewis College to the top very easy trail for all ages. what makes it so beautiful as you start and as you start to elevate you start seeing more and more of the town the valley the mountains just beautiful at all times of day!! but of course the evening sunset tops it off! this is a must to do and most people do not know about .It’s truly a Birdseye view of the area. So visitors put this on your list if you’re going to Durango!!!

  10. We were visiting friends who live in New Mexico and they said we had to go with them on a day trip to Durango and it did not disappoint. Such a great town. We went just outside of town to Honeyville and they’ve got all kinds of specialty honeys. For the evening we went to the Bar D ranch where my wife was excited that for a few dollars she shot a six-shooter, plus there are other activities. There was a chuckwagon supper. After the meal the Bar D Wranglers sang and played a bunch of old cowboy songs. Such a good trip.

  11. My family went as a child for vacation and rode the Durango Silverton gauge railway train. It was such a fond memory that I brought my own husband, his parents and our kids. We all loved it. What a beautiful route along a crystal clear river and Mountain View. It’s a must see, especially in early fall!

  12. Was in Durango two weeks ago. Been here many times and enjoyed this trip too! Liked wandering downtown into all the little shops, drove the road to Silverton. Have done the train ride twice, at least, always a must do. Just hung out and loved it. Will be back!

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