Looking for an outdoor adventure mecca, mixed with all the things you love about living in a mountain town? Take it from the locals: Durango is the place to be. Whether you’re a climber, paddler, mountain biker, hiker, or any kind of outdoor enthusiast, you’ll find plenty to keep you entertained in Southwestern Colorado.
"One of the things that makes Durango so cool is that even in just a day and a half, you can pack so much in," says Molly Mickel, owner of local outfitter Mild to Wild Rafting & Jeep Tours. She’s not exaggerating in the least. From the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad to the Animas River to the Colorado Trail, which stretches 486 miles to Denver, Durango is truly in the heart of the action. Here’s what the locals say you shouldn’t miss.
Best Mountain Bike Ride
Lots of locals will tell you to head to the Test Tracks at Overend Mountain Park. But David Moler, longtime resident (his wife’s family has been in Durango for five generations) and owner of Durango Rivertrippers & Adventure Tours, has another favorite. "Horse Gulch is great," he says, “You can go out there and either spend all day or just do a quick 45-minute lunch ride.” If you’re an intermediate-or-better rider, Horse Gulch is the place to be, since you can either do a mellow meadow loop or do a lungbuster climb up Telegraph. As Moler puts it: “Get ’em to the Gulch!”
Best High-Adrenaline Experience
Whitewater rafting is exciting in general, but the Upper Animas River cranks it up a notch, according to Mickel. "The Upper Animas is considered one of the toughest commercially run stretches in Colorado," she explains, adding that the take-out is only accessible via the Durango & Silverton Railroad, making for a unique shuttle out. On top of all that, Mickel says, you’re looking at continuous Class III, IV, and V rapids. “People have to be in really great shape to do this,” she says.
Best Right-in-Town Adventure
The best spot for an in-town run? Overend Mountain Park, says Mary Monroe Brown, Executive Director of Trails 2000. Founded in 1989, the local nonprofit organization works with the community to plan, build, and maintain trails, so their staff is certainly in the know when it comes to local trails. Her favorite run is the Hidden Valley/Grabens Loop.
Best Historical Experience(s)
Long past when you might think the novelty would’ve worn off, locals are still smitten with the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, thanks in part to its ability to shuttle adventurers to their rafting or backpacking experiences. But an even cooler cultural experience, says Mickel, is to head to the cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde National Park, where visitors can take a tour of the Ancestral Puebloans’ homes and learn about the area’s natural history. "You just can’t get that from a history book," Mickel says, “You don’t totally get it until you walk down there.”
Best Family-Friendly Activity
Both Moler and Mickel enthusiastically endorse jeep tours as an excellent way to get the whole family outside. "We have some of the best trail networks in the United States here in the backcountry of Colorado," Moler explains, and families can feel safe even on self-guided tours, thanks to GPS technology and, in Durango Rivertrippers’ case, “stop alerts” that let the company know when a vehicle hasn’t moved for awhile. Jeep tours allow families, including kids and older folks, to explore the backcountry without the physically taxing part of the journey.
Best Wilderness Experience
"One of the advantages of southwest rivers is that they’re less accessible," says Mickel, pointing to the Piedra River between Durango and Pagosa Springs, an intermediate stretch of whitewater with no road running alongside it. Unlike many rivers in the Front Range, you get a true wilderness experience with an overnight trip on the Piedra. If you’re not an experienced boater, sign on with an outfitter, including Mild to Wild, which combines Piedra wilderness trips with outings on the Upper Animas.
Best Post-Hike Watering Hole
"Derailed Pour House serves the coldest beer in Durango," says Moler. Derailed has beer on tap from a huge variety of Colorado breweries, including local favorites like Durango Brewing Company and Ska. There’s also a full food menu, including delicious shareable small plates and phenomenal burgers. You’ll also find a wide selection of handcrafted cocktails to leave you feeling refreshed after a day on the river or the trail.
Written by Emma Walker for RootsRated in partnership with Durango Area Tourism Office and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.