Did you know that the Rocky Mountains stretch all the way into Utah? From the Wasatch Mountains in northern Utah to the eastern edge near Denver, CO. Right in the middle, down in the southwest corner of Colorado lies the San Juan Mountain range, also known as the "Switzerland of America" due to the steepness of this range. Nestled down in the Animas Valley at the south end of that range is the great little college town, and gateway to the San Juans -- Durango, Colorado.
Three hundred forty miles southwest of Denver and two hundred thirteen miles northwest of Albuquerque, the town of Durango is a gold mine of outdoor excitement! As the home of Fort Lewis College, and with a population of a little more than 17,500 people, this town is hardly a hidden gem, but is special nonetheless!
The town of Durango serves as a hub for a multitude of mountain adventures. With towns like Telluride, Ouray, Serton, and Cortez just a short drive away, there is plenty to do for adventure seekers and sightseers alike. Whether you’re looking to fly fish, white water raft the Animas River (which flows through the middle of town), head out of town for a hike along a section of the Colorado Trail, hike one of the San Juan’s sixteen 14,000 foot peaks, or a 4x4 trip to explore the historic mining ghost towns of this range, this area is rich with culture and history.
A few pieces of this history can be found right downtown on Main Street in the Historic Strater Hotel (one of our favorite spots to stay!), General Palmer, or at the Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.
The Strater Hotel, built in 1887 is one of Durango’s most prominent landmarks. Built by Henry Strater with the help of his brothers, Fred and Frank, at a cost of $70,000; this hotel would serve as a home in the brutal winter months for the locals who would board up their own homes and come to stay in the Hotel. This hotel also housed the famous western author, Louis L'Amour. He said he got his inspiration from listening to the piano play away in the Diamond Belle Saloon located right underneath his suite.
The Durango Silverton Railroad, a three foot wide narrow gauge track that operates the 45 miles between the town of Durango and Silverton, CO, was designated as a National Historic Landmark and a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. This railroad was originally built between 1881-1882 to be used by the Denver Rio Grande Railway to transport people and supplies to the town of Silverton and the other surrounding areas. It would return with the gold and silver ore from the various mines located throughout the San Juans. Now this railway is strictly only for tourists to ride and see the beautiful country between the two destinations. The majority of the track is inaccessible by vehicle and is one of the special activities that draws people into the area. We love doing this trip so much, we included it on our Grand Circle Experience!
If you’re looking to get out of town in a different direction, head southwest for about an hour, and you will come upon Mesa Verde National Park. This park was established in 1906 by Theodore Roosevelt and is home to some of the most well-preserved Native American cliff dwellings in the world. These cliff dwellings, built by the Ancient Pueblo people known as the Anasazi, offer more than 4000 archaeological sites and more than 600 cliff dwellings. These sites date back to approx. 600-1300 AD and are not to be missed.
While we tend to focus on the summer activities of this amazing corner of Southwest Colorado, let’s not forget this area has much to offer in the winter months as well. With ski resorts like Durango Mountain Resort (formerly known as Purgatory), Telluride Ski Resort, and the newest addition of Silverton Mountain Resort, the vertical feet you can rack up are endless…not to mention the miles of snowmobiling and snowshoeing.
It is also important to mention that while visiting Durango, make sure to visit the vast array of more than 100 restaurants, cafes, bars, breweries, and night clubs, as well as the many fine art galleries and curios shops. This town may have begun as a hub for the mining industry but has quickly become a destination for tourist and adventure seekers alike.
For more information on Durango, please visit durango.com