Durango, Colorado, often considered one of America’s greatest outdoor towns, is home to rugged beauty, wild history, endless adventures, and dozens of epic things to do.
On my first trip to Durango, I didn’t quite get it. Sure, Durango itself was a cool town but I was a little bit surprised by the drier ecosystem that was one step away from high dessert.
Almost 4 years later, on my most recent trip to Durango, it finally made sense to me. Durango is not amazing because of Durango. Durango is incredible because of its proximity to so many amazing things.
Due it’s prime location right between the desert of Cortez and the massive, jagged San Juan Mountain Range, Durango is a hub for any adventure you could dream up.
Within an hour, you can go hike to an alpine lake, summit 14,000′ peaks, stroll along a river, go paddle on a lake, mountain bike a high mountain pass, be climbing sandstone, or be biking endless, smooth, sandy trails.
You don’t have to be a hardcore adventurer to love it here either! Home to the iconic Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, Durango draws plenty of people who simply love nature and the outdoors and who look forward to’ a relaxing day riding the train and enjoying the views.
Where is Durango, Colorado
Located in Southwest Colorado in the beautiful San Juan Range, Durango is home to a vibrant history, a tight knit community, and most of all, a variety of outdoor activities. Durango has become known as one of the best outdoor towns in America due its unique location at the corner of mountains and high desert. Within 15 minutes you can head north and explore high peaks and alpine lakes, you can explore the accessible mountains right around downtown, or you can head west to the deserts of Cortez for smooth mountain biking trails.
Durango, Colorado is also the formal start to one of America’s most sunning scenic drives, the Million Dollar Highway. The Million Dollar Highway runs from north from Durango to Silverton, Ouray, and Ridgeway and the priceless views that can be seen on this drive are quite possibly what gives the highway its name.
Getting To and Around Durango
Durango is a hugely popular destination for in-state and out-of-state travelers and there’s even a large amount of international tourism in the area. With this brings the question of How to get to Durango? This town is, after all located in amongst rural nature which is what makes it so appealing to visit.
Durango is not located close to any major cities or airports which means no matter where you’re coming from, getting to Durango is a trip in itself.
While it’s most common for people to drive to Durango, if you’re coming a long way, you may want to consider flying to a closer city and renting a car/RV from there. The nearest major cities to Durango are:
- Albuquerque (3 hours away)
- Denver (6 hours away)
- Phoenix (7 hours away)
If you have time to make it a road trip, I’d recommend starting in Denver since there are so many amazing stops on the way to Durango. If you’re coming to Colorado purely for a a visit to Durango, look into Albuquerque.
No matter how you choose to get to Durango, you will absolutely need a vehicle during your stay in Durango. Durango is a bike friendly town but if you’re wanting to explore all the great things to do here, you’ll need a car or RV to get around.
Plus, no trip to Durango is complete without driving the Million Dollar Highway and having a car will allow you to spend some time exploring the highway.
Use the search box below to search for flights, rental cars, and more.
Before I get started on all the rad things to do in Durango, note that we’ve included everything within an hour of Durango but have excluded Silverton since that town in itself has so many things to do. Check out our Ultimate Guide to the Million Dollar Highway for more adventures near Silverton and Ouray.
Things to do in Durango, Colorado
Ride the Narrow Gauge Railroad
The most popular thing to do in all of Durango is, no doubt, riding the famed Narrow Gauge Railroad from Durango to Silverton. The railroad itself is more than 100 years old and still operates with vintage, coal fired locomotives. While the history can be exciting for some, what’s more exciting is the 45 miles of scenic mountain views that this ride delivers in an otherwise inaccessible area of the San Juans.
If you’re an avid adventurer, the absolute coolest thing about the train is the wilderness access route they offer.
Since the train goes through areas of the San Juans that can’t be accessed by car, it makes for beautiful hiking and backpacking trips. Click here to see how you can ride the train to access the wilderness.
The train runs all year long and offers a variety of different packages. I’ve included some of the most popular ride options:
- Roundtrip Summer/Fall Train Ride (Or Wilderness Access Ride): Starting at $114 for adults, $80 for kids
- Winter/Spring Cascade Canyon Train Ride: Starting at $70 for adults, $42 for kids
Hike the Centennial Nature Trail SkySteps
Looking for a workout? The Centennial Nature Trail, AKA the Sky Steps, is one of the fastest ways to receive amazing views of Durango.
Though the summit view could easily be accessed by driving up to Fort Lewis College campus, where’s the fun in that? This challenging stairmaster is a great 1 hour adventure that can be accessed right from your accommodation in Downtown Durango.
The start of the centennial Nature Trail can easily be walked to from anywhere in downtown. The start is located E 6th St and E 10th St.
Climb in East Animas
Perhaps what drew you to Durango was its popularity among the climbing world. While Durango is filled with crags of all styles and size, one of the biggest areas is the trad crag of East Animas, though there are some sport routes too.
East Animas has more than 100 routes between 1-2 pitches long and has routes varying between 5.6 and 5.12 meaning there’s something for everyone.
Spring and fall is the best time to climb here, and all of Durango for that matter.
Top routes here include:
- Bush & Dirt Crack aka Pseudo-Cenotaph aka I Need a Shower (5.8, 2 pitch, trad)
- Simians to the Sun (5.9+, 2 pitch, mixed)
- Pale Skinned Nebraskan (5.10a, 1 pitch, sport)
- Yellow Pages (5.6, 1 pitch, trad)
- Watch Crystal Crack (5.10d, 2 pitch, trad)
The recommended climbing guidebook is Durango Sandstone which can be purchased at the local climbing store in downtown or click here to view the area on Mountain Project.
Stroll or Ride the Animas River Trail
If you’re looking for a pleasant and relaxing outdoor adventure, explore the Animas River Trail. This trail is a paved bike path that runs along the river starting on the north end of town at the Durango Rec Center and ending 7 miles later over by Sal Barn Canyon.
You can opt to simply take a stroll along the river at sunset or you can even hop on your bike and make it an adventure by riding the whole path there and back.
Bonus: Make it a big mountain biking loop and combine it with the Telegraph Canyon Trail system (see below) to get back to Durango.
One starting point of the Animas River Trail is about a 5 minute drive north of Main Street however, from Main Street, it’s only a few short blocks walk to get to the river.
Summit Castle Rock
Caste Rock has to be one of the best hikes in the entire Durango area.
Castle Rock is located in one of the most beautiful areas on the whole Million Dollar Highway, about 20 minutes north of Durango just before Purgatory Resort. Here the mountains get steeper and there are aspens galore.
Castle Rock is as you’d imagine, a large towering rock face and from it’s summit you have absolutely incredible views of the San Juan mountains to the east, the Million Dollar Highway running to Durango, and beautiful aspen groves below you.
In addition, the hike in itself up to Castle Rock’s summit takes you through amazing groves of aspen trees which are especially spectacular in the fall.
Are you a climber? From the top of Castle Rock you can see many different bolt anchors for top roping however I can’t find any info online about climbing here so if you’re interested, ask about it at the local climbing store.
Elbert Trailhead is in an odd location for a trailhead. Head north from Durango and right across the street from the Olde Schoolhouse Cafe, park at the Needles Country Store/gas station. From there, walk 100 yards south and you’ll quickly see a wooden fence on your right and the trailhead sign.
Once on the trail there’s only one junction to keep an eye out for. Just a few minutes after passing the cabin, stay right at a trail fork and follow the wide switchback heading up the mountainside.
Hike the Animas Overlook Trail
The Animas Mountain Trail is one of the easiest hikes in the area and though its not the best hike in the Durango area, it’s great to hit if you’re short on time and aren’t a a very experienced hiker. The trail brings you to the top of Animas Mountain providing views of Durango and the surrounding mountains.
The hike is 6 miles roundtrip and can be made into a loop that’s also 6 miles by combining Animas Mountain East trail with Animas Mountain (standard) trail.
The trailhead for Animas Mountain is really close to downtown. Head north on the 550 from Durango and make a left onto W 32th St then turn right on W 4th Ave. This will bring you to the Animas Mtn East trailhead.
Mountain Bike in Telegraph Canyon
Telegraph is the primary network of mountain biking trails in Durango which lie on the east side of town.
There are 2 main sides you can access the network from: The Horse Gulch trailhead, which will bring you to the brutal ascent on Telegraph Trail or there’s the southeast side on Carbon Junction, Big Canyon, or Sale Barn trails.
Telegraph Trail is the start to most any ride in the Canyon. It’s a steep climb from Horseshoe Gulch Trailhead and it’s a steep, brutal climb to the summit of all the surrounding trails.
Some of the most popular routes for each skill level are:
- For Beginners: Combine Telegraph Trail with Meadow Loop which can also be combined with Stacey’s Loop
- For Intermediates: Consider riding the Lunch Route which starts over by the trailheads Big Canyon/Cabron Junction. The route can be ridden either way and goes from Carbon Junction to South Rim to Crite’s Connect, then to Telegraph and Sidewinder, then continues onto Cowboy Upper and Big Canyon
- For Advanced Riders: The Lunch route is an option but if you want a challenging descent, tackle Anasazi Descent (ride up Telegraph first) and then turn onto Secret.
One of the other great ride options is Raider Ridge (see next number).
Brave the Raider Ridge Trail
Raider Ridge is one of the many trails within the Telegraph trail system however, whether you’re a biker or hiker, this trail is best suited to those looking for great exposure and awesome views.
Much like Animas Overlook Trail, you’ll have views of Durango and the surrounding area, however, this ridge in comparison is sheer and rocky making the bike ride something exclusively for advanced mountain bikers.
If you want to bike Raider Ridge:
- Start on the East College Drive bike path.
- At the first trail junction, head right up either the easy Talker trail or the black diamond Shocker trail which both bring you to Powerline Ridge.
- Go left on Powerline ridge, loop up to the steep ascent of Skyline, then finally the trail merges onto the black diamond trail Raider Ridge.
- This 3 mile section is all downhill, pretty exposed, and has plenty of lines to choose from.
- When you hit Powerline Ridge again, head right to get back to where you started.
If you want to explore Raider Ridge by foot:
- Start at the Horse Gulch Trailhead the make 2 lefts at the junction for Zipline trail.
- When you hit Powerline Ridge make a right before making another right onto Raider Ridge.
- You can make it a loop and combine it with Rocky Road or you can just hike out as far as you want then go back the way you came.
- Tip: Keep an eye out for bikes.
Mountain Bike Junction Creek, Seg 28 of the Colorado Trail
The Colorado Trail (AKA the CT) is a 567 mile trail that travel from Denver to Durango and is commonly praised as one of the best bike packing rides in the world due to its stunning beauty in jagged mountain landscapes and alpine lakes.
As the final segment of the iconic long distance trail, this black diamond trail is a weaving ride of downhill broken up by an occasionally steep uphill. The trail consists of switchbacks, valley views, and waterfalls.
This section of the Colorado Trail can be done a few different ways:
The first is if you’re wanting to ride the entire 22 mile (one way) segment. You’ll head up to the end of the road in La Plata Canyon.
If you don’t have time or energy to ride out and back on such a long trail, you can opt to shuttle it but you’ll need 2 vehicles.
To start from the La Plata Canyon side at Kennebec Trailhead, you’ll head west on Hwy 160 from Durango then turn right onto country road 124. This road goes for 14 miles, 5 of of which you will need 4X4 to drive. The road dead ends at the trailhead and junction of the Colorado Trail.
Ride the Colorado Trail + Dry Creek + Log Chutes Loop
If you want a short ride just to get a taste of the CT, start at the Colorado Trail’s terminus at Junction Creek trailhead and ride the CT as a loop with Dry Fork trail and Hoffeheins Connecter.
This ride is suitable for intermediates but more advanced rider can extend the ride and combine it with one of the best downhill trails in Durango, Log Chutes.
To start from the Junction Creek trailhead, which is closer to town, and ride the Dry Creek Loop, head north on the 550 from Durango and make a left onto W 25th St which turns into Junction Creek Road. This road is dirt but is accessible by most 2WD vehicles up to the campground. After 3.5 miles you’ll reach the CT trailhead or after 5 miles, you’ll reach the campground where you can also access the CT.
Tip: If you’re camping and want to ride the CT, stay at Junction Creek National Forest Campground and start the ride from your back door.
Explore La Plata Canyon
La Plata Canyon is just one region of Durango and is filled with multiple adventures.
For one, the road is scenic enough that the drive itself is an adventure but you need 4X4. If you don’t have 4X4 you can opt to mountain bike the road starting from the second dirt parking lot.
You can ride all the way out to the Colorado Trail junction and downhill back the way you came making for a nice 19 mile ride or you could even combine it with the Colorado Trail and downhill all the way to Durango (you’ll need a car shuttle for this).
Climb at Lemon Reservoir
Lemon Reservoir can be found just 50 minutes northeast of town. Being located in a small canyon makes it a very scenic place to climb in it’s prime season of fall.
Compared to the other two climbing areas on this list, Lemon Reservoir is far less accessible and family friendly but home to one of the only granite climbing areas in the region, it can be appealing to those who prefer secluded, single pitch, sport routes.
Top routes here include:
- Hotness – 5.8+ sport
- Vertical Alluvium – 5.10a mixed
- Bonsai – 5.10a sport
- Chucky Bill – 5.10 mixed
- Via Manalo – 5.11b sport
- Holy Grail – 5.11d sport
- Brady’s Route – 5.12a sport
Just like East Animas, the recommended climbing guidebooks is Durango Sandstone and can be purchased at the local climbing store.
Summit Engineer Mountain
Not to be confused with the Engineer Pass off roading trail in Ouray, Engineer Mountain is located about 45 minutes north of Durango and holds a variety of different trail options to reach its summit.
Engineer Mountain is the most commonly known epic day hike in the Durango area and unlike some of the adventures on this list, the Engineer Pass hike is easy to find and easily located at a National Forest trailhead along the highway.
The shortest way to reach the summit of this mountain starts from Coal Bank Pass on the Highway. The 6 mile roundtrip trail that lies on the west side of the highway, ascends Pass Creek trail, gains 2,300 feet, and involves a bit of exposed scrambling at the end.
If exposure isn’t your thing, you can still opt to hike the Engineer Mountain Trail which could accessed from the Coal Bank Pass but could also be accessed from the proper Engineer Mountain Trailhead further south. The trail itself goes on for a very long time so it’s your choice on where to turn around. This trail travels through meadows, forest, and along the base of Engineer Mountain, still providing nice views.
This 12 mile round-trip hike gains nearly 3000 feet and does in fact take you to the summit of Engineer Mountain at nearly 13,000 feet.
Engineer Pass Trail isn’t just a hike though. There are actually a few different ascents of this mountain all of which can be mountain biked and sometimes, they’re combined for a long thru-ride.
Mountain bike up the Jones/Dutch Creek loop
Though a large portion of the forest was burned during a recent wildfire, this is still a great ride for the sake of the ride itself.
This route is best ridden as a big ol 19 mile loop starting on Hermosa Creek, turning onto Dutch Creek, making a right on Pinkerton-Flagstaff, and finishing on Jones Creek
At the same time, you can also choose to just ride Jones Creek as an out-and-back ride. Jones Creek is known to be fast, flowy, and fun. It ranges between the blue and black diamond in difficulty and if you ride just this trail, it’s an 8 mile ride roundtrip.
Start this mountain biking adventure from Lower Hermosa Campground.
Head north from Durango on Hwy 550 then make a left off the highway, and quick right for county road 201, signed for Lower Hermosa campground. Follow the road for 12 miles to the campground.
About 6 miles in, the road turns to dirt but it’s drivable by most 2WD vehicle (we took out 30 foot motorhome up it).
Looking for an easy access climbing area with a little bit of everything? X-Rock is the place to go and being located so close to town makes this possibly the most popular crag in the Durango area.
Here there are dozens of top rope routes, trad routes, sport routes, and boulder problems in every thing from 5.4 to 5.11 range.
If you’re not a climber, you can also opt to pay for a guided climbing and more than likely, this is the place they’ll take you. Check out local climbing guides like Kling Mountain Guides or San Juan Mountain Guides.
Hike Purgatory Flats
Located right across the street from Purgatory Resort, the Flats trail is commonly used as an access to Chicago Basin however Purgatory Flats trail is also known to be one of the best fall hikes in Durango.
Don’t let the name fool you, this trail is not flat and has quite a bit elevation change and since it starts by descending into a valley, the way back is the hard part.
While it’s not required to hike the entire trail, the whole trek to Cascade Creek is 10 miles roundtrip with 1,800 feet of elevation gain.
From this same trail you can opt to extend this into Chicago Basin (see below).
Explore Chicago Basin
Chicago Basin is home to some of to the most stunning mountain adventures in Durango due its secluded location deep in the San Juans, east of Purgatory Resort.
Chicago Basin is not accessible by car so you have 2 options to reach the adventures that lie beyond.
The first is via the Silverton & Durango Train as mentioned before in #1. With a $80 roundtrip train ticket from Silverton, you can get off at the Needleton train station cutting out a significant 10 miles (each way) of hiking on Purgatory Trail. This is great for more convenience and more time spent enjoying the really spectacular parts of Chicago Basin.
The second option was just mentioned. You can take Purgatory trail from Purgatory Trailhead along Hwy 550 then hike 10 miles to the start of Chicago Basin at Needleton Train Station.
Once in the Chicago Basin, you can make camp and the possibilities are endless.
There are three 14ers you can summit from here: Mt Eolus, Windom Peak, and Sunlight Peak, and due to their convenient locations right next to one another, you can summit all three of these 14ers in 1 days. The trek of summiting these 3 peaks in day is no doubt on the list of the best hikes in all of Colorado. Combined with the hike in purgatory Flats, it’s a 37 miles roundtrip trek whereas if you ride the train it’s 17 miles, which is still a lot.
If you want a more chill backcountry experience, there are some smaller explorations you could tackle from basecamp. Click here for details.
Mountain Bike Blackhawk Pass, Seg 26 of the Colorado Trail
If you want to get really far out into the San Juans, ride the rural and rugged black diamond section of the Colorado Trail, Blackhawk Pass.
As mentioned earlier, the Colorado Trail is a famous 567 mile trail running from Denver to Durango and is arguably the best long distance mountain bike ride in the world. It’s especially true for the stunning section 26 where riders are entirely above tree line.
The 26 mile out and back route travels through beautiful meadows, delivers constantly stunning views of the surrounding mountains, and brings you to the top of Blackhawk Pass.
Though incredibly strenuous on the uphill, the descent back down from the pass is known as one of the best downhill sections of the whole long distance Colorado Trail due its flowy and fun technical sections.
Be warned that these views are reserved only for highly experienced mountain bikers and the route is located in remote wilderness. Come fully prepared with emergency supplies.
While this trail lies closer to the Telluride side of the mountains, the trail can still be accessed from Durango from Upper Hermosa Creek Trailhead. You’ll need a 4WD vehicle to get there as it lies deep down forest roads from Purgatory Ski Resort.
Boulder at the Sailing Hawks
Sailing Hawks is the largest bouldering area in Durango and is definitely the hub when it comes to un-roped climbing.
With nearly 100 routes, easy access, well maintained trail systems, and problems ranging from V1 to V10, it’s an all star bouldering destination.
Some of the best routes include:
- Petrified Jugs – V1
- Pocket Change – V4
- Dr Dyno – V4
- Skully – V5
- 3 Finger Pocket – V5
- Something Wicked This Way Comes – V6
- Bleeding Lip Traverse – V6
- Legacy of the Kid – V9
While I earlier recommended the Durango Sandstone climbing book, if you plan on mostly bouldering, check out the Durango Bouldering instead. It can be purchased at the local climbing store in downtown.
Camp at Little Molas Lake
As you venture further north from Durango, the road ascends to the high elevation pass of Coal Bank Pass and Molas Pass at nearly 11k feet. Just after these passes is an upper plateau filled with lakes, trees, rivers, flowers, and mountains.
It feels like a wonderland and one of the most pristine areas of that wonderland is at the small campground on Little Molas Lake, not to be confused with the privately owned Molas Lake Campground on the other side of the highway.
Little Molas Lake isn’t actually a fully scale campground but rather an area of National Forest that allows free dispersed camping. As we explain in our guide to camping on the Million Dollar Highway, you can camp here for free for up to 14 days and this location even has pit toilets available (seasonally). Here you can go on epic hikes from your front door including the Colorado Trail (see below).
About 40 miles north of Durango on the 550, make a left onto Forest Road 584, which is just a half mile past the summit of Molas Pass. The road is dirt but lasts less than a mile before you reach the camping area.
Hike Molas Pass, Seg 25 of the Colorado Trail
Molas Pass is yet another stunning section of the Colorado Trail. What makes this section stand out is that most of the trail is above treeline, delivering panoramic views of mountains nearby and of the horizon.
You’ll have views of peaks like Twilight Peak, Engineer Mountain, the Grenadier Mountains, and the Snowden Mountains.
While this entire 20 mile (one way) segment of the CT to Bolam Pass is not possible do in a day, you can choose to do this as a 1 night backpacking trip or preferably, you can do it as a day hike. You can turn around whenever you want but a recommended turn-around point to make this an even 10 miles is at Lime Creek, the first major creek crossing at mile 5.
This hike isn’t particularly steep or strenuous and since you get to choose how far out to go, it’s great for all hikers.
Start this hike at Little Molas Lake Campground which is just a few minutes drive past Molas Pass. (More details in the previous section)
Climb a hidden crag
Durango isn’t just filled with major climbing areas, but it’s scattered with dozens of tiny crags all throughout the region, some catered to beginners, while others are more for advanced climbers.
Our favorite easy climbing area was Fume Wall, home to 25 routes primarily between 5.7 and 5.10. Looking for hard bouldering? Check out Turtle Lake. Long, easy, multi-pitch, trad climbs? Pine River is the place.
The possibilities for climbing here are endless no matter what you’re looking for.
Where to Eat in Durango
James Ranch Harvest Grill
James Ranch Harvest Grill is without a doubt one of the best (if not the best) restaurants in all of Durango.
Home to the best burgers I’ve ever tasted, James Ranch Harvest Grill is an eatery we will forever talk about.
This restaurant isn’t your typical burger joint. Being a ranch, this grill produces its very own grass fed beef and all the remaining ingredients are local and organic.