For outdoor enthusiasts, it doesn’t get much better than the city of Durango, nestled in Southwestern Colorado. Adventurers on the hunt for some wilderness, rivers to raft, or railroads to ride all have something in common in Durango, Colorado. This spot is a whirlwind of activity no matter what time of year. There is never a bad time to take in the mountain ranges.
With outdoor activities, art galleries, family-friendly adventures, museums, wineries, parks, hot springs, resorts, and more — you will never run out of things to do in Durango CO.
Here are 21 things to do in Durango CO that we know you and your outdoor-loving crew will adore.
COOLEST PLACES TO STAY IN DURANGO CO
- Best Historical Hotel: The prestigious General Palmer Hotel was built in the Victorian era in 1898 in historic downtown Durango. Within the charm of this historical setting, you’ll find the comforts of modern living. Located right in the center of town, you’re within walking distance of shops, restaurants, and the railroad.
- Best For Foodies: Overlooking the Animas River and within walking distance of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, the DoubleTree by Hilton Durango is located in the San Juan Mountains and offers 2 on-site restaurants. Edgewater Grill serves seafood and steaks and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Guests can also try grilled specialties at the hotel’s seasonal River Rat Outdoor Cafe.
- Best Tried and True: Located off Highway 160 and just 3 minutes’ drive from Durango town center, the Holiday Inn & Suites Durango Downtown features an indoor pool, hot tub and an on-site restaurant.
DURANGO & SILVERTON NARROW GAUGE RAILROAD
When visiting Durango, there is an activity you must partake in — taking a ride on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. Climb aboard USA Today’s voted #1 scenic railroad in the country to see for yourself why this historic locomotive is all the rage. You can even pop into their free railroad museum when you come back to the Durango station.
For wintertime guests, the train gets a makeover to become The Polar Express. Other trips throughout the year vary, from the scenic trips of May to October (a 9 ¼ hour trek) to the shorter 5 ¼ hour trip offered throughout the spring, summer, and fall seasons.
A ride on this railroad is one of the best things to do in Durango CO!
MESA VERDE NATIONAL PARK
Cliff dwellings perched along the geologic formations at Mesa Verde National Park are just a piece of the history preserved by the park service. All over this UNESCO World Heritage Site, there are remnants of the ancestral home of the Pueblo people, who called the land home for over 700 years. Many of the cliff dwellings you’ll see at Mesa Verde are from the 6th to 12th centuries, according to UNESCO.
Mesa Verde became the 100th member of the International Dark Sky Park designation, making it a prime stargazing spot. Hikers and campers are right at home in this park with lots to see, especially the historic sites around the park land. Take some time to learn the history of the people who first called this land home so many hundreds of years ago.
There is a picturesque spot in the midst of Rocky Mountain National Park that hikers clamor to — Emerald Lake, near the Bear Lake trailhead. The area near the lake is a great place for camping, though it is a little ways away from the lake itself.
Hiking to the lake takes visitors off of the paved trail, but this remains one of the most popular hiking trails in the mountain region. The National Park Service classifies it as a “moderate” hike, while warning guests that it is “rugged,” with an elevation of 744 feet above sea level.
THE POWERHOUSE SCIENCE CENTER MAKER LAB
Within a historic coal-fired steam-power AC plant, The Powerhouse Science Center Maker Lab is an interactive experience. Their goal is to make science learning fun for everyone, no matter their age, as well as to bring in an appreciation of science in its past, present, and future iterations.
The lab also hosts traveling exhibits, which have included things like Living with Wolves Photographic Exhibit, Gear Up: The Science of Bikes, Picturing Women Inventors, and Dinosaur Discoveries: Ancient Fossils, New Ideas.
THE HOGSBACK RIDGE TRAIL
Though technically in Boulder, the Hogsback Ridge Trail is a favorite trail among hikers and equestrians alike.
Though rated as “hard” by the Boulder government website, the trail is also less than 2 miles long. It is a loop off of the Western side of the Foothills Trail, and has gorgeous views of the landscape surrounding the trailhead.
Ten miles north of Durango is James Ranch, a working cattle ranch that is known for its market and artisanal cheeses.
A charming ranch beloved by visitors from all over, James Ranch offers guided tours throughout the year, but their self-guided walking tour is a particular favorite. Guests can grab the tour booklet from the market, and it only takes 15-20 minutes to complete.
Visitors can see the goats, chickens, the milking parlor, and more around the ranch, while also learning about how they care for their land, as well as their animals.
For over 130 years, the Strater Hotel has been welcoming guests to Durango. Built in 1887, the Strater is considered one of the most “iconic hotels” in the Western United States. The hotel itself is a living museum, with displays showcasing its history, alongside the town itself, throughout the lobby. They even encourage folks to come inside to check out the history on full display.
Although it was built to accommodate miners, that didn’t stop bootleggers from feeling right at home during Prohibition. Bootleggers hid their alcohol all over the Strater Hotel, with a series of secret caches they built into the walls or other fixtures around the hotel. Think you can find some?
FORT LEWIS COLLEGE
Fort Lewis College might be a place of higher learning in Durango, but it’s also a place of fun as well. Their Durango Disc Golf course is an 18 basket course throughout their campus that is open for public use. Players can pick up course maps at the Student Life Center on campus or download one from the Fort Lewis website.
Another unique element of the campus is its SkySteps, which were built to bring the town and college together. These 500 steps create a trail less than ⅕ of a mile long, but follow a nature trail, so it is a lovely walk.
Run by the La Plata County Historical Society, the Animas Museum lives within a 1904 Animas City School.
Among their permanent exhibits, are a restored 1905 era classroom, a Native American gallery, and Forged by Flame, which talks about how fires shaped the county.
They also have events throughout the year to further engage visitors with history. Some of their past events include Animas City Looking Down on Durango Since 1876, The Woolly West, and Durango Through the Eyes of Frank Gonner.
COLORADO TRAILS RANCH
Have you ever wanted to feel like a cowboy? Now is your chance! At Colorado Trails Ranch you can be a rootin’ tootin’ cowpootin’ member of the Wild West. This dude ranch got its start from a working ranch in 1960.
If horseback riding with the majestic views of the San Juan Mountains sounds right for you, why not stay for a spell? They have plenty of lodging options to choose from, which even include an all-inclusive choice. Fresh baked bread and banana splits in an old-fashioned soda fountain? Sign us up!
On the behemoth, hike the Colorado Trail to Gudy’s Rest. This is considered an out-and-back loop trail, and at eight miles roundtrip, is a favorite for hikers. The views from Gudy’s Rest, overlooking the Animas River Valley, is a gorgeous sight to behold.
The stop is named after Gudy Gaskill, who is considered the “Mother of The Colorado Trail.” It was her idea to create the long-distance trail connecting Denver to Durango.
PERINS PEAK STATE PARK
Get out in nature and enjoy a hike at the Perins Peak State Wildlife Area. You can hike to the top of Perins Peak by hiking the 5.9-mile out-and-back trail here. Considered moderately challenging, it’s a popular hike that rewards hikers with amazing views.
Checking closures is especially important for visitors of Perins Peak State Wildlife Area. Why? The park is a critical nesting area for peregrine falcons, and is serious about protecting them.
Just 25 miles north of downtown Durango, you’ll find a getaway with an ominous name — Purgatory Resort.
Surrounded by the San Juan Mountains, this resort is a destination for folks any time of year. Enjoy skiing and all sorts of fun activities offered in the winter, and their summertime activities are worth a visit too!
Just because there is no snow doesn’t mean the mountains can’t be thrilling. The Inferno Mountain Coaster is an absolute favorite among visitors to Purgatory Resort in the summer months. The coaster is 4,000 feet long, with its highest vertical drop coming in at 300 feet. If that’s not your speed, you can always take a more leisurely ride down the mountain on the alpine slide for a less thrilling, although no less beautiful, half-mile journey.
Other warm-weather activities include exploring the lake by kayak or canoe, checking out the bike park, hitting the off-roading track, or taking the ski lift up for some primo views. Those panoramic views of the San Juan National Forest are breathtaking regardless of the weather.
As one of Condé Nast readers’ top ten ski resorts in the country, Purgatory does what it does best in the winter months. Skiing and boarding are the bread and butter of this ski resort. Other wintery activities including sleigh riding, tubing, and snowmobiling are also fond favorites of Purgatory guests. You can also take scenic or dinner tours on an otherworldly-looking Snowcat.
If you don’t mind whipping through the cold air, why not take the Inferno Mountain Coaster for a wintertime ride? Yes, it does run in the winter. Maybe it needs a cold rebrand like Fridgeferno? We’ll work on that.
DURANGO HOT SPRINGS & SPA
Although technically part of Purgatory Resort, the Durango Hot Springs & Spa warranted its own pull-out section. In addition to its outdoor pool and hot tub, this full-service spa has everything you need for a relaxing time.
From their Mountain Athletes’ Rescue massage for exhausted sporting enthusiasts to CBD body treatments, you’ll be in heaven. Or, um, Purgatory?
DURANGO ARTS CENTER
The name of the game at the Durango Arts Center is multifaceted. DAC doesn’t cater to one particular kind of art, but rather develops programming around multitudinous art forms. Whether that means having hands-on visual art classes or performances, their work doesn’t get put into a single box.
DAC is also home to the Durango Autumn Arts Festival, which welcomes thousands of attendees every year since its first festival in 1993.
The Animas River is one of the last free-flowing rivers in the state of Colorado, and its name is derived from a Spanish translation meaning “river of lost souls.” This dreamy river flows between the mountains coming down, even from the peaks. It is popular among white water rafters and tubers alike because of its exciting currents.
The swimming area around Baker’s Bridge is a local favorite. Jumping from the bridge into the river below is something folks can be seen doing in the summer months. This favorite swimming area is easily accessible from the Animas River Trail, which can be accessed by both hikers and bikers alike.
FOUR LEAVES WINERY
Right across the street from the historic railroad station is Four Leaves Winery in Durango. This award-winning winery serves an eclectic array of wines year-round, with seasonal tastes to delight even frequent visitors.
Their most notable offering is their peach chardonnay.
SAN JUAN SKYWAY
The San Juan Skyway is “known far and wide for its million-dollar views.” To fully experience all 236 miles of scenic byway, we suggest devoting at least seven hours to drive it, while also taking time to peruse the historic towns it comes upon.
The San Juan Skyway goes through towns such as Durango, Silverton and Telluride.
A few miles away from the bustle of downtown Durango is the 1500-acre Lake Nighthorse.
This peaceful, man-made lake made its debut in 2018. It has quickly become a destination for fishing, swimming, watersports, or just serene relaxation.
LA PLATA CANYON
Featuring a trail over nine miles long that goes up to 2800 feet above sea level, La Plata Canyon is where outdoor enthusiasts go.
In the winter, the area is popular for skiers and snow-shoers, while the warmer dry season is a favorite for 4×4 or fat bike riders. The canyon itself lives within the grounds of the San Juan National Forest.
DURANGO FISH HATCHERY AND WILDLIFE MUSEUM
The oldest state-owned fish hatchery in the state, the Durango Fish Hatchery and Wildlife Museum is where literal tons of fish are born each year. At the hatchery, they raise rainbow, brown, Snake River and native cutthroat trout, and kokanee salmon.
Visitors can even purchase food to feed the fish! The wildlife museum offers a more broad view of the wildlife in the area beyond the fish, so you can learn about a lot coming to this spot.
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO COLORADO
- YOUR COLORADO VACATION
- HOT SPRINGS: 17 Best Hot Springs In Colorado You Must Visit
- BUENA VISTA: 9 Of The Very Best Things To Do In Buena Vista CO
- VAIL: 33 Sensational Things To Do In Vail
- BOULDER: 24 Outstanding Things To Do In Boulder, Colorado
WHERE TO STAY IN DURANGO CO
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