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Kyle Jenkins | 05.10.2019

A region of peaks, valleys, and canyons, the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado are a mountain-lover's paradise. Home to original and iconic mountain towns serving as gateways to the outdoors, there are few wilderness experiences quite like the San Juans anywhere else in the lower 48. As the hub to this wild and scenic region, Durango beckons the adventurer with a culture that loves the outdoors and supports it with a multitude of ways to get out into this region rich with cultural, historical, and recreational treasures. Here are five of our favorites.

Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

Originally built in 1882 to bring gold and silver out of the mines of the San Juan Mountains, this narrow gauge railroad now ferries passengers as it makes its way along the 45-mile route between the towns of Durango and Silverton. Meandering through the wild, rugged, and historic terrain of the San Juans, the train still burns coal to create the steam that powers the locomotive as it hugs the Animas River. The views from the windows are nothing short of breathtaking, and unlike driving the Million Dollar Highway no one has to keep their eyes on the road. Don’t miss the chance to enjoy this unique and peaceful journey through some of the prettiest terrain in the U.S. while getting a taste of the Old West.

 

Views over the Animas River Valley with the San Juan Mountains beyond. Denis LeBlanc.

Limitless Trail Riding and Hiking

The city of Durango has a phenomenal selection of trails to choose from that are just minutes from town. The Horse Gulch and Telegraph system is a vast network of well-maintained trails that gives its visitors a wide variety of terrain to choose from at all skill levels. People looking for an easy-going mountain bike ride have fallen in love with the Spur Line Trails to the east of the Telegraph network, where you can find some fun rollers without any major climbs or descents. Hiking around town gives you some incredible views of the city below and the Animas River as it winds through Durango. Animas Mountain Loop and Smelter Mountain are both great nearby options that give you an awesome overview of the area and are both steep enough to get your heart rate up.

Gateway to the San Juan Mountains

Durango sits at the southwest corner of the mighty San Juan range, and it is ideally located for visiting the many San Juan peaks over 14,000 feet. Once hailed for being among the most mineral rich places in the U.S., the area now is mainly used for outdoor recreation. Home to a plethora of ghost towns from the old mining days, it has also gained popularity in the off-road community for its many remote dirt roads, most of which are inaccessible to traditional cars, and easy-to-find solitude. The continental divide cuts right through the mountain range, sending its eastern drainage into the Rio Grande, while its western waters eventually make their way into the Colorado River. The outdoor-obsessed towns of Telluride and Ouray are easy to reach from Durango, and they have become increasingly well known over the past few decades as must-see destinations for anyone who loves an active mountain lifestyle. Chicago Basin makes for an unforgettable and unique backpacking trip, which most backpackers access by riding the Durango Silverton Railroad to the trailhead.

 

View of Cliff Palace in Mesa Verde National Park. Denis LeBlanc.

Mesa Verde National Park

Home to some of the best preserved Ancestral Puebloan sites in our nation, Mesa Verde has always held a special place in the hearts of anyone visiting the Four Corners region. The awe-inspiring Cliff Palace is the crown jewel and its most recognizable feature, but over 5,000 other archeological sites and 600 cliff dwellings can be found within the parks boundaries. One thing that makes this place so special is how many opportunities it provides to educate people about the early inhabitants of this land, providing a much needed dose of perspective to our modern, convenient world and those who previously flourished in this unforgiving landscape.

Fly Fishing at Your Fingertips

The Animas River cuts right through the heart of Durango and makes it incredibly easy for anglers to enjoy their time-honored craft with ease. Revered for being one of the last free-flowing rivers in the state, it has recently been given a “Colorado Gold Medal Water” designation. Known for its large brown and rainbow trout, the ample supply of sculpin and caddisflies keep the fish fat and plentiful as they make their way down the 126-mile river, whose headwaters begin in the Needle Mountains. The 7 miles of public river access are hugged by the Animas River Trail, which makes getting to the many fishing holes as easy as anyone could hope for. The San Juan River is also close by and within reach with an infamous angling stretch known as "Lunker Alley."

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Durango is nestled in the Four Corners area of Southwest Colorado, surrounded by mountain peaks and away from the frenzy. A premier four-season destination, Durango offers unparalleled cultural, historic and outdoor attractions. Your adventure starts within half an hour of touching down! Get More. Visit durango.org or call 970-247-3500.

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