5 cool things to do in Durango, Colorado

Durango is a great place for a Colorado getaway, especially for people living in Santa Fe or Northern New Mexico. It’s a scenic four-hour drive from The City Different, making it an easy getaway.. It’s a beautiful part of the country and worth visiting even if you don’t live as close as we do. We first visited the small city in early January 1992, when we still lived in New York. We spent a bit of time there when we lived in Colorado before moving to Santa Fe. There are a lot of cool things to do in Durango and the surrounding area. Here are some we thought you might enjoy.

Explore historic Downtown Durango

things to do in Durango - Take a walk around historic downtown Durango photo courtesy Visit Durango

Take a walk around historic downtown Durango photo/courtesy Visit Durango

Durango has a lot of history. Founded in 1880 as a center to process ore from local mines as well as a railroad hub, the town retains many of its historic buildings. Walking Main Avenue, if you block out the traffic noises, cars, electric lights and other modern trappings you can get a sense of what the town looked like in a bygone era. Pass the imposing red brick and sandstone Strater Hotel built in 1887 and the General Palmer, circa 1898 as well as the train depot dating to 1882.

There are restaurants, bars, shops and galleries to explore. Like many other Colorado cities and towns, microbrews are big and there are several local brewing companies to check out. One of the things that makes Colorado shopping unique these days is the legalized marijuana. Like many Colorado cities and towns, Durango has retail pot shops to check out.

The great outdoors

things to do in Durango - Purgatory Ski Area, photo/courtesy Visit Duranto

Purgatory Ski Area, photo/courtesy Visit Durango

Whether you visit Durango in winter, spring, summer or fall you’ll discover lots of outdoor activities to enjoy. In winter there’s downhill skiing and snowboarding at Purgatory Resort, as well as cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Spring, summer and fall are great for hiking and biking; rafting on the Animas River (dependant on water levels) and/or zip lining at Soaring® Tree Top Adventures where they offer 27 zip lines ranging from 56 to 1,400 feet in length.

Ride the Durango/Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

things to do in Durango - The Durango Silverton Railroad train navigating a tight curve, photo Steve Collins

The Durango Silverton Railroad train navigating a tight curve, photo Steve Collins

If you are a train bluff you’ll love riding the historic Durango/Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. The train runs from Durango to Silverton from May through late October. We loved riding this coal-fired train up the steep mountain. From November to May they run the train as far as Cascade Canyon where a fireside hot lunch is served. During the Christmas holiday season the DSNGRR runs the Polar Express™ to delight children of all ages.

Drive the San Juan Skyway to Silverton and beyond

Scenic downtown Silverton, CO, photo/Steve Collins

Drive the US 550 segment of the San Juan Skyway (driving the entire 233-mile loop takes about six hours), between Durango and Ouray. Some say it’s the most scenic drive in the USA. You can do the portion between Durango and Silverton or continue on the segment dubbed “The Million Dollar Highway” to Ouray or take the entire loop which takes you through Telluride and Cortez. Local legend says got this nickname either because it cost so much to build or for all the gold mined along the way. If you’re driving this in winter check road and snow conditions. Red Mountain Pass has the highest number of avalanches per mile of any road in North America.

Visit Mesa Verde

things to do in Durango ColoradoOne of the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde, photo Steve Collins

One of the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde, photo Steve Collins

The presence of ancestral Puebloan sites scattered through Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Arizona makes the southwest a special place to visit. One of the best-known is Mesa Verde National Park a bit over an hour west of Durango. Allow at least a half-day to visit this historic spot. The cliff dwellings perched on rocks under protective overhangs are spectacular. Plan in advance as some things require advance reservations.

There are many more things to do in Durango and the surrounding area. Thinking of heading to Southern Colorado? Plan some time in this historic city. It’s a great base for exploring this beautiful Rocky Mountain state as well as parts of Southeastern Utah and Northern New Mexico.

What are your favorite things to do in Durango, CO?

Author’s note: We’ve been to Durango several times and we love it! We got a bit of assistance arranging this vist from Visit Durango. They hooked us up with the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad who comped our train ride and gave us a welcome gift (want to know what it was, just email us). We arranged the rest of our Durango visit on our own.



14 Responses to “5 cool things to do in Durango, Colorado”

  1. Rebecca
    February 20, 2019 at 3:52 am #

    Wow - that train ride would freak me out a little - and it looks like a real cowboy/frontier town!
    Rebecca recently posted..Life lessons teaching - and travelling - have taught meMy Profile

    • Billie Frank
      February 23, 2019 at 1:59 pm #

      The train really wasn’t scary. If you have height issues you don’t want to be on the side that is close to the drop. It is more an upscale frontier town, but does have that old-west feeling.

  2. Donna Janke
    February 20, 2019 at 7:52 am #

    I haven’t been to Durango, but it looks like a cool town to visit. The railway ride sounds like a lot of fun. I’d also enjoy the Mesa verde cliff dwellings.
    Donna Janke recently posted..Ice Skating and Architecture: Warming Huts on the RiverMy Profile

    • Billie Frank
      February 23, 2019 at 1:58 pm #

      The area is beautiful with a lot to offer visitors. The train ride is fab and the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde are spectacular- it just gets a bit crowded at times.

  3. Janice Chung
    February 20, 2019 at 6:21 pm #

    A colleague told me about Durango about 25 years ago and I still remember her describing it so vividly. The Durango/Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad train ride grabbed my attention right away. It looks so scenic and perfect for someone who like to take photos. I’ve known about Mesa Verde for years after seeing pictures in National Geographic Traveller magazine so it’s certainly on my radar to visit.
    Janice Chung recently posted..15 Tips For Reducing Travel Expenses In FranceMy Profile

    • Billie Frank
      February 23, 2019 at 1:57 pm #

      Great area to visit! The train ride has amazing views and goes through areas that are inaccessible by cars. The only other way to see it is to hike in. Hope you get to visit Durango!

  4. Melodie K
    February 22, 2019 at 4:48 pm #

    Hey there, Billie!

    The Strater Hotel ~ so glad you mentioned this historic hotel. Choosing to lodge somewhere for the loyalty points has its place. But when you get the chance to experience an elegant one-of-a-kind location, I think you take it. Even if only for one night. (Yes, I wanna go!) 🙂
    Melodie K recently posted..French Onion Soup in Southwest NM: a Tale of Two Restaurants That Do It RightMy Profile

    • Billie Frank
      February 23, 2019 at 1:53 pm #

      We love the Strater. Stayed there when we were in Durango. We have a post on it which will be up on the blog by early next week,

  5. Carol Colborn
    February 23, 2019 at 6:47 pm #

    My husband has been talking about both Durango and Mesa Verde. And now I want to ride that narrow gauge railroad!!! We have our best reasons to schedule a trip to Durango now. Thanks.

    • Billie Frank
      February 28, 2019 at 12:04 pm #

      There’s so much to see in the area. If you go, try to work Chaco Canyon and Southern Utah in. We have some posts on these if you want info.

  6. alison abbott
    February 26, 2019 at 8:06 pm #

    A friend recently visited Durango and came back with rave reviews, especially about Mesa Verde. I’m glad to see you confirm her experience. That train ride looks like quite an adventure-a photo op for sure.

    • Billie Frank
      February 28, 2019 at 12:10 pm #

      It’s a great area to visit. Consider going to southern Utah if you go. It’s a few hours away and the landscape and rich Native American history make if very special. Also try to visit Chaco Canyon in northwestern NM. It’s an important piece in the early puebloan history of the area.

  7. McKenzie
    March 30, 2019 at 12:48 pm #

    Great post! This looks like a really fun place to visit. Thanks for sharing.

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