Durango, Colorado was an amazing surprise! While I was only passing through the area after visiting the Mighty Five national parks in Utah, I ended up stopping for the day to explore Durango. The area was beautiful with the Animas River that ran thru town, flowing from the San Juan Mountains. What a cute historic downtown- with some great eats, coffee shops, galleries, shopping, and even a scenic train in a beautiful mountain setting. From this visit, I discovered it can be a great place to stop during any of the four seasons with various places to visit or delve into activities like hiking, nearby skiing, or take a day trips like the hot springs, Silverton CO, archaeological sites, etc.
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History of Durango
History and Railroad: Durango was founded in 1880 by the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad (DRG) and has a population of approximately 19k people. The town was originally modeled similar to Colorado Springs as it was developed by similar folks. DRG founded the town to be better able to reach Silverton CO and the San Juan gold and silver mining district. Be warned that Durango’s elevation is 6,512 feet and Silverton is 9,318 feet so depending on where you are coming from, you may need to acclimate to the area. However, after it was founded mining declined, the Great Depression hit, the decline of trains and loss of the commercial traffic hurt the area.
The remaining railroad was sold in 1981 and became the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and Museum that offers scenic tours and Is designated a National Historic Landmark. There are full day tours to Silverton by the train on a 45-mile track or ½ day tours thru the Cascade Canyon on 26 miles of the track. The town of Silverton itself is a National Historic Landmark. The mining shacks that started the town later gave rise to Victorian houses and the final mines closed in 1991. Now the town is supported by tourism. (Notably, there is also a bus option to go visit Silverton or you can drive to it yourself albeit on a very narrow road.)
Things to do in Durango, Colorado
I primarily wanted to walk thru the town to get a feel for its’ historic background. The Visitors Center is located on the main street and located not far from the Durango Silverton train station, all within walking distance. Nearby they have one of the most popular activities, a trip on the train, with varying schedules throughout the year. You can also enjoy water sports include rafting, kayaking and boating, and there are other activities such as hiking, biking and zip lining. In the winter there is skiing, snowboarding, in areas such as Silverton Mountain, Purgatory, etc.
There are some hot springs in the greater Durango area, including Durango Hot Springs and Spa, located just seven miles from downtown. If you are willing to take a day trip you can head to Pagosa Springs or Ouray. Pagosa is an hour ride, while Ouray is about two hours. Both have various springs to try. Given my limited time, I only stopped by the Durango Hot Springs, but I would definitely have gone to Pagosa next time I am in town.
Mesa Verde National Park (also a World Heritage site), Canyon of the Ancients National Monument, Chimney Rock National Monument, Spring Creek Archeological Site, as well as other archeological sites are located throughout the area. Notably, there is something around the Durango area for every age and interest. This is definitely a perfect addition to a Mighty 5 road trip through Utah after visiting Zion, Bryce Canyon National Park, and the ones surrounding Moab, Utah.
Where to Eat in Durango, Colorado?
Well we all need to eat while having a good time. One of my first stops was Durango Bagel. It’s a great shop located near the train station with options, such as the jalapeno cheddar bagel. It would be a great snack to bring on the train too. If you love coffee there are so many amazing places to visit in Durango, Colorado. I personally enjoyed Durango Coffee Shop and Durango Joe Coffee. Both were awesome places to enjoy a latte and a pastry.
There are so many food options on the main street and throughout the town. I ate dinner at May Palace a great Chinese restaurant on Main Street, a great choice at a reasonable price. Another great place to stop is 11th Street Station, which is a food court that serves as hub of food trucks serving various types of great eats in an “industrial chic setup with open air seating”. There are various food options and it is also locater on Main Street at the corner of 11th Street.
Where to Stay
Durango has various lodging opportunities from historic inns and hotels, to national chains, as well as Airbnb and camping. The historic places include two great Victorian era hotels. The Strater Hotel built in 1887 is only two blocks from the railroad. Another great landmark is the General Palmer Hotel built in 1898 also in the heart of the historic downtown. Take a stroll through even just the lobbies and you will find the historic furnishings and architecture that makes these so unique. Many of the large hotel chains have hotels in the area including Hilton, Marriott, etc. I am sure you will find lodgings for all budgets, but you may want to book ahead if coming to the area. It was pretty well booked when I visited.
Getting to Durango
While I drove into the area on my trip, some fly into The Durango – La Plata County Airport (DRO). The closest international airport is in Albuquerque (ABQ) about 3.5 hours away. We were on a cross country trip so I drove here from Florida!
In summary my time in Durango was short, but sweet. I wish I had longer to stay and explore the area. It is another one of those “must return” places. I enjoyed relaxing while exploring a cute area with lovely mountains, rivers, etc. in a laidback area. Durango’s a must see for anyone in the area.
Fun Durango Trivia
– Did you know many movies were made in Durango including Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, City Slickers, Cliffhanger, National Lampoon’s Vacation, etc.
– There are more Durango restaurants per capita than San Francisco per Durango.org
Want more? I took a road trip out west and documented it on my Youtube Channel. Check out the series here.