Durango, Colorado, is full of outdoor fun, incredible history, and great food and drink, and it’s also an ideal jump-off point for dozens of day trips!
This destination has ancient architecture, ghost towns, steam engines, and hot springs, all within a day’s drive. You won’t believe how much adventure awaits you near this Colorado city.
Today, we’re diving into this corner of the Old West to help you plan your next epic trip.
About Durango, Colorado
Once a small mining town, Durango is now one of the most prominent destinations in Southern Colorado. Durango sits on the Animas River, just a few miles from the Rocky Mountains and two national forests.
It’s a destination for mountain bikers, runners, skiers, and hikers. And it’s chock full of well-preserved historic buildings and monuments. As a popular film location, the city has earned the nickname “the Hollywood of the Rockies.”
History and nature aren’t the only things being served in Durango. The food scene is incredible! The town has its own brewery, chocolatier, jam and jelly shops, and more. There’s even an annual Taste of Durango Festival.
A slew of art galleries and community events make Durango a cultural destination, too. You can catch an outdoor movie, explore local museums, and admire works by Indigenous craftspeople.
With so many possibilities, it’s hard to know where to start. Here are a few of our favorite day trips out of Durango.
#1 Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
Every first-time visitor to Durango needs a day trip to the Narrow Gauge Railroad. This historic railroad stretches 45 miles and winds through the San Juan Mountains and the Anima River Canyon.
The train passes sites that can’t be seen from anywhere else, such as preserved mining camps and mountain summits. It’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
If you want a full-day trip, take a scenic ride to Silverton, Durango’s sister city. This trip takes around three and a half hours one way and includes a two-hour stop to explore the town’s shops, restaurants, and history. But for a slightly shorter trip, check out the Cascade Canyon Express. This ride gets you all the amazing scenery without the stop in Silverton.
#2 Mesa Verde National Park
To explore ancient history, visit Mesa Verde National Park. This day trip is just over a half-hour from Durango. The park contains over 4,000 sites from 550 AD, including wonderfully preserved cave dwellings built by Ancestral Pueblo indigenous communities. You can also see pueblos, pit houses, towers, and farming technology.
Mesa Verde National Park offers guided tours with knowledgeable rangers. You can also explore the park on your own using almost 30 miles of hiking paths and trails. Stop at one of many scenic overlooks and appreciate the history and beauty of this region. You won’t find history like this anywhere else in the world.
Don’t worry about where to stay. We’ve got you covered with the 7 Best RV Parks in Durango CO.
#3 Animas Forks Ghost Town
Animas Forks is a unique day trip just two hours north of Durango. This abandoned mining town was built in 1873 during the Colorado Gold Rush. It was a bustling area until 1891 when a fire destroyed almost half of the small city. As people left, they abandoned buildings and possessions. As a result, Animas Forks became a ghost town.
This site is open to the public, but the road there is unpaved, rugged, and only accessible during the summer. You can take a self-guided tour with help from brochures and maps provided by San Juan County and BLM. However, explore the remaining buildings at your own risk, and treat them with care.
#4 San Juan Skyway
For a scenic drive, you can’t beat the San Juan Skyway. This day trip takes about seven hours round-trip and leads you through mining villages, mountain vistas, and more. The route is a loop, making it a simple day trip from Durango. Towns along the way include Silverton, Ouray, Telluride, and Cortez.
You’ll find dozens of activities along this route. Stop in Ouray to enjoy the hot springs and a large waterfall, or follow Butch Cassidy’s course through Telluride. Additionally, you could spend some time at the Canyon of the Ancients in Cortez. This unforgettable experience is totally customizable for your schedule and needs.
#5 Chimney Rock National Monument
Chimney Rock National Monument is a must-see location for anyone interested in cultural history. Centuries ago, this area was a vibrant city stretching over seven square miles. Much of it is preserved today. In fact, you can explore an ancient observatory, dwellings, and sacred buildings.
The best part is that you can make this day trip from Durango in under an hour.
Chimney Rock spans nearly 5,000 acres within the San Juan National Forest. The monument is open to visitors from May through October each year. You can choose from a self-guided tour or a group excursion led by experts with backgrounds in archaeology, history, birding, and more. You can also attend a Full Moon Program, allowing visitors to witness a moonrise as the Ancestral Puebloans did.
#6 Pagosa Springs
Pagosa Springs is an adventurer’s dream town. Located just 60 miles east of Durango, this day trip offers millions of acres of nature, wildlife, and excitement.
You can spend summer days hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding along dozens of local trails. Likewise, skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, and ice fishing are popular winter activities.
Pagosa Springs sits high in the San Juan Mountains. But thanks to its elevation and geographical features, this mountain town enjoys mild temperatures year-round. Summer highs rarely exceed the 80s, while winter highs usually stay in the 40s. It really is a slice of mountain paradise!
#7 Vallecito Lake
Before you leave Colorado, spend a day relaxing on Vallecito Lake. This gorgeous lake is only 18 miles east of Durango and a perfect day trip destination.
For a peaceful day at the beach, you can choose your favorite spot along Vallecito’s 12-mile shoreline. If you prefer getting out on the water, rent a kayak or paddleboard from the Vallecito Marina. You can also rent a boat to fish for trout and pike. Don’t forget to check out the nearby hiking trails, one of which leads into the Weminuche Wilderness.
Tent campers and RV campers are welcome at Vallecito Lake. But you can also book a night at the Pine River Lodge to enjoy restaurants, indoor swimming, and billiards.
If you want to stick around town, here are the 9 Best Things To Do in Durango, Colorado.
Are Day Trips from Durango Worth It?
There’s a ton of fun to be had in Durango. But the surrounding attractions are just as awe-inspiring! With its unique mix of nature, history, and culture, this area is one of Colorado’s most prized hidden gems.
Durango is an excellent jumping-off point for dozens of day trips. If you’re looking for an open-ended vacation filled with adventure, this might be the right place for you.
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