Founded way back in 1880 by the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad to serve the area’s mines, Durango has remained a relatively small town. At just 5.6 square miles and with a population of just under 24,000 people, the city retains a quaintness but with plenty to do.
Durango is perhaps best known among Coloradans as being at one end of the historic Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. The old steam locomotive ambles through the San Juans from Durango to the old mining town of Silverton and back again as it has since the 1880s, although today it hauls passengers instead of the silver and gold ore it was originally conceived for. Beyond the Narrow Gauge Railroad, we’ve also put together two days of awesome outdoor activities, cultural experiences, and unforgettable dining for a fun, family-friendly weekend in Durango, Colorado.
RELATED: 13 Weirdest Colorado Hikes
Day 1 – Around Town
Like many Colorado towns, Durango has a beautifully preserved historic downtown. Visit the Durango Welcome Center for details on two self-guided tours – one that explores the historic downtown and its various 19th-century buildings, including the Jarvis Suite Hotel where legendary boxer Jack Dempsey fought Andy Malloy in 1915, and another tour of the historic homes on 3rd Avenue.
If you need to fuel up before heading out, Oscar’s Cafe is a 50s-style diner that has a model train that circles the restaurant at ceiling level. It’s said to be Durango’s best breakfast spot.
Spend the day in town, and in the evening, head to one of the microbrews in town, such as Steamworks, Ska Brewing, or Durango Brewing, and for dinner, check out the Diamond Belle Saloon inside the historic Strater Hotel. Costumed bartenders, dance hall girls, and live music sit alongside a menu that offers both refined dishes (Nicoise salad with Colorado trout) and down-to-earth offerings (smoked pork nachos). There are even gunfight reenactments from June to early October.
Day 2 – Open Spaces
As the town’s motto – Open Spaces and Familiar Faces – announces, Durango has plenty of open spaces (it also has familiar faces, apparently, but we aren’t entirely sure what they mean by that).
The easiest way to see the surrounding area is to hop aboard the Durango to Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, and enjoy the scenery as it trundles 45 miles along the Animas River through canyons and wilderness. The winter season, from November through early May, see the train’s route curtailed to 26 miles each way. There are also special events at various time of the year, including the Durango Blues Train (durangobluestrain.com), a concert on rails during which six bands or solo musicians play as the train climbs up to the Highline section of the line before turning around and heading back to Durango.
Want to race the train to Silverton on your bike? Every May, the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic invites riders to see if they can outpace the train. The 47-mile ride takes riders over two mountain passes with some big descents, but with a top speed of just 18 mph, the train is quite beatable even if it takes a slightly shorter and easier route.
A little further afield, but still so close you shouldn’t really pass them up, there is on the Animas River, fishing at Vallecito Lake, and horseback riding through the San Juans. Winter offers skiing at Purgatory Resort.
The region’s real gems are the ancient dwellings at UNESCO World Heritage Site, Mesa Verde National Park. Just 35 miles west of Durango, the park protects more than 5,000 archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings that were home to ancestral Pueblo people who lived there for 700 years. There are even several free entrance days left in 2017, they are: August 25, September 30, and November 11-12.
Durango is the third host town for the 32nd installment of Ride the Rockies, the seven-day, 450-mile endurance ride across Colorado, June 10-17, 2017. Click here to explore Ridgway, the fourth Ride the Rockies host town!