My husband and I are very lucky to have a second “home” in Colorado. Sasha’s parents immigrated from Russia to Colorado when he was 12 years old, so he grew up in Boulder, one of my favorite towns in the U.S. We frequently visit his family, but this time we stayed for two weeks and decided to take a road trip to a new destination. Our first mini getaway was to Colorado Springs, just a 1.5-hour drive from Boulder, where highlights were Garden of the Gods and Paint Mine Interpretive Park. For our longer getaway, the family tossed around some ideas and landed on Durango.
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I’ll be honest, when I first heard about Durango, I thought, what the heck is in Durango?! Boy, was I wrong! Durango was a fun, adventurous and nature-filled town with myriad outdoor activities to partake in. We visited during summer in July, so temperatures were in the 90’s and the hot sun shone upon us every day, while wispy white cotton clouds streaked a deep blue sky above. Thank goodness for the river and lakes abound!
Our road trip was around 7 hours of driving (each way) through some of the most beautiful and unique landscapes you’ll see in the U.S. I had no idea that Colorado was so geologically diverse.
You’ll drive over high altitude mountain passes through valleys and rivers. Here was our route:
Boulder –> Salida (stop for Mexican lunch, coffee, and a dip in the Arkansas River. Salida is also a common base point for hiking some of Colorado’s finest fourteeners (mountain peaks at or above 14,000′ (4,650 meters) elevation) –> Durango
On the way home we took a minor detour from Durango –> Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park –> Boulder
Below I’ll detail 5 fun activities to do in Durango, (besides the obvious activity of hiking), including day trips to two of Colorado’s beautiful National Parks, Mesa Verde and Black Canyon of the Gunnison.
5 Fun Activities to Do in Durango
- Go White Water Rafting or Kayaking Along the Animas River
- Visit Pinkerton Hot Springs
- Drive the Million Dollar Highway to Silverton & Continue on to Ouray for Hot Springs
- Visit Mesa Verde National Park (1 hour drive from Durango)
- Visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (2 hr, 45 min drive from Durango)
White Water Kayaking Along Animas River
We went with a company called Colorado Outback Adventures, but there are a plethora of companies to select from. We opted for the inflatable kayak adventure (we paid $95 for a two-person kayak) + $5 per person for water shoe rentals. I don’t have any photos of this fun experience because they don’t allow anything on the kayak. I am proud to say that Sasha and I did not fall out of our kayak! That was my biggest fear!
Visit Pinkerton Hot Springs
Located just off of highway 550, you’ll find a strange pile of colorful rocks with flowing warm spring water. A man named James Pinkerton discovered the springs in the 1800’s and built a tourist resort around the area, which was popular for many years as the waters were believed to be curing and healing. Today the only remains of the springs are a man made pile of rocks that was created as a safe space for the springs to recharge. The rocks have turned multiple colors over the years due to the water’s minerals.
Drive the Million Dollar Highway to Silverton and Continue on to Ouray
You can take the famous train from Durango to Silverton (elevation 9,300′ / 3,100 meters), winding along the mountain’s edges. Since the train was closed when we visited, we opted to drive the road, and let me tell you, it is not for the faint of heart! There are many areas where there are no side rails with straight cliff to either side hundreds of feet down. You must be very comfortable driving curvy mountainous roads, especially the section from Silverton to Ouray (elevation 7,792′ / 2,600 meters). My palms were definitely sweating throughout the entire drive! From downtown Durango to Silverton is approximately one hour, then another 45 minutes from Silverton to Ouray.
The mountain, valley and river views you’ll see along the way are priceless. We were constantly “oo-ing” and “ahh-ing” the whole way and pulling over to take photos. In the picture below you can see the town of Silverton in the valley nestled between high mountain peaks and fourteeners.
Once you reach the town of Silverton, stop and take a walk around the small, cute town to stretch your legs, but take it easy as you’re up really high!
Once you arrive to Ouray, you’ll be at a bit lower altitude and enter the town of hot springs with a water slide!
They call Ouray The Switzerland of America, and for good reason! The mountain views in this town are stunning! Below is a photo of my husband with his sister.
Visit Mesa Verde National Park
Just a one-hour drive from Durango, Mesa Verde showcases some of the best preserved Ancestral Pueblo dwellings in the United States, whose residents lived for 700 years. Today the park protects 600 cliff dwellings. It’s hard to imagine why a civilization would want to build a home in the side of a vertical cliff. The only answer we could come up with is for protection from enemies or large animals.
Visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Albeit a bit of a drive from Durango (2 hours, 45 minutes), if you’re headed back to Boulder or Denver, it’s only a minor detour and well worth it!
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park exposes you to some of the steepest cliffs and craggiest spires in North America. Over the past two million years, wind, rain and the river have formed the dramatic landscape we see today. My sister-in-law and her boyfriend took an epic photo at one of the lookouts, so we copied them. 😉
If you’re looking for your next adventure in Colorado, Durango is it!
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