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Durango Area

Go skiing, hop a vintage train or jet ski on a high-altitude lake

Few towns embody the Old West quite like Durango. The time-honored traditions of the area’s native and gold rush occupants are preserved through a host of historic attractions, while the timeless beauty of nature is evident in the stunning mountains that soar into the sky. Here are three can’t-miss attractions that will enthrall visitors.

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Durango Area Tourism Office

Riding the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

One of Colorado’s top attractions, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad has been in continuous operation since 1882, when the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad line was extended to Silverton to carry gold, silver and other minerals from the state’s high country mines. In less than a year, Durango became home to 2,000 new residents, and the nascent town had staked its claim as a smelting center and major transportation axis. This breathtaking journey (3½ hours each way) ranks as one of the most enjoyable and exhilarating ways to experience Colorado’s gold rush history and landscape. For almost 135 years, coal-fired steam locomotives have pulled a chain of golden-hued Victorian coaches (open air and closed cars) along 45 miles of scenic narrow-gauge rail tracks.

The journey north to Silverton (the route hasn’t changed since 1882) traces the course of the Río de Las Animas Perdidas (The River of Lost Souls) and climbs 3,000 feet as it traverses the majestic mountains and deep gorges of San Juan National Forest. At various stops along the way, you can hike through remote wilderness—such as the Weminuche Wilderness—that is inaccessible by any other means. At the historic town of Silverton, travelers can either alight for around two hours before returning to Durango or spend the night in Silverton and return to Durango on the next day train. Steeped in gold rush-era history and charm, Silverton’s Victorian buildings, convivial saloons, Old Hundred Gold Mine and stunning mountain backdrop are certainly worthy of exploration.

Durango’s Cowboy Parade, held every October in conjunction with the area’s Cowboy Poetry Gathering, shouldn’t be missed.

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Branson Reynolds

Beautiful Bayfield

While visiting the area, many visitors take a side trip to scenic Bayfield, a small town just east of Durango. Sitting at an altitude of about 6,900 feet, Bayfield is close to the Four Corners of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. Basking in sunshine for 300 days of the year and enjoying moderate temperatures, Bayfield is a popular destination for hikers, bikers, hunters, anglers and boaters. The town of 2,300 residents sits astride Route 160 just downstream from Lake Vallecito, making it an ideal base for fly fishermen to make the big catch. Cast a line in the Los Pinos River and reel in a variety of trout, including rainbows, brookies, browns, and cutthroats.

Hikers can embark on long trips in the adjacent two-million acres of the San Juan National Forest, and fans of cowboys can attend one of the town’s thrilling rodeos. From spring to fall, visitors can watch the dust fly as bucking broncos and bulls do their best to throw intrepid cowboys to the ground.

High-Altitude Water Fun

Sitting 8,000 feet above sea level, nearby Vallecito Lake supports every type of watercraft, from paddleboards to sailboats to powerboats. Bring your own vessel and use the public launch pad. The Vallecito Marina, meanwhile, offers boat rentals. Anglers can cast a line for rainbow and brown trout and northern pike.

Ten minutes south of Bayfield, the town of Ignacio serves up a menu of outdoor recreation, casino fun and high-speed water recreation. Located near the headquarters of the Southern Ute Tribe, the town features the modern Sky Ute Casino Resort, which boasts poker, slot machines and table gaming. Because of the town’s location close to the southern border with New Mexico, Tex-Mex restaurants are prominent entice visitors with spicy cuisine. Sit down to a hearty meal of fajitas, enchiladas and delicious queso blanco cheese.

When you’re ready for some fresh air, visit Navajo State Park, where Lake Capote is an ideal setting for jet skiing, fishing, house boating and other water sports. Don’t leave without taking a spin on Colorado’s newest scenic byway, Tracks Across the Borders.

Purgatory Resort

While the name may be a little off-putting, Purgatory Resort is one of Colorado’s most affable and affordable ski resorts. Just 25 miles north of Durango’s vibrant downtown, in southwest Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, Purgatory is renowned for its consistent (powder) snow and sunny skies. In addition to 91 ski/snowboard runs, 10 chair lifts, spectacular vistas, and relatively few crowds compared to Colorado’s glitzier ski resorts, this family-friendly resort offers snowshoeing, ice-climbing, dog sledding, tubing, Nordic skiing, snowmobiling and horse-drawn sleigh rides.

With an average of 260 inches of snow annually and 1,360 acres of skiable terrain, Purgatory’s ski stats are impressive. Purgatory offers well-rounded ski conditions for all ages and abilities, from lengthy, steep verticals (2,029-foot vertical drop) to tree skiing trails and wide-open cruisers with breathtaking views.

In stark contrast to many of Colorado’s glamorous ski resorts, you won’t be hit with sticker shock at Purgatory; single day adult lift tickets cost around $85 and there are exceptional deals available (online, in advance) for multiday passes, late-day skiing and “Throwback Thursday” specials.

For More Information

Durango Area Tourism Office

800-525-8855

www.durango.org

 

Colorado Tourism Office

800-265-6723

www.colorado.com