Durango, Colorado is incredibly charming and has everything from skiing to craft breweries to hiking. The town is located in the southwestern part of Colorado and is a three-hour drive from Albuquerque, a six-hour drive from Denver, and a seven-hour drive from Phoenix. The town also has a small airport that lets you fly from cities like Denver and Phoenix in just an hour.
Durango was founded in 1879 to serve as a base for miners spread throughout the surrounding area, and it has changed little since then, retaining its boomtown look. The only thing that has changed is that the markets and tool stores that once lined the main street have been replaced by artsy boutiques and gourmet farm to table restaurants.
For Winter Sports Lovers
If skiing and other winter sports are your thing, the best place to go is to the Purgatory Resort, which is located only 26 miles outside of town. While the resort's name might sound threatening, it is actually a calm, cheery place that has something for everyone—there's a reason it is repeatedly named North America’s Best Ski Value by TripAdvisor.
The resort boasts 99 ski trails and six terrain parks for snowboarders. They are fully geared up for all your needs, offering rentals, repairs, and lessons for all ages and levels. There's plenty more to enjoy for non-skiers, as the resort also offers snow tubing, snowshoe tours, dog sledding, sleigh rides, cross-country skiing, and snowmobile tours.
If you want to be close to all the action, consider lodging at the resort. There are a number of properties, ranging from slopeside studios to detached ski lodges, that are privately owned and rented out. Staying in any of the properties also gives you easy access to the resort's nine restaurants, eight shops, and spa.
What to Do off the Slopes
Check out a local festival or events if you're not into skiing or need a break. Purgatory Resort almost always has one special event or another going on. You can almost be certain to find yoga, classes, live music performances, visits with rescue dogs, or some other activity happening during your visit. You can also plan your stay around extra special events held once a year, such as the Cardboard Derby, where people race creative sleds made from cardboard, or the Angels & Demons Party, which features a carnival and a group ski down the mountain in costume.
Or head to town and visit the Animas Museum, which features exhibits on local history and even a model classroom dating to 1904.
Hiking is another big draw for the town, since Durango is nestled in the heart of the San Juan mountains. One of the locals' most beloved hikes is the Animas Mountain Trail, which winds up a mountain just outside of town and offers amazing views. It's an easy enough climb that you should be able to do it year-round. If you want a trail that is fit for all people and types of weather, try the Animas River Trail, a fully paved path that winds along the picturesque Animas River and passes through the downtown as well.
Go Out of the Way
Durango is still relatively undiscovered, but it can get touristy at times. If you want to travel back in time and experience what it was like decades ago, travel an hour to Silverton, a former mining community high in the mountains that is home to only 600 people and is far less built up than Durango.
One of the most popular ways to get to Silverton is to take the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, a steam locomotive that began hauling gold and silver between the two towns and now carries people along one of the most scenic routes in the country. The train can get pricey, though, so if you're looking to save money you can catch the same views of the San Juan National Forest by driving to Silverton on the San Juan Skyway.
Once you're there, stroll around the downtown and take in the colorful false-front buildings and eclectic gift stores. At the end of the main street, you'll run into the San Juan County Historical Society, which gives you an interactive look at the area's history. You might think it's a museum like any other until you voyage down into the replica mining tunnels and experience the uncomfortable and often terrifying conditions that Silverton's miners had to endure.
Skiers (seriously advanced ones, that is) will also be happy with what Silverton has to offer, as just outside town is Silverton Mountain, the highest and steepest ski area in North America with a peak elevation of 13,487 feet. The staff performs avalanche mitigation work but otherwise leave the mountain in its natural state, meaning that it contains no cut runs. It is definitely only safe for pros, but if you know what you're doing you'll have the experience of a lifetime.
If you still have time leftover after savoring these incredible towns, it's worth visiting Mesa Verde National Park, which is an hour's drive from Durango and two hours from Silverton. The park is home to settlements that Native Americans once carved directly out of the cliffs that dot the area. As you walk through the towering stone buildings, you'll see why it is often called one of the wonders of the world.