Durango is a pretty and historic town nestled in the fertile valley of the Animas River, encircled by the forested slopes and craggy peaks of the San Juan Mountains. It was first formally brought together by the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad company, beginning life as a depot on the journey between the gold mines high among the rocks of the surrounding mountains, and the towns and cities further south. Today, Durango’s top attraction is still this railroad, and vintage steam trains take tourists 3,000 feet up into the San Juan mountains, winding through beautiful wilderness which is inaccessible by any road.
The town itself has an Old West vibe, with a historic downtown as well as themed hotels, restaurants, bars and music nights. Louis L’Amour, the great writer of western fiction, supposedly penned novels in a room in the town’s famous Strater Hotel. And if all this starts to feel overwhelmingly kitsch, you can easily escape into the sublime natural world of the San Juan mountains, which contain endless opportunities for hiking, biking, fishing, camping, rafting, riding and more.
Two vintage 1920s steam locomotives continue to run the old railroad route between Durango and Silverton, where they once carried people and supplies to gold and silver mines up in the San Juan mountains. The tracks climb 3000 feet alongside the Animas River, cutting through spectacular Colorado canyon scenery on a beautiful journey combining nature and history. There are spectacular views over fertile farmland, mountain crags and fast-flowing rivers, and glimpses of historic mining camps and old stagecoach roads.
The Durango Mountain Resort is lodged 9,000 feet up in the San Juan Mountains, 30 miles north of Durango. During winter, it is home to an excellent-value ski resort, its 88 trails offering something for all ability levels, including some exhilarating challenges for advanced and even expert skiers. And the resort is also open through the summer, making an ideal base for biking, hiking, camping and fishing on the slopes of the San Juan Mountains.
San Juan’s vast pine tree forest rolls over 1.8 million acres, covering a varied terrain of alpine peaks, rocky canyons, riverside meadows and dense, shadowy forest. Hiking, biking and horse riding trails thread through this fragrant forest; it is dotted with clear blue lakes, ideal for fishing; and there are numerous campgrounds to pitch up for a night under the stars. A string of scenic byways also wind through the woodland, if you prefer not to exert yourself.
Steamworks is a feisty brewpub in the center of Durango with a distinctive, unpretentious, steampunk-influenced style. It has a superb selection of craft beers on tap, with a well-balanced mix of lagers, stouts and ales making up a menu that alters frequently. And alongside these top-of-the-range brews there’s also a great gastropub menu, drawing on locally-sourced meats and sustainable seafood in a range of surprisingly fantastic dishes.
Built in 1887, the red stone facade of the Strater Hotel is one of Durango’s most noticeable landmarks, and the hotel is undoubtedly the place to be if you want to swagger through your stay in Wild West style. There’s an Old West theme running through the interior, such as in the Diamond Belle Saloon, where burnished wood and patterned carpets frame live music every night of the week.