While Durango has an infinite number of charms and aspects that make it a unique place to live or visit, one of the most stunning parts about this town it its geography. The beautiful array of hills, valleys, and peaks create a diverse landscape perfect for any level of adventurer.
Formed millions of years ago, the Animas River valley was created by an immense glacier that carved through the land and left almost the entire sedimentary rock section of the canyon walls exposed. This unique phenomenon not only reveals the gorgeous rainbow of red, orange, pink, and grey rock we see today, but it also allows the valley to be read like a history book, displaying millions upon millions of years of a geologic timeline that is difficult to find anywhere else. Along with being a dream destination for geologists, this one-of-a-kind town offers the perfect place for mountain bikers, runners, hikers, and photographers alike.
1. Fort Lewis College Mesa
Beginning with the most relatively leisurely and easily accessible trail, the many paths that lead up to the Fort Lewis College mesa offer a fun and quick way to get outside and see an incredible view of Durango. Starting from down in town at either the intersection of E 10th St. and E 6th Ave. or the Chapman Hill parking lot, the dirt paths meander up the mesa and provide the perfect amount of challenge for runners and mountain bikers, but can also just be good for a relaxing and casual walk. The view from the top of Fort Lewis is exquisite and one of the absolute best places in town to take amazing pictures and panoramas.
2. Animas City Mountain
Another place that’s great for easy hiking and short adventures is the Animas City Mountain Trail. You can begin at the 4th Ave. trailhead and try your endurance with the nearly six-mile roundtrip hike to the edge of the mountain for a great view of the valley, or you can begin at dirt pull off where Junction St. turns into Junction Creek Rd. By following the trail up the back of the mountain you can easily find the large rock face that is a favorite area for local bouldering enthusiasts or set up a hammock and enjoy the secluded view of the San Juans.
3. Smelter Mountain
Situated right next to Santa Rita Park is Smelter Mountain, which offers a relatively easy and short hike with an incredible view down into town and of the San Juan Mountain Range. This hike generally takes under an hour and can be reached by taking the first right to County Road 210 after crossing the bridge on Highway 550 heading south. Following this, there is an immediate right turn unto a dirt road that leads to the Smelter parking lot. This hike is great for sunrise or sunset photo opportunities and is great for people who only have a few hours to spend but want to see all of Durango. As well, Smelter Mountain is a popular location for daredevils to paraglide off the ledge, which is an amazing sight to see!
One of the most iconic formations in Durango is Hogsback, which is right in front of the famous Perins Peak. For this hike make sure you bring plenty of water, especially in the summer, since the final ascent is fairly strenuous and can become very hot in the afternoons. There are many trailheads for the Overend Mountain Park, but the most popular starting locations for those seeking to hike Hogsback are at Avienda del Sol or Ella Vita Ct. This hike can be somewhat difficult, but the view is entirely worth the trip!
5. Perins Peak
The final hike in this list is one of the most lengthy and difficult, but it is also one of the most rewarding hikes this town has to offer. The almost 7-mile roundtrip hike around Perins Peak begins at many locations but two recommendable options are taking the same routes previously described towards Hogsback but following the trail markers for Perins Peak, or alternatively, starting where Rockridge Dr. and Tanglewood Dr. intersect, taking the back way up the mountain. Either way, there isn’t much heavy foot traffic on the way up to Perins Peak, which creates a wonderful sense of calm and immersion in nature. The overhang, which is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Durango due to its sheer, dropping cliff and jutting ledge, provides the perfect setting for incredible pictures and a place to relax and enjoy the view of town.
With a few more months left of summer there’s still plenty of time to get out and hike these beautiful trails. After experiencing the charm of these locations you’ll see why Durango is one of the most gorgeous places in the country and you’ll definitely be eager to explore even more of our wonderful mountains!