Have that camera ready when you get into Durango’s little slice of heaven!
Durango and the adjacent La Plata County is one of the most photographed areas in Colorado- but mostly during the Summer. What most people don't know is that the same spots where photographers and Instagrammers flock to during the Summer months are just as incredible during the Winter.
The incredible serenity and beauty Durango and La Plata County have during the wildflower season transform into another world as the snow starts to fall.
The soaring peaks of the La Plata Mountains, San Juan Mountains, and Needle Mountains are wrapped in white, frosted pine trees make every moment photo-worthy.
The downtown area of Durango transforms into a scene straight from “The Polar Express” as the street, sidewalks, and business awnings are buried in snow. This gives downtown Durango a sense of calm and coziness during the Winter.
The overall beauty and tranquility of Durango and La Plata County during the Winter has “Instagram” written all over it. It’s no surprise that Visit Durango sees an untick in #DurangoColorado photos and videos on Instagram as soon as the snow falls!
With so many places to explore during the Winter and opportunities to “do it for the Gram,” we’ve picked out some of our favorite spots around Durango and La Plata County for you.
Here are the picks for our favorite Instagrammable spots in Durango and La Plata County during the Winter season along with photo or video ideas at each location.
#9 The Animas Valley via a Sleigh Ride
Courtesy of @kittyavery via Instagram
Pine trees covered in snow, flurries falling lightly all around you, and horses breathing out clouds of steam while you work your way through the Animas River Valley, sipping hot chocolate. Top the experience off with a cute photo of you with the horses.
The perfect winter photo for the ‘gram!
There are plenty of opportunities to grab some Instagram content while out for a sleigh ride. Most of Durango’s sleigh ride providers offer trips through the mesas and pine forests in the Animas River Valley. Located north of town, the Animas River Valley cuts through sections of the San Juan National Forest and Needles Mountain range offering expanding views of snow-covered pine, spruce, and aspen trees against breathtaking views of 13,000+ feet peaks in the distance. An incredible sight- especially if you’re framing the sleigh and horses against this backdrop!
Before jumping out of the sleigh to grab a photo or video, make sure you ask your driver! The Belgian and Percheron Draft horses spook easily.
The 30-45 minute round-trip sleigh rides are commonly in an open sleigh (just like in “Jingle Bells”) so make sure you’re packing plenty of warm clothes and keep your phone in your pocket to keep the battery alive.
There’s nothing worse than missing a photo opportunity because of a dead phone!
#8 On Top of Purgatory Ski Resort
We may be biased, but Purgatory Resort might be the most photogenic resort in all of Colorado!
From almost anywhere on the slopes, you’re treated with a stunning view of the neighboring Needle Mountain range. Facing east (downhill), the Needle Mountains stand towering as they shimmer in the Winter afternoon sun. These peaks, some over 13,000 feet in height, look as if you can reach out and touch them from your position on Purgatory’s slopes!
For a truly magical Instagram photo or video, we recommend skiing or snowboarding down the mountain a little bit until the views of the Needle Mountains are unobstructed by the trees and hillsides of Purgatory’s ski runs.
Once you’re situated, consider using passing skiers/snowboarders or the chair lift to frame your photo or video and give your followers a little perspective of the overall landscape.
If you’re shooting a video for an Instagram story, take your footage to the next level, by doing a sweeping panoramic from left to right to showcase the entire Needle Mountain range and the whole ski run in the foreground.
#7 The Nugget
The famous bar is the go-to spot to wrap up a perfect day skiing or snowboarding, not just because of its proximity to Purgatory but also the incredible views. Looking north and east, you’ll be greeted with views of Engineer Mountain, the Needle Mountains, and the Animas River Valley. During “Golden Hour,” The Nugget is home to views of pink and purple light cascading over the distant mountain peaks.
The Nugget itself used to be an old ski cabin before it was turned into a two-story apres bar it is today. Although its purpose has changed, the old-cozy, warm feeling hasn’t. The rustic, wood planks that make up The Nugget is a great contrast to the snow-capped mountains in the distance.
We recommend creating a timeless-looking photo or video by framing the wood planks of The Nugget around yourself or another person.
Don’t forget to leave without grabbing a beer and enjoying the views!
#6 “The Egg” at the Powerhouse Science Center
Not all of our recommended Instagrammable spots in Durango are outside!
Found within the exhibits of the Powerhouse Science Center is a four-foot cast dinosaur egg that is a must for your photo-cation and Instagram timeline. The egg itself is cut in the back allowing you to climb inside to poke your head through for goofy selfies or photos of your friends or family.
The best part of this spot is its mysterious location. While you are totally able to geo-tag the Powerhouse Science Center in your Instagram post, we recommend having your followers guess where your post was taken around Durango. The egg is tucked away from the other exhibits where its location is not terribly obvious to the casual scroller.
The egg is on long-term loan from the Supernova Furniture and Sleep Gallery and is part of the Powerhouse Science Center’s current dinosaur exhibit, “Dinosaur Discoveries.” Running through April of 2021, this exhibit is the predominant feature of the space and is complete with touchable fossils, dinosaur models and simulations, and of course, the egg itself.
#5 The Lions Den Near Fort Lewis College
Courtesy of @rjt5280 via Instagram
You don’t have to venture too far for this Instagram shot!
Ask any local, the best place to watch the sunset is from Lions Den on the ridge at Fort Lewis College. The Lions Den is a brick-covered terrace just off of the Rim Trail and Rim Drive next to Fort Lewis College and the Hillcrest Golf Club.
This hidden gem has a great view of downtown Durango, the Animas Valley, and the surrounding peaks such as Perins and Silver in the La Plata Mountains just outside of Durango. Complete with picnic tables and a stone covering, it is the picturesque scenic spot perfect for selfies or pictures of people against the easily-recognizable backdrop of the Durango landscape.
To get an epic shot from the Lions Den, we suggest taking advantage of “Golden Hour” and arriving an hour before sunset to get your shots. The sunsets to the south and will be out of your photos entirely. However, its rays will cast light on the downtown area and La Plata Mountains offering an incredible background to any photo or video with a person.
To take your photos or videos to the next level, get low to the ground, and frame your subject against the bright sky. This will create a silhouette of the person while still capturing the La Plata Mountains in the background.
#4 Along the Shoreline of Vallecito Reservoir
Unlike the others on our list, this recommendation isn’t a specific place per se, but rather a general area of where to get some incredible Instagram content.
Located 30 minutes northeast of downtown Durango lies a quiet community of cabins, cottages, and ranches that surround a reservoir at the feet of neighboring mesas. The town of Vallecito takes advantage of its most notable (and obvious attraction): Vallecito Reservoir.
Along the 30-mile shoreline sits a series of roads that lead to cozy, quaint cabins nestled in the woods. As you’re driving the loop, you’ll be greeted with picturesque scenes of snow-covered cabins surrounded by glistening pines against a deep blue lake.
We recommend driving the loop as much as you can via County Road 501 and Forest Service Road 603. As you’re driving, stop anytime you see a shot that looks intriguing.
Keep in mind that the northern end of Vallecito Reservoir and both roads 501 and 603 shut down during the Winter months so you won’t be able to drive the full loop in one trip.
Please be respectful when taking photos in the area. The cabins belong to private residents!
#3 Cascade Canyon
Located north of downtown Durango just past Purgatory Resort lies an incredible canyon system primed for incredible Winter photos. Cascade Canyon lies on both sides of Highway 550 prior to the first switchback (heading north from Purgatory Resort) and is a photographer’s dream come true.
Cascade Canyon features numerous waterfalls that glow a neon-blue or teal as the sun hits them during the morning hours. These waterfalls are the result of the bubbling Cascade Creek that snakes through the bottom of the canyon. In addition to the waterfalls, you’ll also be greeted with towering pine trees reaching towards the heavens from small cracks or crevices in the canyon walls. It is an incredible sight to see and definitely worthy of a slow-motion video as an Instagram story.
From Durango, Cascade Canyon is easily accessed via a small parking lot on the east side of Highway 550 before the first switchback. Look for the parking lot about three miles past the turnoff for Purgatory Resort.
For an even more memorable and epic experience in Cascade Canyon, consider taking the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad “Cascade Canyon Ride” that runs from Rockwood Station to Cascade Creek and back.
The entire excursion takes just a few hours but takes you along some of the most scenic parts of the Animas Valley and to the confluence of Cascade Creek and the Animas River.
#2 Snow Angels at the Molas Pass Overlook
The essential Winter Instagram photo in Durango: snow angels with mountains in the background.
Without a second thought, the place to go for that photo or video is the overlook at Molas Pass. Sitting at 10,900+ feet, Molas Pass has an established parking lot and overlook located just a few feet from Highway 550.
Upon arriving at the parking lot, you’ll likely have your breath taken away. Not just because of the sights but because of the elevation. Molas Pass is 3,000+ feet higher than downtown Durango! Stepping out of your car, you’ll feel the elevation and temperature difference almost immediately.
It’s time to act quickly to get that shot!
We don’t recommend hiking up to the lookout but to the right (south) of it entirely; across from the bathroom facility. This area has an unobstructed view of the mountains and likely to have untouched snow.
Plop down in that fresh snow and let your limbs fly!
The direction of where you shoot and the background depends on the time of day. We recommend shooting east towards the distant mountains or shooting south, capturing your snow angel with the 13,000-foot, Snowdon Peak in the background.
Either way, you’re bound to come away with an incredible post of you frolicking in the fat, snowy flakes found at the Molas Pass overlook.
Just don’t take too long to grab your shots! “Doing it for the Gram” doesn’t mean getting frostbite in the process!
#1 County Road 124 in La Plata Canyon
Situated on the outskirts of Durango to the west lies one of the most picturesque roads in all of La Plata County: County Road 124.
This highway bisects the La Plata Mountain range by hugging the existing valley between the two mountain ranges. The valley, known as La Plata Canyon, winds for miles next to Durango’s most prominent mountain peaks. This includes Silver Mountain, Snowstorm Peak, and Lewis Mountain- all peaks that can be seen from downtown Durango.
While you’re probably not going to be able to drive past the unincorporated “town” of Mayday, drive as far as you can before getting out.
For the best shots, we recommend hiking a bit from your car into La Plata Canyon itself. This may or may not be possible- it depends on the depth of the snow.
Hike as far as you’re comfortable while scouting out the best locations and backdrop for your photo or video.
Depending on how far you’re able to go, you’re either going to get a shot against miles and miles of snow-capped aspen trees with the bubbling La Plata Creek, or an unbelievable background of the towering peaks in the distance.
Like other spots on our list, the possibilities are endless in La Plata Canyon. No matter how inexperienced you are taking photos or videos for Instagram, you’re bound to come away with something epic.
Winter in Durango and La Plata County is an incredible time to capture content for your Instagram brand. The scenery shifts from the adventurous “look-and-feel” during the Summer to a landscape that is cozy, crisp, and serene during the Winter. Durango and La Plata County transform into another world as the snow accumulates.
With snow-capped mountains, valleys, and trees, our home in southwest Colorado turns into a Winter Wonderland- straight out of a scene from a luxury car commercial.
Hopefully, through the course of this blog post, we’ve provided you with some direction and spots to seek out when getting footage and content for your Instagram account.
As you’re shooting and posting, don’t forget to show us your work by tagging Visit Durango! Who knows, you might inspire our team to get back out for more snow angels!