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The Best Outdoor Experiences in Durango (According to Locals)
Looking for an outdoor adventure mecca, mixed with all the things you love about living in a mountain town? Take it from the locals: Durango is the place to be. Whether you’re a climber, paddler, mountain biker, hiker, or any kind of outdoor enthusiast, you’ll find plenty to keep you entertained in Southwestern Colorado.
"One of the things that makes Durango so cool is that even in just a day and a half, you can pack so much in," says Molly Mickel, owner of local outfitter Mild to Wild Rafting & Jeep Tours. She’s not exaggerating in the least. From the Animas River to the Colorado Trail, which stretches 486 miles to Denver, Durango is truly in the heart of the action. Here’s what the locals say you shouldn’t miss.
Best Mountain Bike Ride
Lots of locals will tell you to head to the Test Tracks at Overend Mountain Park. But David Moler, longtime resident (his wife’s family has been in Durango for five generations) and owner of Durango Rivertrippers & Adventure Tours, has another favorite. "Horse Gulch is great," he says, “You can go out there and either spend all day or just do a quick 45-minute lunch ride.” If you’re an intermediate-or-better rider, Horse Gulch is the place to be, since you can either do a mellow meadow loop or do a lungbuster climb up Telegraph. As Moler puts it: “Get ’em to the Gulch!”
Best On-the-Water Experience
Whitewater rafting is exciting in general, but locals love the Animas River. This meandering river runs right through the heart of Durango, and is considered Durango's backbone. Raft, kayak, or float this stretch of the Animas and feel an adrenaline rush as you go through the rapids such as Smelter or Corner Pocket in the Santa Rita Whitewater Park. Or rent a stand up paddleboard and spend a day leisurely paddling the flat water. Local rafting outfitters will rent you all the gear you need to spend a day on the water.
Best Right-in-Town Adventure
The best spot for an in-town run? Overend Mountain Park, says Mary Monroe Brown, Executive Director of Trails 2000. Founded in 1989, the local nonprofit organization works with the community to plan, build, and maintain trails, so their staff is certainly in the know when it comes to local trails. Her favorite run is the Hidden Valley/Grabens Loop.
Best Historical Experience(s)
One of Durango's cooler cultural experiences, says Mickel, is to head to the cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde National Park, where visitors can take a tour of the Ancestral Puebloans’ homes and learn about the area’s natural history. "You just can’t get that from a history book," Mickel says, “You don’t totally get it until you walk down there.” Visitors can even purchase ranger-led tour tickets at the Durango Welcome Center. These tours allow visitors to get up close and personal with the ancient ruins, including traversing through tunnels and climbing ladders. Be sure to check out these 11 Unique Ways to Experience Mesa Verde!
Best Family-Friendly Activity
Both Moler and Mickel enthusiastically endorse jeep tours as an excellent way to get the whole family outside. "We have some of the best trail networks in the United States here in the backcountry of Colorado," Moler explains, and families can feel safe even on self-guided tours, thanks to GPS technology and, in Durango Rivertrippers’ case, “stop alerts” that let the company know when a vehicle hasn’t moved for awhile. Jeep tours allow families, including kids and older folks, to explore the backcountry without the physically taxing part of the journey.
Best Wilderness Experience
"One of the advantages of southwest rivers is that they’re less accessible," says Mickel, pointing to the Piedra River between Durango and Pagosa Springs, an intermediate stretch of whitewater with no road running alongside it. Unlike many rivers in the Front Range, you get a true wilderness experience with an overnight trip on the Piedra. If you’re not an experienced boater, sign on with an outfitter, including Mild to Wild, which combines Piedra wilderness trips with outings on the Upper Animas.
Best Post-Hike Watering Hole
"Derailed Pour House serves the coldest beer in Durango," says Moler. Derailed has beer on tap from a huge variety of Colorado breweries, including local favorites like Durango Brewing Company and Ska. There’s also a full food menu, including delicious shareable small plates and phenomenal burgers. You’ll also find a wide selection of handcrafted cocktails to leave you feeling refreshed after a day on the river or the trail.
Originally written by RootsRated Media for Durango Area Tourism Office.