Are you a weekend warrior looking to explore the outdoors near Durango, Colorado? Here, we want to invite you to check out some of the less traveled yet equally exciting trails and areas around the region – all of which offer an unforgettable experience!
We'll provide insight into some of the lesser-known trails and areas that are just as thrilling but less frequented than other popular spots. You can expect untouched nature, stunning views, and unforgettable experiences – all while staying getting a dose of adrenaline along the way!
It’s time to get off the beaten track and easily map your path through Durango's hidden gems.
Experience Durango's rich and varied nature with our selection of less-traveled trails and areas that are sure not to disappoint.
Located about 45 minutes west of downtown Durango lies an incredible area of the San Juan National Forest. Known locally as the "West Mancos" area, it occupies nearly 68,000 acres (by our measurement) of premier camping, hiking, biking, backpacking, and peak-bagging area that sits on the western slopes of the La Plata Mountains.
With dozens of forest service roads, pullouts, and established trails, you can easily find places to explore without running into anyone else.
You'll likely see more marmots and red-tailed hawks than people!
Most of the area can be explored without a four-wheel drive car- however, as you drive further east (closer to the La Plata Mountains), you might run into some washed-out and rocky roads that require a higher-clearance vehicle.
The entire area is home to thousands of aspen trees, wildflowers, wild mushrooms, and views of the dramatic La Plata Mountains in the background.
Check out these specific locations to explore: Burnt Ridge, Golconda, Spruce Mill Park, Owen Basin, Rush Basin, Sharkstooth Pass, Chicken Creek trail, and the Aspen Loop trail.
This area, located just 45 minutes northeast of Durango and north of Lemon Reservoir, offers some of the most spectacular views and high-desert scenery around the county. The area, informally known as the "Upper Lemon Reservoir" and "Endlich Mesa," is full of miles and miles of gravel, forest service roads, and camping areas in the San Juan National Forest.
As you head up in elevation (a higher-clearance vehicle is recommended), you'll eventually top out at the summit of the mesa: Endlich Mesa. Enjoy mountain views in the north, east, and west directions as you figure out what type of exploration to do next!
Photo credit Randy Langstraat.
Just north of downtown Durango, sits a series of switchbacks that hugs a long ridge with jaw-dropping views of the San Juan Mountains and Animas Valley below. You'll be over the valley at around 10,400 feet at its peak!
You'll head north from downtown Durango making your way up in elevation on County Road 253 and 682 (also known as Missionary Ridge Road). This stretch of nearly 20 miles in length and is primarily a two-wheel drive gravel road.
Along the way, you'll be greeted with breathtaking views of the West Needle and Needle Mountains to the north and the lush green Animas Valley below. Camping, hiking, and biking trails are in abundance- and you'll likely have miles of open space between you and another group.
Check out these specific locations to explore: Mountain View Crest, Henderson Lake, Overlook Point, Ruby Lake, Pear Lake, and Dollar Lake.
Photo credit Randy Langstraat.
An area on our list that's often overlooked is the Elk Park Area and Segment 24 of the Colorado Trail. Even though the site starts at the high-trafficked Molas Pass parking area, most people don't venture far from the start.
Heading east from Molas Pass on the Colorado Trail (technically Segment 24 of 33), you'll very quickly enter the San Juan National Forest and the largest wilderness area in Colorado: the Weminuche Wilderness.
We recommend hiking to the "Elk Park Overlook," about two miles from Molas Pass. From there, drop down the switchbacks into the Animas River Valley. Once you reach the valley floor, you've reached the official Elk Park area. You'll have great camping sites, hiking trails, and views of the nearby West Needle Mountains and Grenadier Range towering over you.
It's a surreal place; you'll likely be the only group there!
Check out these specific locations to explore: "Elk Park Overlook," Elk Park on the Animas River, Vestal Creek, and Hunchback Pass on the Colorado Trail.
This area sits on top of an informal mesa between Engineer Mountain and Little Molas Lake and includes a series of marked trails that surprisingly don't see a lot of traffic.
South to north, these trails include the Engineer Mountain Trail, Coal Creek Trail, Deer Creek Trail, and West Lime Creek Trail over a 4,000-acre area (by our measurements). Most people park at Coal Bank Pass and hike up to the top of the mesa (also known as "The Meadow") and then turn around.
Past the top of the mesa, you'll see more marmots and picas than people!
If you're the "Weekend Warrior" type and looking to avoid the crowds this season in Durango, Colorado, explore some of the places on our list of recommendations. We guarantee you'll have the experience of a lifetime!
Whether it's exploring the remote area around Endlich Mesa, Segment 24 of the Colorado Trail, or regions between Engineer Mountain Trailhead and West Lime Creek Trailhead, Durango has all kinds of hidden gems to get your blood pumping without the crowds.
So get out there, be safe, pack it out, and have a great time!