Durango, Colorado is a great little western town that’s big enough to have everything you need. Make it your home-base for a few days in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado. Or, catch a train ride!
Okay, I’ll admit it. I usually use Durango as a stopping point, for food and a reliable hotel room. I don’t usually make it a destination. That’s not to say that you should do the same thing, though. There’s plenty to see and do here, and in the immediate area surrounding Durango.
During my visit in 2012, I didn’t take a single picture in Durango. On the day I arrived, I was too busy trying to get to La Plata Canyon, and the following day I was in a rush to start driving towards Silverton.
So, I’ll offer you this Drivelapse video. It starts in Aztec, New Mexico, but if you scroll ahead to about 5:30, you’ll get to see plenty of Durango:
I think my biggest problem with Durango is the traffic. As you can see in the video, traffic through downtown in the middle of the afternoon is just as bad as a rush-hour commute in a big city.
If you can get off of US 550, and onto Main Avenue (which parallels the highway, a few blocks to the east), you’ll have a better chance at enjoying the town.
One of Durango’s landmark buildings is the Strater Hotel (that big red brick building down the block, seen in this picture I took in 2005). The Strater was built in 1887 (without indoor bathrooms — but it did boast a 3-story privy). It’s now a modern hotel, and one of the nicest places to stay in town.
Durango is also home of the D&SNGRR, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. This scenic railroad travels between the two towns, on a different course than Highway 550, so you get to see an entirely different view of the San Juan Mountains.
It would be a good idea to make reservations for a train trip, but you can stop by the station anytime to check out the railroad museum (and a gift shop that’s well stocked with railroad items).
Even if you don’t ride the train, there’s a good chance that you’ll see it, either in Silverton or Durango. I spotted it in Silverton in 2005.
Also, don’t forget that Mesa Verde National Park is nearby.
The Bottom Line
Durango provides a good base for exploring the San Juan Mountains, with plenty of services (including hotels and restaurants). Be aware that it’s a bigger city than some of its neighbors.
Durango is located at the intersection of US 550 and US 160, two roads that make up part of the San Juan Skyway scenic loop route. Silverton, Colorado is about an hour north of Durango, while Cortez, Colorado is about an hour’s drive west.
Mesa Verde National Park is also nearby. Although it’s closer to Cortez than Durango, you can still get there in less than an hour.
In addition to the video above, you can also check out this time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive from Durango to Silverton, Colorado: