There’s only one question you need to answer to determine whether Durango should be your next weekend getaway destination, and that’s whether you’re looking for a weekend getaway, period. While Durango is a year-round destination, winter is a particularly good time to visit. Whether you enjoy skiing, snowmobiling—or even ice climbing—the region is filled with scenic options for enjoying the winter weather. It’s also got great restaurants, breweries, cultural and historic sites, and family attractions for those who want to enjoy a view of the snow from inside.
Founded when the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad arrived in the late 19th century, Durango was once a mining boomtown, with the hills chock-full of silver and gold. More than a century later, many of the mines are played out, but the area still has many finds—you just have to know where to look. Here’s where to go and what to do on a winter trip to Durango—regardless of what kind of traveler you are.
If You Like the Outdoors
Looking for an action-packed winter weekend in the great outdoors? Start with Purgatory Resort, which has been drawing skiers for more than 50 years. Located just 25 miles north of Durango, the resort offers a unique blend of steep tree skiing and wide-open cruisers, both of which provide stunning views for lucky visitors who will enjoy fewer crowds and cheaper prices than at many other Colorado resorts (it’s been named North America’s Best Ski Value by TripAdvisor for three years straight). The runs at Purgatory are known for their character, with a high fun-factor as they twist down the mountain. Snowboarders will get a kick out of the seven terrain parks, and the state’s largest Snowcat skiing operation gives advanced skiers access to 35,000 acres of the San Juan backcountry.
At Purgatory, you can explore the backcountry another way by taking a snowmobile tour withSnowmobile Adventures. Professional guides will teach you how to ride and take you through more than 75 miles of trails, where you can play in vast meadows and take in the incredible views.Ice Pirates out of Silverton features snowmobile tours and rentals on its trail system that covers 55,000 acres in the San Juan Mountains, with a high point over 12,000 feet. Either choice will give you the ride of a lifetime, with unmatched views to enjoy.
For a quieter way to enjoy the outdoors, theVallecito Nordic Ski Club provides a groomed trail system for cross-country skiers about 20 miles northeast of Durango near the Vallecito Reservoir. You can rent equipment in town and take it to the trails, which offer plenty of terrain for any level of skier. Snowshoeing is another option to escape into the winter wonderland. Just about any hiking trail takes on a whole new life in the winter with a pair of snowshoes, and some of the more popular options in the region are the Colorado Trail, the Hermosa Creek Trail and the Falls Creek Trail.
For the truly adventurous, the frozen waterfall at Cascade Canyon is an excellent spot for ice climbing.Kling Mountain Guides offers beginner and intermediate ice climbing courses to get you started.
If You’re a Foodie
Believe it or not, Durango is home to more restaurants per capita than San Francisco. Durango’s no big city, but when it comes to having cultural experiences, it will give any larger city a run for its money. On your first night, stroll down Main Avenue, the town’s quaint main drag, to scope out your weekend’s must-eats. Spend the night at the historic Strater Hotel, where you can enjoy a range of award-winning dining, including two classic saloons. Durango dining includes French, Italian, Japanese, Thai, and, thanks to Durango’s proximity to New Mexico, phenomenal Mexican restaurants. The best breakfast of your trip will be at Oscar’s Cafe, and you don’t want to miss Seasons, the first farm-to-table restaurant in Durango, or the contemporary flair of Mutu’s Italian Kitchen.
If You Like Cocktails and Craft Beer
Durango has a number of breweries, so don’t be intimidated if you’re not sure where to begin. If you’re staying at the Victorian-era General Palmer Hotel, you’re within walking distance of Carver Brewing Co., a brewpub with an extensive menu and beer list. The Colorado Trail Nut Brown Ale is a nice option on a winter night. Another option is Ska Brewing, which is known for its signature True Blonde or Pinstripe beers. On day two make for Durango Craft Spirits Distillery & Tasting Room, the first post-Prohibition distillery in the area. There’s also El Moro Spirits & Tavern, the site of Durango’s strangest shoot-out (ask your bartender about it). Or stop in at the Ore House for a handcrafted cocktail nightcap.
If You’re Traveling with Kids
The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is great for families—not only do kids tend to jump at the chance to check out a train, but coaches also have bathrooms and concessions are available on the train, so you won’t be stranded with hungry, cranky kiddos. (Cars are also heated during the winter, so this is an option year-round.) After the train ride, head to Steamworks, known for its great food and family-friendly atmosphere and conveniently located just three blocks from the train depot and museum. On day two, sign on for snowmobile tour with a reputable local outfitter. This activity is great for families because it gives you a chance to get out farther than you otherwise might with little ones or grandparents.
Other options kids will also love include tubing at Purgatory Resort or exploring the Powerhouse Science Center, a museum located in an historic coal-fired, alternating current (AC) electric plant on the Animas River. You’ll find enough hands-on, interactive exhibits to keep kids entertained for hours.
If you’re looking for some relaxation, Trimble Spa and Natural Hot Springs is just seven miles north of town. It features two mineral-rich hot pools, plus a heated Olympic-sized swimming pool that’s open year-round. You’ll also find lodging options and spa treatments on the property, when you need that massage after a day of adventure.
If You’re a History Buff
For a dose of ancient history, head to Mesa Verde National Park, where you’ll learn about and see first-hand the incredible cliff dwellings created by Ancestral Puebloans. It’s believed that Mesa Verde (or “green table”) was seasonally inhabited by Paleo-Indians as early as 7500 B.C., likely because of its position 8,500 feet above sea level. The mesa was an ideal place for the Native Americans, providing an abundance of food and shelter (despite the barren-looking landscape, they were able to grow corn, beans and squash). While tribes and cultures inhabited the area off and on, the last known inhabitants were the Ancestral Pueblo people, from A.D. 600 to 1300. The cliff dwelling area is the main attraction in the park, and you are actually allowed to get up close and go inside some of the structures. There are hiking trails and the park is also popular for bird watching and stargazing. In the winter, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing is also available in the park, weather permitting. Plus, a guided Winter Ecology Hike helps you look for the park’s winter inhabitants. Check the park’s website for winter trail conditions to see what’s available.
Written by Emma Walker for RootsRated Media in partnership with Durango Area Tourism Office.
Featured image provided by Visit Durango