Rediscover Colorado: explore rugged Durango in any season

By Theresa Blake Graven
October 14, 2020
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From outdoor pursuits in the surrounding high desert and mountains to Native American history and Old West heritage, Durango is Southwest Colorado’s premier four-season destination.

Editor's Note: Before you head out, please check the Colorado COVID-19 site to determine any local restrictions you need to be aware of. 

Nestled in southwestern Colorado’s Animas River Valley and surrounded by the rugged peaks of the San Juan Mountains, Durango’s remote location offers unimpeded access to some of the best cultural, historic and outdoor attractions in the state. Road Tripping: Scenic Byways

The San Juan Skyway Scenic and Historic Byway travels from Durango and Telluride, to Mesa Verde National Park and back to Durango. The San Juan Byway is a 236-mile loop that winds through dramatic scenery in the shadow of 14,000 foot peaks, including the “Million Dollar Highway” segment from Silverton to Ouray, known as one of the most scenic drives in America.

Colorado’s newest byway, Tracks Across Borders, links over 800 years of Colorado history. From the romance of the rails and authentic Native American culture, to breathtaking scenery and endless outdoor recreation, Tracks Across Borders is a richly layered journey through two states. Spanning southwest Colorado and northern New Mexico, the 125-mile route traces the narrow gauge right-of-way of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, connecting over 800 years of Colorado history.

Durango’s rich history and cultural attractions are really what sets it apart from other destinations. The top attractions in our area are:

  • D&SNGRR: Travel aboard the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad’s historic 1880’s coal-fired, steam-powered locomotives for breathtaking views of the San Juan National Forest and the Weminuche, Colorado’s largest wilderness area. The Train is tentatively set to open with social distancing measures on June 9th.
  • Mesa Verde National Park: Ancient Pueblo ruins and artifacts dating back over 2500 years were discovered in the San Juan Basin in the 1880’s. Explore the archeological wonders and ancient cave dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, or at lesser known areas such as Sand Canyon. *MVNP is currently closed. There is a potential that the park will open later this summer for self guided hiking and exploring. It’s unlikely the ranger-led tours will return this summer.

Followed by Outdoor Recreation

Durango offers more than 300-miles of world-class mountain biking and hiking within 30-minutes of downtown. The San Juan National Forest includes the largest wilderness area in Colorado – the Weminuche Wilderness – and hundreds of miles of singletrack, world class mountain biking, epic rock climbing and backcountry skiing, plus fly fishing and boating on the gold medal waters of the Animas River. West of Durango, discover the spectacular La Plata Canyon and its beautiful U formation created by glaciers with abundant wildlife, wildflowers, high-alpine meadows, and avalanche gullies.

Visitors can go remote backpacking, rafting or enjoy an extensive network of trails within five minutes of downtown Durango, including the Animas River Trail (ART). The centerpiece of the city’s trail system, the ART is a paved multi-use trail stretching nearly 7 miles through Durango’s Animas River Greenway. The ART provides easy access to a variety of parks; open spaces and natural surface trails, the community recreation center, the public library, downtown Durango, neighborhoods and schools. All of Durango's trails are built and maintained by local nonprofit trails group, Trails 2000, which hosts an interactive trail map, trail descriptions and trail conditions report online at durangotrails.org.

The following list includes activities that are currently available and safe to enjoy in the Durango area, w/ social distancing and public health orders: https://www.durango.org/covid/.

Visit Durango is not actively promoting visitation at this time, but we are making this information available to our industry partners since we understand visitors are still coming. Our goal is to steer people in the right direction and help keep residents and visitors safe. Please also visit our COVID Travel Advisory page for the latest restrictions and guidance for visitors.

Historic Hotels

The Strater Hotel, built in 1887, is decorated with period decor, beautiful handcrafted woodwork, and the largest private collection of American Victorian walnut antiques in the world. The Rochester Hotel and Leland House, built in 1927 and 1892 respectively, boasts original antiques and woodwork, as well as Western-movie themed rooms. The General Palmer, built in 1898, blends the comforts of modern living with Victorian charm in the heart of the historic downtown. Hotels are taking extra precautions right now.


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Inspiration

Socially distanced scaring at your local haunted drive-thru

COVID-19 is impacting a Halloween tradition that relies on close contact and screaming: haunted houses. While some attractions are staying closed this October, others have altered their plans to provide socially distanced scaring. This year, you will see haunted car washes, drive through courses, and increased use of special effects. The Rainforest Car Wash in Ohio was ahead of the curve. In 2019, they hosted a haunted car wash with goblins peering in your window behind colorful foam and clowns waving next to air dryers. This is a two-in-one, providing family friendly frights and a clean car. They plan to repeat their one-of-a-kind attraction this year at their Medina location. Dragon's House of Horror, which holds the Guinness World Record for longest walk-through haunted house, in New Mexico transformed the Mile of Terror to a drive-through trail. Visitors can experience the maze with several horror genres entirely from inside their car, which eliminates the risk of virus transmission. Actors won’t touch cars and windows must be rolled up as additional safety measures. Photo provided by The Haunted Road in Florida The Haunted Road in Orlando, Florida is another contactless Halloween drive-through event that has recently emerged, aiming to provide screams with “twisted creatures and theatrical storytelling.” At this attraction, visitors drive scene to scene at night and stop. While parked and trapped inside the car, scare actors appear, visual effects take place, and sound effects are synced to a radio station. Another take on a drive-through attraction takes place at The Horrorland in Miami, Florida. Car passengers “follow Rapunzel’s journey into a world of disarray” happening in real time and sit through six themed passages for a contactless haunting experience. Los Angeles will open an immersive Stranger Things “drive-into” adventure. In partnership with Fever and Secret Cinema, the theme of the attraction is based on the Netflix’s show Season 3 horrors. It will be a multi-level experience with cars stopping at each set like the Starcourt Mall, a subterranean Russian lab, and the Upside Down. Some haunted attractions will continue to be walking experiences but with additional safety and creative measures. Andrew Curran, president of design company specializing in haunted house design Practical Imagination, said, “People like new and exciting—this is the year to create new and exciting.” Curran hinted that use of special effects such as mirrors alter the appearance of distance, plexiglass barriers can be used in hospital scenes, and sound technology tricks will be utilized. Use of props and claustrophobia tunnels will be on the decline and animated figures will be used in close proximity to visitors. For those haunts with the occasional close contact, costumes with built-in PPE gear is recommended. The Dent Schoolhouse in Greater Cincinnati said their monsters will integrate a face mask into their costumes. Reservation-based ticketing is also a tactic attractions are using to reduce capacity and spread out groups. The 13th Floor Haunted House in Denver plans on doing temperature checks, limiting capacity, keeping groups private, and enforcing social distancing with ground markings. Dr. Margee Kerris, a sociologist who studies fear, said in May that COVID-19 should not cancel the spookiness Halloween. “Haunted attractions offer what we could all use right now: opportunities to take control of our fears and to be reminded that we can be brave.”

Inspiration

The motel from Schitt's Creek is going up for sale

For the past six years, the CBC/Pop TV series – a fish-out-of-water comedy starring Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Daniel Levy, and Annie Murphy as a once-wealthy clan forced to relocate to the boonies – has filmed in Mono, Ontario, renting out a one-time motel to stand in for the show’s main location. And soon, fans will have a chance to stake their claim on the Rose family business. In an interview with the Orangeville Banner’s Chris Halliday, owner Jesse Tipping revealed the motel would go up for sale in October, a decision he put off when the pandemic started in favor of housing those who needed to quarantine. “We were able to help out a great organization locally with their need,” Tipping said. The property has appeared onscreen in multiple productions © Courtesy of CBC Prior to COVID-19, the motel served as home base for a host of young recruits attending a prep school basketball program nearby, as well as a filming location for Netflix’s Umbrella Academy, Amazon Prime’s 11.22.63, and David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence, the Banner reports. It was also listed on Airbnb at one point, though its onscreen fame was downplayed. “We didn’t advertise for you to come stay at Schitt’s Creek or the Rosebud motel,” Tipping said. The real-life property may lack the signage of its onscreen counterpart, but before the pandemic, fans of the show flocked to see it in person, staging photo shoots and leaving reviews online – in character, of course. “We just kind of let them enjoy it because if they are not bothering anybody,” Tipping said. “People really get a kick out of it.” It's been a good couple of weeks for Schitt's Creek fans. After enjoying huge success at the Emmy Awards last month, sweeping the comedy categories with wins for best actor and actress, best supporting actor and actress, best comedy series, and outstanding writing and directing, the show’s sixth and final season landed on Netflix ahead of schedule – a pleasant surprise to many fans.

Inspiration

Best spots for fall foliage in the South and Mid-Atlantic

SOUTH and MID-ATLANTIC Alabama Close to Birmingham, Oak Mountain State Park in Pelham with 50 miles of hiking, biking, and equestrian trails, with prime fall foliage viewing spots at Peavine Overlook and Peavine Falls. The Cheaha State Park is jam packed with woodlands, thanks to being both surrounded by the Talladega National Forest and nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Arkansas In the northern Arkansas, the Ozark National Forest gets colorful usually from October through early November and links to the Scenic 7 Byway, while St. Francis National Forest is smaller in size but known for its finest bottom-land hardwood. The Talimena National Scenic Byway goes to Queen Wilhelmina State Park in Mena and contains Rich Mountain, Arkansas’ second highest peak. ©Sean Pavone/Shutterstock Georgia Protecting more than 6,000 acres around Dukes Creek, Smithgall Woods State Park in Helen is perfect for fall fly fishing and picnicking near the creek. In Northwest Georgia, Cloudland Canyon State Park offers easy-to-reach rim overlooks and challenging hiking trails; the five-mile West Rim Loop is moderately difficult but offers great canyon views. Maryland Western Maryland’s Deep Creek Lane has 69 miles of shoreline for viewing fall foliage. At Elk Neck State Park in North East, walk up inside the Turkey Point Lighthouse and gaze down at the 100-foot bluff at Elk Neck Peninsula’s southern tip. Or see trees up close via the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, a scenic byway paralleling the Potomac River. New Jersey High Point State Park in Sussex is where on a clear autumn day, visitors can see 80 miles of fall colors with a panorama of rich farmland and forest, soft hills, and lush valleys across three states. For scenic hikes through a shaded hemlock ravine, Hacklebarney State Park in Long Valley is one of the Garden State’s undiscovered treasures. North Carolina Southeast of Asheville, Chimney Rock State Park reportedly sees its lower elevations make this area one of the last to reach its peak colors in the Blue Ridge Mountains. In mid-October, the Cradle of Forestry in Pisgah National Forest in Western N.C. hits its colorful prime. South Carolina Congaree National Park in Columbia has largest intact expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeastern U.S.; kayak or canoe along the Cedar Creek waterway. In Pickles, Table Rock State Park fits the bill for natural fall beauty, between October and November, with the opportunity to hike to its namesake mountain. A winding road through the Smoky Mountains near Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Credit: Tennessee Tourism. Tennessee In 2017, Tennessee developed the first scenic viewers to help those with red-green color deficiency take in the full beauty of the fall. There are currently 12 scenic viewers at overlooks and parks throughout the state, including the I-26 Westbound Scenic Overlook and Highway 111-Sequatchie Valley. View the full list at www.TNfallcolor.com. Texas Lost Maples State Natural Area takes its name from several isolated stands of Uvalde bigtooth maples, plus hold walnut, sycamore, and red and lacy oaks. The park’s website lists a foliage report, updated weekly October through November. East of El Paso, Guadalupe Mountains National Park’s McKittrick Canyon shelters stands of bigtooth maple, Texas madrones, walnut, ash, and grey and chinquapin oaks, plus desert sumac shrubs, for blasts of bright red, yellow, and orange. ©OGphoto/Getty Images Virginia Virginia Beach’s First Landing State Park provides canopies of color for strolling along, while Shenandoah National Park, which is 75 miles from Washington, D.C., entices with its 105-mile Skyline Drive and plentiful hiking trails. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson National Forests are a massive unit, with over 1.66 million acres and over 2,200 miles of trails plus 23 federally designated wildernesses within mountainous terrain ranging in elevation, topping at the 5,729-foot Mount Rogers.

Inspiration

Best spots for fall foliage in the mid-west

MID-WEST Kansas In Northeast Kansas, the Glacial Hills Scenic Byways runs through a distinct landscape named for the rolling hills and the rock-strewn valleys. Its name reflects the receding ice, which left highly fertile farmland. Illinois In Southern Illinois, the Shawnee National Forest is a hiker’s paradise, seated between the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers and with paths meandering through canyons under forest canopies. Its crown jewel, Garden of the Gods, overlooks views of towering sandstone outcroppings formed millions of years ago. In the central part of the state, the Grandview Drive is considered to be one of Illinois’ most scenic routes. Indiana An hour from Indianapolis, Brown County State Park resembles the Great Smoky Mountains but Indiana’s largest park is fall color hot spot, with nearly 20 miles of tree-lined roads and many scenic vistas overlooking miles of uninterrupted forestland. The 2,300-acre O’Bannon Woods State Park is surrounded by beauty located within the foothills of Southern Indiana and bordering the Ohio and Blue rivers. Credit: Northeast Iowa RC and D Iowa Yellow River State Forest in Harpers Ferry makes for a good fall jaunt. Its Backpack Trail was named Iowa’s best hiking trail by Outdoor magazine in 1996, while Paint Creek Unit is quite the recreational hiking loop. Or catch some fall color via kayaking or canoeing on The Upper Iowa River in Northeast Iowa that can be accessed at Kendallville, Bluffton and Decorah. Minnesota The North Shore “All-American” Scenic Drive stretches 154 miles along the shore of Lake Superior is aligned with yellow aspen, birch trees and scarlet maples. And the Minnesota Great River Road follows the Mississippi River and passes through Chippewa National Forest, Itasca State Park and Frontenac and Great River Bluffs state parks. North Dakota The Rendezvous Region in northeast North Dakota is home to the wooded Pembina Gorge and Pembina Gorge State Recreation Area; hike on marked trails or rent a kayak to paddle along the Pembina River. Next, head west on the Turtle Mountain Scenic Byway and stop at Coghlan Castle and Lake Metigoshe State Park in the Turtle Mountains along the U.S/Canadian border. Credit: North Dakota Tourism Oklahoma The Talimena National Scenic Byway is a 50-mile drive partly through southeastern Oklahoma and touches upon Winding Stair Mountain in the Ouachita National Forest. Also in this region, Beavers Bend State Park is adorned with forests of pine and hardwood plus rugged terrain and waterways for seeing on foot. South Dakota Custer State Park is not only known for its free-roaming resident bison -- it also produces vibrant fall foliage at every turn. The Needles Highway has views of the Cathedral Spires, among birch, aspen and ponderosa pines while the Wildlife Loop leads towards Mt. Coolidge, where burr oak tree leaves burst in orange. On the northern edge of the Black Hills, Spearfish Canyon offers waterfall views from a spruce, pine, aspen, birch and oak tree forest.