ADVERTISEMENT
  • Durango, Colorado
LeftLeft

    Durango,

    Colorado

    Floyd Cox / Unsplash

    Save up to 50% on Hotels

    The City of Durango is the home rule municipality that is the county seat and the most populous municipality of La Plata County, Colorado, United States. The city population was 19,071 at the 2020 United States Census. Durango is the home of Fort Lewis College.
    logoFind more things to do, itinerary ideas, updated news and events, and plan your perfect trip to Durango
    ADVERTISEMENT

    Durango Articles

    InspirationRediscover AmericaTravel Tips

    The top 10 most budget friendly ski resorts in the USA

    With the cold air starting to nip at our nose and the holiday season upon us, what better time to start planning your next winter getaway. But which ski resorts are the best bang for your buck? Holidu, the search engine for vacation rentals, decided to carry out a study to determine which US ski resorts offer the least expensive trips without having to sacrifice on the slopes this season.1. Powder Mountain, Utah $74 (Average per person per day; ski pass + accommodation) Coming in at the top of our list is snowy Powder Mountain in Utah. Located in Eden, Utah this slope comes in with a whopping 135 km, and has the most skiable acreage of any other resort in the United States. Open 9AM to 9PM daily and with 9 operational lifts, you are sure to get your money’s worth on this mountain. On Powder Mountain there are 154 runs, 25% of which are best for beginners, 40% are designed for intermediate, the remaining 35% is reserved for the advanced. With over 500 inches of annual snowfall, Powder Mountain should be at the top of any ski enthusiast list. Total Ski Area: 135 km ///// Recommended For: All levels ///// Cost per km of slope: $1.83 2. Schweitzer Mountain, ID $78 Considered some of the best skiing in Idaho, Schweitzer Mountain, located in Sandpoint, comes in second for the most affordable places to ski in the United States. Considered the largest ski area in Idaho, there is truly something for everyone at Schweitzer Mountain. From Nordic Skiing trails to Terrain Parks you are sure to find something that suits you within its 95 km of slopes. With 10 lifts carrying a whopping 15,900 riders every hour, Schweitzer Mountain is sure to impress. Schweitzer Mountain also offers many other fun experiences such as twilight trails and even tubing! Total Ski Area: 95 km ///// Recommended For: All levels ///// Cost per km of slope: $1.21 3. Mt. Hood Meadows, OR $103 Next on our list is Mt. Hood Meadows in Oregon coming in with 90 km of ski slopes. Located in Mount Hood, Oregon this resort is only 90 minutes from Portland. With a special permit, this resort operates in the Mt. Hood National Forest and intern has some of the most stunning views! Check out some of their specials or events including Breakfast with Santa on December 22 + 23, or get your ski on this New Year’s Eve and check out their extra special celebratory dinner presented by pFriem. No matter the reason for your trip, make sure to check out Mt. Hood Meadows for all your ski and snowboarding needs this winter season. Total Ski Area: 90 km ///// Recommended For: All levels ///// Cost per km of slope: $0.87 Mt Hood Wilderness, Oregon. Photo by Laura Brown, Budget Travel 4. Alta, UT $109 Celebrating its 84th winter, the next on our list is Alta in Utah. With 85 km of skiable slopes, this resort packs in 105 trails and 12 lifts. Alta offers everything from ski school for the kids to mountain adventures and helicopter skiing for the thrill seekers. Alta also has 19 restaurants, 5 of which are even directly on the mountain for all your apres-ski needs. So what are you waiting for! Plan your next winter wonderland trip to this snowy mountainside. Total Ski Area: 85 km ///// Recommended For: All levels ///// Cost per km of slope: $1.12 5. Purgatory Resort, CO | $110 5. Purgatory Resort, CO $110 Head on down to the charming ski town of Durango, Colorado for our next top pick, Purgatory Resort. With 116 km of ski slopes, this resort is equipped with 119 runs and 6 lifts. Ski through the wide open mountain or check out one of their more challenging tree trails, Purgatory has so much to offer. Nestled along the San Juan Mountains you are sure to get your ski fix in this snowy town! Total Ski Area: 116 km ///// Recommended For: All levels ///// Cost per km of slope: $0.77 Purgatory Resort in Durango Colorado 6. Mt. Baker, WA $112 Mt. Baker is located in the North Cascades of Washington nestled on the border of Canada, this resort gets a whopping average snowfall of 663 inches, making it the perfect place for your next ski adventure. This expansive resort has a variety of 38 widely ranging trails on its 100 km of slopes, making it perfect for any type of skier. If you are looking for a ski season without having to break the bank, look no further than Mt. Baker! Total Ski Area: 100 km ///// Recommended For: All levels ///// Cost per km of slope: $0.89 7. Sugarloaf, ME $117 Sugarloaf is located in the heart of Carrabassett Valley, with 162 trails & glades on its 87 km of skiable slopes. Maine's Western Mountains surround this gem that holds the title of the second-tallest mountain in Maine! With 57% of its mountain dedicated to intermediate and beginner skiers, this is a great place to bring family and still be able to enjoy the 43% reserved for advanced and experts! Get ready for a trip of a lifetime that won’t leave holes in your pocket. Total Ski Area: 87 km ///// Recommended For: All levels ///// Cost per km of slope: $0.74 8. Mission Ridge, WA $125 Open since 1966, Mission Ridge is located 12 miles from Wenatchee, Washington. It is home to 100 km of skiing slopes on the Cascade Mountains. With only 10% of the trails labeled as easy, this is definitely not a mountain for the faint of heart. The chair lifts are equipped to carry over 4,900 skiers every hour to its 36 designated trails. Grab your skis and polls for a winter packed of skiing on a budget! Total Ski Area: 100 km ///// Recommended For: Intermediate to expert ///// Cost per km of slope: $0.80 9. Mt. Bachelor, OR $132 As the 6th largest ski resort in the US, Mt. Bachelors has 4,300 acres of terrain accessible by ski lift and 100 km of skiable slopes. Located in Oregon’s Central Cascades, Mt. Bachelor is actually on top of a shield volcano, making it a super unique skiing destination. This mountain has 101 runs and gets an average of 462 inches of snowfall every year. With over half its trails focused on more intermediate to expert slopes, Mt. Bachelor is definitely the place to go to get your ski on if you are a more seasoned skier. Total Ski Area: 100 km ///// Recommended For: Intermediate to expert ///// Cost per km of slope: $0.76 Mt. Bachelor, Oregon. Photo by Bobbushphoto, iStock. 10. Winter Park Resort, CO $135 With over 80 years of history, Winter Park Resort is the state's longest continually operated ski resort. Located in Winter Park Colorado about 66 miles from Denver and is argued the closest major destination resort to Denver’s International Airport. This resort has 23 lifts, 166 trails, and a summit of over 12,000 ft. With 26% reserved for beginner to intermediate and the remaining 72% for advanced to experts, Winter Park skiing is no joke! But with its expansive slopes covering 143 km the whole family is sure to find suitable slopes. Look no further than Winter Park Resort for your next snowy adventure. Total Ski Area: 143 km ///// Recommended For: Intermediate to expert ///// Cost per km of slope: $1.06 Winter Park, Colorado. Photo by bauhaus1000, iStock -------- Methodology: Holidu surveyed over 500 ski resorts in the United States and selected all with over 80 kilometers of slopes for the 2021/2022 Ski Price Index. The vacation rentals data was collected on 11/23/2021 from the Holidu database. The travel period 12/06/2021 - 12/27/2022 (high season) and 03/28/2022 - 04/25/2022 (low season) were considered. For the price analysis, an average was taken from the median weekly price of vacation rentals per person per night. The prices for ski passes were taken from the official websites of the ski resorts. Where seasonal prices for 2021/2022 were not available, prices for 2020/2021 were used as a reference. Ski resorts could not be considered if no ski pass prices were available for the ski resort. About Holidu Holidu’s mission is to finally make the search and booking of vacation rentals easy. Its search engine for vacation rentals allows travelers to book the ideal accommodation for the lowest price. The company also helps vacation rental owners multiply their bookings with less work through its software and service solution under the Bookiply brand. Brothers Johannes and Michael Siebers founded Holidu in 2014. The high-growth startup is headquartered in Munich and has local offices in the most attractive travel destinations in Europe and the US. For more information, see https://www.holidu.com and https://www.bookiply.com.

    Inspiration

    Rediscover Colorado: explore rugged Durango in any season

    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.

    Road Trips

    A 6-Day Trip Itinerary through Southwestern Colorado

    As a native-born Virginian, I've traveled up and down the East Coast, putting in time in the Midwest and the Southwest, and on the West Coast as well. But even though it's been high on my list for quite awhile, I'd never been to Colorado, so when the opportunity for a trip presented itself this summer, I couldn't help but jump at the chance. The plan was to cover as much ground as humanly possible in a week, starting in Denver and working my way southwest to Durango—and it was a good plan too, according to pretty much everyone but my mother. "How can they just give a New Yorker a car and turn them loose on those mountain roads?! You don't remember how to drive!" she wailed. Even though that was decidedly untrue, not to mention a base slander of my skills behind the wheel, I invited her to come along for the ride and put her mind at ease. Here's how we spent that week on the road. Day 1: Buena Vista We were due in Buena Vista for a lunch-and-whitewater-rafting date shortly after noon, but before we began the two-and-a-half-hour drive south, we made one last stop at Denver Central Market. After avocado and salmon toasts at Izzio Bakery, plus an almond croissant and a chocolate Kouign-Amann for good measure, we got going. And we were making decent time, too—at least until the two-lane US Highway 285 closed one lane for construction, and we sat in place for nearly an hour. The Arkansas River, as seen from the River Runners family float. (Maya Stanton) As it happened, though, the delay didn’t make much difference. I was scheduled for a half-day excursion through Browns Canyon with River Runners, a local operator with a pull-up bar and restaurant, but the Arkansas River was running so high that my guide shifted me to a more mellow family float. I had been looking forward to hitting the rapids, but between the mountain-studded scenery and the quickly moving currents, I was plenty happy with the trip I got. Back on dry land, we headed into town and checked in at the Surf Hotel, a 62-room property with a shared balcony—complete with rocking chairs—directly overlooking a stretch of the Arkansas. A quick change of clothes later and we were in Wesley & Rose, the lobby bar and restaurant, enjoying happy-hour cocktails, a mean cheese-and-charcuterie board, and bluegrass-tinged music from the four-piece band set up in the corner. Dinner from the Buena Viking food truck, parked at Deerhammer Distillery. (Maya Stanton) A full meal there wouldn’t have gone amiss, but we wanted to see more of Buena Vista itself, so we reluctantly closed our tab. Main Street was a 15-minute walk away and spanned just a few blocks; we paused at the Heritage Museum and its woolly mammoth sculpture and meandered past a busy ice cream shop before we reached our destination: Deerhammer Distilling Company, an artisan grain-to-glass operation bottling straight bourbon, corn and single-malt whiskies, and Dutch-style gin. We ordered a couple of drinks—the citrusy, cucumber-heavy Green Grind and a Moscow Mule made with whiskey instead of vodka—and split a cheeseburger and a boatload of tater tots from the onsite food truck. Full but not done yet, we stopped by the Jailhouse for one last pint before calling it a night; there was a chill in the air and the outdoor fire tables were going full blast, and the scene was so cozy it was tough to turn down another round. Home sweet home, just for one night. (Maya Stanton) But we were rewarded for our self-discipline, such as it was, and arrived back at the hotel just in time to catch the band’s closing number. As the small crowd applauded enthusiastically, we headed upstairs to bed, where the soothing sounds of rushing water soon carried us off to sleep. Day 2: Salida For breakfast the next morning, we made a quick stop at the Buena Vista Roastery Cafe for cortados and thick slices of chorizo, cheddar, and green-chile quiche, and then we were back in the car, bound for a cheesemaking class at Mountain Goat Lodge, about 20 miles south. Cheesemaking at Mountain Goat Lodge, a huge draw. (Maya Stanton) I won’t lie: Hanging out with some goats and learning to make cheese was a major motivating factor in planning this trip as a whole, and my class didn’t disappoint—even though I didn't manage to get there early enough to milk a goat beforehand. The B&B’s chief cheesemaker and co-proprietor, Gina Marcell, led our group of five through the process for chèvre and feta (our consensus, selected from a handful of options), offering copious samples along the way and allotting time with the animals towards the end of the morning. By the time we were finished, I was sourcing fresh goat’s milk in Brooklyn and bookmarking the equipment I’d need online, happily envisioning the concoctions I could create from the comfort of my home kitchen. Then it was on to Salida proper, and a 10-minute drive found us in the heart of downtown, a walkable district with small shops, restaurants, yoga studios, art galleries, and the Arkansas River running right through it all. We sat down at Currents for a satisfying yet somewhat incongruous lunch of green chili and tuna poke, then browsed through a few stores, coveting the great leather and home goods at Howl Mercantile & Coffee and scanning the shelves at the Book Haven before stumbling upon what was undoubtedly the find of the day. The varmints of Bungled Jungle. (Maya Stanton) It didn’t look like much at first glance—a stroller with a mannequin-like figure at the handle—but as we approached, we saw a human-sized purple creature with goofy ears and pink-tipped antennae, and within the stroller itself, a green three-headed baby monster that wouldn’t have been out of place in a Men In Black movie. We had come to the Bungled Jungle, the wildly creative world of local artisans Pat Landreth and Suzanne Montano. Regulars on the renaissance fair circuit, the two make Dr. Seuss-meets-Tim Burton–style varmints and kinetic steampunk sculptures from bits and bobs of mechanical detritus, and the showroom is a great repository of their work. (There’s no fee to enter, but the monsters and their people do accept tips for pics.) We barely had time to check in at our evening’s accommodations before dinner. Located a few minutes from downtown, Amigo Motor Lodge was built in 1958 and reopened in 2016 after a complete overhaul. It’s now a modern minimalist’s dream, with white walls, birch bed frames, subway-tiled bathrooms, and ridiculously comfortable Tuft & Needle mattresses. (There are also four Airstream trailers on the premises, if the concept of close quarters floats your boat.) We cleaned up and drove back to Salida’s historic center, managing to score a patio table at the Fritz with just a few minutes’ wait. It wasn’t exactly local fare, but the small plates were an all-around hit, from pickled quail eggs and grilled heads of romaine with dates and manchego to seared ahi wontons with spicy aioli and a heaping bowl of mussels and fries. We were finishing our meal just as the sun went down, and the cotton-candy sky was pretty much the icing on the cake. Day 3: The San Luis Valley and Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve One seriously good night’s sleep later (really, those mattresses are no joke), we were up and out the door, on the road by 7:00 am for the 90-minute drive to Zapata Ranch. A 103,000-acre working ranch with a 2,000-bison herd—1,800 free-roaming wild animals, give or take, and 300 cattle—the property is owned by the Nature Conservancy and open to visitors from March through October. Normally, only guests are allowed to take the two-hour bison tour, but we got a special dispensation to tag along, and when the herd crossed right in front of our SUV, it felt like the luckiest morning in recent memory. Cowboys on the move at Zapata Ranch. (Matt DeLorme/@ranchlands) After a simple sack lunch of cold sandwiches, chips, and Arnold Palmers on the ranch deck, we made our way to Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, some 15 minutes away. Designated an International Dark Sky Park in May of this year, this particular protected land is a striking anomaly: a towering stretch of sand, eroded from the mountains over thousands of years, with nary a wave in sight—unless you visit during the summer, that is, and the creeks are flowing in your favor. When there’s been ample snowmelt, the Medano spreads around the base of the dunes into a shallow stream, and the crowds come out to play, swimming, floating, and wading while the water levels hold. But that’s not the park’s only attraction. With hiking, camping, and ranger-led programs like “Great Women of Great Sand Dunes” and after-dark telescope viewing, there’s plenty to see and do year-round. Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve is a must-see. (Maya Stanton) Water in hand, we trekked out to the creek in the afternoon sun and got our feet wet before moving on to our next stop. The San Luis Valley is home to a number of kitschy roadside attractions, but the UFO Watchtower in Hooper was top of my list. Even before owner Judy Messoline built a viewing platform and opened her property to UFO-chasers back in 2000, the site was reportedly a hotbed of alien activity. According to sign on the premises quoting more than two dozen psychics, that’s thanks to two vortexes—energy-filled openings to a parallel universe—on the east side of the tower. There’s a small garden filled with knickknacks left by visitors hoping to harness some of that extraterrestrial energy, and a gift shop selling alien-themed gear; we paid our $5 entry fee, snapped a few photos, picked up a shot glass, and got back on the road. The yurts at Joyful Journey let you rough it without giving up all creature comforts. (Maya Stanton) Our final destination for the day was Joyful Journey Hot Springs Spa, a local hotspot—literally—in the shadow of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. A tranquil setup boasting three mineral-rich, non-sulfuric pools untouched by chlorine or other chemicals, it’s the polar opposite of the state’s more polished commercial springs, with $10 all-day soaks on Tuesdays and clothing-optional Wednesday evenings. It has a lodge, RV sites, tipis, and camping sites, but we opted for a yurt, decked out with a proper bed, a small seating area, and both a fan and a heater for hot days and cold nights. We spent some time hopping from pool to pool, making small talk with our fellow soakers, before grabbing a light supper of homemade soup and salad (complimentary with our stay). With blessedly little else to do, we unplugged and called it a night—until a few hours later, when we had to put on our shoes and venture out to the communal bathhouse. A chilly proposition to be sure, but well worth it for the unbelievable, light-pollution-free galactic display we witnessed on the way. Day 4: Pagosa Springs and Durango The following morning, I woke to the sun shining through our yurt’s domed skylight and a constellation of itchy bug bites covering my legs. As it turns out, standing in a field to take pictures of the sunset in just a robe and a bathing suit is....not a great idea, particularly in peak sand-fly season. But no matter—we had a fairly leisurely day, for a change, and I was determined to make the most of it. The road from Moffat to Pagosa Springs. (Maya Stanton) We set off west for the tiny town of Pagosa Springs, my mother nervously checking her GPS as she directed me through the precarious switchbacks of Highway 160, slowing us to a near-crawl as we approached Wolf Creek Pass, named the state’s most dangerous by the Durango Herald a few years back. Located some 18 miles east of Pagosa, with terrifying 200-foot drop-offs and frequent avalanches during the winter months, the pass isn’t to be attempted by inexperienced drivers when there’s snow on the ground. But we came out the other side of the San Juan Mountains into downtown Pagosa Springs without a scratch, following the curves of the San Juan River to the Springs Resort & Spa. A slick facility overlooking the river, with 23 geothermal pools—the most in the state, fed by the deepest geothermal hot spring in the world—as well as locker rooms, restaurants, bars, and a well-stocked gift shop, the Springs offered a decidedly different experience from what we’d encountered at Joyful Journey the night before. We compared and contrasted the two for a few hours, dipping in and out of pools of varying temperatures, before caving to our lunchtime cravings. Ultimately, we were bound for Durango, and on our way out of town, we stopped at Mee Hmong Cuisine for the midday special—giant chili-garlic shrimp and sweet-savory pork ribs, served with rice, salad or edamame, and vegetable summer rolls for just $12 a pop. It was a welcome change from the fare we’d had thus far, and we cleaned our plates accordingly. Back on 160 for another white-knuckling drive, we pulled into Durango an hour later, adrenaline still pumping as we navigated the city streets. The old Western movie–inspired Rochester Hotel was a sight for sore eyes, with film posters and memorabilia throughout the rooms and halls and a plate of fresh-baked cookies available for the taking. We collapsed in relief for a bit, then rallied for an evening out on the town. Right downstairs, a design store called Artesanos beckoned, all rustic-beamed ceilings and eclectic home furnishings, but luckily for both my bank account and my near-bursting suitcase, they were closing up shop for the day. Instead, we rolled down to Main Avenue, picking up tiny truffles from Animas Chocolate Co. and admiring the elegant paintings and delicate contemporary glass, pottery, jewelry, and sculpture from Karyn Gabaldon’s fine-art gallery. At Buckley Park, a crowd had gathered for the free Thursday-night concert, and the sidewalks were full of folks making the most of the sunny evening. We finally commandeered a table on the picturesque patio at Cyprus Café, right across the street from our hotel, tucking into meze like baba ghanoush, tzatziki, and grape leaves alongside super-cheesy stuffed poblanos in a smoky tomato brodo. Stretching our legs after our meal, we found ourselves outside of a small barbershop a few blocks away. A nattily dressed doorman asked us for the password, and as we uttered the magic words (found on the website a few hours earlier), he led us through a hidden door in a wall of books and into the Bookcase & Barber, a speakeasy with meticulously composed literary-themed craft cocktails. One Faulkner (a mint julep) and one Temple of the Sun (aji amarillo-infused pisco with tequila, guava, lemon, and ginger) later, and we were finally ready to call it a night. Day 5: Silverton and the San Juan Mountains On Friday, we were booked for an 8:00 am ride on the historic Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, so we were downstairs for French toast with powdered sugar, honey butter, and raspberry sauce by 7:00 sharp. Onboard, the circa-1880 train moved through town as people waved from balconies and backyards as we slowly but surely barreled past. As we chugged up the mountain, around alpine lakes and federally protected national forest, the best views were out the windows on the right—something to consider when you’re reserving your seats. The engine of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. (Maya Stanton)Forty-five miles and three-and-a-half hours later, we arrived in Silverton, an old mining town with a few blocks of hotels, restaurants, and shops. Our first stop was for spicy pork tacos at Avalanche Brewing Company, followed closely by a visit to K & C Traders, a jewelry store recommended by our train car’s attendant for its impressive array of Astorite, the pink-ore gemstones named for mine owner Jacob Astor IV. With a purchase under our belts, we picked up a snack of pulled pork and cornbread at Thee Pitts Again, a barbecue restaurant that once featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, before venturing down Greene Street to the new Wyman Hotel for a peek at the hipster-cool accommodations. The tiny town of Silverton is a mountain-lover's dream. (Maya Stanton) There, we met a representative from Durango who shuttled us back down the mountain via the the San Juan Skyway Scenic and Historic Byway, a 236-mile route that passes through the mountain towns of Telluride and Ouray before looping south to Mesa Verde National Park and Durango. We stopped off for a quick hike at Cascade Creek, a short trail with a sparkling waterfall dropping 150 into a swimming hole below, before hitting Purgatory Resort, a winter destination that transforms ski slopes into hiking and mountain-biking trails in the offseason. Before the park closed, we just managed to fit in a ride on the Inferno mountain coaster, a 4,000-foot-long trip that’s you personally control through a sequence of loops, drops, and switchbacks, all set against a backdrop of incredible mountain scenery. The thrill ride whetted our whistles, and our next stop was Nugget Bar for an après pint. A renovated cabin with fire pits and mountain views, it was just the thing to cap off a busy day—but we weren’t quite done yet. Back in Durango, we had reservations at Primus, a new restaurant on Main with a mouthwatering menu of wild game, fresh seafood, and local produce. Between the smoke-cured egg yolks and the tangy lemon and caper, our bison tartare was impeccable, and a salad with grilled turnips and seasonal berries provided a much-needed dose of green. A beautifully plated duck breast on white-corn and pancetta grits rounded out our meal, and we went to bed full and happy. Day 6: Mancos and Mesa Verde National Park Our final day in Colorado was a race against time. We left Durango at 6:30 am and were parking in front of Absolute Bakery, in the one-stoplight town of Mancos, by the time it opened at 7. We dashed in and grabbed coffee and potato-and-egg strudels (one Greek with tomato, feta, spinach, and kalamata olives, one southwest with cheddar, ham, and green chile) to go, jumping back in the car as quickly as possible. We were rushing to make it to Mesa Verde National Park—a UNESCO World Heritage site that served as home to the Ancestral Pueblo people for some 700 years, boasting thousands of archaeological marvels at altitudes of 7,000 to 8,500 feet—for an 8:00 tour, and it was always going to be tight timing, especially given the terrifying, cliff-hugging 45-minute drive from the park entrance to the tour’s departure point at Far View Lodge. But we pulled into the lot with mere minutes to spare, joining our group in a small van for an extensive four-hour deep-dive into the park’s most important historical sites. Led by a National Association for Interpretation guide, the tour proceeded in chronological order from the footprint of a circa-AD 600 Pithouse village—the earliest recorded in human history—to the Pueblo-era cliff dwellings from the 13th century. The crowning moment was the descent to the magnificent Cliff Palace, the largest cliff dwelling in the park and a truly stunning site to behold. Mesa Verde's Cliff Palace is simply stunning. (Maya Stanton) After a trip down from the plateau that was just as nail-biting—and thankfully, just as uneventful—as the trip up, we set our sights on the Canyon of the Ancients Museum in Dolores, a little less than 60 miles to the north. Operated by the Bureau of Land Management, with fascinating exhibits on local history and Native American culture as well as two 12th-century sites and a nature trail offering expansive skyline views from its peak, the small archaeological museum made the short detour worthwhile. Our final meal in Colorado. (Maya Stanton) From there, we backtracked to Mancos for a leisurely stroll through the tiny historic downtown district. The sidewalks were deserted and the boutiques and galleries were mostly closed, but we window-shopped our way down the street nonetheless. The highly rated Olio, a gallery-restaurant-wine bar hybrid, was our first-choice dinner option, but the cozy space didn’t have any seats available, so we found our way to the Fenceline Cider taproom and wrapped our trip on a casual note. We would depart from Durango the next morning, so over flights of hard cider and basic, tasty Greek fare—gyros and salads from the food truck stationed at the entrance—we toasted to a most successful journey. It had truly been a heck of a week.

    Budget Travel Lists

    Travel by Train: 7 Awesome Routes for Seeing the U.S.A.

    When you're not in a rush to get to your destination, there's no better way to travel than by the slow, steady pace of a train. Though often associated with a European vacation, there are plenty of scenic and adventurous rail routes that you can take right here in—and across—the United States. Train travel offers an up-close look at your very own backyard, whether you're chugging along through the mountains or unhurriedly making your way through the scenic Northeast—all for a price that's often lower than a flight. Ready to see the country by rail? Here are seven train trips that can’t be beat. 1. Adirondack: An International Journey, With Landscape Views Take the stress out of an international flight and climb aboard Amtrak’s Adirondack (amtrak.com/adirondack-train), which takes leaves from Manhattan’s Penn Station and arrives in Montreal less than 11 hours later. The train winds its way through the Hudson Valley’s wine country and the farms of Albany and the Adirondack Mountains. It’s an especially popular route for leaf peepers during the fall, as the already breathtaking scenery is painted in glorious shades of orange, red and brown. (For prime views, make your way up to the dome car.) And pro tip: Since this is an international route, be sure to pack your passport. One-way tickets start at $70. 2. Pacific Surfliner: California Dreaming Surf the coast by rail on Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner (pacificsurfliner.com), which takes you through 351 miles of beautiful southern California. The golden coast journey starts in San Diego and ends in San Luis Obispo, stopping in SoCal hotspots like Anaheim, Los Angeles, Carpinteria, Ventura, Santa Barbara, and San Juan Capistrano. The train tracks hug the Pacific coast and riders can often spot dolphins, California sea lions, and even whales—right from the comfort of their seats. The Pacific Surfliner includes a café car—with plenty of wine options—as well as a bike rack, so you can easily take your wheels and hit the trails as soon as you hop off the train. One-way tickets start at $61.25. 3. Sunset Limited: Watch the Dynamic Southwest Change Before Your Eyes Amtrak’s southern-most route, Sunset Limited (amtrak.com/sunset-limited-train), takes riders on a 48-hour scenic journey of the American southwest, from New Orleans all the way to Los Angeles. From the bayou to the canyons of southwestern Texas to the California mountains, pass through scenery that’s largely inaccessible by car, so have your camera out and be ready to capture it from your seat. Though this route doesn’t take you to into the national parks, the train will stop at their doorsteps. As part of a partnership between the National Parks Service and Amtrak, a national parks guide will often be on board to explain the changing vistas and landscapes as you slowly make your way through, which is all part of a partnership between Amtrak and the National Parks Service. One-way tickets start at $314. 4. Grand Canyon Railway: An American Natural Wonder Awaits Avoid the traffic of Grand Canyon National Park and ride to the iconic destination in style on the Grand Canyon Railway (thetrain.com). The round-trip train route, which takes a little over two hours, begins in Williams, Arizona, and arrives inside Grand Canyon National Park, giving riders plenty of time to explore before heading back in the afternoon. On the journey, riders are lucky enough to get magnificent views of the Ponderosa Pine Forest in Williams, the wide-open prairies, and the San Francisco peaks, all while marveling at (and feeling) the change in elevation. Travelers can also often catch glimpses of wildlife such as elk, mountain lions, and bald eagle throughout the trip. Round-trip ticket prices from $70 to $226. 5. Napa Valley Wine Train: A Toast to the Vineyards of California Just when you think that being in Napa Valley couldn’t get more elegant, the Napa Valley Wine Train (winetrain.com)—a beautifully restored 100-year-old railcar—makes any visit to wine country even more indulgent. The train’s route is short—just 30 miles from downtown Napa to St. Helena—but it’s an unforgettable way to view the vineyards as you ride through California farmland, all while holding a glass of wine in your hand. You can choose between a three- or six-hour trip, depending on whether you want a tasting tour, or a gourmet, multi-course meal served on board during your journey. And of course, there is plenty of wine tasting to be had while you’re chugging along. Ticket packages start at around $200. 6. Vermonter: A Breathtaking Trip Along the Eastern Seaboard Watch the New England landscape shift from big cities to beautiful pastoral scenes on Amtrak’s Vemonter train (amtrak.com/vermonter-train), which runs daily service between Washington D.C. and St. Albans, a small town in northern Vermont. The trip, which clocks in at just under 14 hours, winds through all the east coast highlights: the big metropolises of New York City, Philadelphia, and Baltimore and the quaint countryside of Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. The Vermonter not only provides unbelievable views out your passenger window of skyscrapers, farmland, beautiful churches, and sweeping valleys, but it’s also a great source of transportation for skiers, as it provides easy access to resorts like Bolton Valley and Sugarbush. One-way tickets start at $74. 7. Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad: A Vintage Steam-Powered Journey Through Colorado Step back in time and experience Colorado’s beauty on the coal-fired, steam-powered Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Train (durangotrain.com), which offers service between the two mountain towns. The train trip, 3.5 hours each way, allows passengers to eat lunch and explore the former mining town for a couple of hours before heading back to Durango. Along the way, riders can glimpse canyons along the Animas River and the plentiful spruces of the San Juan National Forest as the train steadily chugs along through the changing elevation levels. Riders can also opt to be dropped off to fish and hike at secluded locations that are inaccessible by car. Round-trip tickest start at $89.

    Adventure

    A Locals' Guide to Outdoor Adventures in Durango, CO

    Ask anyone who lives in Durango, CO, and they’ll tell you that it’s a place where you can get more: More trails within city limits than any other town in the state, more time with family, more time on the trails, rivers, and ski slopes. Just a short drive from the airport, visitors can find nearly infinite vacation opportunities right in town and in the surrounding area, from natural wonders like the San Juan Mountains to rich culture encompassing traditional Native American and Southwestern traditions, a dose of “wild west” history, and a deep culinary scene that will satisfy any appetite. That array of vacation options is one of the reasons that Budget Travel named Durango one of our 10 Coolest Small Towns in America 2018. When we take a look at Durango’s “sweet spot” on the map—on the western slope of the Rocky Mountains, offering awe-inspiring 360-degree views, Southwestern sun, and hundreds of miles of trails—we’re inspired to ask some locals for their best outdoor adventure recommendations. With that in mind, we turned to three exceptional Durango outfitters for their “locals know best” secrets—where to bike, paddle, and ride, then grab a bite to eat in and around this mountain paradise. Adventure at Your Doorstep “We’ve got exceptional trailhead development right in town,” says John Glover, manager of Mountain Bike Specialists. “That means you can easily reach trails that cover hundreds of miles in the surrounding mountains—visitors don’t usually have that back home.” With the San Juan National Forest to the north and the Animas River running right through city limits, Durango delivers adventure right to you. All you have to do it step in. Road & Mountain Biking Plenty of visitors come to Durango just for the incredible cycling opportunities, and the town is home to one of the oldest cycling advocacy groups in the U.S. Whether you’re into road biking or fat tires or you’re still a beginner, the Durango area offers plenty to keep you busy. “We recommend that newcomers start out on the Horse Gulch Trail system right in town,” says John Glover, because it’s an easy system that allows cyclists to evaluate their skills and comfort level before trying other local trails. “More experienced cyclists may want to try the Colorado Trail, which starts up in the nearby mountains and ends in Durango.” When I asked Glover where an inexperienced cyclist might start (asking for a friend, of course), he suggested the Animas River Trail, a paved trail that runs from the north end of town to the south, a great way to get to know Durango on two wheels. Watersports Durango and its surrounding area offer ample opportunities for hitting the water, from family-friendly lakefront such as Vallecito Lake to thrilling whitewater rafting on the Animas River. Guided tours of the Animas River range from one hour to most of the day. “The Animas is a great place for people to experience whitewater for the first time,” says David Moler, owner and guide of Durango Rivertrippers & Adventure Tours, which offers two- and four-hour guided river tours. The Animas is rated Class III rapids on a scale of I to V. “It’s a good all-around family-friendly rafting experience,: says Moler. His trips “put in” on the north side of town, near City Market, and “take out” on the south side, near Home Depot, but because Durango Rivertrippers & Adventure Tours has a tribal permit, they are also allowed to continue rafting downstream all the way to beautiful Basin Creek. The whitewater rafting experience is safe and fun, and some paddlers like to navigate the river via whitewater kayaks, which are shorter than those used on lakes or open water. Horseback Riding With San Juan National Forest as its backyard, Durango plays host to some of the finest horseback riding in the U.S. With old west heritage and history at your elbow and great riding outfitters around the corner, you’ve got to hit the trail! A guided horseback tour of the San Juan National Forest is unforgettable. We caught up with Anne Rapp, of Rapp Corral, and asked her to share her favorite place to send visitors on horseback. “Pine River Trail,” she says. “It’s in the wilderness without mountain bike usage,” meaning the horses will feel that they have the trail to themselves. If you’re not quite up for riding but want a classic western horse-related adventure, book a carriage ride that begins at the front steps of Durango’s classic Strater Hotel and takes you up into the mountains. More Outdoor Fun With so many miles of trail accessible from town, hiking is, of course, always a good idea. Most of the areas mentioned above for cyclists and horseback riding are also popular with day hikers and backpackers alike. Climbing is also popular up in the San Juan Mountains, and sportsmen prize the opportunities for fishing and hunting in the greater Durango region. Some visitors just want to pile into the car and explore the San Juan Skyway from Durango to Ouray. Others will want to hop a ride on the coal-fired, steam-driven Durango & Silverton Narrow-Gauge Railroad through San Juan National Forest, originally built for the cowboys and miners who populated the towns. Book a scenic Jeep tour in Silverton, and don’t miss Mesa Verde National Park, a little over a half-hour outside of Durango, where you can take a ranger-led tour of the Ancestral Pueblo people’s cliff dwellings and other important sites. Anne Rapp offers some practical suggestions for outdoor adventurers visiting Durango: “Be prepared for different weather conditions, bring layers everywhere you go, a good pair of walking shoes, a change of clothes in the car, and ample snacks and water in case the road or the trail draws you farther along—after all, nothing is holding you back!” Food & Drink When your day’s outdoor adventure is done, you’re going to want to tuck into some great chow and raise a glass, right? More than 100 local restaurants serve up a wide variety of cuisines, something for every taste. John Glover recommends Carver Brewing Company (everyone in town calls it “Carver’s”) for craft beer and affordable, cosmopolitan cuisine that uses local greens and meats. Moler is partial to Diamond Belle Saloon, at the Strater Hotel, not just because of the great food but also because “it feels like stepping back in time.” Anne Rapp heartily recommends Serious Texas and Zia for their affordable prices and great fare. Lodging Whether you’re looking for an iconic hotel experience such as the Strater, or a home rental, cabin, RV hookup, or traditional campsite, Durango has something to suit your needs. Visit Durango.org to start planning your outdoor adventure in one of the Coolest Small Towns in America! Budget Travel has produced this article for Durango, Colorado. All editorial views are those of Budget Travel alone and reflect our policy of editorial independence and impartiality.

    Road Trips

    Colorado's San Juan Skyway

    Fasten your seat belts, folks. We're headed into southwestern Colorado's "skyway" country. If you like roller coasters, this is the drive for you. Edging potentially perilous drop-offs, the roads we'll navigate soar, plunge, and twist in tight curves mile after mile. Many of you are apt to get a bit rattled (I always do). But the reward is some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in America. Fortunately, you don't have to pay theme park prices for the scenic thrills. This roller-coaster adventure-a four-day, 1,000-mile excursion into the massive San Juan Mountains-definitely rates as budget travel. Expect to pay from $50 to $80 a night in a good chain motel. And dine cheaply on the local ranch-house staples: juicy prime rib and sizzling grilled steaks. A range of the Rocky Mountains, the San Juans boast more than a dozen peaks that rise to above 14,000 feet. Sprawling across 10,000 square miles, they make a majestic but sometimes intimidating realm best seen on a 233-mile loop called the San Juan Skyway. An officially designated U.S.D.A. Forest Service Scenic Byway, it climbs in dizzying switchbacks over 11,008-foot Red Mountain Pass-the high point on the loop. In late spring when I last tackled the ascent, the summits around me were still cloaked with snow. Break up the drive with plenty of outdoor action. Hike, bicycle, go white-water rafting or kayaking, fish, ride a horse, try rock climbing. This is the place for it. Getting started Denver's low airfares are not surprising. It is served by several discount airlines: America West, ATA (American Trans Air), Frontier, JetBlue, and Spirit Airlines. Another incentive to book into Denver is that car-rental rates there tend to be cheaper. Using the Internet, the least expensive rental I could find in Montrose cost about $40 more a week than a similar rental in the Colorado capital. Many of the rental agencies in Montrose impose a mileage limit, which also might have added to my cost. For a one-week, midsummer rental of an economy-class car out of Denver, the various national car-rental brands quoted between $150 and $200 (with unlimited mileage). (Lodging rates below are for two people for one night during the peak summer season.) Day oneOn the road Denver via Glenwood Springs to Grand Junction, 265 miles. As your plane descends into Denver, take a look at the peaks rising west of the city-in about an hour, that's where you'll be! Usually I try to avoid interstates, but I-70 treats you to a dazzling introduction to the Rockies. About 60 miles west of Denver, the highway climbs to above 11,000 feet as it passes through the Eisenhower Memorial Tunnel, reputedly the highest auto tunnel in the world. Beyond is the famous ski resort of Vail; stretch your legs as you stroll along its ersatz alpine streets. I-70 snakes alongside a number of tumbling streams, but it's the Colorado River that puts on the best show as it races for a dozen miles through the steep rock walls of Glenwood Canyon. A thrilling drive; you can almost imagine you're bouncing down the river on a white-water raft. Take another break at the giant hot-spring pool (adults, $13) in the center of Glenwood Springs, a bustling resort town. Flat-topped mesas line I-70 as it follows the Colorado River down the western slope of the Rockies to Grand Junction. Details From the Denver airport, take I-70 west to Grand Junction. Stay in Grand Junction at the 100-room Motel 6 (970/243-2628), $50 weekdays/$60 weekends; 132-room Super 8 (970/248-8080), $69; or the 107-room Days Inn (970/245-7200), $71 weekdays/$77 weekends. Dine at W.W. Peppers, offering an upscale look and budget prices. Information: 800/962-2547, www.visitgrandjunction.com. Day twoAncient paths Grand Junction via Montrose, Telluride, and Cortez to Mesa Verde National Park, 270 miles. A 2,000-foot-high mesa, cut by deep canyons, towers above Grand Junction. This is Colorado National Monument ($5 per car), a landscape of sculpted red rock. Rim Rock Drive edges the mesa, yielding panoramic views. Cold Shivers Point is aptly named, you will agree, when you peer into the canyon depths below. Give yourself an hour at the park before heading south to the San Juans. On the southern outskirts of Montrose, stop briefly at the excellent Ute Indian Museum (adults, $3). Much of Colorado was once the homeland of the Ute tribe, many of whose members now reside on a pair of reservations near Mesa Verde. You will cross Ute paths often on this drive. The early life of these deer and buffalo hunters is illustrated with a first-class display of artifacts, including an eagle-feather headdress, a buckskin dress, and beautiful beadwork. The museum is located on what was the farm of Chief Ouray, who headed the Ute Nation from 1868 until his death in 1880. To the Utes, the San Juans were "the Shining Mountains." You can see them directly ahead as you leave the museum, an intimidating wall of jagged peaks that seem impenetrable. The San Juan Skyway officially begins in Ridgway. You can make the loop in either direction; I prefer counterclockwise because this way you ease more gently into the sky-high country. Counterclockwise, then, the approach to Telluride, a popular winter ski resort, traces the San Miguel River through the deep red walls of a winding canyon. The town itself is tucked near the end of the canyon. Actually, there are two towns here: Telluride, the attractively preserved historic mining town in the valley, and Mountain Village, a cluster of luxury hotels and homes high above town on the resort's ski slopes. They are linked by a free gondola that makes the climb from old to new in 13 minutes. Board one of the eight-passenger cars for a terrific view from the top. The gondola operates daily from 7 a.m. to midnight. In Telluride browse the offbeat shops housed in ornate Victorian-era brick and wood structures. Hike the easy River Corridor Trail, which meanders through town to a beaver preserve. And then continue for a mile or so to the canyon's end, where Bridal Veil Falls cascades down the cliff into town. Afterward, enjoy a reasonably priced sandwich at funky Baked in Telluride. Out of Telluride, Colorado Route 145 climbs through a chilly, tundra-like landscape over 10,222-foot Lizard Head Pass, named for an odd-shaped pinnacle. And then it drops slowly from the summit, following the splashing Dolores River through rolling green meadows to the desert-like country of Dolores and Cortez. Stop just south of Dolores at the Anasazi Heritage Center ($3), a museum operated by the Bureau of Land Management. It preserves hundreds of clay pots, yucca-fiber sandals, and other artifacts collected from Anasazi villages. Now on to Mesa Verde National Park ($10 per car). Steep switchbacks climb from the Montezuma Valley to the top of the green mesa at about 8,500 feet. This was home to many Ancestral Puebloans from about a.d. 550 to a.d. 1300. Surely they were as awed by the distant views from this elevated perch as I always am. The two most impressive ruins are Cliff Palace and Balcony House. To see them, you have to join a ranger-led tour. Tickets for each cost $2.50 at the Far View Visitor Center. Getting in and out of both requires some agility and no fear of heights. The Ancestral Puebloans built their lodgings in nearly inaccessible cave-like ledges on the sides of high cliffs for protection from their enemies. To reach them, tourists do as the Ancestral Puebloans did. Stone steps cut into the side of a canyon wall descend through a narrow crevice to the floor of Cliff Palace, the largest cliff dwelling in North America. Once it housed 200 people in more than 100 rooms but was vacated in the fourteenth century, perhaps because of prolonged drought. Exiting is a similar scramble. You edge up stone steps through another tight crevice, and then you climb a series of two 10-foot-tall ladders placed one atop the other up the canyon wall. Don't look down. No tickets are required for a look at Spruce Tree House, which is considered the park's best-preserved cliff dwelling. But you do have to negotiate a steep path down and up. The third largest of Mesa Verde's cliff dwellings, it contains about 100 rooms and eight ceremonial chambers called kivas-a sort of cylindrical pit. You can descend by ladder into one of the kivas. I like to stay at the park's mesa-top Far View Lodge, which is well named. From my balcony, I watch the lights pop on at scattered ranch houses in the valley far below. On one visit, deer browsed outside my balcony. This time, a pair of wild horses meandered past. Details From Grand Junction, take U.S. 50 southeast via Delta to Montrose. Continue south on U.S. 550 to Ridgway, connecting to Colorado Route 62 west to Placerville. Head southeast on Colorado 145 to Telluride. Pick up Colorado 145 again and angle southwest to Cortez. Take U.S. 160 east to Mesa Verde. For a scenic splurge, stay in Mesa Verde at the 115-room Far View Lodge (800/449-2288), $102 to $134. Dine at the Far View Terrace Food Court, a cafeteria. If Far View is out of your price range, stay in Cortez at the 85-room Days Inn (970/565-8577), $60 to $70; or the 58-room Super 8 (970/565-8888), $75. Information: 800/253-1616, www.mesaverdecountry.com. Day threeBoomtown days Mesa Verde via Durango, Silverton, and Ouray to Montrose, 160 miles. Spend the morning exploring more of Mesa Verde before heading back into the San Juans. From Durango, the road climbs quickly to Coal Bank Pass at 10,660 feet. Even in midsummer, the air can be chilly. Ahead the cliff's-edge road crests 10,899-foot Molas Pass. On the descent, you can see Silverton far below, set in a small, bowl-like valley. Once a rowdy boomtown of bars and brothels, the old silver-mining town of Silverton (elevation 9,318 feet) seems rather sedate these days, although it still retains a rough frontier look. Swirls of dust, kicked up by frosty breezes, whip across the unpaved side streets, and Victorian-era wood and brick buildings-housing shops and caf,s-possess a properly weathered look. Overhead, the treeless summits of craggy peaks snag passing clouds. Silverton is the terminus of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad (adults, $60), a tourist train that (depending on the season) makes one or more slow but spectacular ascents daily from Durango. Tooting its whistles, the steam engine pulls a string of bright-yellow coach cars. It rolls into the center of town delivering a flood of chattering families who liven things up temporarily. Steady your nerves now, because the next 23 miles over 11,008-foot Red Mountain Pass to Ouray can make your heart race. Carved out of the side of the mountain, the road carries you in more tight switchbacks from one precipice to the next. Around curves, the speed limit drops to 15 mph; believe me, I am never tempted to exceed this reasonable pace. Recover in Ouray's giant hot-spring pool ($8). Complete the San Juan Skyway loop in Ridgway and double back to Montrose. If it's still daylight, head for nearby Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park ($7 per car). The park is named for a deep, dark, and narrow gorge cut by the Gunnison River. Because it is so deep-a drop of 2,000 feet from rim to river-and so narrow, it is wrapped in heavy shadows for much of the day. From the visitor center, South Rim Road skirts the edge of the manzanita- and sagebrush-lined canyon for seven miles. Sixteen overlooks provide splendid views into the depths, where the pale-green Gunnison splashes in white-water frenzy. Details From Mesa Verde, take U.S. 160 east to Durango, connecting to U.S. 550 north to Montrose. Stay in Montrose at the 42-room Super 8 (970/249-9294), $67; the 51-room San Juan Inn (888/681-4159), $69; or the 46-room Days Inn (970/249-3411), $69 weekdays/$79 weekends. Feast on a $9 top-sirloin steak at Starvin' Arvin's. Information: 800/873-0244, www.visitmontrose.net. Day fourWinter wilderness Montrose to Denver, 315 miles. Lots of miles today, but plenty of great scenery makes them pass quickly. Outside Montrose, U.S. 50 passes through Curecanti National Recreation Area, which encompasses three sparkling blue reservoirs formed when the Gunnison River was dammed. Fishing, boating, and windsurfing are top sports here. In summer, the National Park Service offers 90-minute boat rides ($10) from Morrow Point Reservoir into the Black Canyon. For details: 970/641-2337. Ahead lies one more climb into the Rockies. In yet more cliff's-edge switchbacks, the road crests Monarch Pass at 11,312 feet. Snowy peaks march into the distance, a year-round winter-like wilderness that is as beautiful as any landscape on this drive. Back down the mountain, U.S. 50 enters Bighorn Sheep Canyon. Here the road runs for about 50 miles alongside the Arkansas River as it weaves through the narrow rock chasm. A part of the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, this is prime white-water rafting and kayaking country. You will find picnic tables at several key spots ($2), where you can watch the watercraft splash past. Now head back to Denver, skirting the edge of the Rampart Range. In Colorado Springs, that lofty mountain over-shadowing the city to the west is Pikes Peak. If you've got time, drive to the top for a final sky-high view. Details From Montrose, take U.S. 50 east to Penrose, connecting to Colorado 115 north to Colorado Springs. On the city's outskirts, jog east on Colorado 83 to I-25 north. At exit 194 take E-470 ($5 toll) to the Denver airport. Catch a late-afternoon flight home, or spend the night at the airport's 101-room Super 8 Motel (303/371-8300, $55). Dine at the Moonlight Diner; the T-bone steak plate, $13.25.

    ADVERTISEMENT
    ADVERTISEMENT

    More Places to go

    DESTINATION IN Colorado

    Silverton

    The historic Town of Silverton is the Statutory Town that is the county seat, the most populous community, and the only incorporated municipality in San Juan County, Colorado, United States. The town is located in a remote part of the western San Juan Mountains, a range of the Rocky Mountains. The first mining claims were made in mountains above the Silverton in 1860, near the end of the Colorado Gold Rush and when the land was still controlled by the Utes. Silverton was established shortly after the Utes ceded the region in the 1873 Brunot Agreement, and the town boomed from silver mining until the Panic of 1893 led to a collapse of the silver market, and boomed again from gold mining until the recession caused by the Panic of 1907. The entire town is included as a federally designated National Historic Landmark District, the Silverton Historic District. Originally called "Bakers Park", Silverton sits in a flat area of the Animas River valley and is surrounded by steep peaks. Most of the peaks surrounding Silverton are thirteeners, the highest being Storm Peak, at 13,487 feet. The town is less than 15 miles from 7 of Colorado's 53 fourteeners, and is known as one of the premier gateways into the Colorado backcountry. Silverton's last operating mine closed in 1992, and the community now depends primarily on tourism and government remediation and preservation projects. Silverton is well known because of the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, a former mine train that is now a National Historic Landmark, and internationally recognized events such as the Hardrock Hundred Mile Endurance Run. The town population reached 637 in the U.S. Census 2010.