Enjoy Durango Nature: Top Outdoor Activities and Sights


This guide covers Durango’s top natural attractions and adventures, from family-friendly hikes to heart-pounding whitewater rafting on the Animas River. Read on to plan your Durango vacation filled with scenic drives, hot springs soaks, wildlife watching, and more.


  • Durango Nature Colorado delivers endless outdoor adventures like mountain biking, skiing, hiking, rafting, camping, fishing, and wildlife watching.
  • Visitors can explore historic sites like Mesa Verde National Park and soak in scenic hot springs.
  • The area offers activities for all ages and ability levels year-round.

Destination Overview

Durango nature encompasses the diverse public lands surrounding the city, granting access to the San Juan National Forest, Weminuche Wilderness, and segments of the Colorado Trail. The region spans alpine forests, high-mountain lakes, cascading waterfalls, winding canyons, and the Animas River Valley. Visitors delight in the small-town charm of Durango and its lively arts and culture scene.

The unique geography allows for an ever-changing roster of seasonal activities. In the winter, skiers and snowboarders flock to Purgatory Resort, while snowshoers and Nordic skiers venture into quiet, powder-coated forests. When wildflowers bloom in the spring and summer, hikers traverse trails to Ice Lake and the Colorado Trail, mountain bikers charge down single-track, and rafters run rapids on the Animas River. Vibrant fall foliage sets the stage for climbers ascending the steep walls of the San Juan Mountains.

Outdoor Adventures

The spectrum of outdoor adventures captivates thrill-seekers, families, and everyone in between. Backcountry skiers earn fresh tracks down powder stashes in the San Juan Mountains. Adrenaline junkies ride the steep slopes of Purgatory Resort and charge downhill on legendary mountain bike trails like Hermosa Creek. Serene fall days invite stand-up paddleboarding at Electra Lake, road cycling the rural byways, and climbing.

Lakes, rivers, and natural hot springs provide the backdrop for fishing, paddling, and relaxing in Durango. Families float down mild sections of the Animas River, and anglers cast for rainbow trout or kokanee salmon on the crystalline waters of Vallecito Lake. You can also soak in the revitalizing waters of Pinkerton Hot Springs, perched high in the San Juan Mountains.

As a result of spring runoff, sections downstream on the Animas River offer Class III-IV rapids for whitewater rafters and kayakers. Many outfitters provide rentals and guides for rafting, kayaking, paddleboarding, and more.

Wildlife and Nature

Abundant wildlife, ever-changing scenery, and protected wilderness paint Durango as an outdoor photographer’s paradise. Deer, elk, black bear, mountain goats, and over 200 species of birds inhabit the San Juan National Forest and surrounding areas.

Prime locations to spot wildlife include Haviland Lake, the Colorado Trail, and the Weminuche Wilderness. Fall photographers capture the golden canopy of aspen trees, while spring photographers capture the wildflowers blanketing alpine meadows. During winter, ice and snow transform waterfalls like Cascade Falls into frozen works of art.

Historical and Cultural Landmarks

Beyond a wealth of outdoor recreation, Durango offers visitors opportunities to immerse themselves in regional history and culture. The downtown historic district comes alive with art galleries, boutique shops, performing arts venues, microbreweries, and restaurants dishing up Southwestern cuisine.

Ride the antique steam engine on the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. Built in 1882, this railroad transports passengers in vintage railcars along breathtaking high-country scenery. As the train rolls along steep canyon walls, passengers feel as if time stands still, much like it did for the miners and settlers who forged this mountain region.

History buffs can also explore the cliff dwellings left behind by ancestral Puebloan peoples at Mesa Verde National Park. Mesa Verde protects over 4,000 archaeological sites, including 600 of the ancient Puebloan cliff dwellings. Visitors marvel at the well-preserved structures honoring this ancient culture. Along with the railroad, this touchpoint reveals the area’s cultural narrative forged through generations of Native Americans, explorers, miners, and rugged individualists.

Trails and Hiking

Over 600 miles of trails allow hikers to discover new vantage points, secluded lakes, thundering waterfalls, and backcountry wilderness. Family-friendly routes include the Animas River Trail and Engineer Mountain, rewarding hikers with panoramic views.

For long-distance trekkers, the Colorado Trail and Continental Divide Trail pass through the region, linking Durango to hundreds more miles of trails. Avid hikers also venture deep into the Weminuche Wilderness to ascend peaks like Windom and Sunlight. Most trails offer access from June through September, with lower elevations often open year-round.

Relaxation and Wellness

After an active day outdoors, Durango visitors restore body and mind with scenic drives, camping getaways, and natural hot springs. Soaking in the geothermal waters of Pinkerton works wonders after hiking, biking, or skiing.

Scenic byways like the San Juan Skyway, Trail of the Ancients, and Million Dollar Highway link tranquil towns and roadside attractions. Dispersed camping on public lands provides the perfect setting for stargazing free from light pollution. Electra Lake offers a serene basecamp to escape into nature’s embrace.


What is the best time of year to visit Durango Nature Colorado?

Durango enjoys four distinct seasons, each offering different outdoor recreation. Summer provides peak hiking and water-based activities, while winter focuses on skiing and snowshoeing. Spring and fall are ideal times for sightseeing, fishing, camping, and avoiding crowds.

Where are the best places to see fall colors in Durango?

The San Juan National Forest delivers vibrant displays of golden aspens each fall. Top spots include Coal Bank and Molas Pass, the Colorado Trail, and county roads like CR 250 off Highway 550. Peak colors usually occur in early October.

What section of the Animas River is best for rafting with kids?

The most popular family-friendly stretch is the Lower Animas, running from 33rd Street in Durango to the takeout at Santa Rita Park. This Class I-II section has mellow rapids suitable for ages 5 and up. Many outfitters offer half-day trips.

Can I mountain bike in Durango if I’m a beginner?

Yes! Easy mountain bike trails like Horse Gulch cater to riders of all abilities. Purgatory Resort also offers a range of green and blue downhill trails accessed via the bike park lift. Rentals and lessons are available in town.

Where does the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad take passengers?

This historic steam train transports riders 45 miles along the Animas River between Durango and Silverton. Passengers can take the train one-way or round trip back to Durango. The railroad operates daily from May through October.

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About the author

Simone Weisman

My deep appreciation for nature and active living strongly aligns with the vibrant outdoor culture of Colorado. My enjoyment of yoga, hiking, and exploring scenic trails provides me with a unique perspective that I bring to ReadyColorado.com. This personal passion enriches my ability to connect with and inspire our audience, whether they’re local residents or visitors seeking to explore all that Colorado has to offer.