La Plata County, Colorado: Economy, Culture, and Nature


La Plata County, Colorado, is located in the southwestern corner of the state and is home to approximately 55,000 residents. This diverse and vibrant county offers a unique blend of natural beauty, rich history, and economic opportunity.


  • La Plata County encompasses 1,700 square miles of diverse landscapes, from the San Juan Mountains to the high desert plains.
  • The county's economy is driven by tourism, agriculture, and natural resource extraction, with a growing focus on renewable energy and technology.
  • La Plata County is rich in cultural and historical significance, with a strong Native American heritage and many historic sites and landmarks.

Geographical Essence of La Plata County

La Plata County is situated in the heart of the Four Corners region, bordering New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah. The county’s diverse landscape includes:

  • The rugged San Juan Mountains to the north offer world-class skiing, hiking, and outdoor recreation opportunities.
  • The high desert plains to the south are home to ancient ruins, unique geological formations, and diverse wildlife.
  • The Animas River flows through the county and provides water for agriculture, recreation, and municipal use.

The county’s climate is characterized by cool summers and cold winters, with average temperatures ranging from the mid-20s in January to the mid-80s in July.

Demographics and Population Dynamics

As of 2021, La Plata County’s population was estimated at 55,638, with a growth rate of 5.5% since 2010. The county’s population is:

  • 86.5% White, 11.8% Hispanic or Latino, 1.2% Native American, 0.5% Asian, and 0.2% Black or African American.
  • The median age is 40.1 years, with 20.5% of the population under 18 and 18.5% over 651.
  • The median household income is $64,372, with 9.1% of the population living below the poverty line.

The county’s housing market is diverse, with a mix of single-family homes, apartments, and rural properties. The median home value is $369,000, and the median rent is $1,075 per month.

Economic Drivers and Employment

La Plata County’s economy is driven by a mix of industries, including:

  • Tourism accounts for over $300 million in annual revenue and supports over 3,000 jobs.
  • Agriculture, with over 1,000 farms and ranches producing crops, livestock, and specialty products.
  • Natural resource extraction, including oil, gas, and coal production.
  • Renewable energy, with a growing focus on solar and wind power.
  • Technology and innovation, with a thriving startup scene and support from local universities and incubators.

The county’s major employers include Mercy Regional Medical Center, Fort Lewis College, and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe.

Government and Infrastructure

La Plata County is governed by a three-member Board of County Commissioners, elected to four-year terms. The county is divided into three districts, each represented by one commissioner.

The county’s transportation network includes:

  • U.S. Highway 160, which runs east-west through the county and connects Durango to the Four Corners region.
  • U.S. Highway 550, which runs north-south through the county and connects Durango to Silverton and Ouray.
  • The Durango-La Plata County Airport offers daily flights to Denver, Phoenix, and Dallas.

The county provides a range of public services, including law enforcement, fire protection, emergency management, and social services.

Education and Institutions

La Plata County is home to a range of educational institutions, including:

  • Fort Lewis College is a public liberal arts college with over 3,000 students and 30 undergraduate majors.
  • Pueblo Community College Southwest offers associate degrees and certificate programs in a variety of fields.
  • Durango School District 9-R, which serves over 4,500 students in 11 schools.

The county also offers a range of community and continuing education programs, including classes in art, music, technology, and personal enrichment.

Culture and Recreation

La Plata County is rich in cultural and recreational opportunities, including:

  • The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is a historic steam train that runs through the San Juan Mountains.
  • The Animas Museum showcases the history and culture of the region.
  • The Durango Arts Center offers classes, workshops, and exhibitions in visual and performing arts.
  • Over 300 miles of hiking and biking trails, including the Colorado Trail and the Animas River Trail.
  • Numerous parks and open spaces, including Vallecito Lake, Lemon Reservoir, and the Weminuche Wilderness.

The county also hosts a range of festivals and events throughout the year, including the Durango Bluegrass Meltdown, the Durango Cowboy Poetry Gathering, and the Snowdown Winter Carnival.

Here are some other places to visit in and near La Plata County, Colorado:

  • La Plata Mountain
  • San Juan National Forest
  • La Plata River
  • Pine River

Health and Wellness

La Plata County offers a range of healthcare facilities and services, including:

  • Mercy Regional Medical Center is an 82-bed acute care hospital with a Level III trauma center.
  • Animas Surgical Hospital is a physician-owned hospital specializing in orthopedic and spine surgery.
  • Numerous primary care and specialty clinics, including Southwest Health System and Pediatric Partners of the Southwest.

The county also has a strong focus on wellness and fitness, with numerous gyms, yoga studios, and outdoor recreation opportunities. The San Juan Basin Public Health Department provides a range of public health services, including immunizations, health education, and environmental health.

Business and Commerce

La Plata County has a thriving business community, with a mix of small businesses, startups, and large employers. The county’s business environment is supported by:

  • The La Plata County Economic Development Alliance provides resources and support for businesses of all sizes.
  • The Southwest Colorado Accelerator Program for Entrepreneurs (SCAPE) provides mentorship and funding for startups.
  • Numerous coworking spaces and incubators, including SCAPE and the Durango Space.

The county’s main shopping districts include downtown Durango, which features a mix of boutiques, galleries, and restaurants, and the Durango Mall, which offers national retailers and chain restaurants. The county also has several farmers markets, including the Durango Farmers Market and the Three Springs Farmers Market.

FAQ Section

What are the most prominent landmarks in La Plata County?

Some of the most prominent landmarks in La Plata County include the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, Mesa Verde National Park, and the San Juan National Forest.

How does La Plata County’s economy benefit from tourism?

Tourism accounts for over $300 million in annual revenue and supports over 3,000 jobs in La Plata County. Visitors are drawn to the county’s natural beauty, outdoor recreation opportunities, and cultural attractions.

What are the main industries providing employment in La Plata County?

The main industries providing employment in La Plata County include tourism, agriculture, natural resource extraction, renewable energy, and technology. Major employers include Mercy Regional Medical Center, Fort Lewis College, and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe.

Can you describe the educational opportunities available in La Plata County?

La Plata County offers a range of educational opportunities, including Fort Lewis College, Pueblo Community College Southwest, and Durango School District 9-R. The county also offers numerous community and continuing education programs.

What recreational activities are available to residents and visitors in La Plata County?

La Plata County offers a wide range of recreational activities, including hiking, biking, skiing, fishing, and camping. The county is home to over 300 miles of trails, numerous parks and open spaces, and several lakes and reservoirs. The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and the Animas River offer additional recreational opportunities.


About the author

Shannon Persad

As a seasoned journalist and Colorado native, I bring a deep-rooted connection and comprehensive understanding of Colorado to my work at My appreciation for the state’s rich history, vibrant culture, and pressing environmental issues drives my commitment to exploring its evolving landscape—from the bustling urban centers to the tranquil mountain towns.