Top Durango Road Trip Routes: Scenic Drives and Sites


Known for its rich mining history and frontier spirit, Durango serves as the gateway to some of the most spectacular drives and outdoor adventures in the American West. With high alpine peaks, red rock canyons, ancient cliff dwellings, historic railroads, and more, Durango offers diverse attractions for roadtrippers of all ages and interests.

With its charming Victorian-era downtown lined with boutiques, restaurants, and saloons, Durango makes the perfect base camp for exploring the natural and cultural riches of the Four Corners. Whether you seek fantastic scenic drives, heart-pounding whitewater rafting, panoramic alpine scenery, or kid-friendly adventures, Durango offers unforgettable Rocky Mountain experiences. Use this guide to start planning your Durango road trip and adventure today!


  • Durango is located in southwest Colorado, renowned for its beautiful mountain scenery and wealth of outdoor activities.
  • Best drives include the San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway and the Million Dollar Highway connecting Durango to Silverton.
  • Top attractions range from Mesa Verde National Park to the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.
  • Outdoor adventures abound, including hiking, river rafting, and skiing at Purgatory Resort.
  • Family-friendly activities include exploring downtown Durango, riding the historic railroad, and discovering ancient Native American sites.

Scenic Drives Showcasing Natural Wonders

Some of America’s most breathtaking drives pass through the diverse landscapes surrounding Durango. These scenic byways link Durango to charming mountain towns, serene nature preserves, and sites honoring the area’s cultural heritage.

San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway

Considered one of the most spectacular drives in the U.S., the San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway loops 235 miles through the San Juan Mountains. This all-day road trip drive offers nonstop views of snow-capped peaks, evergreen forests, and wildflower meadows with opportunities to see wildlife along the way. Stops include Pagosa Springs, Telluride, Ouray, and Silverton

as well as Mesa Verde National Park. This park is home to over 4,000 ancient Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings.

Million Dollar Highway

Connecting Durango to the old mining town of Silverton, the Million Dollar Highway portion of US Route 550 is one of Colorado’s most breathtaking (and hair-raising) drives. Hugging steep mountainsides, the narrow highway rewards drivers with views of mountains, waterfalls, and deep gorges along the Animas River. The road’s name may come from valuable ore found in the area or the expensive cost of building the original “shelf road”.

Durango to Silverton Train Route

For over 130 years, the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad has followed the tumbling Animas River through the remote wilderness between Durango and Silverton. Travelers can enjoy the same spectacular scenery from the comfort of vintage railcars. Along the way, the steam-powered locomotive winds past quiet ranches, through a steep and narrow canyon, over high mountain passes, and into the beautiful valley where Silverton lies.

Diverse Outdoor Adventures

Boasting over 1.8 million acres of public land, Durango gives outdoor enthusiasts access to exceptional hiking, biking, camping, paddling, and winter adventures. Its diverse landscape includes the soaring La Plata Mountains, the San Juan National Forest, and segments of the Colorado Trail extending over 500 miles across the state.

Hiking and Camping

Durango provides easy access to some of Colorado’s most magnificent hiking. In town, enjoy a peaceful walk along the Animas River Trail. Just a few miles north, discover waterfalls and scenic overlooks on trails through the Twin Buttes area. Or head up to the high peaks surrounding Durango for alpine vistas, wildflower meadows, and gorgeous fall colors. The La Plata Mountains offer trails ranging from family-friendly to multi-day backpacking trips. ​​Durango also provides great singletrack for mountain biking. Excellent campgrounds dot the region, allowing RV and tent campers to overnight under the stars.

River Rafting and Fishing

Rafting and kayaking the Animas River through Durango is a popular way to stay cool in summer and take in views of the surrounding mountains. Calmer float trips pass through downtown, while whitewater sections like the Upper Animas will get your heart pumping! Anglers can cast for trout on the Animas River as well as high mountain lakes and streams reached via Durango’s scenic drives.

Skiing and Winter Adventures

Located just fifteen miles north of Durango, Purgatory Resort offers downhill skiing, snowboarding, snow tubing, and Nordic skiing, with over 1,500 skiable acres and terrain for all abilities. Back in town, snowy days lend themselves to relaxing visits to local museums, galleries, and historic hotels or soaking in one of Durango’s natural hot springs.

Family Fun

With kid-friendly activities like riding a historic steam train, exploring ancient cliff dwellings, and playing in mountain snow, Durango makes the perfect family road trip destination. Learn about the area’s highlights for traveling with kids.

Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

Kids love riding the old-fashioned coal-fired steam train as it chugs past Colorado’s dramatic mountain scenery. The railroad offers special events like Thomas the Tank Engine visits as well as discounted fares for kids. Ride just a portion of the route or take the train all the way to Silverton to explore this charming mining town.

Mesa Verde National Park

At Mesa Verde’s archaeological sites, kids can climb down ladders into real cliff dwellings once home to Ancestral Puebloan people over 700 years ago. Sign up for a ranger-led tour or follow self-guided trails showcasing the park’s 600 cliff dwellings along sandstone canyon walls. Mesa Verde also offers hands-on exhibits and family-friendly programs.

Downtown Durango

From riding the trolley around downtown to catching a show at the historic Henry Strater Theatre to slurping an old-fashioned ice cream soda at the Rochester Hotel and Bar, families will love exploring Durango’s walkable downtown. Don’t miss the eclectic exhibits at the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum chronicling railroad history.

Trip Planning Tips

Best Times to Visit

Durango offers plenty to do year-round. Summer is peak season, with warm weather perfect for scenic drives and outdoor adventures. Spring and fall feature smaller crowds and pleasant temperatures ideal for sightseeing. Winter brings snow to the high country, allowing for skiing and snowshoeing.

Lodging and Dining

Durango and surrounding towns offer a variety of lodging from hotels and motels to BandBs, cabins, RV parks, and campgrounds. Reservations are recommended several months in advance for peak summer dates. Southwest Colorado is also known for its culinary scene, serving homemade flavors using regional ingredients. From casual cafes to gourmet dining, restaurants embrace Durango’s ranching roots with fresh trout and steak appearing on many menus. Be sure to try local craft beers like Steamworks Brewing Company or Carver Brewing Co.


What is the best way to get to Durango?

The nearest airport is Durango-La Plata County Airport (DRO), just sixteen miles southeast of downtown and served by regional carriers. Durango is also accessible via US Highways 160 and 550.

Is a car necessary to explore Durango?

While the free T downtown trolley makes getting around town easy without a car, having your own wheels makes accessing surrounding mountain areas possible. Consider renting an SUV or truck for rugged backcountry roads.

When is peak tourist season in Durango?

Durango attracts visitors year-round but summer is the most popular for tourism, especially June through September, when daytime highs range from 70-80°F. Book lodging well in advance for summer visits.

What should I pack for a Durango trip?

Pack layers, as mountain weather can see warm afternoons become chilly evenings. Bring sun protection, hiking shoes, and rain gear. Use insect repellent to protect against mosquitos in summer.

Is Durango good for families?

Yes! Between riding an old-timey steam train and exploring ancient cliff dwellings, Durango offers many kid-friendly activities.

How long do visitors generally stay in Durango?

First-time visitors often spend 3-5 days enjoying Durango’s top sights and activities. However, a week or longer allows you to take in more scenic drives, cultural attractions, and outdoor adventures in the surrounding region.

What are some other parks to visit in southwest Colorado?

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is an excellent option. Here, you can marvel at the narrow canyon’s steep depths. To see the tallest sand dunes in North America, visit Great Sand Dunes National Park. You can also explore cultural sites like Chimney Rock National Monument.


About the author

Ransom Patterson

My expertise in Colorado life extends beyond just residing here; it’s also about living actively within the community. I spend my time cycling through Denver’s trails, experimenting with local cuisines, and immersing myself in the local music scene. These activities give me a unique perspective on the cultural and outdoor offerings of Colorado. This hands-on approach allows me to provide insider tips and personal recommendations that resonate with both locals and visitors alike.