We’ve been to the Durango and Pagosa Springs (southwestern Colorado) area for vacation a couple of times in recent past, so I thought it would be fun to do a post on family-friendly, inexpensive things to do in the area.
Things to do and see in southwestern Colorado
There is lots to do in the Durango/Pagosa Springs area, especially if you’re not afraid of driving an hour or two!
In Durango, check out the famous Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. Tickets to ride on the train are kind of pricey, so we haven’t done it, but it’s still worth visiting the station and seeing the train! It’s also fun to watch the train leave and come in, even if you aren’t riding. And, if you want some good pictures of the train, there’s a place along Route 550 (the road that goes north to Silverton) where there’s a big area to pull off and you can get pictures of the train rounding the bend.
There’s a train museum at the station – through the station and across the tracks – and you don’t have to buy a ticket to ride the train to visit the museum.
If you drive to Silverton, you can see the old train station and some boxcars there, too. It’s pretty much deserted but is a fun place to walk around and climb on the boxcars. Silverton is called a ghost town because it’s far removed from its heyday as a mining town, but there are plenty of restaurants and tourist shops along Main Street – which, now that I think of it, is really probably one of the most authentically 1800s streets I’ve ever seen. If you plan to eat in Silverton, you may want to plan your visit when the train tourists won’t have taken over the town.
Mining Ghost Towns
The road back to Animas Forks is narrow and rocky and is not for the faint of heart. But, we’ve been back twice in our minivan so it’s also not impossible and in my opinion, is worth it.
There are many old buildings in this ghost town (which is a true ghost town; it hasn’t been inhabited for almost a century) and some incredible views (fair warning: you’ll be up above 11,000 feet).
There is some restoration work going on in this town, but it still feels very authentic. There are some interpretive signs that tell the history of Animas Forks and outhouses as well.
Along the road to Animas Forks, you’ll see lots of other mining remnants. There’s an incredible waterfall to the right side (when you are going to Animas Forks) of the road – it’s on private property so you can’t explore but it’s still pretty to look at.
And on the left, shortly before you start to hit the really rocky part of the road, there’s a stream sort of appearing to come out of the side of the mountain. If you follow the stream a little ways back, you’ll see a waterfall and some pieces of old mining equipment.
Durango Children’s Museum
We haven’t been to the Durango Children’s Museum yet – it was supposed to be open by our last vacation there but hadn’t yet. It’s open now, though, and looks like a lot of fun. It would be a great treat for kids who might be tired of driving around looking at ghost towns all day. ;)
Mesa Verde National Park
Mesa Verde National Park is located about an hour from Durango. We went expecting to spend just a couple of hours there, and ended up spending all day. That was even without doing the tours where you can go down into some of the cliff dwellings! (The tours aren’t recommended for small children, as there is quite a lot of ladder climbing.)
Even without doing the tour, you can drive around and see a lot of different types of Indian dwellings, and there is one that you can go into without a tour. It was fun to imagine what it must have been like to live there. Take binoculars so you can see the dwellings even better!
Valley of the Gods
So if you think that an hour to get to Mesa Verde is too long of a day trip, this one probably isn’t for you. But, if you don’t mind driving, Valley of the Gods in Utah is a unique place to go with about three hours of drive time. There are unique rock formations in a very desert-like place… Definitely a part of the country that’s different than what I’m used to! And, hey – this place really is out in the middle of nowhere so Durango is probably as close as you’re going to get anyway. :)
If you are headed out on a crazy day trip like this, fill up with gas at every opportunity. There are no gas stations for miles – and often, there aren’t other cars for dozens of miles, either!
We combined our trip to Valley of the Gods with a visit to Four Corners. This is kind of a place that you go to so that you can say you’ve been there, but isn’t really that exciting – especially now that we know that Four Corners isn’t really where the states meet.
Natural Bridges National Monument
Oh hey – on that same day trip we went to Valley of the Gods and Four Corners, we also went to Natural Bridges National Monument. If you’re gonna drive that far, why not see everything? You can basically drive around and get out at various stops to see all the rock formations that form bridges. There are trails down to the canyon if you have time, too.
Fair warning: if you want to get to Natural Bridges from Valley of the Gods, you’ll need to drive Utah Highway 261 and the famous Moki Dugway. Without a doubt, this is the most nervewracking road I’ve been on, but there is no way around unless you drive for hours and hours. It is really cool to say you’ve been on… But I won’t be driving it myself!
Box Canyon Falls
We’ve visited Box Canyon Falls in Ouray, and while I probably wouldn’t drive there specifically for that, it might be worth a stop if you’re in the area (about 1.5 hours from Durango). There is also Bridal Veil Falls in Telluride.
Rocky Mountain Wildlife Park
Rocky Mountain Wildlife Park is a small, walk-through wildlife park in Pagosa Springs. It’s kind of meh, but is fun for kids and it does seem like you can get a little closer to some of the animals that you can at many zoos. I would probably try to do one of the feeding tours so you make sure you see some animals moving around instead of just lounging in the sun. :)
That’s just about everything that I have personal experience with in the Durango/Pagosa Springs area, but there is lots more to do! You can find more activities on the Durango Tourism website. Also, the fall colors in the area are beautiful if you’re thinking about traveling at that time of year.
Where to stay in Durango and Pagosa Springs
We’ve been blessed to be able to use Jeremy’s parents timeshare for our vacations, so the two places that I can comment on as far as lodging in this area are Wyndham Durango and Wyndham Pagosa Springs. (I think that you can stay there if you aren’t a member, but I’m not sure how all that works.)
We really liked Wyndham Pagosa Springs. This is a really big resort with quite a few different unit types. We stayed in the Teal Landing buildings and they were very clean and up-to-date, though I have heard that some of the older units are not as nice. The resort has a nice golf course, and there’s an indoor pool (including a 1 ft kiddie pool) at the recreation center. There’s also miniature golf on-site, tennis courts, and a couple of playgrounds; though one of the playgrounds did leave something to be desired – it appeared that they’d removed some of the ladders and/or slides so it was kind of a letdown.
Wyndham Durango is a hotel that’s been converted to a resort – or at least, that’s how it appears. It was clean, but older, and the suites were kind of a weird triangle layout. You can use the pool across the street at the Best Western, but they didn’t have a lot of amenities other than that. It was right next to the train station, but you have to walk several blocks to actually get to the station. It is pretty centrally located downtown, which is nice if you’re going to be doing a lot of shopping or eating at restaurants in that area.
Where to eat in Durango and Pagosa Springs
We typically bring a lot of our food on vacation and cook in the unit, but there is one place that we really love in this area: Serious Texas B-B-Q! Yep, Durango, Colorado has good Texas barbecue. It’s not quite as hardcore as it is in Texas, but their meat is an authentic Texas style. I love their smoked turkey, and their special sauces (Pineapple Jalapeno Salsa and Cherry Chipotle Salsa) are really good. Plus, unlike most Texas barbecue restaurants, they do have one amazing side dish: you have to try their cheesy potatoes!
Since I don’t have much else to offer as far as expertise in restaurants in that area, I asked our Facebook fans and got some great suggestions:
From Monica: Oscars in Durango. A little crowded sometimes, but great food.
From Laura: Steamworks is delish! It’s our kids’ favorite, too. Also, the Bar D Chuckwagon is great entertainment and dinner!
From Scott: The Durango Doughworks has some awesome breakfast. We always enjoy stopping in!
From Abby: Steamworks Brewing Co (fabulous Cajun boil) and East by Southwest (AMAZING sushi and Asian food) are our must-eat restaurants in Durango. East by Southwest has happy hour from 5-6:30, with discounts on food and drinks.
From Rhonda: For a really good hamburger and beer, try local favorite Old Timers. I think Tuesday night is $5.00.
From Stephanie: Def East by Southwest for sushi.
If you’ll be buying food like we do, Pagosa Springs has a nice City Market (a small-town King Soopers, basically) and Durango has both a City Market and an Albertsons.