Welcome to colorful Colorado! On July 7th 2020, we passed through southwestern Colorado and spent three nights in Durango on our way to Albuquerque, NM. We did the whole trip over the course of three nights, but if you have more time I would recommend staying longer so you’re not too rushed amidst the majestic mountainous landscapes along the way. We took a day to drive the scenic route into the Rockies between Durango, Silverton, and Ouray (pronounced “your-RAY”), Colorado. Then the last day, we soaked at Pagosa Hot Springs on our way to Albuquerque.
One of the most breathtaking scenic drive was the Million Dollar Highway, a 70-mile strip of blacktop between Durango and Ouray. The road climbs up and over three separate passes: Coal Bank, Molas, and Red Mountain Pass. The breathtaking views make navigating all those sharp turns worth it!
The Million Dollar Highway was constructed in 1880 and finished in 1924. The road operated as a mail, stage, and freight line until “Rainbow Route railway,” was finished, a narrow-gauge railway that still operates through the pass today.
The section of the Million Dollar Highway from Ouray to Red Mountain Pass cost about a million dollars to build, which gave the highway its name.
The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad was made famous by many movies including, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Prestige. One the 45+ mile trip one way, you’ll snake along the edge of the San Juan mountains on the route originally used for gold mining. We didn’t get the time to ride this train but certainly next time. The railway is a federally designated National Historic Landmark and the route was opened in 1882. Many special trains run throughout the year to amplify the already exhilarating experience. These special train rides include: The Shamrock Express Train, The Polar Express Train, The Snowdown Balloon Rally Train and The Photographer’s Special Train among others.
Historic Downtown Durango is such a lovely area to stroll passing stores filled with restaurants, breweries and coffee shops. In true Colorado fashion, the buildings are all framed with the incredible mountain backdrop and nearby Perins Peak, making every photo you take, look amazing.
Durango’s Main Avenue is anchored by two historic hotels: Strater Hotel and The General Palmer. The lobby of the Strater was used as a filming location in the 1983 comedy classic National Lampoon’s Vacation.
I like to try something new during our journey. As we strolled along Historic Downtown, we came across The Himalayan Kitchen. This restaurant serves the authentic flavors from the region of Tibet, Nepal, and India. Traditional Tibetan dishes like Mo-mo (dumplings) and Thukpa, Nepali dishes Dhaal-Bhaat-Tarkaari (lentil, rice and curry) and Sekuwa (tandoor-oven roasted vegetable and meat dishes) and Indian dishes in various flavors. What caught my eye was a Yak dish. I ended up ordering Yaksha Thenthuk ( Slow cook Yak meat with radish, potato, pasta, garlic, onion, their secret spices and spring onion.
Silverton is a small mountain town but it is packed with activities and adventures. Whether it be a relaxing day of shopping and exploring downtown, or to hit the outdoors and explore.
Year round activities include hiking, ATV riding, mountain biking, mountaineering, hiking, snowmobiling, snowboarding, heli-hiking, camping, fishing, trail running and endurance competitions like the Hard Rock Hundred.
If you are tired from driving, let someone else take the controls for a while. The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is probably the most amazing of the many tourist trains in Colorado. It follows the historic tracks laid to Silverton during its boom days. Most people pick up the train in Durango, but you can buy a cheaper ticket (not to mention enjoy free parking) by starting in Silverton. Ride alongside the Animas River, have dinner in Durango, and get a van shuttle back to Silverton if you are staying here.
Ouray is my favorite mountain town. It is known as The Switzerland of America. There are high mountain peaks and waterfalls in every direction you look. Ouray is a town full of history and charm.
Box Canon Falls is a must. This waterfall and Park are located on the outskirts of town and are an enjoyable way to spend a few hours. It is an easy walk to the waterfall and can be viewed from several different vantage points. The Park’s trails intersect with other popular hiking trails such as the Perimeter Trail. Box has been designated an important bird area by the National Audobon Society. If you climb to the top of the Park, you will be rewarded with amazing views of the town and its surrounding mountains. The park does have an entrance fee, but the admission price is well worth it!
Walk Ouray’s main street. The main street is registered as a national historic district. The main thoroughfare is lined with gorgeously restored Victorian buildings that house local shops, restaurants and galleries.
Check out or stay in Historic Western Hotel. Built in 1891, an authentic western hotel with award winning on-site dining and thrilling Jeep tours. The historic Hotel Ouray was originally built to serve as law offices.
Enjoy an exciting mine tour with Bachelor Syracuse mine Tour. During the late 19th century, the Bachelor Syracuse Mine was one of the most prolific producers of gold. You will walk 1500 feet into Gold Hill accompanied by a trained guide.
Guests can also try their hand at panning for gold, and the lucky ones might just go home with a shiny new lump of precious metal!
Like many Colorado towns, Pagosa Springs is the perfect combination of quaint Colorado mountain town and beautiful countryside.
Home to approximately 1,800 people and boasts the title of the “World’s Deepest Hot Springs.” Pagosa Springs sits about an hour outside of Durango, CO and 5 hours southwest of Denver.
There are dozens of hikes within this gorgeous San Juan Forest and the town is alongside the San Juan River, which is great for tubing during the warmer months. There are also many non-commercialized natural hot springs on the river that you can take advantage of.
The San Juan River cuts right through the town of Pagosa Springs and there are plenty of water-based activities.
Pagosa Springs is home to the deepest hot springs in the world. The Springs Resort is home to 24 healing hot springs.
General admission $35 provides one-day access to all mineral hot-spring pools except the five exclusive adult-only pools on the Relaxation Terrace.
The Relaxation Terrace Package $59 provides one-day access to all 24 mineral hot spring pools, which includes the five exclusive adult-only pools.
Not only are the pools super relaxing, but the views of the river and surrounding scenery are also spectacular. Soaking in these pools felt relaxing as the mineral content of the water is said to heal many different diseases, especially those pertaining to the muscles and joints.
Pool temps range from a cool 84 degrees to over 110 degrees on average in the “Lobster Pot.” All pools are fed from “The Mother Spring” which is 144 degrees. The best time is to go on week days and non-holiday.
Treasure Falls is a 105’ waterfall is easily accessible and hikeable by children of all ages. Even though we didn’t have time to see this falls, it known to be beautiful. Next time I return, I will need to pack a towel and picnic baskets.
Below are some of things to do in Pagosa Springs
- Whitewater rafting through town on the San Juan River
- Kayaking through challenging obstacles and dips on the rivers or in our lakes
- Driving through scenic vistas to waterfalls, canyons and mountain plateaus.
- Rock climbing on our granite and volcanic rock walls
- Hiking on more than 500 nearby trails with little or no foot traffic
- Fly fishing and Lake Fishing on the San Juan River, Piedra River, William Creek, Navajo Lake, 5 Pagosa Lakes, Echo Canyon Reservoir and Williams Creek Reservoir
- Mountain biking on vertical terrain as well as forest trails and paved trails
Have you been to any of these towns in Colorado? How was your experience? Feel free to share your thoughts or anything fun to do in the area that I missed below!