Durango itself is a slice of beer-brewing and café-toting bliss, and while many outdoor activities lay within city limits, it’s what surrounds Durango that’s the main attraction. Heading south from Ouray on Highway 550 means you travel along one of the US’s “Most Dangerous Roads,” where sharp curves overlook plummeting descents without guard rails. Giant mountains, alpine meadows, creeks, lakes and Aspen stands dominate the drive. This is where a trip to Durango should probably begin. And it should end at one or all of the breweries in town. Below are some highlights:
Heading north and west of Durango is to hike through dense forests and up into the San Juan Mountains. The views are panoramic, enormous, and showcase high peaks with patches of snow (in the summer). You’ll wind along trails within meadows of wildflowers and if you’re lucky, maybe you’ll see some wildlife. (We mostly saw domesticated Alpacas, but they’re cool, too.) Highlights include the six-mile Goulding Creek Trail above Hermosa Cliffs; six-mile Dry Fork Trail, which has views of the La Plata Mountains; and La Plata Mountain, which has varying distances and sights, all of which rock pretty hard.
The closest campgrounds to Durango were all more or less off-limits because of the fires this summer, but there are plenty. A full list, with details, can be found at Durango.org. Because we didn’t want to drive all the way to the camps that weren’t in danger of becoming infernos, we opted for the Durango Hometown Hostel, which was perhaps the cleanest hostel I’ve ever slept in. There’s a great community room, a kitchen with all the necessary gear, and it’s only a mile walk to downtown.
Seven miles north of Durango off of Highway 550 are the Trimble Hot Springs. They’re open year round and feature three pools of varying temperatures, two saunas, a nice grassy knoll for lounging, as well as massage and body treatments. It’s a quick, easy drive from town and perfect for a post-river or hiking trip. The cost is $17 for adults, $10.50 for kids.
Perhaps the best thing about Durango is its breweries, and of course, this is a matter of opinion, but if there’s one brewpub to hit, I’d say it’s Ska Brewing Company. Their 100% wind-powered “world headquarters” are located in southern Durango, maybe five minutes from downtown. They have a Taqueria airstream on location of you have a space in your gut that beer can’t fill, some of the best craft beers in the state, and a great setting. You can also check out the inner workings while you’re there.
If you make it out of Ska half sober, or at least the next morning without wanting to dwell in Durango’s greatness forever, then it’s time to keep heading west. Next up: Zion National Park and great moonscape that is southern Utah.
By Bryan Schatz