Durango is one of the best places to visit in Colorado for a summertime romantic getaway, whether you’re looking for outdoor adventures, an opportunity to relax and recharge, or a chance to dive into unique gold-rush history. My Durango Colorado Travel Guide is here to help you do just that, plus find all of the amazing healthy places to eat, shop, stay, and explore so you and your travel partners can stay Healthier Together.
Durango is one of my favorite places we’ve ever been, and we’ve been to a lot of places. It’s a really cute college town with a thriving restaurant scene and gorgeous nature. It’s the type of town that begs you to get out and have adventures, whether you’re biking along the extensive river path, rafting down in the in-town rapids, hiking the trails, soaking in the hot springs, strolling through a winery, or just trying new produce at the farmers market. I hope you this healthy Durango Colorado travel guide helps you experience its magic too.
Zack and I discovered the San Juan Mountains by total accident. It was May of 2020 (the peak part of the pandemic in NYC), and we were looking for a place to decompress from four months of lock down in our 500 square foot Brooklyn apartment. You could say we were a little tired of hearing the sounds of sirens 24 hours a day. We looked for any available Airbnb in Colorado that had a good enough kitchen for me to do my job and keep bringing you all the healthy recipe content, and by total chance, ended up in Ridgway, a tiny town on the northern base of the mountain range. You could see the peaks of Mt. Sneffels from our yard. In just twenty minutes from our house, we’d be walking through a green meadow filled with alpine rivers and waterfalls. We fell in love. We even tried to buy a house here. We failed. But that’s another story for another time.
A year later, we decided to come back to the San Juan Mountains, this time to Durango, a much larger town on the southern end of the range. And oh boy, are we glad we discovered this gem of a city.
The best places to eat in Durango CO
There are a lot of restaurant options in Durango, and I’d say most of them offer solidly B to B+ food. While this isn’t a town I’d go to for world-class, creative fare, it’s options far surpass that of most similarly sized mountain towns.
James Ranch: this isn’t just farm to table. It’s “table on the farm”. At this fast casual restaurant/actual ranch, you order at a counter and then grab a seat at a picnic table. There’s stunning views from pretty much every table of the Animas River Valley. They have grass-fed burgers with artisan cheeses from the cows on their farm, vegetarian options like mushroom and squash burgers, very farm-fresh salads, and thick-cut fries. They also have gluten free buns! Call ahead or check the website to see if there’s live music on the day you’re going, and be sure to check out the attached market for essentially a small farmers market worth of small purveyor groceries.
11th Street Station: a delicious collection of food trucks serving wood-fired pizza, sushi, Thai food, tacos, barbecue, grain bowls, a coffee shop and bar. 11th Street Station is smack in the middle of the historic downtown and a super fun scene (there was live music pretty much every time we came). Backcountry Gourmet makes amazing breakfast burritos and sliders, and Zawadi, which serves African cuisine, was one of the best restaurants we ate at in Durango (although I prefer the more extensive options at their main restaurant, just up the street).
PRIMI: this pasta and wine bar serves incredibly delicious pastas and salads featuring local ingredients. It’s a lovely place to sit outside and watch the world pass by. They also have amazing cocktails and mocktails (if you’ve been following my functional mocktail series, you know I had to order one).
Cream Bean Berry: this is the BEST ice cream I’ve ever had, and I’ve lived in places like San Fransisco and NYC that are famous for their fancy, artisanal ice cream. Made with local, organic ingredients (with vegan options!), they have both classic flavors (the mint chip is a must try) and really unique ones (the berry crisp was pure heaven). Worth the long line that inevitably forms on hot summer nights.
Bread: walk in and let the aroma of freshly baked bread take you to your happy place. Bread is a place to buy, well, bread, and it has some of the best loaves I’ve ever tried. You can also pop in for sandwiches on their artisanal bread, gourmet cookies, and buttery pastries, but I highly recommend just getting a baguette to eat with butter for a glorious picnic lunch along the Animas River.
Durango Farmers Market: Durango has an amazing farmers market with live music, tons of produce stands, locally crafted kombucha, cookies, salad dressing, and a good amount of hot food for brunch. I highly recommend getting a sweet potato burrito from the stir-fry tent and a smoothie from the smoothie truck, which has creative, delicious recipes.
Nature’s Oasis: you know I love a grocery store, and while Natural Grocers is usually my favorite when I’m on the West Coast, this Durango local spot blew them out of the water. They have my favorite natural brands (Olipop soda, Siete grain free tortillas, even my De La Calle tepache fermented beverage) alongside tons of local Colorado brands. They also have a hot bar for to-go meals and decent prices.
Things to do in Durango in Summer
Soak and socialize in the Durango Hot Springs: this is the perfect activity for your romantic getaway. Zack and I LOVED the hot springs in Durango, and ended up going 5+ times during our four weeks there. Here’s why: you’re surrounded by beautiful nature, nestled on a hillside overlooking the gorgeous Animas River Valley. There are a ton of different pools of varying temperatures and a cold plunge, so you can try out your favorite. There’s a health food and elixir truck plus a normal alcohol bar, which combined with the live music they have on many nights, gives the whole place a very social vibe. We made new friends every single time we went! Remember to drink LOTS of water before soaking— bring a refillable bottle because there’s a filtered refill station on site! You’re going to love it.
Go for a scenic train ride on the Durango & Silverton Railroad: This Durango activity came highly recommended from just about everyone, and the scenery along the train ride is gorgeous. We sat in the open air section (highly recommend) and watched some of the most stunning scenery ever go by. The train takes you to Silverton, a super cute mining town in the mountains that you can explore before heading back. As gorgeous as it was, it’s a LONG day, and the ride gets, dare I say, a little boring by the end. I’d do it again if I wanted a good taste of nature without hiking, if I had a train buff along with me or just wanted a more chill, stationary day. But if you get antsy or bored sitting for long stretches, I’d skip it and just drive up to Silverton which would look just as gorgeous from along the highway.
The Bookcase & Barber: this speakeasy with delicious craft cocktails is hidden behind a bookcase in a working barber shop. The cocktails are incredibly creative and delicious, and it’s totally worth going for the experience of saying the secret password and having the attendant swing open the bookcase alone (you can find the current password on their Facebook page).
Four Leaves Winery: tasty wine and a lovely setting makes this a worthwhile place to spend a few hours in the afternoon (it’s great combined with a Vallecito Lake trip, below). Check the website for live music, which makes the experience infinitely lovelier.
Stand Up Paddle Board at Vallecito Lake: if you’re looking for things to do in Durango CO in summer, drive over to Vallecito Lake (a super scenic trip) and have the perfect day out on the water. You can rent SUPs and kayaks at the marina. I highly recommend bringing some goods from Bread to have a picnic by the lake afterwards!
Bike through the heart of Durango on the Animas River Trail: Durango has a spectacular river path that runs the entire length of town. While it’s great for strolling, you can see the whole length of it by renting some eBikes, which have the bonus of making you feel like you have superhuman strength. We rented ours from Roll Durango, which deliver and pick-up directly at your Airbnb or hotel if you’re staying in town.
White Water Rafting: The white water rafting in Durango CO is spectacular and is another incredible activity for the summer months. We were there during Animas River Days, a huge festival for white water rafting. We went out with a local enthusiast we met at the hot springs the night before but Mild to Wild Rafting Company is also highly recommended. I was terrified before I went but ended up having the best time, so even if you’re nervous, give it a try—you might surprise yourself!
Take a Day trip to Ouray, Telluride, Ridgway, and Blue Lakes Loop: this sounds ambitious (because it is), BUT it’s the best way to see the best of the San Juan Mountains in one swoop. Wake up early and drive up the Million Dollar Highway, starting with a quick drive through Silverton, but mostly admire the magical views from the car until you get to Ouray Colorado aka the Switzerland of America. Visit the gorgeous Cascade Waterfall and take a quick walk through the spectacular Box Canyon before heading ten miles north to Ridgway Colorado. In town, grab a delicious, quick lunch at Eatery 66, which serves some of the best farm-to-table food I’ve ever had. Then, stretch your legs on the Blue Lakes Hike which is hands down one of the best hikes in Colorado and one of my favorite hikes in the whole world. I recommend stopping at the first lake, 3.2 miles in, and turning back (it’s the prettiest one). Continue onto Telluride, 40 miles north, where you can drive all the way to the end of town to enjoy sunset by one of the beautiful waterfalls before grabbing dinner at one of the delicious local eateries. The best places to eat in Telluride are Brown Dog Pizza (get the Detroit style) and Siam for delicious Thai food. Then, drive back to Durango and get some rest. You’ve earned it!
Best hikes in Durango
Animas Mountain Loop: this Durango trail is the perfect afternoon jaunt. It surprisingly starts in a downtown neighborhood, and while it appears dry at first, the desert cedes to gorgeous mountain meadows as you get higher up, and you’re rewarded with views of the Animas River Valley and gorgeous rock formations.
Engineer Mountain Trail: this Durango trail boasts tons of diversity with forests, meadows, and overlooks. It’s a challenging, full day hike that rewards you with amazing views after a grueling climb up the side of a mountain. Pack lunch, snacks, and lots of water.
Fourmile Falls: this gorgeous hike is near Pagosa Springs and totally worth the drive. It’s hands down one of the most beautiful hikes I’ve ever done. While it’s long, it’s not steep at all, making this a great day-long outing for both novice and experienced hikers. This town is known for its hot springs, so on your way back, stop at Pagosa Hot Springs for a different experience than the Durango hot springs (it’s by the river, so you can do cold dunks in between soaks).
Purgatory Trail: this is a great trail to customize to your length and needs. It’s beautiful right out the gate with stunning views of the San Juan Mountains, so if you want to just do a mile out and back, that’s fine. It gets harder the further you go but definitely pays off the effort.
Blue Lakes Hike: While not technically in Durango, I have to mention this hike (twice!) because it’s one of my favorite hikes in the world. And it’s only 40 miles north with rewarding mountain views the whole drive. Spoiler alert: the show stoppers on this hike are three, insanely blue lakes nestled at the bottom of the mountains.
Where to stay in Durango
We stayed in this Airbnb for our long stay in Durango! It was comfortable and had an excellent location, though it was more homey than chic. I wouldn’t say that Durango is known for it’s luxury accommodations, and strict permitting rules mean there aren’t a ton of Airbnb options. The Strater Hotel is another great choice, with a beautiful historic structure and a central, downtown location.
I hope you enjoyed this Durango Healthy Travel Guide! Let me know any other recommendations in the comments below!
Check out my other travel guides!
- Tucson Healthy Travel Guide
- St. George/Zion & Bryce Canyon National Park Healthy Travel Guide
- Santa Fe Healthy Travel Guide