When guests arrive at Blue Lake Ranch, one of the first questions they usually ask is, “What are the best things to do while visiting Durango, Colorado?” While our answer varies a bit depending on the season, this checklist we’ve complied can be used Spring through Fall! Below we will explain a bit about each activity on the list and why we think it’s a MUST DO for our guests. We hope this helps you make the most of your time in Durango and experience Southwest Colorado the way the locals do.
1. VISIT VALLECITO LAKE:
An hour-drive from Blue Lake Ranch, Vallecito is a gem for outdoor recreation and is surrounded by gorgeous peaks. The views alone will impress and provide for many photo ops but if you’d like to take things a step farther you can rent a kayak or paddle board, take a swim, hike the nearby trails, go fishing, or soak up the sun on shore. On a hot day, the lake is where you want to be. The Vallecito Marina is open May 1st – October 1st and features a well-stocked store as well as rentals!
2. SOAK IN A HOT SPRING:
A perk of visiting Colorado is access to world-class hot spring resorts as well as natural hot springs! The mineral water is geothermally heated groundwater that rises from the Earth’s crust to provide you with a muscle relaxing and soul expanding experience. The newly purchased and renovated Durango Hot Springs is located just over 30 minutes from Blue Lake Ranch and will provide you with a calming experience. Pagosa Springs is a town named after the abundant geothermal activity and is booming with hot spring resorts, located a scenic hour and a half from Blue Lake Ranch. Rico Hot Springs and Piedra River Hot Spring are local secrets and natural hot springs located in the wild that you’ll need to hike/walk to – they’re worth every step. Happy soaking!
3. RIDE THE DURANGO & SILVERTON NARROW GAUGE RAILROAD:
The DSNGR was made famous by many movies including, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Prestige. The railway is a federally designated National Historic Landmark and the route was opened in 1882. Today the train is used as a passenger railroad and takes you into the San Juan backcountry offering views that you simply cannot reach otherwise. Many special trains run throughout the year to amplify the already exciting experience. These special train rides include: The Shamrock Express Train, The Snowdown Balloon Rally Train, The Photographer’s Special Train, and The Polar Express Train among others. Ask us about packing a picnic lunch for your ride!
4. VISIT A HISTORIC ABANDONED MINE OR GHOST TOWN:
Southwest Colorado produced large quantities of gold, silver, copper, and zinc in early mining years. Durango was settled in September 1880 by the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad to service the San Juan mining district. The town became an important supply and transportation center for the remote region. As time progressed, these old mines were left abandoned in our mountains and now provide lessons of history to travelers. Relics can be found today at these sites so don’t forget to bring a camera along on these excursions as there’s much to be documented.
A few notable mining sites include:
-Animas Forks between Lake City and Silverton: 4 wheel drive or ATV recommended to reach the ghost town
-Take a guided tour of the Old One Hundred Mine in Silverton
-The Gold King Mine up Lewis Creek Road in La Plata Canyon: Hike or 4 wheel drive recommended to reach the abandoned mine
5. DRIVE UP LA PLATA CANYON:
Located a short 15-minute drive from Blue Lake Ranch, La Plata Canyon astounds visitors in every season! With many hiking trails and scenic pull-offs, snow-melt waterfalls, and peaks soaring at elevations over 13,000 feet, there’s plenty to be explored. The dirt road that leads you 9.5 miles into the rugged canyon can be driven all the way to Kennebec Pass at 11,500 ft. in a high-clearance 4×4 vehicle. From the top of Kennebec Pass you can see as far as Telluride!
6. RAFT OR TUBE THE ANIMAS RIVER:
Durango is a true river town and is filled with rental companies for rafting, tubing, and even kayaking our beautiful river. The Animas River runs for 126 miles, is part of the Colorado River System, and mean “The River of Lost Souls”. Both locals and tourists enjoy the Class I and II rapids during the hot summer as a way to cool off in our refreshing river while fitting in a good dose of adventure
A few rafting and rental companies we recommend include:
7. TAKE A HORSEBACK RIDE:
There’s nothing more Colorado than a horseback ride through the mountains with experienced riders to guide and teach you. Saddle up and take in the beauty of the Wild West while living out all of your western fantasies. Whether you’re a seasoned rider or this is your first time on horseback, there’s a trail ride for you! A few local companies to check out include:
8. VISIT MESA VERDE NATIONAL PARK:
A 30-minute drive from Blue Lake Ranch lies one of the best preserved historical sites in the country, Mesa Verde National Park. Time begins to tick backwards as you ascend the Mesa and end up overlooking Ancestral Puebloan Cliff Dwellings tucked into the desert walls. You can opt for a self-guided visit or you can go on a tour with the park rangers and actually step inside of some of these cliff dwellings while learning how they we able to survive in such a harsh environment.
9. HIKE ENGINEER MOUNTAIN:
Engineer Mountain is a beloved hike by many due to its vibrant display of wildflowers, astounding alpine views, and close proximity to Durango. Engineer sits at an elevation of 12,968 feet and is a 5 mile out and back hike if you go all the way to the summit. The hike begins in lush conifer forests and ascends to wide open views of the surrounding mountains. Hiking this mountain requires about a half-day of your time and once you’ve completed it, we recommend rewarding yourself at one of Durango’s craft breweries!
10. VISIT A BREWERY:
Durango knows craft beer! Belly up to the bar and mingle with the locals at these four breweries. All are staples in Durango and each offers their own unique vibe:
Animas Brewing Co. is located just off of the river trail making it a great stop for those walking, biking, or tubing down the river. Animas Brewing has a covered patio and laid back feel.
Carver Brewing Co. is located on Main Ave. and has a delicious food menu and outdoor dining options.
Ska Brewing Co. is a music-inspired brewery offering tours of its wind-powered facility, a beer garden & food made in “The Container”.
Steamworks Brewing Co. is a funky, warehouse-like space housing a microbrewery & serving up bar-style comfort food.
SEE THE MILKY WAY:
Plan a nighttime adventure and marvel at the number of stars that emerge as the sky darkens. A broad swath of light, The Milky Way, can be seen from Blue Lake Ranch on clear nights. Described by the ancients as a river or a path, among other things, this visible band of stars impresses no matter how many times you’ve seen it. Slow down and brush up on your constellations from your private patio while enjoying a glass of wine and the sounds of nature.