By: Sarah Frey
I recently got back from a wonderful outdoor adventure to Durango, Colorado. It is a gorgeous small town nestled within the San Juan Mountains, near the Animas River, that seems to be a quiet haven for rock climbers and other outdoor enthusiasts alike. Whatever you choose, Durango is likely to have your journey waiting. From zip-lining, white water rafting, to hiking, or climbing—whether off-road or on the trail—Durango has plenty of options. If ever there was a place considered an adventurer’s introduction to paradise, this is it.
Lodging: Local Living
While my boyfriend, his family, and I were in Durango we wanted to live like the locals. On the drive through town when we first arrived, I could see some decent hotels amid the shops and stores, but I was completely in awe when we arrived at our home for the week. We rented a cabin about twenty minutes outside of town using a service like Airbnb called VRBO in Durango. If you really want to get the most of your experience on a trip, I recommend giving this route a shot. That way, you don’t just get to experience the culture, you get to live it! Staying in a hotel has never really been our style, and local living gives a more genuine and memorable experience of the trip. And besides, finding a cabin to stay in provides unbeatable views to boot. Waking up every morning in Durango Colorado to the mountains and a lake was nothing short of breathtaking.
Hand in hand with choosing to live locally on a trip are the visits you will need to take to the grocery store. For us, natural and organic is the way to go, so we made sure to stop by one of the local Co-ops when we collected our supplies. Any visit to the store to get the food items you need will rest on the length of your stay. Collecting groceries accordingly is important, because you will not want to purchase too much at once, and it isn’t ideal to have to run to the store every day of the trip. Staying properly hydrated is incredibly important too, even more so if visiting Durango means dealing with elevation changes, so make sure that you visit the beverage aisle and stock up with water. Besides that, not everyone likes to cook for themselves, so restaurants are always a valid option for the days you do not have the desire to cook.
When heading to an outdoor hot spot like Durango Colorado, making sure you have all the gear you will need for your excursion is a must! My boyfriend and I found ourselves needing a few additional rock-climbing supplies for our adventures, so we chose one of the few outdoor stores to venture into. It is best to be prepared and have everything you might need before leaving home, yet sometimes things get missed or you find that you don’t have all the gear and tools you actually need, especially if you haven’t done much in the way of adventuring outside before. The best advice when packing everything is to triple-check your gear, but in the circumstance that something does get missed, Durango has plenty of options that will have your back.
Locals’ Restaurant Recommendation: Tequilas
Restaurants are always important for traveling as the need for sustenance follows you wherever you go. Being able to enjoy food and immerse yourself in every part of the culture is one of the greatest experiences on vacations. One of our days in town, a local offered a recommendation to a restaurant named Tequilas. And let me tell you, the food did not disappoint! This Durango restaurant had so many food choices to pick that it was difficult to decide, but eventually, all four of us chose our meals. By far, my favorite part of the meal was the fried ice cream my boyfriend and I shared for dessert. Sadly, I do not have any pictures to share because it was just so good; even so, I would highly recommend getting the ice cream to go with your meal.
Things to Be Aware Of
When heading outdoors it is important to be aware of your climate. This year Durango weather was warmer than usual when we visited at the beginning of October, but no matter what time of year you decide to visit, the temperature will fluctuate from morning to evening. The temperature varied by at least 20 degrees, with a nice chill in the morning and evening, and reaching up to the upper 70s during the afternoon. Such a wide gap in temperature change means that layering is of utmost importance. Packing a sweatshirt is a must if you are planning a hike where you will leave early in the morning, and if you get chilled easily as most women do, it will be your lifesaver when moving from sun to extended amounts of shade. I noticed when my boyfriend and I were out on the rocks one afternoon that climbing in the shade was much cooler than in the sun, and I actually preferred to keep my long sleeves on during those afternoons. According to a local we talked with on the trails, Durango would normally have snow in October, but as it was unusually warm we needed minimal warm clothing items and could get by with short sleeves and shorts or short sleeves with pants if we chose it.
In addition to temperature changes, dressing for the altitude you are staying at is something to consider as well. As everyone in our troupe was traveling from Minnesota, elevation was higher in Durango Colorado than we were used to. On the days we knew we would be out for several hours, we made sure to pack extra water in our refrigerated backpack along with our snacks.
Women have a unique challenge when it comes to being outdoors for an extended time. While it is certainly not the most pleasant thing to discuss, needing “to go” is part of human biology and an important factor when thinking about excursions outdoors. On some trips, you might be able to get away with holding your bladder until you return to the luxury of the cabin, but spending the day outside means there is an inevitability in needing to stop for a bathroom break. Since Durango was my first real adventure into the outdoors, this necessity was a rather uncomfortable lesson to learn, but I quickly learned to come prepared with some toilet paper and a baggie to stash it for any unexpected moments on the trail. Next time I plan to do it as more experienced hikers do—keep a bandana ready to go.
Outside of outdoor adventures, there are a few honorable mentions in terms of activities that this town has to offer. Durango is where the outdoors shine, but more than the athletics I spent my time enjoying, there is also a museum here for those that appreciate their history. There are so many more things to do in Durango than I can speak for so I will only mention the activities my boyfriend and I did during our outdoor endeavors.
Turtle Lakes Bouldering:
This private spot was a collection of large boulders hiding within the trees near our cabin home. I was not able to spend as much time there as I would have liked, but the moments I did take there were splendid fun as we tried to climb several different boulder problems. I even got to top out for some cool shots of the area as well. Outdoor climbing is so different from climbing in the gym, and while the gym is great to learn on before working your way outdoors, nothing compares to the experience of problem-solving your way up real rock. Bouldering is a welcome challenge if you’re used to top-roping or sport climbing, and I would highly recommend giving this rock-solid haven a visit just to have a go at trying it yourself. Reaching the top of the rock offers a very satisfying feeling and it is near impossible to beat the gorgeous views.
Lemon Reservoir was actually a bit of a drive from Durango, but despite nearly an hour’s trip from our cabin and the decent hike to follow, it was well worth the effort it took to get there. While the Reservoir offers campgrounds, hiking trails, and horseback riding trails, we were primarily there to spend our time climbing up the granite rockfaces. Our chosen location for rock climbing was picked in advance on the Mountain Project app that showed visuals of the routes and let us know the difficulty of the climb, so anyone new to rock climbing outdoors can easily enjoy the experience. We hiked over fallen trees and up steep rock to get to our routes for the day, and after setting up, we were able to appreciate climbing the rock for the next several hours. There was a consensus among us that we loved this spot so much that we decided to come again on a different day to explore even more of this beautiful area! From the river to the cliffs and the trees, the peace and tranquillity that Lemon Reservoir has to offer its inhabitants is truly awe-inspiring.
On one of our first days in Durango, my boyfriend and I researched the exciting ventures that might be offered to us. Among them, we discovered Durango Adventures and their zip-lining tours. I have always wanted to try zip-lining but never had the opportunity to try, so I was pleasantly surprised to see there was a place for us to engage this thrill. The website offers multiple different tours, but we chose to get the most for our money and picked the largest zip-line tour they offered: the 12-line tour. When we got to Durango Adventures, we went through a video tutorial session with our fellow zip-liners before our two guides took us outside to prep our gear. Soon after, we were geared up and ready to go. After a short hike filled with the banter of our tour guides, and a brief pause to let anyone test out the safety and braking equipment with a cable connected to some trees on flat ground, our troupe finally made it to the first zip-line. Stepping out in faith turned out to be a huge thrill, and two hours of laughter and bonding later, everyone made it safely back to the main building. Not only is zip-lining a great adventure to test yourself with but when thrill-seeking can also become a bonding experience, there is no better opportunity to take a leap outside your comfort zone.
Our last full day in Durango was spent hiking on the Colorado Trail. Starting early in the morning offers a wonderful, brisk air as you get moving forwards. We passed over bridges and streams as we walked up the mountain. We walked with steep, sloping hills to our left and a smattering of rocks and trees above us on our right. The trail took us higher and higher, and before we knew it we were overlooking a valley of trees with mountains in the distance. Here, a local that had passed us by mountain-biking up the trail was resting on a bench and enjoying the view before him. We talked for a while, and it was these moments of very real connection that I found myself so engaged in on the trip. When it was time to head back down, time seemed to simultaneously slow and speed past me. I hopped over rocks and moved fluidly through the bends in the trail. I followed behind my companions and simply enjoyed their company and those who passed us along the way. The trail itself is exceptionally long, and while you are likely to come across a few people on your journey, there are long stretches where it is just you and nature. Even if you do not want to spend more than an hour on this trail the scenery is unquestionably worth your time. Some views are worth every ounce of expended energy to get there.
Spending most of my waking hours in the outdoors was a blast, and if I had the chance, I would go back to Durango in an instant. Whether you are traveling solo or accompanied by a partner, Durango is worth the trip! There is so much to do there even in different seasons, and a week can be a challenge to accomplish everything on your list of things to do. From experiencing good food, zipping through the tree line, climbing up sheer cliffs, to soaking up the sun on outdoor hiking adventures, there is so much that is worth the adventure seeker’s time.
What are your impressions of Durango Colorado?
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