Today, Durango is known for a lot of things: natural beauty, beer, a Victorian downtown, skiing... but back in the day, the town was famous as a railroad town. In fact, it was pretty much founded by the Denver & Rio Grande Railway as an outpost on their Denver to El Paso route. But, unlike a lot of other railroad towns, Durango has not only survived changing times... it has thrived. Nowhere else gives you the feeling of being back in a simpler time, while still providing ample opportunity for outdoor adventure, quite like Durango. One of the best places to get a sense of the historic charm and natural beauty is the Tracks Across Borders Scenic Byway. It shows off what the landscape would have looked like during the golden age of the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad... while connecting two still-operating historic narrow-gauge railroads.
The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is one of the country's most iconic train rides, thanks to its rich history. With vintage restored train cars and mountain scenery in the midst of the San Juan National Forest, the Durango and Silverton Railroad offers views you won't be able to access any other way.
Kick off your scenic, train-themed adventure with a stop at the historic Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. A visit here is essential to understanding the history and culture of Durango, and of Southwestern Colorado in general. The train's route follows the path that the Denver & Rio Grande Railway (the company that founded the town of Durango itself) originally took. This railway has been in operation since 1882, and has survived the test of time, slowly shifting from hauling silver and other materials to toting passengers. As tourists settle into their seats on the authentically old-school train cars (pulled by vintage steam locomotives, of course), they can enjoy pristine wilderness scenery that can't be viewed from the road.
The great thing about the train is that a trip on it can be whatever you want it to be. Nature lovers can use it to access hikes, backcountry camping and mountain climbs. History buffs can check out the train museum in Durango, and will love spending time in the town of Silverton; you can take two hours to explore the historic settlement before hopping back on the train for the ride back. Check out the website for events, specials, tours, packages, and tons of other ways to make your day on the train perfect for you.
Be sure to get a taste of everything historic downtown Durango has to offer and enjoy where the Old West meets the Southwest. Downtown Durango is a nationally registered historic district, home to dozens of boutique hotels loaded with character, gems where you can eat and drink, and museums that can fascinate for hours on end. Unwind in the Rochester Hotel's Secret Garden, or grab a whiskey and enjoy the ragtime music at the Diamond Belle Saloon. With hundreds of years of western history embedded in every bar, store, and hotel, the city of Durango is truly one of a kind. However you choose to spend your time here, it's sure to be unforgettable.
As you make your way out of Durango and down the byway, stop at the Southern Ute Museum in Ignacio, Colorado. It's dedicated to celebrating and sharing the rich history of Colorado’s longest continuous residents, the Ute people. With dozens of in-depth exhibits, galleries, and artifacts, you’ll get an inside look at the Ute tribe’s culture, beliefs, and lifestyle. The museum’s interactive exhibits don't just tell you about the culture and history, they show it to you and make you feel it. The museum itself is designed beautifully, and its architecture is both unique and full of history. Offering one of the best museum experiences you’ll find anywhere, it’s hard to believe it’s free. You’re guaranteed to walk away with a newfound respect and fascination for the Ute people.
Feeling lucky? Make your way to the Sky Ute Casino & Resort, located on the Ute Indian reservation, which offers some of the most premier entertainment in all of Colorado. With world-class amenities and accommodations, the hotel rivals some of the best properties around, and offers generous rooms that are both clean and modern. The Sky Ute Casino & Resort staff are also known to go above and beyond to lend a hand. The casino offers a variety of table games and poker offerings, as well as dozens of the latest slot machines for gambling entertainment. With the welcoming staff, comfy beds, and a wide selection of games, you’ll feel as if you hit the jackpot.
Located on the southern side of the San Juan Mountains, Chimney Rock is truly a sight to behold. Walk in the footsteps of the Ancestral Puebloans of Chaco Canyon along paths that haven’t changed in thousands of years. Covering over 7 miles, Chimney Rock National Monument is home to over 200 well-preserved ancient dwellings, giving you a real-life look at what it was like ages ago. There are several structures excavated for up- close and personal viewing. Plus, since the monument is 7,000 feet above sea level, you’re also in for a treat, with unforgettable views during the entire hike.
Next on your trip, head out to the beautiful Navajo State Park, located on the north shore of gorgeous Navajo Lake. Originally inhabited by ancient Puebloans and later settled by the Ute and Navajo tribes, every inch of the park is soaked in history. The park's developed facilities and the spacious views leave you feeling as if you could explore forever. With dozens of restaurants, gift shops, and places to fish, swim, and hike, there’s plenty to see and explore for everyone. On the south side of the park is the New Mexico border entrance, super neat and worth a visit. Navajo State Park is full of history, sights, and peaceful nature surrounding you.
Whether you stop here to camp, or just want to take a quick break to enjoy views of Carson National Forest, Buzzard Park Campground is a scenic gem. Dense stands of ponderosa pine seclude the campsite, which sits at an elevation of 7,300 feet, offering incredible views. If you do decide to camp, keep in mind that this campsite is primitive. But, what Buzzard Park may lack in amenities, it makes up for with scenery!
Located right on the Colorado-New Mexico border, Dulce, New Mexico, is a small town rich in history; the perfect place to stop and enjoy a local meal. The town's original name was “Agua Dulce,” which is Spanish for "sweet water,” due to the natural springs that were abundant throughout the land. It was founded by the Gomez family as a ranching operation, and today, Dulce is currently the tribal headquarters of the Jicarilla Apache reservation. Pop into the Wildhorse Casino and Hotel for an evening of excitement! Oh… and feel free to investigate the 'secret alien base' conspiracy at your own risk. ;-)
Finish your extraordinary trip along the Tracks Across Borders Byway with one last train-themed stop, the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, for a 64-mile scenic day trip. The historic route was also once a part of the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad, just like the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. The coal-fired steam engine blasts you through the desert, mountains, and lush meadows, as you weave between Colorado and New Mexico and get views of a wide variety of scenery and natural landscapes. Take a break from driving to sit back and take in the views. As with the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, you can choose between luxury and standard train cars, and get up-close and personal with all that Colorado and New Mexico have to offer. During your trip, you’ll also get a chance to see bears, elk, deer, and even eagles, and stare at them in awe. If you have space left for more photos at the beginning of the ride, you won’t after this incredible train journey.
Historic railroads are the perfect lens through which to experience the culture and beauty of Southwestern Colorado. Make your way through historic downtown Durango, follow in the footsteps of ancient Ancestral Puebloans, go on epic train rides, spend the night having some fun at a casino... this trip has it all.
The only question now... is when can you do it again?
Located in southwestern Colorado, Durango offers everything from Old West experiences, ancient ruins, and exceptional arts and culture to world-class outdoor recreation, a distinctive dining scene and one-of-a-kind activities and events.