Hiking Trails in and Around Durango, Colorado

Updated on January 16, 2018
harrynielsen profile image

I have enjoyed hiking for many years, so I enjoy sharing what I know and tips about places to hike.

Looking Down on Durango

The town of Durango as viewed from the heights of Smelter Mountain
The town of Durango as viewed from the heights of Smelter Mountain

Where Is Durango?

Durango is a small city in southwestern Colorado along the south-flowing Animas River near the New Mexico state line. Due to the rugged topography of the area, major road connections are limited to one north-south highway that connects up with the Million Dollar Highway at Ouray and another major East-West road that links the major towns and cities of Southern Colorado. A few miles to the west of Durango, visitors can find the ancient Native American cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park.

Silverton Train

The Durango-Silverton train is a narrow gauge steam-powered sightseeing excursion that attracts many tourists, photo by author
The Durango-Silverton train is a narrow gauge steam-powered sightseeing excursion that attracts many tourists, photo by author

Things to Do

During winter months, the nearby San Juan Mountains offers great opportunities for downhill and cross country skiing, as well as snowshoeing. During spring, summer, and fall, outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy hiking, biking, rock climbing, and whitewater rafting.

The Annual Animas River Parade in Durango

Animas River Trail

This paved concrete ribbon follows the Animas River for several miles and is popular with both walkers and bikers, photo by author
This paved concrete ribbon follows the Animas River for several miles and is popular with both walkers and bikers, photo by author

A Popular River Walk

The Animas River begins in the high peaks of the San Juan Mountains, flowing in a southwestern direction until the raging body of water joins the San Juan river, eventually becoming part of the mighty Colorado as it surges through the Grand Canyon.

In Durango, you can walk or bike this concrete path. Despite the trail's popularity and its sidewalk hardness, this walkway still affords great vistas of the river canyon and all the boaters, brave enough to enter its challenging whitewater. The trail begins on the far north side of town on 32nd street right behind the City Market. From there it follows the river southward, crossing the fast-flowing body of water several times before coming to an end, just past the Walmart on the south side of town.

Access for this popular walk is easy and non-restricted.

The Dahlas Trail

The west end loop of the Dahlas trail provides engaging springtime, views of the nearby snow-capped peaks, photo by author
The west end loop of the Dahlas trail provides engaging springtime, views of the nearby snow-capped peaks, photo by author

The Dahlas Trail

To find the Dahlas trailhead and parking lot, just go to 25th Street and head west onto Junction Creek Rd. until you come to a parking lot. The trail begins here and branches out into a web of various crisscrossing routes. No chance of getting loss as permanent trail maps are abundant along the route.

This trail does not do much climbing, but instead meanders through a beautiful pinon pine-juniper forest, punctuated by huge boulders. As a result this area is popular with rock climbers, who love to practice on the big rocks before adventuring out to more difficult rock formations.

The Animas Mountain Trail

View of Durango from the Animas Mountain trail, photo by author
View of Durango from the Animas Mountain trail, photo by author

Animas Mountain

On Animas Mountain you will do most of your climbing in the first half mile or so. But do not let this fact deter you from ascending this beautiful plateau-like summit, for the trails are all well-designed with plenty of switchbacks to lessen the pain of ascent. Once past the switchbacks,most hikers will want to walk along the top of the cliffs that overlook the Animas River.

After the initial ascent, hikers will traverse the plateau through an open forest of tall Ponderosa pines. The summit is slight, but still offers a good view of many high, snow-capped peaks

Smelter Mountain Trail

From the summit of Smelter Mountain, the ambitious hiker can look right down into Durango, Colorado.
From the summit of Smelter Mountain, the ambitious hiker can look right down into Durango, Colorado.

Smelter Mountain Trail

The Smelter Mountain trail is a steep ascent to a long ridge line that is located very close to the downtown area. No switchbacks here, just a goat trail that scrambles through a pinon-juniper forest on a direct route to the high ridgetop that is interspersed with communications towers and signs saying that the mountaintop is only open for small-game hunters. Despite these limitations, Smelter Mountain is a hearty climb and a good aerobic workout that will award the hiker with some extraordinary views of Durango. Hikers should also note that this trail is only open from December 1 to April 15. Still worth it, just for the spectacular views.

P.S. The trailhead and parking lot can be found just outside Centennial Park on the south side of town.

Twin Buttes

Twin Buttes is a natural formation located just a few miles west of Durango, just north of Highway 160
Twin Buttes is a natural formation located just a few miles west of Durango, just north of Highway 160

Into the Backcountry

You can find the trailhead for the Twin Buttes trail, just past the Giant convenience store on Highway 160. The parking lot here is quite large, as is the trail map, which is boldly displayed on a large board. This trail begins with a moderate ascent that intersects with several dirt roads. Best to have a trail map, as sometimes the path just crosses the unpaved road, while at other times, you will want to follow the old logging road uphill.

After a while, the Twin Buttes will come into sight. Be sure to follow the yellow BCCS trail that circles behind the two mesas, for this give you a stunning view of the San Juans. This hike should only take several hours and does not require a lot of vertical ascent.

The Town's Name

Interestingly enough, the name Durango does not come from the Spanish language but from the Basque-speaking region of France and Spain that borders the two nations. Translated to English, the word refers to a place located between two great heights of land. To anyone that has visited the Colorado town, it is obvious that the description fits the small Southwestern city very well.

Fine Art Photography

The hiking trails of Durango offer plenty of outdoor subject matter, suitable for the eclectic  tastes of fine art photographers.
The hiking trails of Durango offer plenty of outdoor subject matter, suitable for the eclectic tastes of fine art photographers.

Questions & Answers

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