Southwest Colorado Outdoors


Scenic Drives

The San Juans are a magnificent range. Two driving routes are outstanding—the choice depends whether you want highway cruising or four-wheeling challenge. The San Juan Skyway, a National Scenic Byway, connects Ouray, Silverton, Durango, Cortez, and Telluride in a 236-mile loop. The stretch from Ouray to Silverton runs through the Uncompaghre Gorge and over Red Mountain Pass, a route so arduous to build that the 24 miles are known as the Million Dollar Highway. If you enjoy mountain scenery from behind the wheel, the Skyway is one route not to miss.

For serious on-road four-wheeling, try the Alpine Loop, the 65-mile circuit of the country between Lake City, Ouray and Silverton. This outstanding route was the BLM's first National Backcountry Byway.


Southwest Colorado has two great ski areas. Telluride rates as a glamorous upscale resort—though the town itself is still down-to-earth fun. Purgatory attracts less of the jet-set crowd—it can be a real charmer for families looking for mild, sunny weather and plenty of slopes for learning to ski.

Family Fun

It is hard to go wrong in any national park for family fun, but Mesa Verde is one of the finest—plenty of sites to see and learning opportunities. Now this is the third time I've mentioned the Petroglyph Point National Recreation Trail. Get the message?

In Durango, the rafting companies offer great half- and full-day family trips. You don't want to take the kids on the Upper Animas, but the ten-mile run on the Animas just above Durango is great for families.

For family sightseeing, take the kids on one of the commercial jeep tours to the high country. They will be thrilled with the old mining camps and ghost towns. If the kids are not afraid of the dark, a tour of the Bachelor-Syracuse Mine offers an educational look at a real gold and silver mine. Another must for old-time fun is a ride on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. The 90-mile trip takes eight hours round trip, with a two-hour stopover in Silverton.

To take the family hiking, try some of the shorter and flatter hikes. Telluride has Bear Creek Falls, a four-mile round trip that makes a nice early morning or late afternoon outing. Around Ouray, the Portland/Cascade Falls Trail is a five-mile loop from Amphitheater Campground, with views of the falls and rock formations of the amphitheater. North of Durango, Potato (or Spud) Lake is a good two-mile round trip, with good fishing and delightful picnicking.

Published: 24 Jun 2003 | Last Updated: 9 Nov 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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