A local’s inside guide to visiting Durango, Colorado

durango colorado guide
The Arrastra Gulch to Silver Lake Trail in Durango. Photo: Courtesy of BoldBrew
“You can’t ask for a more dynamic or incredible place to live,” says BoldBrew co-founder Amanda Ciesielczyk when we ask her why — after five months on the road scouring the country with her boyfriend in a 2011 Toyota FJ Cruiser — she decided to plant some roots in Durango, Colorado.

In hindsight, it’s kind of a silly question. Sitting at the pinnacle of the Four Corners in southwest Colorado, just east of a beautiful red rock desert and nestled into the base of the majestic San Juan mountains, Durango is as wild and wonderful as that gold-rush twang in its name suggests.

Here, Ciesielczyk shares her favorite local spots, the need-to-know facts and the perfect itinerary for a winter day in Durango.

The Season

durango colorado guide
Winter in Durango means skiing, snowshoeing and plenty of beautiful photos. Photo: Courtesy of BoldBrew
If you’re interested in snow, the best time to hit Durango is in February. But the remaining seasons have plenty to offer: Go in July for high-country wildflowers or September for golden Aspen trees.

Just keep in mind that spring is muddy, and you could be stranded between the end of ski season and the start of hiking season in the mountains.

What to Pack

Hiking shoes or boots, a good daypack, water bottle, lots of hiking clothes (“Nice city clothes not required”), a rain jacket, sunglasses, a hat, wool socks, ski apparel and gear (if there’s snow in the forecast).

The Rental

durango colorado guide
Amanda Ciesielczyk looks right at home in Durango. Photo: Courtesy of BoldBrew
The Leland House & Rochester Hotel is an excellent choice if you want to be right downtown in the middle of all the action.

“They have a beautiful courtyard with music in the summertime,” says Ciesielczyk. “There’s a lot of really affordable motels on Camino Del Rio, north of Main Avenue — the Siesta and Econo Lodge are some of the better low-budget spots.

“My personal favorite though — and the only other place I’ve stayed in Durango besides my home — is an Airbnb rental!”

The Campsite

durango colorado guide
La Plata Mountains in Durango, Colorado. Photo: Alison Vagnini
Where to start? Situated at the base of the San Juan Mountains, the camping options are endless around Durango. Ciesielczyk recommends the Vallecito Campground for larger and well-kept campsites.

“The La Plata Mountains are an amazing place to get away from the crowds and there are campsites scattered throughout the La Platas, as well as more remote Forest Service areas, free spots, though a four-wheel-drive vehicle is often required the further you venture down the dirt roads.”

If you have a great off-roading vehicle, the Alpine Loop is a must-see when visiting. Take at least two days (or even three) to camp along the famous route using any pre-designated campfire ring.

“Take in the amazing mountaintop vistas, hike along a ridgeline, to a high country lake or even a few fourteeners and enjoy the history and people of the incredible mountain towns on each end of the loop, Silverton and Lake City.”

The Outbound has covered some hidden gems for San Juan camping, backpacking and hiking, too,” adds Ciesielczyk.

The Morning Cuppa

Durango colorado guide
Inside the Steaming Bean. Photo: Courtesy of BoldBrew.
For the best coffee in Durango, hands down, try Eno.

“They serve Desert Sun Coffee: organic, fair-trade and delicately brewed,” says Ciesielczyk.

For the best atmosphere, try the Steaming Bean, which has a “mean dirty chai and a rad open mic night.”

The Morning Run

Short on time? The Centennial Trail will get your pulse pounding. This walk is a favorite of locals living on “The Grid.”

If you’re looking for something a little more intense, Ciesielczyk recommends Smelter Mountain, which towers nearly a thousand feet over Durango, making the short one-mile hike quite tenacious, but worth it for the epic views of town.

The Eateries

Get a table at Tacos Nayarit for extraordinary tacos and margaritas or Old Tymer’s Cafe to enjoy their patio in the summer. On powder days, grab dinner at Rice Monkey. The Box is a new summertime food truck with excellent ban mi, Cubans and pork buns.

The Provisions

Urban Market is a must-visit shop while in Durango. Photo: Courtesy of BoldBrew
Urban Market is a must-visit shop while in Durango. Photo: Courtesy of BoldBrew
Despite the small-town feel, there’s plenty of shopping in Durango. Browse through Urban Market knick-knacks, gifts and cards, or pick up jewelry at Studio &.

For outdoor gear, you can’t go wrong with Backcountry Experience, Pine Needle Mountaineering and Gardenschwartz.

The Watering Holes

Ska Brewing has a great tap room and delicious food,” says Ciesielczyk. “El Moro Tavern makes a mean Moscow mule.

Carver Brewing Company has some awesome beers and an even better summer beer garden, and the New Durango Craft Spirits has some great local vodka and is working on a whiskey to release soon!”

The Greatest Hits

durango colorado guide
Every season offers something new in Durango and nearby Silverton, Colorado. Photo: Courtesy of BoldBrew
Colorado’s biggest wilderness area is Weminuche, while the Wolf Creek Ski Area is the spot to chase powder. If you’re looking to relax, head for the Piedra River Hot Springs, while Uncompahgre Peak is the best hike to get in during mid-to-late June (before it gets crowded).

Telluride is only a two-hour drive from here for another small mountain town experience — just make sure you get the chance to drive the Red Mountain Pass to Ouray.

RELATED: Private Colorado ski mountain yours for a cool $2.7 million (plus dues)

“It’s spectacular, every time I see it,” says Ciesielczyk.

The Itinerary

Wake up early, pack the car with your ski gear and head north for a day on the mountain at Purgatory. Stop at Hermosa Creek Grill for the best breakfast burritos you’ll ever have.

“After lapping the new high-speed Legend’s Lift all morning long, stop in at Dante’s on the mountain for a quick burger and brew, sunning on the deck if they day’s a bluebird,” says Ciesielczyk.

“End the day with a few moguls on Stix or Upper Hades before enjoying a few aprés ski libations on ‘the beach.’”

If it’s been dumping all day and chilly outside, there’s no better way to warm up than cozying up to the sushi bar at Rice Monkey with a few rolls, a bowl of pho and some hot sake before getting some shut-eye for another day on the slopes.

The Local Know-How

Wondering where to camp or find a morning cup of coffee? Just ask a Durango local. Photo: Alison Vagnini
Wondering where to camp or find a morning cup of coffee? Just ask a Durango local. Photo: Courtesy of Alison Vagnini
“All you need to pack to come here are hiking or ski clothes,” insists Ciesielczyk. “A good trail map is ideal, too.”

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