Southwest Colorado

Photo by Richard Friedland

Southwest Colorado Itineraries

Durango: Where Colorado, Mexico and Arizona Meet

Telluride in 2 Days

Telluride, Mesa Verde, Durango and a narrow gauge railroad

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If you’re looking for big city life you won’t find it in Southwest Colorado. What you will find are archeological remains of the great Ancient Puebloan Culture (Anasazi), ancestors of the current Native Americans inhabiting New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. The slightly off the beaten path destination offers beautiful vistas, Little Switzerland, Telluride, Durango and more.

Mesa Verde and Cortez: Exploring Ancient Trails and Dwellings

Footprints of the Ancients are all over Southwest Colorado. This is particularly true in the Four Corner’s region where Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico meet. The most famous, not-to-be-missed site is Mesa Verde National Park near Cortez, Colorado. It contains the remains of more than 600 cliff dwellings. Rangers lead interesting tours; book in advance. Go early in the summer because traffic can be heavy, or spend a night at the Far View Lodge within the park.

Canyons of the Ancients National Monument near Cortez also have hundreds of sites, many unexcavated. You can easily combine a visit to Hovenweep National Monument, with a one-mile loop hike, with a tasting at Sutcliffe Vineyards, one of the best wineries in Colorado. The Canyons of the Ancients has few roads, most unpaved. Sites can be visited on your own, but as Rose B. Simpson from Santa Clara Pueblo asks in this video, “Take only that which will fill your heart.”

Telluride Blends Posh and History

The old mining town of Telluride is now one of Colorado’s premiere resort towns. Sure it’s a popular ski town, but renowned blue grass and jazz festivals make it equally attractive in the summer. Take a jeep tour up Imogene Pass to the Tomboy Ghost Town, or go fishing, golfing, horseback riding, river rafting, hiking, and mountain biking. From town you can see and visit Bridal Veil Falls, the force of whose water created AC electricity in 1891 used to power the Gold King Mine.

Why is Southwest Colorado’s Ouray Called “Little Switzerland”

Ouray is sometimes called “Little Switzerland” because of the steep peaks surrounding town. It’s is the starting (or ending) point of arguably the most dramatic section of highway in Colorado, the Million Dollar Highway. It ascends and descends in hairpin curves; good luck looking over the jaw-dropping edges of the road. Tiny Ouray has a complex of hot mineral pools so do enjoy a soak. In the winter you can watch world-class ice climbing on specially prepared walls.

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is steep, narrow, dramatic and dark. Some places only get about 30 minutes of direct sunlight daily. The drive through the canyon on Route 50 is one of the most dramatic in Colorado. Rock climbing and river running are better left for technical experts. Parts of the Gunnison River are designated as Gold Medal trout waters.

Park Yourself in Historic Durango

Historic Durango was built on mining and railroading, and you can overnight in intriguing old buildings such as the Strater Hotel (where Louis L’Amour wrote many novels) and the Rochester Hotel. The college town has a variety of restaurants, shops and galleries. Enjoy a morning or afternoon wandering. In the summer take a 45-mile ride on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, traveling on tracks clinging to mountainsides between Durango and Silverton, where it stops long enough for you to have lunch and tour the local mining museum.

Purgatory ski resort, approximately 25 miles north, attracts beginner and intermediate skiers and riders. Experts gravitate to cat skiing and heliskiing to out-of-bounds powder.

Start with a Southwest Colorado Itinerary

Durango: Where Colorado, Mexico and Arizona Meet … ride a cliff-hugging train, walk through ancient dwellings, hike to the Divide
Telluride Time Out … where Butch Cassidy and the Boys robbed their first bank

When To Go

Southwestern Colorado can be a year-round destination, but it’s best in the  summer, fall, winter and late spring. Early spring is often called “mud season” by locals in mountain towns because of the snow melt.  (Although, when the snow melts the water in the  rivers runs high and ensures the most exciting rafting.)

This section of Colorado is filled with western towns to explore, ancient ruins, wineries and scenic drives, so plan on spending at least two or three days, although you could easily extend it to week-long trip.

Anytime of year, bring layers when you’re visiting a mountain location, because the weather can vary dramatically. Temperature drops of 20 degrees are not unusual, especially in the spring, fall and winter.

Always bring layers on a hike. A high-tech, rain-resistant jacket can come in handy, and tossing a fleece in your backpack or tied to your waist pack is always a good idea.  Bring plenty of water, energy snacks and use sunscreen.

This region is on the Rocky Mountain time zone, just like Denver, Colorado.

Time Zone

Southwest Colorado is in the Rocky Mountain Time Zone.

What it Costs

Costs for a trip depend upon whether you want to go bare-bones or all-out luxury.  Backpackers will find lots of campsites (most need to be booked ahead to ensure a space).  Allot money for entrance to national parks, such as Mesa Verde and Hovenweep.

You’ll find plenty of moderate to upscale lodging in Durango. Lodging in most of Telluride tends to be on the high end.  For all-out luxury, at a cost of $1,000 or more per day, check out Dunton Hot Springs.

Abstract Pricing at a Glance

Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. We don’t want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.

Price ranges are quoted in $US.

See & Do
N/A => Not applicable
$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $11-25 per person
$$$ => Tickets $26 per person

$ => Rooms less than $100 for a double
$$ => Rooms $200 for a double
$$$ => Rooms $300 for a double

$ => $1-15 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$ => $16-40 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$$$ => $41 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)

N/A => Not applicable

$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $11-25 per person
$$ => Tickets $26 per person


The best way to explore Southwestern Colorado is by car.  In the summer and fall, it’s an easy drive from Denver, through wonderful mountain scenery.  You can fly nonstop to Durango and Telluride from Denver. n the wintertime and sometimes in the summer, there are direct flights to these towns from Texas and California.



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