Southwest Colorado

Photo by Richard Friedland

Southwest Colorado Itineraries

Durango in 2 Days

Telluride in 2 Days

A trip through remnants of the Wild West and ancient ruins along mountainside-hugging roads

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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 the archeological remains of the great Ancient Puebloan Culture (Anasazi), who were the ancestors of current generations of Native Americans inhabiting New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. You’ll also find beautiful vistas, Little Switzerland, Telluride resort, Durango and other places for wonderful year-around recreation.

Mesa Verde and Cortez: Exploring Ancient Trails and Dwellings

The footprints of the Ancients are all over the Southwest Colorado. This is particularly true in the Four Corner’s region where Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico meet. The most famous site is Mesa Verde National Park near Cortez, Colorado, so should not be missed because it contains the remains of more than 600 cliff dwellings. Rangers lead interesting tours at some of the ruins, and it’s smartest to book in advance. In the summer go early 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 has hundreds of sites, many unexcavated, within its protected boundaries. You can easily visit Hovenweep National Monument, which has a number of ancient structures you can visit on a one-mile loop hike. You can combine an excursion to Hovenweep with a tasting at Sutcliffe Vineyards, one of the best wineries in Colorado. The Canyons of the Ancients has few roads and most are unpaved. These sites can be visited on your own, but  do so respectfully. As Rose B. Simpson from Santa Clara Pueblo asks in the linked video, “Take only that which will fill your heart.”

Telluride Blends Posh and History

Telluride is an old mining town turned into one of the premiere resort towns in Southwest Colorado. It’s a popular ski town in the winter but the many festivals make it equally popular in the summer.  Telluride has great skiing for all levels and all of the amenities of an upscale resort town. The renowned blue grass  and jazz festivals are just a few of the events in the summer and fall. The town has several good restaurants.

Our summertime Telluride in 2 Days itinerary includes a jeep tour up Imogene Pass to the Tomboy Ghost Town. Participants will enjoy a fascinating step back into the area’s mining history. Also in the area are fishing, golf, horseback riding, river rafting, hiking, mountain biking, etc.  From the town you can see and visit Bridal Veil Falls.  The water from the falls created AC electricity in 1891 that was 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 the town. Ouray is the starting (or ending) point of arguably the most dramatic section of highway in Colorado,  the Million Dollar Highway which ascends and descends in hairpin curves. If you’re not too acrophobic  look over the edge of the road. The views of the steeps are jaw-dropping. Tiny Ouray has a complex of hot mineral pools so enjoy a soak. In the winter watch world-class ice climbing on specially prepared walls. The far side of the Million Dollar Highway is Silverton, where the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad tracks end.  The ride on the train, which starts in Durango and travels on tracks clinging to mountainsides is a spectacular ride.

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Southwest Colorado is steep, narrow, dramatic and dark.  In places it only gets approximately 30 minutes of direct sunlight daily. The drive through the Canyon on Route 50 along the north rim is one of the most dramatic in the State. Rock climbing and river running are only at the technical expert level. Parts of the river have been designated as Gold Medal trout waters.

Park Yourself in Historic Durango

Durango is a historic town built on mining and railroading.  Visit Durango in 2 Days to see some of the great things you can see and do. Durango has intriguing old buildings where you can overnight, such as the Strater Hotel, with the room where Louis L’Amour wrote many of his novels, and the Rochester Hotel. Durango is a college town (Fort Lewis College), so it has a good variety of restaurants, shops and galleries.  Enjoy a morning or afternoon just wandering through town. A favorite summertime activity is a 45-mile ride on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad between Durango and Silverton. The train stops in Silverton long enough for you to have lunch. and tour the local mining museum.

The Purgatory ski resort, approximately 25 miles north of town (shuttles available), predominantly attracts beginner and intermediate skiers and riders. The experts  gravitate toward runs with big bumps, and can enjoy cat skiing or riding and heliskiing to enjoy out-of-bounds powder.

You won’t find a lot of companies leading tours to Southwestern Colorado but for a slightly off the beaten path vacation it’s terrific.

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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