Many people have memories of road trips traveling across the United States as a child. This past summer we were fortunate enough to be able to experience the beauty and natural wonders of southwest Colorado. We especially loved Durango with kids as they experienced rafting and tubing and loved it.
Colorado road trip
We started our journey in Colorado Springs with our first destination of Pagosa Springs, a wonderful resort town, built around the natural hot springs. Then, we traveled onward to the towering natural monument that is Chimney Rock. Next, we visited the legendary town of Durango, experiencing Old West living and culture, and a thriving downtown mixed with a never-ending supply of outdoor recreational activities.
Finally, we ended our expedition in one of the most remote, yet still memorable, places you can find in Colorado, Four Corners. Overall, our road trip through the southwest of Colorado was an unforgettable experience that we will always remember. Prior we had spent an entire week in Denver with kids which was also fantastic.
Southwest Colorado and Durango with kids
Like so many wonderful, little Colorado mountain towns, Pagosa Springs offers spectacular beauty, outdoor activities for all ages of the family, and a tremendous opportunity to luxuriate in the local hot springs. Prior to our visit, we knew that we would be visiting the namesake hot springs in town, but that they would probably be more enjoyable in the late evening when the cool, high-altitude night air replaces the heat of the day. The San Juan River runs right through town. We saw a lot of people tubing on it so we went in to the Chamber of Commerce to ask for information about it. They offered a lot of brochures of things to do and had a very helpful and friendly staff.
Pagosa Springs Tubing on San Juan River
Nearby there was a company who outfitted us with lifejackets and river shoes. We took their bus to the drop-off point on the San Juan River. We enjoyed our tube down, getting the hang of it as we went. They had told us where to stop and get out so that we could walk back to their location. It was a quick two block walk. We took the bus a second time and tubed again. Two trips down plus walking back took about an hour and a half for our “novice” family, which included a seven year old. We were all new to tubing. More experienced tubers could probably have made it down at least three times in the two hours that you rent the tubes for. This was really a fun experience. We would definitely do it again. It was absolutely gorgeous. I only wish we could have brought our camera along to capture the beauty. Next time we will buy/bring a waterproof camera.
Pagosa Springs Hot Springs
Finally, we finished our visit to Pagosa Springs by soaking in the hot springs. There were several different options to choose from, as the hot springs are not localized in one spot. All of the resorts allow you to pay for a day pass, but we discovered that it was more economical for us to rent a room at one of the local resorts because then use of the spa was free. For a therapeutic and soul-enriching experience, plan on visiting Pagosa Springs. We will definitely tube there again, and it will probably be even more fun given we will know what to expect. We will also be sure to check out the 18-hole disc golf course called Reservoir Hill, which we heard nice things about.
Chimney Rock National Monument
Heading west, looming out of the plains, we came upon one of the tallest natural wonders in Colorado, Chimney Rock. We are drawn to this monument today much as Native Americans were thousands of years ago. Located between Durango and Pagosa Springs, it is a not-to-be-missed part of Southwest American geology. Though more expensive than we expected, we opted to take the guided tour over the self-guided tour, so we could get a better understanding of what life was like for the native peoples 1000+ years ago. Our tour guide did a great job engaging not only adults, but children as well.
He explained to us how the local flora and fauna were used for food and tools. He helped everyone go back in time, and feel like we were here when this was a bustling community. Check their calendar online for their interesting events and classes. We missed their “Life at the Chimney Rock Festival”, which we learned included hands-on activities: making small clay pots, pounding yucca plants to separate the fibers and even the chance to paint a small pictograph. With some great experiences and photos of the beautiful natural landscape, we will never forget Chimney Rock.
At the heart of southwest Colorado is the town of Durango. When we arrived in downtown Durango, nestled in a valley, surrounded by towering pine tree covered mountains on all sides and a picturesque river in the center, we knew that we had arrived at a location that all ages of the family would find activities to enjoy. For adults there were great restaurants, local craft artisans, and an eclectic downtown.
Water activities – Durango Rafting and Tubing
For children there were opportunities to splash around and go tubing in the Animas River. For all ages, there was lots of fun rafting down the Animas River. There are a number of local rafting outfitters, so shop around for one with a schedule and price that suits your family. We found a rafting company that was suited for young children and were very pleased. It was thrilling enough for them but still very safe. We had a great time. Learn about great places for river rafting adventures in the US.
Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and Museum
You can’t help but be charmed by the train tracks and seeing the train pass through the town. In the few days we were in Durango, we saw tour busloads of people who went on the historic, scenic train ride from Durango to Silverton. We really wanted to make a reservation and go; however, we had spent a lot of time in the car and still had many more days of driving. We didn’t want the kids to be cooped up for a 10-hour round trip excursion. It is still on our bucket list of things to do, and hopefully we will the next time.
Durango Mountain Resort
We were glad to have seen a brochure in our hotel for the Durango Mountain Resort because our kids loved it. It is located a little bit outside of town, but worth the journey. It is the local ski area, formerly called Purgatory.
There was a chance to try out more “extreme” type of sports (ziplining) and a wide-variety of activities. We bought the package where each child was able to choose five different activities.
Be prepared to have a race with your child on the double-track alpine slide. These sleds on wheels are a fun way to experience downhill sledding without snow. My kids enjoyed these activities very much but their favorite was the “mining,” as they love rocks.
Look online in advance, and explain to your child what the different activities are. They may want to change them once they actually see them which is fine, but get them excited about it and thinking about the choices in advance. It will be less overwhelming to have to make on-site decisions with so many great options to choose from. They also have an amazing-looking hotel on-site and even run a day camp.
Pinkerton Hot Springs
On our drive back to downtown Durango to go back to our hotel, we saw this on the side of the road. It was fun to learn about it, touch it, and climb on Pinkerton Hot Springs
Durango is modern-day towns with Old West flavor, where you can see architecture from more than 100 years ago, enjoy art in a style that truly represents the vastness of the Southwest and in the same day be able to participate in recreational activities that the whole family will like.
Four Corners National Monument
At a location seemingly in the middle of nowhere, Four Corners National Monument is still a can’t-miss destination for anyone in the southwest area of Colorado. The reason my family and I visited the monument was because nowhere else in the US can a person stand in four different states at the same time.
Actually, there are more than the four different political territorial jurisdictions of Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico coming together at this point. Two more, the Navajo Nation and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe Reservations, also adjoin at this famous point in the world. For me, the feeling of time and space you get straddling the boundary marker is similar to what you feel crossing the equator or the international dateline.
For my children, their reactions were varied about the monument. My youngest was gleefully running from “state to state,” enamored with the idea of being able to visit four different states so quickly and on a whim being able to jump from state to state like a game of hop-scotch.
Our visit to the boundary marker itself only lasted for around 30 minutes, enough time to get individual pictures of everyone, as well as a group photo. However, a more complete experience can be enjoyed by staying for lunch, exploring all the local Navajo vendor stalls, as well as visiting the tourist information center for a complete story of the history of the location. If you are looking for a unique experience not replicable in any other state, then visit Four Corners National Monument.
If you are in the area, learn what to do in the Summer in Keystone, Colorado for a great vacation. If you travel to the midwest, be sure to see what there is to do with kids in Nebraska, Iowa, as well as Chicago and Milwaukee.
The familial summer road trip is an event that all families with children should try to make happen. This is especially true when the trip includes the many beautiful and sometimes-isolated natural occurring attractions located in southwestern Colorado. Make sure you fill up at gas stations when you see them, and enjoy what to do in southwest Colorado and Durango with kids.