Southwest Colorado Travel Guide
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  • Plan Your Southwest Colorado Vacation

    Photo: Peter Guttman/

Plan Your Southwest Colorado Vacation

The reddish rocks found in much of the state, particularly in the southwest, give Colorado its name. The region's terrain varies widely—from yawning black canyons and desolate moonscapes to pastel deserts and mesas, glistening sapphire lakes, and wide expanses of those stunning red rocks. It's so rugged in the southwest that a four-wheel-drive vehicle or a pair of sturdy hiker's legs is necessary to explore much of the wild and beautiful backcountry.

The region's history and people are as colorful as the landscape. Southwestern Colorado, as well as the "Four Corners" neighbors of northwestern New Mexico, northeastern Arizona, and southeastern Utah, was home to the Ancestral Puebloans formerly known as Anasazi, meaning "ancient ones." These people, ancestors of today’s Puebloan peoples (including the Zuni and Hopi tribes) constructed impressive cliff dwellings in what are now Mesa Verde National Park, Ute Mountain Tribal Park, and other nearby sites. This wild and woolly region, dotted with rowdy mining camps and boomtowns, also witnessed the antics of such notorious outlaws as Butch Cassidy, who embarked on his storied career by robbing the San Miguel Valley Bank in Telluride in 1889, and Robert "Bob" Ford, who hid out in Creede after shooting Jesse James in 1882.

Southwest Colorado has such diversity that, depending on where you go, you can have radically different vacations. You can spiral from the towering peaks of the San Juan range to the plunging Black Canyon of the Gunnison, taking in alpine scenery along the way, as well as the eerie remains of old mining camps, before winding through striking desert landscapes and Old West railroad towns. Even if you’re not here to ski or golf in the resorts of Crested Butte, Durango, or Telluride, you’ll still find plenty to experience in this part of the state.


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Top Reasons To Go

  1. Downhill skiing and snowboarding in Telluride There’s never much of a wait to take a lift up to the sweeping, groomed trails and challenging tree and mogul runs at this world-famous ski area, tucked among the highest concentration of 14,000-foot peaks in North America.
  2. Driving the Million Dollar Highway The scenery is unparalleled on this narrow, hairpin-turning road that winds over Red Mountain Pass between Ouray and Silverton.
  3. Exploring Mesa Verde Discover what life was like for ancient peoples in this region as you climb ladders to access the incredible cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde National Park.
  4. Hiking the Colorado Trail Bike, hike, or photograph along the nearly 500 miles of volunteer-maintained trails traversing eight major mountain ranges, seven national forests, and six wilderness areas from Durango to Denver.
  5. Mountain biking in Crested Butte The town is one of the birthplaces of fat-tire biking, and it’s completely surrounded by up-close mountain scenery.
  6. Riding the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad This six-hour round-trip journey along the Animas River will take you back in time in trains mostly powered by coal-fired locomotives. The views include dramatic canyons and the sweeping panoramas of the San Juan National Forest.

When To Go

When to Go

Like the rest of the state, southwestern Colorado is intensely seasonal. Snow typically begins falling in the high country in late September...

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