45 Best Sights in Southwest Colorado, Colorado

Big B's Delicious Orchards

Fodor's choice

This lovely orchard 1 mile west of Paonia markets its own organic apples, apricots, cherries, peaches, pears, and plums throughout the summer. You can pick them yourself, along with a variety of other produce, or buy them in the shop in the form of homemade organic juices or hard cider; you'll also find local wines, art, honey, and more. The café serves tasty sandwiches, salads, and Colorado-style Mexican entrées that can be enjoyed indoors or out. There's live music outdoors on many summer evenings, and kids will keep themselves entertained on the variety of tree swings. Camping is also available.

Canyons of the Ancients National Monument

Fodor's choice

Spread across 176,000 acres of arid mesa and canyon country, the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument holds more than 20,000 archaeological sites, the greatest concentration anywhere in the United States. Some sites, like apartment-style cliff dwellings and hewn-rock towers, are impossible to miss. Others are as subtle as the remains of agricultural fields, springs, and water systems. They are powerful evidence of the complex civilization of the Ancestral Pueblo people. Lowry Pueblo, in the northern part of the monument, is a 40-room pueblo with eight kivas (round chambers used for sacred rituals). Its Great Kiva is one of the largest known in the Southwest.

Exploring the monument area can be a challenge: roads are few, hiking trails are sparse, and visitor services are all but nonexistent. The visitor center, which is also a museum, is 3 miles west of Dolores on Route 184. The best bet is a guided hike with the nonprofit Southwest Colorado Canyons Alliance ( www.swcocanyons.org/tours).

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

Fodor's choice

The most entertaining way to relive the Old West is to take a ride on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, a nine-hour round-trip journey along the 45-mile railway to Silverton. Travel in comfort in restored coaches or in the open-air cars called gondolas as you listen to the train's shrill whistle. A shorter excursion to Cascade Canyon in heated coaches is available in winter. The train departs from the Durango Depot, constructed in 1882 and beautifully restored. Next door is the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum, which is free and well worth your time.

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Four Corners Monument

Fodor's choice
Four Corners Monument
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This interesting landmark is located about 42 miles from Cortez, 65 miles southeast of Bluff, and 6 miles north of Teec Nos Pos, Arizona. The Four Corners Monument Navajo Tribal Park is owned and operated by the Navajo Nation. On the Colorado side is the Ute Mountain Ute of the Corners. Primarily a photo op, you'll also find Navajo and Ute artisans selling authentic jewelry and crafts, as well as traditional foods. It's the only place in the United States where you can be in six places at one time: four states and two tribal parks meet at one single point. Bring plenty of water.

Million Dollar Highway

Fodor's choice

Ouray is also the northern end of the Million Dollar Highway, the awesome stretch of U.S. 550 that climbs over Red Mountain Pass (arguably the most spectacular part of the 236-mile San Juan Skyway). As it ascends steeply from Ouray, the road clings to the cliffs hanging over the Uncompahgre River. Guardrails are few, hairpin turns are many, and behemoth RVs seem to take more than their share of road. This priceless road is kept open all winter by heroic plow crews.

Purgatory Resort

Fodor's choice

Purgatory does summer better than just about any Colorado ski resort, especially for kids. Activities include a mountain coaster, frisbee golf, an alpine slide, a family-friendly ropes course, a short zip line, pony rides, bungee trampolines, an airbag jump, lift-served hiking and biking, and, of course, the obligatory climbing wall and minigolf course.

San Juan County Historical Society Mining Heritage Center

Fodor's choice

This large, well-kept museum houses an assortment of mining memorabilia, minerals, and local artifacts, including walk-in mining-tunnel replicas. The museum also includes the old San Juan County Jail, built in 1902. Here you can get a glimpse of turn-of-the-20th-century life in the region.

San Juan Skyway

Fodor's choice

One of the country's most stupendously scenic drives, the 236-mile San Juan Skyway weaves through an impressive series of Fourteeners (peaks reaching more than 14,000 feet). From Telluride, it heads north on Route 145 to Placerville, where it turns east on Route 62. On U.S. 550 it continues south to historic Ouray and over Red Mountain Pass to Silverton and then on to Durango, Mancos, and Cortez via U.S. 160. From Cortez, Route 145 heads north, passing through Rico and over lovely Lizard Head Pass before heading back into Telluride. In late September and early October, this route has some of the state's most spectacular aspen viewing.

Telluride Historical Museum

Fodor's choice

Housed in the 1896 Miner's Hospital, the Telluride Historical Museum hosts exhibits on the town's past, including work in the nearby mines, techniques used by local doctors, and an 860-year-old Native American blanket. It is one of only six Smithsonian-affiliated museums in Colorado.

The Colorado Trail

Fodor's choice

Junction Creek to Gudy’s Rest Junction Creek is the southern terminus for the Colorado Trail and one of Durango’s best trails for hiking, mountain biking, and trail running. Located just 4 miles or so from downtown, this 8-mile out-and-back day hike rises and falls at a relatively gentle grade, so it’s achievable for most hikers. The trail eventually winds its way up to Gudy’s Rest, named after Gudy Gaskill, the “Mother of the Colorado Trail.” This high spot is a great place to sit and take in the views of Durango and the San Juan Mountains. Instead of hiking all the way up to Gudy’s Rest, you can make the hike a 5-mile round-trip by turning back at the wooden footbridge, which is a great goal for first-timers.

The Springs Resort and Spa

Fodor's choice

In a beautiful setting overlooking the San Juan River, the Springs Resort draws from the Guinness World Record–verified deepest geothermal hot spring to heat its 24 outdoor pools, ranging in temperature from 89ºF to 114ºF. The multitiered layout includes several waterfalls; a large, cooler-water swimming pool; a jetted tub; a goldfish pond; and plenty of lounge chairs and shaded tables for taking breaks from the steamy pools. There is also a full-service spa on-site.

Ute Mountain Ute Tribal Park

Fodor's choice

The only way to see this spectacular 125,000-acre park, located inside the Ute reservation, is by taking a guided tour. Expert tribal guides lead strenuous daylong hikes into this dazzling repository of Ancestral Pueblo ruins, including beautifully preserved cliff dwellings, pictographs, and petroglyphs. There are also less demanding half-day tours, as well as private and custom tour options. Tours meet at the Tribal Park Visitor Center at the junction of U.S. 160 and U.S. 491, 20 miles south of Cortez.

Alpine Loop Scenic Byway

The inspiring 63-mile Alpine Loop Scenic Byway joins Lake City with Ouray and Silverton. The road, typically open late May or early June through early October, has unpaved sections that require a high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicle. Dizzily spiraling from 12,800-foot-high passes to gaping valleys, past seven ghost towns, the trip is well worth the effort.

Animas Overlook Trail

If you're looking for a great view without the effort, try the ¾-mile Animas Overlook Trail. It takes you past signs explaining local geology, flora, and fauna before bringing you to a precipice with an unparalleled view of the valley and the surrounding Needle Mountains. It's the only wheelchair-accessible trail in the area. From town, it's a 45-minute drive up Junction Creek Road.

Bachelor-Syracuse Mine Tour

On this hour-long tour, visitors trek 1,500 feet into one of the region's great silver mines. Tour guides are actual miners and they explain various mining techniques and point out remaining silver veins and other mineral deposits. Tours depart every hour, and light jackets are wise year-round, as it's chilly in the mine. Gold-panning lessons in the adjacent stream are included in the tour price. On summer weekends, come early for a tasty, inexpensive breakfast.

Box Cañon Falls

One particularly gorgeous jaunt is to Box Cañon Falls, where the turbulent waters of Clear Creek thunder 285 feet down a narrow gorge. A steel suspension bridge and well-marked trails afford breathtaking views. Birders flock to the park to see the rare black swift and other species, and a visitor center has interpretive displays.

Chimney Rock National Monument

About 16 miles west of Pagosa Springs, Route 151 heads south to Chimney Rock National Monument. Twin spires of rock loom over the ruins of more than 100 homes and ceremonial buildings built about 1,000 years ago on a high mesa. The area offers self-guided walking tours of the two trails affording access to the archaeological sites. The Great House Pueblo Trail is short, but steep and exposed, so bring plenty of water. The Mesa Village Trail loop is paved and mostly level.

Christ of the Mines Shrine

If you look north toward Anvil Mountain, you'll see the Christ of the Mines Shrine, the centerpiece of which is a 12-ton statue of Jesus carved out of Italian marble. The shrine was erected in 1959 and has been credited with a handful of miracles over the subsequent years. A moderately strenuous 1-mile hike leads to the shrine, which has memorable views of the surrounding San Juan Mountains.

Cortez Cultural Center

The cultural center has exhibits on regional artists and Ancestral Pueblo culture, as well as events and fairs. Summer evening programs may include Native American dances and storytelling.

Creede Historical Museum and Library

Occupying the original Denver & Rio Grande Railroad Depot, the museum paints a vivid portrait of the town's rough-and-tumble early days. It also includes World War I and World War II exhibits.

15 Main St., Creede, CO, 81130, USA
Sights Details
Rate Includes: $2, Closed Oct.–late May and weekdays in Sept.

Creede Underground Mining Museum and Community Center

This museum is housed in rooms that modern miners blasted out of solid rock to commemorate the lives of 1880s-era miners and trace the history of mining in the area. In summer, there are guided tours at 10 and 3 daily, but before 2:15 pm you can also take a self-guided audio tour. Reservations are recommended.

Crested Butte Mountain Heritage Museum

Housed in an 1893 hardware store, this museum showcases the essentials for life in an 1880s mining town, such as clothing, furniture, and household items. There's an intricate diorama of the town in the 1920s, complete with a moving train, plus exhibits on skiing, sledding, biking, and Flauschink, a quirky local ceremony that welcomes the return of spring.

Crested Butte Mountain Resort Adventure Park

Make a day of it at Crested Butte Mountain Resort Adventure Park, where, for one ticket price, you can access unlimited lift-served hiking and biking, minigolf, bungee trampolines, a climbing wall, an inflated-bag jump, and a hands-on kids' mining exhibit. À la carte pricing and guided hiking are also available. The lift-served hiking and biking are summer-only, but the rest of the Adventure Park is open both winter and summer.
12 Snowmass Rd., Mt. Crested Butte, CO, 81225, USA
Sights Details
Rate Includes: From $47, Closed early Apr.–late May and late Oct.–late Nov.

Curecanti National Recreation Area

This recreation area, part of the National Park Service, encompasses three reservoirs along 40 miles of the Gunnison River and can be accessed at the bottom of the East Portal Road. Blue Mesa, nearly 20 miles long, is the largest body of water in Colorado; Morrow Point and Crystal are fjordlike reservoirs set in the upper Black Canyon of the Gunnison. All three reservoirs provide water-based recreational opportunities, including fishing, boating, and paddling, but only Blue Mesa offers boat ramps. Excellent fly-fishing can be found upstream (east) of Blue Mesa Reservoir along the Gunnison River. A variety of camping and hiking opportunities are also available. The Elk Creek Visitor Center on U.S. 50 is available year-round for trip-planning assistance.

Durango Hot Springs Resort and Spa

Come to this newly renovated, luxurious hot springs resort to soak your aching bones after a day of hiking or skiing. The complex includes an Olympic-size, saltwater swimming pool infused with aquagen, and 27 total natural mineral pools ranging from 98°F to 110°F; all are open year-round. The pools are outdoors, perched at the base of the mountain and thoughtfully designed to blend in with nature. The grounds also feature a spa, sauna, reflexology path, food carts and fire pit, stage for live music, stream, separate adults-only area, and hydrotherapy "yin-yang" pool.

Galloping Goose Historical Museum

Housed in a replica of the town's 1880s-era train station, this museum displays Galloping Goose No. 5, one of only seven specially designed engines built in the 1930s. The "Geese" were motored vehicles built from touring-car bodies that could operate for much less than steam-powered engines.

421 Railroad Ave., Dolores, CO, 81323, USA
Sights Details
Rate Includes: Free, Closed Sun. and mid-Sept.–mid-May (except by appointment)

Gunnison Pioneer Museum

Anyone interested in the region's history shouldn't miss the Pioneer Museum. The complex spreads across six acres and includes an extensive collection of vehicles, from Model Ts to 1960s sedans. There are also two old schoolhouses; an impressive display of arrowheads; mining exhibits; and a train, complete with coal tender, caboose, and boxcar. Admission is cash only.

Hartman Rocks Recreation Area

This free recreation area is a haven for mountain bikers, hikers, horseback riders, rock climbers, and ATV riders in the summer and Nordic skiers and snowshoers in the winter. With 8,000 acres of public land, encompassing 45 miles of single-track trails and 45 miles of road, there's enough room for everyone.

Historical Tours of Telluride

Operated by local thespian Ashley Boling, Historical Tours of Telluride provides humorous walking tours through the downtown streets and buildings, adding anecdotes about infamous figures such as Butch Cassidy and Jack Dempsey. Tours last about 90 minutes.

Hovenweep National Monument

Hovenweep National Monument
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Straddling the Colorado–Utah border, this monument is known for distinctive square, oval, round, and D-shape towers that were engineering marvels when they were built around AD 1200. The buildings are spread throughout a series of ancient villages, once home to 2,500 people. The visitor center is on the Utah side of the monument. Per rangers, don't attempt to use your GPS to find Hovenweep. Most devices will take you either over rough dirt roads or to more remote parts of the monument.