The 6 Best Trail and Ale Pairings in Durango

The Animas River Valley is filled with some of the top hiking trails in the state.
The Animas River Valley is filled with some of the top hiking trails in the state. Photo courtesy of Visit Durango
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Nestled in the rugged Animas River Valley, Durango, Colorado, has everything an adventurer could possibly want: serious mountains, a big river, and a friendly mountain town vibe. It’s also home to six craft breweries, plus a winery and distillery. With so much adventure potential, it’s tough to narrow down the absolute best things to do, but you can bet a trail-to-tavern pairing is the most quintessential way to experience Durango at its finest. Here are six of our favorites.

1. Animas City Mountain | Durango Brewing Company

A flight of the offerings at Durango Brewing Company.
A flight of the offerings at Durango Brewing Company. Bochen Chen

The challenging six-mile loop up and around Animas City Mountain is a real lung buster: whether you head clockwise or counter-clockwise, you’re in for a minimum of 2.5 miles of strenuous climbing. It’s a popular hike with locals, and for good reason. When you make it to the highest point on the mesa, you’ll forget all about it. The panoramic views of Durango, the Animas River Valley, and the rugged La Plata Mountains from Animas’ high point will have you sticking around for a few extra minutes. There are several options on the mountain in addition to the main loop, but the trail is well-signed.

After a tough hike to the top of Animas Mountain, you’ll be ready for a refreshing beer. Head south back to Durango, where Durango Brewing Company has been brewing a variety of beers since 1990. (Their history actually dates back much farther than that to 1886, when they were known as Durango Beer and Ice Company.) The brewery has continued to expand since then, and its facility was fully renovated in 2016.

2. Narrow Gauge Railroad | Steamworks Brewing Company

The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is a great way to explore the region.
The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is a great way to explore the region. Philip Boyack

The historic Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad first opened in 1882, and it has been operating continuously ever since. An extension of the Denver & Rio Grande Railway, it was originally built to haul silver and gold ore, which were mined in the San Juan Mountains. These days, you can hitch a ride on the historic railroad from its depot in downtown Durango and get a glimpse of the local history, along with the gorgeous views of San Juan National Forest, from the vantage point of a restored vintage 1920s car. History buff bonus: Much of the classic Western *Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid *was filmed along the route.

Once you’re done with your Old West adventure on the railway, head to Steamworks Brewing Company, where the food is as scrumptious as the beers. There’s a beer here for everyone: Steamworks has 18 medals from prestigious competitions like the World Beer Cup and the Great American Beer Festival. And they take it seriously—Steamworks servers are Cicerone certified, meaning they know exactly what they’re recommending to visitors.

3. Smelter Mountain | Ska Brewing Company

Ska Brewing Company is located close to the trailhead to climb Smelter Mountain.
Ska Brewing Company is located close to the trailhead to climb Smelter Mountain. Ty Nigh

The steep, mile-long hike up 7,725-foot Smelter Mountain’s north shoulder is a Durango area classic, and the trailhead, immediately south of Santa Rita Park on the west side of Highway 550, is super-convenient from town. The peak’s unusual name is a throwback to the town’s mining heyday, when the smelting process was used to extract ore from rock. The trail gains 1,000 feet of elevation on its course from the trailhead to the summit, so you know you’re hiking toward an incredible view. The top-out delivers: it’s a phenomenal vantage point for the entire Durango area. (It’s also a beloved night hike—bring along some layers and a reliable headlamp to see the city lit up after dark.)

Another of Smelter Mountain’s best features is its trailhead’s proximity to Ska Brewing Company, one of the best-known breweries in Durango. This wind-powered facility has been around since 1995, when a couple of locals who weren’t yet old enough to purchase their own beer decided to brew it for themselves. Questionably legal beginnings aside, Ska has morphed into one of the best-loved breweries in the Centennial State, and their tap room is well worth a visit.

4. Animas River Trail | Four Leaves Winery

The Animas River winds its way through Durango.
The Animas River winds its way through Durango. Photo courtesy of Visit Durango

The paved, seven-mile Animas River Trail winds its way through town along the river and makes for a picturesque stroll—but it’s so much more than that. The path represents everything that’s awesome about Durango: it runs right through a whitewater kayak park, skate and BMX parks, and a dog park, and is bustling with bike commuters, joggers, and visitors at virtually all hours of the day. It’s so well-loved, in fact, that the town voted to implement a half-cent sales tax in order to maintain it.

Explore the town via the River Trail, then head to Four Leaves Winery, conveniently located near the southern terminus of Main Avenue, just a stone’s throw from the river. The historic building hosts tastings of its wines, made from fine grapes imported from all over the world. It’s also a fully equipped winemaking facility, so knowledgeable staff can help visitors create their very own blend of wine to suit their unique tastes.

5. Historical Hiking | Durango Craft Spirits

Durango Craft Spirits features liquors that are mashed, distilled, and bottled on site.
Durango Craft Spirits features liquors that are mashed, distilled, and bottled on site. Photo courtesy of Visit Durango

The Animas River Valley is chock-full of history, so there are plenty of ghost towns to explore nearby. Head to Graysill Mines Ghost Town, where miners began hunting for uranium and vanadium in 1945. It hasn’t been operating since 1963, but visitors can still head up CO Road 578 in a sturdy 4WD vehicle to check out the site. Or drive just a few miles farther north to Silverton, where you can tour the Old Hundred Gold Mine. The tour takes you a third of a mile into the flanks of 13,300-foot Galena Mountain. Visitors can pan for silver and gold—and keep whatever they find.

When you’ve had your fill of history for the day, head back into town to Durango Craft Spirits, whose liquors are hand-crafted, mashed, distilled, and bottled right in Durango. In keeping with the historical theme of your day, spirits have cheeky names like "Mayday Moonshine" and “Soiled Doves Vodka,” paying homage to the town’s Old West days. Hit the tasting room anytime after 1 p.m.

6. Float the Animas | Animas Brewing Company

Outfitters can help visitors enjoy a float trip down the Animas in Durango.
Outfitters can help visitors enjoy a float trip down the Animas in Durango. Photo courtesy of Visit Durango

The Animas is the lifeblood of Durango, so it’s no surprise that whitewater rafting on its many rapids is a beloved pastime. At high water, usually in early to mid-June, the Upper Animas is packed with nonstop action, including Class IV and V rapids. Later in the season, when things mellow out, it’s still an ideal adventure for adrenaline junkies and whitewater newbies alike. Several local outfitters take trips down the river. The Lower Animas is also a great spot for tubing, floating, and enjoying a picnic on the riverbank.

After your river trip, the obvious choice is Animas Brewing Company. Located in the heart of town and right on the river, Animas Brewing offers a host of beers, including the Class IV IPA, which is the ideal reward for a day spent on the river. They also have a perfect summertime patio, plus a full food menu, and locals love Animas for its perennially friendly service. Pro tip: Try the pasties.

Originally written for Durango Area Tourism Office.

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