Purgatory, the ski mountain at Durango Mountain Resort, just announced it would extend its ski season a week to April 6. Colorado has been pounded with snow in recent weeks, so chances are, many other ski resorts will stay open a bit longer since the snowpack is so good. At Purgatory, more than 21 feet of snow has fallen in the past 10 weeks.
I’m all for snow and an extended ski season. After all, we’ve had some dry winters lately. But my favorite season in Colorado is summer, hands’ down. That’s when the ski resorts morph into outdoor playgrounds for all ages, with Frisbee golf, mini-golf, bungee trampolines, climbing walls and alpine slides. In the ski towns, warm weather brings lots of music and art festivals, plus many options for al fresco dining. Meadows bloom with wildflowers, which make summer hikes and mountain-bike rides divine. Rivers flow for rafting, kayaking and fly fishing. We enjoy blue-sky days and low humidity. Heaven on Earth!
If your family’s travels take you to southwest Colorado, check out these top things to do in Durango with kids:
Main Avenue Trolley Service
Young children find these bright red trolleys that run up and down the main drag a blast to ride. They stop every 20 minutes at clearly marked signs and benches throughout downtown, Monday to Friday. The fare is only 50 cents, and kids under five ride for free.
Mesa Verde National Park
This national park 35 miles west (about a 50-minute drive) of Durango is dedicated to the archeological remains of the ancient peoples who made their home in cliff dwellings in the natural alcoves in the mesas here. School-age children will enjoy the fascinating ranger-led tours of sites like Cliff Palace, Balcony House and Long House. When we visited Mesa Verde a couple years ago with our preschool-age kids in tow, they weren’t the greatest listeners during the tours, but they sure liked scrambling up the ladders at the multi-story dwellings.
There are lots of places in town to picnic with your kids and let them expend some energy, but one right off the Main Avenue is especially centrally located and ideal with its shady trees, picnic tables and playground. Look for Fassbinder Park just off Seventeenth Street and Second Avenue.
Durango Mountain Resort
There’s disc golf, mountain scooters, a climbing wall and naturalist programs on mountain at Durango Mountain Resort. A big draw: the half-mile alpine slide, which takes you on a curvy ride past banked turns and a trestle. Children ages 3 to 5 need to ride with an adult.
Steamworks Brewing Company
At this downtown microbrewery, kids can draw on the floor with sidewalk chalk. What more could you ask for in a family-friendly restaurant? How about a vibrant (read: loud) atmosphere that will drown out your kids, a varied children’s menu, crayons and a paper placemat to color, plus cool sippy cups whose tops won’t fall off. Oh, and a scoop of ice cream comes with every kids’ meal. (And the beer’s not bad, either.)
Thomas the Train
Every summer, typically in June, Thomas the beloved tank engine makes an appearance at the Main Street train station, attracting thousands of families with preschool-age children obsessed with the bright blue character. Take a 25-minute ride on Thomas, play with model trains, listen to stories with Sir Topham Hatt, jump on a “bouncy train” all with the price of admission to the “Day Out with Thomas.” Book your train-ride tickets early; they tend to sell out quickly.
Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
If Thomas isn’t in town when you’re planning your family trip, consider a ride on a coal-fired, steam-engine train that makes its way from Durango through canyons and wilderness to the old mining town of Silverton. It’s an 8-hour round trip, so be prepared to spend the entire day on the train (except for time for sightseeing and lunch in Silverton). Choose from indoor or outdoor seating; if you sit on the open-air “gondola” bring along a jacket or warm gear in case of inclement weather, and don’t be surprised if you’re showered with ash emitted from the coal-powered train.