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Exploring southern CO - what to include in a week?

Lafayette, Colorado
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Exploring southern CO - what to include in a week?

We live near Boulder but haven't gotten to see the southern part of our beautiful state. My kids (12 and 6) aren't great car riders so I need to keep the driving on any given day to 5 hrs max (preferably less). We will leave in about a week (so second week of June), would like to hit the Great Sand Dunes - Durango (maybe Cortez/Mesa Verde) areas in a week.

Would love info on the best towns to make a base for exploring. For instance, near Great Sand Dunes - Crestone, Alamosa (maybe 1 night) or just stay further west in S. Fork or Creede (2+ nights and use it as a jumping off point for Great Sand Dunes and mountain fun)?

What are anyone's favorite towns in that path (Almosa- Durango)? And how far is 4 Corners or Mesa Verde - can they be reached from Durango w/out a ton of extra driving?

We like to hike, fly fish, visit ghost towns, explore national parks/monuments, and soak in hot springs. We're also planning on riding the Durango-Silverton train.

Any insight would be most appreciated!

Santa Fe, New Mexico
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for Santa Fe, Mesa Verde National Park, Boulder, New Mexico
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1. Re: Exploring southern CO - what to include in a week?

Mesa Verde NP is a bit over 1 hour of driving to the entrance, then 20-30 minutes to the actual cliff dwellings but there are lots of stops. I would definitely go there with your kids. Alamosa is best for Sand Dunes, there also is an alligator farm near there. A stop in Pagosa Springs is along the way, nice hot springs and about 1 hour to Durango.

On the way back stop in Ouray, Gunnison,

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2. Re: Exploring southern CO - what to include in a week?

Fun trip! You've got several route options.

Will you have 7 nights on the road and need to get home on the 8th day?

The Great Sand Dunes will be a nice first stop and just about the right distance for you. I would take Hwy 285. Maybe plan a stop in Fairplay to see South Park City. It's not an actual ghost town but a recreated one, using historic area buildings moved to the site to preserve, protect and educate. Or you could take a side trip to St. Elmo ghost town, west of Nathrop. On to the Sand Dunes. Stay at the lodge just outside the park if you think one afternoon/evening won't be enough sand play and you think you might like to spend the following morning there. Otherwise, stop at the dunes for a few hours or till sunset. (take a picnic supper...there's nowhere nearby to eat) Then on to Alamosa for the night, where you'll be well set to get to Durango the next day. Alternate plan: Make Mt. Princeton Hot Springs your destination for the night after visiting St. Elmo. Then drive to the Sand Dunes for a couple of hours en route to Durango.

So...here's a possible plan or two to get you started.

Day 1. Hwy 285 to Sand Dunes, or Plan B to Mt. Princeton Hot Springs.

Day 2. to Durango. Fish this afternoon/evening.

Day 3. train ride. Take the train one way and the bus the other, or do one of the combination adventure packages like the train/hike or train/jeep tour (Animas Forks ghost town) Or do what I've known some parents to do: One parent and one child take the train while the other parent/other child drive to Silverton to explore. Meet for lunch, ice cream. Switch. For many kids, both ways on the train is too much.

Day 4. Mesa Verde. It's about 35 miles from Durango to the turnoff/visitor center, and then it takes some time to wend your way up onto the Mesa, approx. 30 minutes. Your kids are a great age for a visit. You can go back to Durango for the night, or you could stay at Far View Lodge so you could attend an evening ranger program. You could also stay in Cortez and see the Native American Dancers at the Cortez Cultural Center. That might be my pick.

Day 5. Drive to Telluride to walk around the historic town, ride the free gondola, take a hike. Then on to Ouray where you can head for the hot springs pool.

Day 6. Hiking and pool in Ouray or fly fishing and swim beach at Ridgway State Park.

Day 7. Head for the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Allow at least a couple of hours to stop at several overlooks and maybe one of the short hikes. Then either go to Grand Junction to see Colorado National Monument that evening, or go to see Redstone and stay at Avalanche Ranch. Either would be well within your 5 hour drive limit getting home the next day. Or, if you didn't go to St. Elmo and Mt. Princeton Hot Springs on your way to the Sand Dunes, you could take Hwy 50 through Gunnison (if you have another day, there's more great fishing near here, and a planetarium for starters) and make the hot springs or Buena Vista/Salida or maybe a cabin at Twin Lakes your destination this afternoon.

Day 8. Head for home.

Edited: 01 June 2014, 01:03
Denver, Colorado
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3. Re: Exploring southern CO - what to include in a week?

If you go near Gunnison, I suggest you head up to Crested Butte for the wildflowers.

We stayed in Alamosa once - scary! The gator farm, well, we drove up and left. It's basically a tilapia farm that has gators to eat all the scraps from the fish.

Definitely do the loop of the San Juan Skyway. And I agree with others, the Durango-Silverton train is a l-o-n-g day if you go up and back on the train. Plus, you don't get much time to do anything in Silverton. And if you do that and not the drive, then you miss the beauty of the drive. It's totally different at the river level from the pass level.

Be prepared to hike a bit in Mesa Verde. Also, at Great Sand Dunes, it's a hard walk to the dunes and then even harder up them. I much prefer to walk at White Sands in NM. ;-)

Four Corners is fun to say you've been there and for a photo opportunity. Be prepared for the Native American vendors.

You might try out some of the ski resorts for their summer activities. Usually half day passes are a good option.

If you do any of the National Park sites, consider a yearly pass if you don't already have one. And the Junior Ranger programs are fun!

Lafayette, Colorado
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4. Re: Exploring southern CO - what to include in a week?

Thanks for the great suggestions! Very helpful!

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5. Re: Exploring southern CO - what to include in a week?

If you still have Alamosa in your plans you might look at this travel zoo for the Rio Grande Scenic Railroad


6. Re: Exploring southern CO - what to include in a week?

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