Miles: Durango to Pagosa Springs is about 60 miles; scenic detours will add 40 or more miles.
Best time: Summers can be warm; spring and fall are temperate.
Why: Get a look at southern Colorado as you cruise past ranches and grassy meadows at an altitude high enough for forests and mountains but low enough that you’re not fighting twisting roads. Bonus points for cliff dwellings, “Elk Crossing” warning signs and breaking in your new cowboy boots.
Highlights: Fuel up at one of the eateries in Durango’s historic district, then burn off calories hiking at any of the National Forest Access points along the route. Try your hand at fishing in Vallecito Lake, the San Juan River or Lake Capote. Detour a few miles south to Chimney Rock National Monument to tour the excavation site of an ancient Native American culture. Decompress in one of Pagosa Springs’ hot springs.
Memorable stay: Stepping into Durango’s General Palmer Hotel, built in 1898, is like wandering into an elegant cattle baron’s estate. The public areas are filled with intricate woodwork and beautiful antiques, and the guest rooms feature vintage and replica furnishings as well as modern amenities.
Memorable meal: Riff Raff Brewing Co. in Pagosa Springs was indeed full of riffraff, so we felt right at home. The band was loud, and the restaurant was crowded. It was worth the wait for a table: stellar brews (a honey kolsch was tops) and burgers (one lamb, one beef; they even have a yak burger) were gut-busting and good.
Tourist trap or treat: Chimney Rock National Monument, a short detour off U.S. 160, is a treat. This rugged archaeological site has homes and ceremonial buildings of the ancestral Puebloans, circa 1000 (four structures are excavated for viewing), and dramatic views from the top of the 7,000-foot-plus mountain.
Plan to spend: Pack a picnic lunch and make a day of it. If you have extra time, explore the surrounding areas: San Juan Mountains, Mesa Verde cliff dwellings, Wolf Creek ski resort, Telluride and more.