Roaming Durango with Kids: From Rails to Rafting

Durango Silverton RR

If Durango is your family’s summer vacation destination, start planning your itinerary now to experience the best kid-friendly activities available in this historic mountain town. Durango has such an abundance of fun things for kids to do, you’ll have a tough time choosing where to begin your adventure. Here are two of Durango’s best summer activities to help you get started.

Durango Silverton Railroad
Passengers soon realized the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad offered an excellent scenic excursion.

Ride the Rails

Durango’s rich history as a vital railroad town is still the focal point for many of the area’s best activities. Originally founded in 1879 by the Denver & Rio Grande Railway, Durango quickly prospered as a result of the gold and silver mining riches discovered in the surrounding rugged San Juan Mountains.

When the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad was completed in 1882 specifically to haul the bounty of ore from local mines, it didn’t take long for train passengers to see that this spectacular thoroughfare was more than a business venture – the Durango-Silverton railroad was also a scenic excursion through some of Colorado’s most breathtaking scenery. Over 130 years later, this historic railroad continues to operate as one of Durango’s biggest year-round attractions.

Ziplining Soaring Tree Top Adventures
The railroad offers travel packages including one option provides a ziplining trip with Soaring Tree Top Adventures.

Summer is an especially ideal time to ride this 100% coal-fired, vintage steam-powered railroad, since the temperate alpine climate offers the biggest variety of excursion packages. Accommodations range from first class seating in private dining cars with your own attendant to basic coach service in open-air gondola cars, with prices for every budget.

But choosing where you’ll sit is the easiest decision you’ll make: as a passenger you also have the option of purchasing special travel packages with add-ons like tours and lodging options in a historic hotel, budget motel or vacation rental.

For example, one of the most exciting itineraries available when you buy a ticket on the Durango-Silverton train is also one of the most kid-friendly choices: the Soaring Tree Top Adventure Package. This thrilling experience takes kids of all ages gliding through the biggest, tallest and safest zip line canopy tour in the world. A gourmet lunch is included with each ticket, and you’ll also have additional adventure package choices like overnight accommodations, rental jeeps and more.

Durango Animas River
The Animas River serves as a focal point for many of Durango’s best outdoor activities like rafting.

Another train package that older kids enjoy is the Ruins and Rails Package, a multi-day trip featuring a round-trip train excursion from Durango to Silverton, and follows with guided tours of Mesa Verde National Park, a World Heritage Site which is home to ancient Pueblo Indian ruins and cliff dwellings constructed over six centuries ago. The tour includes lodging options in Durango and near Mesa Verde, ranger-led tours, park fees and museum admission at the railroad museums in both towns.

Float the River

The Animas River is a 126-mile tributary of the San Juan River that meanders through the heart of Durango and serves as the focal point of many of the area’s best outdoor activities. A well-used multi-use path built alongside the Animas offers an option for human-powered transportation enthusiasts to get around town, making it a popular route for runners, bicyclists and pedestrians.

Rafting Animas River
The lower section of the Animas River has class II and III rapids which are tame enough for families and young children to enjoy rafting.

Along the way, birders and anglers get closer to nature on the river banks in the heart of the community, while regattas of whitewater rafters parade through town during warm summer months. Every June, residents celebrate this jewel of the community at Animas River Days, which includes fun family events like a kayak slalom race, a river parade with costumed participants, dog contests, free music and movies.

The river’s most popular activities occur along the Lower Animas River, which is the ideal place for kids and parents to experience the thrill of whitewater rafting. Unlike the rugged and wild Upper Animas River which only the bravest kayakers and rafters attempt to navigate, the lower section features easy class II and III sections like the Smelter, Corner Pocket, Santa Rita and Sawmill rapids that are tame enough for kids as young as six years old.

Several rafting companies that operate along the Animas provide two and four-hour guided trips for families and large groups who reserve in advance often enjoy extra discounts. To make the most of your adventure, look for operators that provide kid-friendly instruction, safety tips, floatation devices, safety helmets and staff their rafts with professional guides certified in first aid and CPR.

If You Go

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
479 Main Ave.

Durango Rafting Company
1111 Comino Del Rio

Animas River Days

Rene Agredano enjoys sharing travel tips about Colorado – her favorite state in the U.S. – when she’s not at her mountaintop cabin retreat in Red Feather Lakes, she’s RVing around America writing from the road.

Header photo of Durango-Silverton Railroad courtesy of
Photo of Durango-Silverton Railroad next to river courtesy of Legends of America.
Photo of the Animas River in Durango by Rene Agredano.
Family Rafting on the Animas River courtesy of Durango Rafting Company.
Zipline photo courtesy of Soaring Tree Top Adventures.