I just got back home from a weeklong climbing trip to Durango, Colorado. We got to see some great friends, eat delicious food, and climb on some amazing rock. If you’re considering a trip to Durango at some point, keep reading for the travel beta.
We chose to drive our Dodge ’93 B350 Sportsmobile Van to Durango from Austin, Texas. The van can fit 4-5 people comfortably and a TON of gear. We planned on camping for the majority of the trip, so we packed two tents with sleeping pads and bags. We also brought a Yeti cooler, some camping cookware, a small fold-out table, three crash pads, climbing packs, 60 and 70M ropes, a camera, and Settlers of Catan.
We had friends living in Durango, but their landlord didn’t want a ton of visitors, so we spent most nights camping.
Hermosa Campground – FREE
If you drive up north on County Road 203, you’ll find the Hermosa Campground. It’s about 20 minutes north of downtown, but camping is free. They didn’t have running water or showers, but they did have a picnic table and fire pit for each spot. There was only one restroom without water and space was pretty limited to 20 spots, but it was a decent place to stay for free.
Cascade Canyon – FREE
If you drive north on 550, past the Purgatory Ski area, you will find a sign for Lime Creek and a dirt road. If you pass the entrance to the climbing area, you’ll find a small area for camping. This site was also free and considerably more gorgeous than Hermosa campground. This campsite had a great view of the mountains, and we had the whole place to ourselves for at least one night. The mosquitoes were fairly bad from 10 am – 8 pm, so bring some type of insect repellent if you head this way. We used a eucalyptus spray from Repel and that worked pretty well. There were also tons of chipmunks everywhere, so if you bring food or trash with you, keep it off the ground away from the critters.
We tried to cook our own food for the majority of the trip, but we also ventured out and tried some local cuisine, and these were our top 3 favorite spots:
This is an actual ranch on the right side of 550 if you’re heading north. They make their own cheese, raw milk, ice cream, and burgers. The burgers are absolutely phenomenal, so if you’re a meat-lover, this place is a MUST. Plus, they have tons of shaded outdoor seating so you can enjoy the gorgeous weather and view while you eat. Afterward, you can play with the funny goats that have long, floppy ears. Their names are Pip and Squeak.
This place makes delicious Mexican food and enormous margaritas. Enough said.
This restaurant is a breakfast and lunch joint off of Main Avenue. They’re only open from 8 am til 3 pm, but their breakfast is pretty good. The friends we met up with in Durango say this is the only good breakfast place in town, so we took their word for it. They make their own doughnuts and bagels and give you the option of buying something quick for the road or sitting down for a proper meal. Of all the things we ordered and tried, the Miner’s Breakfast with over-easy or –medium eggs and an English muffin is the way to go ;). They also have vegetarian meals, gluten-free tortillas, and plenty of paleo-friendly options. As an added bonus, they gave us a free bag of leftover doughnuts for our long drive home, so they get my vote!
We really only brought enough gear for sport climbing and bouldering, but there’s also great trad climbs around Durango. Below are the areas that we were able to visit:
Lemon Reservoir – SPORT
This crag had a pretty short approach down into the canyon. You do have to use a static rope for about 5 or 6 feet, so if you’re bringing a dog with you, you might want to have a harness on him, or go down before him in case he jumps down. As I was climbing down, our friend’s dog just barreled straight down because she couldn’t find another way down, so just a head’s up! The climbing at Lemon Reservoir is nice and tall with tons of friction. There’s a loud river rushing through, which creates a nice ambiance, but also makes it fairly difficult to communicate. We decided after a day of screaming our heads off to develop some universal hand signals for the remainder of the trip. The only real nuisance at this crag, besides the unrelenting sun, was the amount of flies. They weren’t horseflies, so they were pretty harmless, but they were everywhere just tickling the crap out of you, and that was somewhat aggravating.
Cascade Canyon – SPORT
About 30 minutes north of town, Cascade Canyon is a gorgeous crag also with a raging river running through it. If you follow the trail all the way down to the end, you’ll arrive at Pool Wall (you can also rap down into it from above). We stayed here for the majority of the day, resting in the shade and climbing in the sun. As we left Pool Wall and hiked back to see the other walls we’d passed, the mosquitoes were beginning to get to me. So this would be another time to have mosquito repellent.
Golf Wall – SPORT
This wall was awesome because it was an overhung perma-drawed limestone heaven. Golf Wall had the shortest approach of them all, and stayed in the shade until about 1 pm. We got some awesome beta from the friendly locals and had a blast working Cinderella Story, a super classic 5.12a that I highly recommend getting on.
Sailing Hawks – BOULDERING
We spent a couple days bouldering at Sailing Hawks, and barely got to see a quarter of the problems there. The rock here is sandstone and just totally flawless. There are usually a few locals around in the early mornings trying to beat the heat. Everyone we ran into was super friendly and helpful, so you shouldn’t have any trouble getting around. The boulders are somewhat hard to find, but as long as you have a guidebook, or a local to show you around, you’ll be able to navigate the area just fine.
We had the luxury of taking showers at our friend’s house in town, but the Tremble Hot Springs has a locker room with showers. It costs $14 to get in, or $10 if you wait until the last hour of the day, but it’s an option if you’re desperate.
Rest Day Activities
Apparently the locals like to get high and sometimes drunk and jump off the bridge into the bone-chilling glacier water. I don’t like water that hurts my bones, so I took pictures of the guys while they jumped in. We also saw a drunk guy jump in and almost die, so I wouldn’t recommend jumping in drunk.
Tremble Hot Springs
The hot springs feel great once the sun goes down. This could be a great way to end a long, hard day of climbing, but it costs $10-14 per day depending on the time of day.
This isn’t exactly a relaxing activity, but if you’re looking for something to do other than climbing, you can head up north on 550 up to Andrews Lake and climb Snowdon Peak. We got up around 4:45 am so that we could be done by noon and make it out before the afternoon showers that frequently occur. We hiked up about 2 hours to the base of the peak, and free soloed the right face of the peak, which was only a class 4 hike that we did in our approach shoes. The entire thing was about a 5 or 6 hour affair and fairly burly, but the summit was totally worth all the suffering, aka hiking.
Massage from Emily Dale
The best rest day activity in town was getting a massage from our friend and crazy good massage therapist, Emily Dale. Her hands are like magic, and she’s super fun to be around, so if you’re ever in Durango looking for a massage, give her a call. You will feel AWESOME afterwards 🙂
Well, that’s all I can think of for now. All in all, we really loved Durango, but don’t take my word for it. Get some friends together and make a trip out of it! If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below.