Outdoor activities for novices

by Jessie O’Brien

Not everyone in Durango has a house full of skis, kayaks, slack lines, and ice picks. Outdoor activities are daunting for those who are more used to city streets and the inside of bars, but Durango offers beginner-friendly trails, peaks, and routes for those who want to try something new without having to be in tire-flipping shape.

Trouble-free trailsReceive the reward of picturesque high-alpine views and crystal clear water without the punishment of steep climbs and overnight backpacking. Highland Mary Lakes Trail near Silverton can be tackled by beginners who still want to challenge themselves. According to hiking forum hikingwalking.com, the 6.6 to 7.8-mile round trip hike meets three of the seven Highland Mary lakes, as well as Verde Lake, all of which are surrounded by green fields and wildflowers in the spring and summer. Hikers can walk out and back or loop around by connecting to the Continental Divide Trail. The trail’s elevation starts at 10,750 feet and reaches over 12,500 feet when taking the Continental Divide Loop, and the steady climb requires some stamina. But your thighs and your eyes will be thanking you. The views are so gorgeous, you’d expect Julie Andrews to appear any minute with her arms raised, spinning in circles.

For a quicker hike that’s closer to town, Animas City Mountain loop offers views Durango and the Animas River winding through farmland. Hikers can choose their own destiny on this path. The multiple forks that link back up with the loop give the opportunity for something new each time on the 5.5-mile trail. The first mile or so of rocky switchbacks is the most challenging before the path levels out for an easy stroll. Because of the trail’s close location to town, it’s not a hike for those seeking solitude, but is a moderate initiation for the types who think Vans and Converse are active footwear. To get there, take a left on 32nd Street from Main Avenue and then a right on 3rd Avenue to get to the parking lot.

If hiking is out of the question, the focal point of Durango’s trail systems, the Animas River Trail, may be the most convenient and accessible outdoor activity in town. The 10-mile paved path is suitable for bikers, runners, walkers (and dogs) of all ages and fitness levels. The trail passes multiple parks and it gives access to other dirt trails. From downtown, the easiest access point is to take 12th Street west. After a brisk walk, make a LeBron James spin move off the path and grab a beer at Animas Brewing.

If you want to wheel instead of walk, Three Springs Spur Line trail loops are practical courses for first-time mountain bikers. According to MTB Project, the two loops opened in late 2017 so there are still some loose gravel spots, but the 30-inch wide path and skills area at the trail head facilitate beginners and families. The trail head is at the southern end of the Switcher Loop off the second roundabout on Wilson Gulch Road. To get there, take HWY 160 South, turn east on Three Springs Boulevard, and follow the signs to the Mercado District.

Climbing for coltsClimbing is a popular hobby for Durango daredevils, but cliffs like X Rock offer attainable routes for newbies. The rock face may be the most used in Durango due to the short approach and south facing cliffs with routes that range from 20 to 90 feet in length, according to climbing forum summitpost.org. The soft sandstone cliff was named after two large cracks in the south face that form an X. Because of X Rock’s location right outside of town and its approachability, a lot of guides and schools use the crag to teach beginner climbers. For those looking to try climbing, San Juan Mountain Guides (mtnguide.net) and Kling Mountain Guides (klingmountainguides.com) offer beginner half and full day trips at the popular spot.

Baby’s first fourteenerHandies Peak is a prominent mountain in the San Juan range. Tackling a fourteener may seem a bit extreme for someone who just wants the Costco sample of outside adventure. But this class 1 peak (the easiest of the classes) makes for a comfortable introduction for anyone who hasn’t hiked high elevations. The trail starts at 11,600 feet and the summit is at 14,048 feet, with a total gain of about 2,500 feet. Grizzly Gulch is one of the most popular and scenic routes to the summit because the trail head leads to two other mountain peaks, Redcloud and Sunshine. American Basin Trail is the most trafficked, but shortest, route. New climbers should know that Colorado mountains are famous for afternoon storms, and should make a point to get to the summit early, before ominous clouds have the chance to move in. The peak is about 65 miles north of town via Highway 550.

Poser spursThe easiest way to feel like a cowboy without the ruggedness or practical outdoor skills is to hop on a saddle. There are many trail ride options in the San Juan Mountains. Rapp Corral (rappcorral.com) and Buck’s Livery (buckslivery.com) offer a variety of short-trips ranging from $50 to $110. Rapp Corral offers 5-hour rides for $220, and Buck’s Livery San Juan Sky Outfitters (sanjuanskyoutfitters.com) offer all-day experiences for around $255 to $400. If you want to have a more authentic steed and saddle time, Over the Hill Outfitters (overthehilloutfitters.com) offers three and five-day pack trips where wannabes can ride, camp, fish, and hike.

By Jessie O’Brien


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