Three Ways to Do the Animas

Take in the View: The Animas provides more multi-sport opportunities and scenery than you can shake a paddle at. Photo: Scott DW Smith/

Bring the Family: Lower Animas

Revel in a unique and beautiful look at historic Durango as you cruise through countless, fun-filled Class II and III rapids. Opportunities to test kayaking and stand-up paddleboard (SUP) skills abound in the excellent play holes and permanent slalom course you’ll encounter. After Smelter Rapid, the river widens. Relax as you bounce over continuous small riffles and enjoy your time traveling through towering cottonwoods on a verdant riverbank.

Details: Conveniently located near (and in) Durango, this half or full day trip can span five to ten-plus  more miles depending on preference, time of year, and water flows.

Put In: 32nd Street. Take Out: High Bridge is standard, but various options exist for shorter or longer trips.

Perfect For: Families with kids, river virgins (aka first-timers), time-crunched visitors, those looking to hone their SUP or kayak play-boating and surfing skills.

Adrenaline Rush: Rockwood Box Gorge

Mandatory Thrashing. This telling name of the Gorge’s first rapid gives insight into what you’re in for if you embark on this adventure.  The first four miles will warm you up with a series of Class III rapids, but once you hit the Gorge, you’re in for three miles of steep, technical Class IV/V water that’s sure to get your heart thumping.  If you can manage, take a moment in between rapids to check out the jaw-dropping cliff walls lining this incredible canyon.

Details:  Hop the Durango to Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Line, to reach the start of your journey. Before embarking, check river flows and take your time to scout the big rapids, especially Mandatory Thrashing, Red Wall and Wall Slammer. Make sure to pay attention for the sign above the take-out. If you miss it, grab the road on river right.  Unless you can fly, don’t go further. Below this spot, the river plunges into the unnavigable, Lower Rockwood Box.

Put In: Cascade Station. Take Out: Rockwood Station.

Perfect For: Advanced to expert level paddlers and adrenaline junkies with tons of river experience.

Get Wild: The Wilderness Trip

Want to experience the true wildness of the Animas? Immerse yourself in the backcountry for three days and you’ll get the best of both worlds: quiet time to enjoy the stunning scenery, awesome fishing and hiking opportunities, and ample amounts of adrenaline-pumping on Class III, IV and V whitewater. Rollercoaster wave trains last for miles and gain in strength as you head down stream on this breathtaking 25-mile expedition surrounded by towering 14,000-foot peaks and flower-filled meadows. Since the river is steep and moves fast, three days allows for a “rest” day during which you can bag peaks, hike through roadless wilderness, explore the riverbank, fish or just lounge.

Details: Even in low water, this stretch is a challenge, but during high water (usually early-mid June), only experienced paddlers comfortable with endless Class IV-V rapids should attempt the Upper Animas. Scout Class IV+/V rapids like Tank, No Name Falls and Broken Bridge.

Put In: Silverton (reached via car, shuttle or train). Take Out: Tacoma Station.

Perfect For: Experienced boaters and paddlers, nature lovers, peak-baggers, hikers, fisherman and those wanting to deeply explore the Animas.

Do Durango

Surrounded by the jagged peaks of the San Juan Mountains, sandstone bluffs of the Animas Valley and two-million acres of bountiful national forest lands, Durango is a beautiful, year-round playground bursting with extraordinary biking, climbing, skiing, hiking and fishing opportunities. After your time on the Animas, be sure to spend some time exploring the rest of the area and town itself. Here are a couple suggestions for spots in town you shouldn’t miss.

Eat: Grab a hearty breakfast at the Durango Diner. Wash it down with the best java in town from the Steaming Bean. Cocina Linda (309 W. College Drive) serves up healthy, delicious, local food including some of the best tamales and salsa around while Zia Taqueria offers authentic food in a sweet atmosphere. Carver Brewing Co., the original brewery in town.

Drink: Durango’s five breweries provide a number of options, but we like the Irish Embassy Pub, an authentic Irish drinking establishment with loads of whiskey and beer options and happy hour specials that rock.

Crash: Hotels and B&Bs are plentiful, but for something different try the Durango Hometown Hostel, affordable accommodations run by Candace Lemon, who was born and raised in Durango and is always ready with insider advice about town. Bonus: it’s nestled in a forested valley with riding and hiking trails right out the door. For an authentic turn-of-the-century downtown stay, visit the General Palmer Hotel at the corner of 6th and Main.

Play: If the weather turns and you still want to crush it, check out the Rock Lounge, an amazing climbing gym also offering yoga and fitness classes. Or, check out a unique, High Performance Yoga session with Steve Ilg.

Related Stories


Blues from the Top Music Festival Celebrates 18 Years of Blues on August 14, 2021

On Saturday, August 14, 2021, Grand County’s Winter Park will host the 18th Annual Blues from the Top (BFTT) ‘Day of Blues’ from 11AM-7PM...

Get Outdoors Like Never Before with Adventure Pass!

Want to participate in a variety of awesome outdoor adventures year-round? Well, it’s easy with RMOC’s Adventure Pass, an affordable pass offering access to...

Buena Vista Outfitter Takes Outdoor Skills to the Next Level

So you’ve lived in Colorado for a few years now. You have even climbed to the top of several fourteeners and gone backcountry ski...

The All-New Looper MIPS Helmet

Sweet Protection is based in Norway and was founded by a tight-knit group of skiers, riders, cyclists and paddlers, looking to make the best...