The Allure of the Animas River and Vallecito Lake

animas river
Wikipedia Commons

Take a stroll through Durango and you’ll realize this simple truth: The Animas River is the soul of our little Colorado mountain town.

This spirited stretch of “Gold Medal” waters offers stunning views and endless recreation opportunities. In fact, visitors to downtown Durango get to experience 7 miles of the Animas River as it rushes through the city from the 32nd Street Bridge to the Rivera Bridge south of town. With ample access at multiple points, you’ll likely find the Animas River is an essential part of you Durango adventure.

Animas River: Rich in History, Rich in Resources

The Animas River has certainly carved its place in Durango’s landscape and history. These big waters were first charted more than 250 years ago, when the riches- seeking Spanish explorer Juan Rivera lead his men through the Four Corners region in one of the area’s first Western surveys in search of gold. Rivera and his troops dubbed the river’s rushing waters and surrounding Animas Valley “El Rio de las Animas Perdidas en Purgatorio,” or “the River of the Lost Souls in Purgatory” because they viewed the remote region as bleak and void of the treasures they sought.

Over the years Rivera and his men have been proven wrong again and again, as today we know that the Animas River and its waters are truly a natural treasure. The Animas River is a destination for those seeking the thrills of whitewater rafting and kayaking, while the surrounding Animas River Valley is a haven for hikers, hunters, mountain bikers, skiers and other adrenaline seekers.

animas river

Additionally, our friends at Duranglers love to point out that the Animas River is “one of the last free-flowing rivers in the state of Colorado” and tout Durango as a bountiful fishing destination, and it’s easy to see why: The river is nearly 100 feet wide as it flows through Durango and offers extensive riffles, stretches of pocket water and freestone conditions. Casters here catch Rainbow and Brown trout and many of those who fish waters take home an impressive catch, with most trout in the Animas measuring between 10 and 15 inches.

Vallecito Lake: Little Valley, Big Fun

The Animas River isn’t the Four Corners’ only destination for fishing and other wet fun. Nearby Vallecito Lake is just 18 miles from Downtown Durango and offers breathtaking mountain news and clear sparkling waters – making it another can’t miss destination on your Southwest Colorado vacation.

vallecito lake

Perched high in the San Juan Mountains, Vallecito Lake sits at 8,000 feet above sea level. Also named by western explorers, Vallecito means “Little Valley” in Spanish. You’ll likely find this body of water to be anything but small, as the lake boasts nearly 12 miles of shoreline. Restaurants and cabins dot the shoreline, which means you’ll always find a porch to kick back, relax and take in the views. If you’re looking for recreation and not retreat, you’ll also find a number of options: Vallecito Lake is a destination for year-round fishing, boating, camping and more.

Additionally, one of most Durangoans’ favorite things to do is take a scenic drive around beautiful Vallecito Lake and stop to view the fine art that lines the lake. Local sculptor Chad Haspels has enhanced the lakefront region with a number of hand-carved in trees, each done in memory of the Missionary Ridge Fire of 2002. His work commemorate the firefighters, EMTs, personnel, and citizens who fought to save lives and homes during the fire nearly 15 years ago.

Regardless of whether you are a river or lake person, be sure build an extra day or three into your Durango vacation to spend time on the on or near the waters of the Animas River and Vallecito Lake.