Durango River Walk along the River of Souls: The Animas River

The Animas River Trail is a beautiful trail that changes in scenery as you walk along the river and gives you the occasion to enjoy what Durango has best to offer. Located near the remote wilderness of the San Juan National Forest, the Animas River Trail is a rail-trail that runs for just over nine miles along the scenic Animas River, occasionally following the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad corridor. The trail is lined with cottonwoods, ponderosa pine, spruce, and aspen, which, when the temperatures rise, cool the asphalt, gravel, and concrete-surfaced trail. You’ll find plenty of shade and sunshine along this winding trail.

The trail follows the Animas River on both sides of the river in the northern end of the town of Durango. Durango’s elevation is 6,512 feet above sea level, and, within an hour’s drive, elevations of 11,000 feet can be reached on the summit of Molas Pass. Several walking bridges cross the Animas along the river; nearby, you can hear the train whistle wafting across the river from Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge train station. (During the summer, about eight trains per day run along the tracks.)

The trail extends from Animas City Park at Bennett Road heading south to River Road, where it crosses the bridge to end at La Posta Road. The trail meanders through several city parks and travels across five bridges.  The Animas River is thought to get its name from a Spanish explorer by the name of Juan Maria Antonio Rivera, who led what could be the earliest known Western expedition through this area in 1765. Rivera, who crossed the river south of what is now known as Durango, called the river the “Rio de Las Animas” – the River of Souls.

Along the way, you’ll find many interpretive signs and nice facilities. During the summer you can watch the kayakers and inner-tube floaters along the river. At some future date, the trail is expected to be extended from both its existing endpoints. On the current trail, you’ll find the Durango Fish Hatchery, which raises rainbow, brown, Snake River, and native cutthroat trout, as well as kokanee salmon. Bring quarters on your walk, and you’ll be able to feed the hatchery fish. Also located on the property is the Durango Hatchery & Wildlife Museum. A great stop along the Animas River!

One of the best times of year to enjoy this river trail is during “shoulder season”, the time between the high season and low season. For Durango, the shoulder season happens in both the fall and spring. It can be rainy, but it generally remains comfortably cool and can also be quite sunny. It’s quieter, less crowded, and can be more budget-friendly than during the season.

During shoulder season in early summer, you may get the opportunity to see wildlife native to the area. It’s possible to see coyotes, bears, or elk. Mule deer are quite the common sight in the area. If you do get the opportunity to spot wildlife, please bear in mind how to interact with them. Before you head out to enjoy this beautiful trail, take a little time to research what animals you might see given the season and how to appropriately interact with them. For example, if you spot a bear near the trail, up in a tree, or swimming in the Animas River, it’s suggested that it be left alone and that you turn back the other way and not approach it. Also, feeding wildlife is strongly discouraged.

Other Tips:
• Bring water! Even if the temperatures are on the cool side, always be sure to have water available. Durango resides at 6,512 feet in elevation. Though more of a valley, it is still an elevation that makes dehydration possible, even on a low-key trail walk/hike.
• Bring your dog(s)! Durango is a very dog-friendly community. Keep in mind your furry friend’s needs as well and have water and treats for them on your walk/hike.
• Wear comfortable shoes with good soles. If you decide to go off to a more rugged trail, make sure the shoes you wear are good all-terrain hikers. (If stepping into the Animas off the shoreline, and using sunscreen, please be mindful of the sunscreen used. Many have ingredients that are toxic to river life.)
• Bring sunscreen! Along with plentiful water, sunscreen is a must. Exposure to stronger solar rays makes application of an eco-friendly, biodegradable sunscreen important in that it will break down naturally in the environment and give thoughtful protection of exposed skin in the open outdoors.

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