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7 Day San Juan Mountains Colorado Travel Itinerary with Kids (2024 Guide)

    The San Juan Mountains of Southern Colorado is a beautiful area for a family vacation. With picturesque mountain towns and quaking aspens, you’ll be surrounded by beauty. And with steep mountain peaks, winding rivers, and trails galore, you’ll have plenty of options for adventure! Whenever you visit the San Juan Mountains, you’re sure to have an amazing Colorado family vacation!

    Where to Stay in the San Juan Mountains

    Hotels in the San Juan Mountains

    There is no shortage of resorts, hotels, and cabins in the San Juan Mountains. Whether you choose to stay at a 4 star hotel or a local home rental, we have a couple of recommendations. Proximity to the activities you want to do is a key feature, especially if you’ll be staying in one place for your San Juan travel itinerary and taking day trips to other towns. We also highly recommend booking your hotel in the San Juan Mountains as early as you can. These areas are highly popular and both the summer season and the peak fall foliage season are short and highly popular for visitors. If you plan to stay at least a week in the San Juan Mountains, we’d recommend booking a hotel in either Telluride or Durango for a few nights and then one in either Ouray or Silverton.

    Camping in the San Juan Mountains

    When booking a campground in the San Juan Mountains, pay close attention to seasonal closure dates. We were unable to book our first choice of campground in Ouray because they closed for the season just before we planned to visit. Campgrounds that are open during the off-season may have fewer hookups or amenities available.

    Before booking a campground in the San Juan Mountains, you’ll also want to check out the roads in and out of the area you’ll be traveling. Not everyone is comfortable towing their camper or driving their RV on the Million Dollar Highway. Make sure you know what to expect before reserving your campground to cut down on stress during your San Juan Mountain vacation.

    Best Time to Visit Telluride and Ouray

    If you are planning a ski vacation, then you obviously want to visit southern Colorado in the winter, but the weather will greatly affect the things you can do and the places you can go outside of skiing. For the purposes of this San Juan Mountains travel itinerary, we’re going to focus on a warmer weather Colorado vacation.

    The best time for your Telluride vacation is in the summer and early fall. Million Dollar Highway and the other local highways wind through the mountains, so snow in the late fall and snow melt in the spring will impact what roads are open and when you can access them.

    Colorado is beautiful in the summer, but we visited in the fall and we could not get enough of the beautiful yellow aspens and the snow dusted mountain peaks!

    Top 10 Things To Do in the San Juan Mountains

    1. Drive Million Dollar Highway
    2. Go on a hike
    3. Visit an abandoned mine or ghost town
    4. Do some off-road driving
    5. Ride your bike
    6. Take a tour – Adventure jeep tour, side by side rental, train ride, etc
    7. Ride the gondola in Telluride
    8. Soak in the hot springs in Ouray, Durango, Ridgway, or Dunton
    9. Tour a gold mine
    10. Enjoy the seasons – Tube the San Juan River in the summer, walk through yellow aspens in the fall, or enjoy the snowy slopes in the winter.

    Scenic Drives & Off-Roading in the San Juan Mountains        

    Scenic Drives in the San Juan Mountains

    Million Dollar Highway – The portion of Route 550 connecting Silverton to Ouray has become well known as one of the most beautiful mountain drives in the country. The curving road and steep drop-offs might not be for everyone, but the views are stunning!

    San Juan Skyway – Route 550 covers much more than just the Million Dollar Highway. There’s not really a bad view from Durango to Ouray!

    Off-Road Trails in the San Juan Mountains

    If you enjoy off-roading, the San Juan Mountains have likely been on your bucket list for a while. The following trails are recommended only for experienced drivers with high clearance 4×4 vehicles:

    Last Dollar Road – This unpaved road connects Ridgway and Telluride and is the least advanced option.

    Poughkeepsie Gulch – This Jeep trail has some challenging obstacles and is considered one of the most difficult off-road trails in the area.

    California Pass – This remote drive starts at the Animas Forks Ghost Town and is considered one of the easier mountain passes, but drivers will need to be comfortable driving on shelf roads.

    Ophir Pass – After climbing to the 12,000 foot summit, you can connect with Red Mountain Pass to for a loop to and from Ouray.

    Imogene Pass – Climb Tomboy Road from Telluride to the 13,000 summit of Imogene Pass. This route was the most popular drive that we did, so you’ll need to be comfortable passing other vehicles on this narrow cliff road.

    Black Bear Pass – This trail is the most advanced and dangerous and often the last to open, if it opens for the summer season at all.

    If you’d like to enjoy the beauty of these mountain passes but don’t feel equipped to drive them yourself, consider booking a 4×4 guided tour through a company like Telluride Offroad Adventures, Telluride Outside, or Dave’s Mountain Tours. Experienced off-roaders will know that even a route of only a few miles can take multiple hours to traverse, so pack plenty of snacks and water.

    Ghost Towns

    Abandoned mining equipment and ghost towns are a regular part of Colorado culture. Here are three ghost towns to explore as part of your Ouray & Telluride travel itinerary.

    Alta Ghost Town – A high clearance vehicle is recommended for the mountain drive up to Alta Lakes and the Alta Ghost Town. This is a great day trip option from Telluride.

    Tomboy Ghost Town – If you drive Tomboy Road to Imogene Pass, you’ll come across the remains of this mining settlement. For experienced 4×4 drivers or very advanced hikers only.

    Animas Forks Ghost Town – Located on an unpaved road, Animas Forks is easily accessible to most vehicles, although continuing down this road will require 4 wheel drive. This ghost town is very well preserved and a must stop on your San Juan Mountains travel itinerary. This is a great day trip option from Silverton or Ouray.

    If you visit one of these ghost towns, be sure to leave no trace and help preserve these important pieces of Colorado history in the San Juan Mountains.

    What To Do in Ouray

    Ouray County Museum – An 1880’s miner’s hospital is now full of local history exhibits.

    Via Ferrata – Climb this steel cable and ladder route with rented equipment or alongside a guide.

    Ouray Hot Springs – Enjoy geothermal pools, waterslides, a climbing wall, and more at this family friendly pool and fitness center.

    Weisbaden Hot Springs Spa – Relax in hot springs or the vapor cave.

    Orvis Hot Springs Resort – Located in nearby Ridgway, this hot springs resort is clothing-optional.

    Rotary Park – A popular place for rock climbing.

    Cascade Falls Park – Enjoy the view of Lower Cascade Falls from this city park.

    Perimeter Trail – This 5.6 mile trail surrounds the town of Ouray. Hiking up the steep elevation might not be easy, but the views of the town will be unparalleled. You’ll find the trailhead across from the Ouray Visitor Center.

    Box Canon – Take a self-guided tour of both the top and bottom of the Box Canyon waterfalls. Our favorite part was descending via metal stairs to stand inside the narrow canyon while the incredible force of the water gushed past you. You can also access Ouray’s Perimeter trail from the top of the canyon.

    Million Dollar Highway – Ascend Route 550 to the south of town for some beautiful overlooks of the ‘Switzerland of America’. The next few miles of road are some of the prettiest you’ll find in the entire country.

    Bachelor Syracuse Mine Tour – Put on your hard hats and take a walking tour of this historic gold mine.

    What To Do in Telluride

    Gondola – Many popular vacation spots have a sightseeing gondola, but it doesn’t get much more scenic than Telluride and this gondola ride is free! You can even take your bike or your dog with you. Ride up the mountain to the hiking and biking trails or take both sides of the mountain to soak in the scenic views.

    Biking – While there is no shortage of amazing mountain biking trails in Telluride, here are a couple of family friendly ones: The Boulevard Trail is a bike path that follows Mountain Village Blvd. There’s also a path that follows the river through town, ending at Town Park. For more adventure, check out the Telluride Bike Park at Telluride Ski Resort.

    Hiking – Three popular hikes in Telluride are the Jud Weibe Trail (3 miles), Bear Creek Canyon (4 miles from South Pine Street), and Cornet Creek (.5 miles).

    Brown Dog Pizza – Try the Detroit style pizza!

    Telluride Historical Museum – Learn about the mining history of the town through a series of detailed exhibits.

    Mountain Village Adventure Activity Center – Offering a variety of fun activities for the whole family.

    Telluride Canopy Adventure – Ziplining, aerial bridges, and rappelling.

    Paddling – Rent a paddleboard or kayak to enjoy one of the many lakes and reservoirs in the area.

    Wander the town – Visit the shops. Find a great restaurant. Take a photo with the Telluride Penny Bear. Enjoy the incredible mountain backdrop.

    What To Do in Silverton

    One Hundred Gold Mine Tour – Take a mine car ride into the mountain to learn about this history of this Silverton gold mine.

    Mayflower Gold Mill Tour – Take a self-guided tour to learn how gold and silver were processed after being mined.

    Railroad Park – Check out the exhibits in this outdoor pavilion to learn a little about local railroad history.

    Wander Silverton – This historic town is not large, so make sure to walk the main streets.

    Hike the Ice Lake Trailhead or one of the other nearby mountain lakes.

    San Juan County Historical Society – Learn more about local history in this old-jail-turned-museum.

    What To Do in Durango

    Durango & Silverton Narrow Guage Railroad – Book a scenic train ride through Cascade Canyon or from Durango to Silverton.

    Durango Hot Springs Resort – Purchase a day pass to enjoy a relaxing soak in the 32 natural hot spring mineral pools. Your pass als.o includes use of the swimming pool and cold plunges.

    Hiking – A few popular trailheads in Durango include Skyline Trailhead (6 miles), Animas Mountain Trail (5.8 miles), and Sailing Hawks Loop in Dalla Mountain Park (2.4 miles). Hiking portions of the Colorado Trail is also very popular.

    Biking – Take a leisurely bike ride along the 13.7 mile long Animas River Multi-Use Trail or for more of a challenge, bike the 5.8 mile Animas Mountain Trail or a portion of the Colorado Trail.

    Swinging Bridge – Along the Animas River Trail, you’ll find a suspended walking bridge over the Animas River.

    Animas Museum – Learn about local history in this historic school building.

    Pinkerton Hot Springs – This natural hot spring mound is a colorful and small roadside attraction a few miles north of town.

    Mesa Verde National Park – Visit the nearby cliff dwelling cultural site, less than an hour drive from Durango.

    Aztec Ruins National Monument – This ancient site is less than an hour drive from Durango.

    Wander Durango – One of my favorite things to do in a historic town is to walk through the main streets and admire all the historic buildings.

    Tips for Visiting the San Juan Mountains

    We had cell service in town, but we were often out of service while driving.

    These mountain towns are small, so groceries, toiletry items, and other supplies will be limited.

    Plan your San Juan travel itinerary carefully. While these mountain towns look close to each other on the map, with limited roadways comes additional traffic, construction delays, and other concerns. Plan plenty of time for day trips, keep your vehicle fueled up, and take plenty of snacks and water with you everywhere.

    Southern Colorado with Kids

    Southern Colorado Kids Books

    Get excited by your family vacation in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado by reading some of these kids’ books together!

    When you buy something using the links in our posts, we may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you.

    Welcome to Colorado by Asa Gilland
    C is for Colorado by Stephanie Miles
    What’s Great about Colorado? by Mary Meinking
    Ryan Goes Mountain Biking by Katie Dalton
    The Adventure Friends by Brian Duhon
    A Day When Nothing Happened by Sarah & Rew Jones
    Hiking Activity Book for Kids by Amelia Mayer
    The Hike by Alison Farrell
    Let’s Go on a Hike by Katrina Liu
    Colorado 50 Hikes with Kids by Wendy Gorton
    Rosco the Rascal’s Ghost Town Adventure by Shana Gorian
    The Boxcar Children #71 The Ghost Town Mystery by Gertrude Chandler Warner
    Magic Treehouse #10 Ghost Town at Sundown by Mary Pope Osborne

    Colorado Activities Kids Will Love

    Box Canon – The rushing water is loud inside the gorge, but our kids loved climbing up and down the stairs to get close to the action.

    Telluride Gondola – Depending on your kid’s feelings about heights, this might not be the choice for you. One of our kids is usually nervous about heights, but they were both so excited to ride the gondola that we did both sides of the mountain and across Mountain Village.

    Durango Train – What kid (or adult) wouldn’t enjoy a train ride? Be sure to check the options offered during the time of your visit though. We went late enough in the season that the only train option offered would have taken us the entire day and that felt a little too long for our kids.

    Climbing on Rocks – You’ll find various large rocks and tree stumps used as borders around town, which are always kid magnets.

    Telluride Library – We happened to walk by the Telluride Library on our way to lunch and were intrigued by the play area we saw through the window. The kids’ area here is incredible with many different interactive areas and books separated into easy to find categories at kid height.

    Swimming at Ouray Hot Springs – This family friendly pool with waterslides will be a hit for the whole family.

    Playground – You’ll find playgrounds at Fellin Park in Ouray, Harwell Park in Ridgway, Imagination Station in Telluride, Santa Rita Park in Durango, and Silverton Memorial Park, among others.

    7 Day San Juan Mountains Travel Itinerary with Kids

    With so many fun and exciting activities in the San Juan Mountains, how do you narrow it down for a 7 day Southern Colorado travel itinerary with kids? I’m going to start by building 2 day Colorado mountain town itineraries that you can match together for the perfect 7 day San Juan Mountains family vacation.

    2 Day Telluride Travel Itinerary with Kids

    For a 2 day Telluride family vacation, I would focus one day in town and one day enjoying the surrounding landscape. On day 1, ride the free gondola over the mountain and around Mountain Village. If you’d like, you can pair this with a biking or hiking trail on the mountain. Check out the Mountain Village Adventure Activity Center and Telluride Canopy Adventure and choose the adventurous activities that are right for your family. If you have small kids who need a wiggle break, don’t miss the Imagination Station playground and the Telluride public library play area.

    On day 2, take a guided 4×4 tour of Imogene Pass or drive Last Dollar Road. Either way, you’ll find yourself surrounding by gorgeous mountain views and hundreds of quaking aspen trees. If you choose Imogene Pass, spend some time exploring the Tomboy Ghost Town along the way.

    2 Day Ouray Travel Itinerary with Kids

    Your 2 day Ouray family vacation will be packed full of outdoor activities! On day 1, visit Box Canon and walk part of the Perimeter Trail. Next, drive to Cascade Falls Park to see Lower Cascade Falls and end the day soaking in the Ouray Hot Springs.

    On day 2, push yourself with a guided climb at Ouray’s Via Ferrata. When you’re done, take a scenic drive on the Million Dollar Highway towards Silverton, enjoying the many scenic overlooks and stunning viewpoints.

    2 Day Silverton Travel Itinerary with Kids

    For a 2 day Silverton family vacation, kick off on day 1 with the One Hundred Gold Mine Tour and self-guided Mayflower Gold Mill Tour to learn about gold mining and processing.

    On day 2, visit the outdoor train exhibits at Railroad Park and then drive to Animas Forks ghost town. There are several well-preserved and maintained buildings here, so you’ll want some time to wander.

    If you have to stick strictly to a 7 day San Juan Mountains travel itinerary and can’t spend 2 full days in Silverton, start with the Animas Forks ghost town and see if you have time for the gold mine tour in the same day.

    2 Day Durango Travel Itinerary with Kids

    Start your 2 day Durango family vacation with a scenic train ride on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Guage Railroad. On day 2, drive to nearby Mesa Verde National Park for a cliff dwelling tour and then spend the afternoon back in Durango. Choose a leisurely bike ride along the Animas River or a more adventurous ride on the Animas Mountain Trail. Finish the day with a relaxing soak at Durango Hot Springs Resort

    4 Day San Juan Mountains Travel Itinerary with Kids

    If you have just 4 days in Southern Colorado, I would recommend pairing the 2 day Ouray and 2 day Telluride travel itineraries. Squeeze in the gold mine tour in Ouray and you’ll have hit just about everything on our top 10 things to do in the San Juan Mountains list.

    If you have enough time for a 5 or 6 day Southern Colorado travel itinerary, I would combine Silverton and Ouray items since they’re fairly close together. And prioritize the Durango to Silverton train ride for a gorgeous and scenic day.

    7 Day San Juan Mountains Colorado Travel Itinerary with Kids

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