The route on your Durango to Taos RV road trip is packed with outdoor adventure from climbing rocks and admiring eerily beautiful jagged cliffs at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park to fishing for salmon at Eagle Nest State Park. Along and a little out of the way, you'll also experience ancient Native American history at Mesa Verde National Park and Aztec Ruins National Monument. Stops in Bayfield and Pagosa Springs round out your trip with their small mountain-town charm and historically vibrant character.
Colorado and New Mexico feature some of the most majestic national parks in the country. Consider including a couple on your road trip itinerary from Durango to Taos for maximum adventure.
Mesa Verde National Park
Mesa Verde National Park is a quick 40-minute ride west from Durango. At this park, you can enjoy the fascinating ruins of the Ancestral Puebloan civilization. Start your historical journey at Cliff Palace, the largest cliff dwelling found in North America. Then, head over to the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum, a must-see that hosts a collection of local artifacts and treats you to a film about the park's ancient history. Relaxing biking and hiking trails that lead to more archaeological sites can be found at Wetherill Mesa. From there, you can check out the Long House and Kodak House overlooks or stroll over to the Nordenskiold Site #16 cliff dwelling. Be sure to stop by the 13th-century Balcony House, Spruce Tree House, and the Mesa Top Loop ruins before you go.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
You won't want to miss Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, a short two hours and 40 minutes north on the US 550-N from Durango. This park features some of the steepest river drops that far surpass the Grand Canyon and hit their peak descent of 240 feet per mile at Chasm View. The raging waters on some parts of the Gunnison River are perfect if you're up for a kayaking adventure on Class V rapids. Backpacking, hiking, and rock climbing are also welcome here. More to see and explore during your visit are the Museum of Mountain West, Pulpit Rock Overlook, Painted Wall, Gunnison Point, Dragon Point, and the South Rim Visitor Center.
Great Sand Dunes National Park
Definitely worth the detour, Great Sand Dunes National Park is a two-hour drive northeast of Pagosa Springs in Colorado. Take a hike on the impressive eight-mile High and Star Dune Loop trail for a challenging outdoor adventure that rewards you with gorgeous views overlooking the park. A firsthand experience on a real cattle and bison ranch with fly fishing, horseback riding, whitewater rafting, luxurious amenities, and gourmet food is available at Zapata Ranch, located just outside the park. While you're there, explore Zapata Falls, Medano Creek, Mount Zwischen, and San Luis State Wildlife Area. You should plan to stay a night or two as well to enjoy the twinkling stars at this newly inducted International Dark Sky Park. For the best sights of the Milky Way, visit during the late summer and fall.
Enjoy the tranquility and beauty of a few notable state parks on your Durango to Taos road trip. Some of the most unique state-protected scenery is on your route.
Navajo State Park
Located just 30 minutes south of Chimney Rock in Colorado, Navajo State Park is a great place for water recreation with 25 miles of lakeside shore to explore. With the majority of Navajo Lake, Colorado's largest, resting in New Mexico, you'll have never-ending fun in the sun in two different states on the same lake. Nearby campgrounds are open year-round for summer and winter excursions that include horseback riding, whitewater rafting, swimming, fishing, snowshoeing, cross country skiing, and hunting when in season.
Heron Lake State Park
Heron Lake State Park welcomes you to New Mexico with picturesque pine trees surrounding a peaceful "no wake" lake. Walk along the Rio Chama, a tributary river of the 130-mile-long Rio Grande that transports you to Heron Dam from a sweeping caprock stairway. Activities you'll want to enjoy here are sailing, fishing, and hiking the 5.5-mile nature trail that takes you to neighboring El Vado Lake via a suspension bridge with breathtaking views of the park. Rustic and modern campsites are available on the lake's shores for extended visits.
Eagle Nest Lake State Park
A 45-minute journey east of Taos takes you to Eagle Nest Lake State Park from the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway. Here, you can breathe in the fresh mountain air while viewing indigenous wildlife or fishing the banks of the lake for regularly stocked trout and salmon. If you want a deeper exploration of the lake, a boat dock and ramp are available for motorized watercraft and sailboats. Hike the popular Lake View Trail to the Village of Eagle Nest from the park's visitor center that features local history exhibits. Visiting in the winter? Snowshoeing, cross country skiing, and ice fishing are excellent outdoor activities you'll want to enjoy at this park.
Before you take off on your road trip from Durango to Taos, check out Lake Nighthorse a multi-habitation archaeological area covering Sacred Ridge, an underwater site comprised of 22 pit structures of the Pueblo and Anasazi cultures. Take a stroll around the reservoir created by the 270-foot High Ridges Basin Dam as a part of the Animas-La Plata Project for tribal water storage and view the local wildlife. Since opening to the public for recreation in 2018, the lake has offered fishing and boating activities.
Aztec Ruins National Monument
A 45-minute trip south to Aztec Ruins National Monument puts you in the epicenter of American Aztec history. Explore the ruins on a self-guided tour through an abundance of rooms that depict what ancient Puebloan life was like. Top attractions you'll want to see that are within walking distance are the magnificent Aztec Sandstone Arches and the Aztec Museum and Pioneer Village. A short distance away are the Salmon Ruins, which are also worth a look.
Chimney Rock National Monument
Located in the San Juan National Forest near Pagosa Springs, Chimney Rock National Monument is a 1,000-year-old Ancestral Puebloan archaeological site that features nearly 200 rooms. Explore the Great House Pueblo and the Great Kiva near Chimney and Companion Rock. A half-mile hike to the top of Chimney Rock offers fantastic photo opportunities with panoramic views of Colorado and New Mexico. Fun tours include Birding at Chimney Rock, Night Sky: Stars and Galaxies, Wildlife of Chimney Rock, and the Autumnal Equinox Sunrise tour.
Known as the "Heart of the Pine River Valley," Bayfield is a sweet place to stop on your way out of Durango. This quaint little city is great for antique shopping and grabbing a bite to eat in the historic district before participating in a few guided outdoor activities at Over the Top Adventures. Nearby campgrounds and dump stations are great if you plan to extend your stay in Bayfield.
Pagosa Springs, Colorado
A fun jaunt in Pagosa Springs deserves a stop at The Choke Cherry Tree, a gourmet grocery store that's fantastic for picking up some special treats for the road. Art mingles with lovely outdoor surroundings at the Fred Harman Art Museum. In town, make sure to visit the San Juan Historical Museum, Pagosa Street, the San Juan Riverwalk, and the famous hot springs. Enjoy some natural beauty at campgrounds close to this city if you fancy an overnight stay or two with dump stations available for your convenience.
Tres Piedras, New Mexico
As you near Taos, enjoy a respite in Tres Piedras and soak in the relaxing waters of Black Rock and Manby Hot Springs. A walk or ride across John Dunn Bridge leads you to more nearby hot springs and takes you over the beautiful Rio Grande River. Another popular bridge to see before you leave the area is the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge that sits 600 feet above the rolling river. For a peaceful mountain retreat, check out Vallecitos Mountain Ranch. A stay at a lovely local campground with a dump station is an excellent way to make sure you see all of the sights in this location.