Animas River Valley near Durango Photographer: Greentheory
Next Big Thing By: Will Grant
Think of it as a border town. It has Southwest underpinnings—Mesa Verde National Park is only 47 miles to the west—but because it sits in the lush Animas River Valley, it serves as the geographic and cultural link between high desert and high country. A thousand miles of mountain-biking trails surround the city (pop. 16,900), the largest wilderness area in Colorado is just to the north (500,000-acre Weminuche Wilderness), two ski resorts are an easy drive away, and the paddle-friendly Animas flows almost down Main Street. At night, four local craft breweries appease the nearly 4,000 students at Fort Lewis College.