The scenic route from Durango to Silverton: Take an historic narrow-gauge railroad
There's only one way to make this journey--by narrow gauge railroad, pulled by a vintage steam locomotive. This is a truly iconic experience in the southwest of the state, and one of the ways to feel the full grandeur of the San Juan Mountains. You board the train in the morning at the depot in Durango, just as passengers have been doing since 1882! The trip takes about 3.5 hours and you can either ride the same train back, or opt for the one-hour bus ride down Highway 550. There are a number of cars and classes to choose from, from standard coach to the Knight Sky, an all-glass carriage in First Class that allows views up the stunning canyons (and not just their passing walls). Tickets start at $85.
Don't go to Durango...or southwestern Colorado in general...without visiting the world-famous Durango & Silverton narrow-gauge railroad. This is authentic steam railroading at its finest. The train climbs along the canyon walls as the river rushes past 400 feet below. On the northern end of the run you will be traveling through primitive backcountry miles from the nearest highway...hikers sometimes purchase a "flag stop" ticket to be dropped off, quite literally, in the middle of nowhere. There is a good possibility of seeing wildlife in natural surroundings.
There are several classes of service; standard class is a school-bus type seat in an enclosed coach or a bench seat facing the view in an open-air gondola. The latter sounds quite tempting, but bring a jacket...you're going up past 9000 feet, and chilly weather—even snow!—is a possibility almost any time of year. Having tried it, I recommend that you splurge for one of the premium classes of service. The Alamosa Parlor Car which we rode in 2007 featured complimentary snacks and non-alcoholic drinks, with adult beverages available for purchase at additional charge. The car attendant was very knowledgeable and kept up a running commentary all the way to Silverton. There was also a rear platform available to us for photography and just enjoying the view.
I've taken this train twice, both times all the way from Durango to Silverton and back on the train. A (much faster) bus return is available for those whose choo-choo tolerance level is not that great. Just make sure that your (assigned) seats are on the east side of the train...right side going northbound, left side if you ride southbound.