For strong paddlers, the Upper Animas is one of Colorado's most memorable rides. It's a wild, 25-mile stretch of Colorado whitewater rafting that parallels the gawker-laden narrow gauge train between Durango and Silverton. The Upper A is swollen with hard (Class IV+ to V) rapids, big waves and ice-cold water. It's a bruiser that many kayakers and whitewater rafters take two days to complete (the train will ferry your overnight gear to a midway campground and pick it up the next morning). Commercial and private rafters take out at Tacoma, before the Class V Rockwood Box. Experts find thrills galore in Rockwood, where sheer, 500-foot walls prevent both escape and scouting — but fall out in Rockwood and be prepared for an overwhelmingly bad swim. Add the must-make take-out eddy just before the entire river pours into a sieve, and Rockwood is the ultimate finish for a mind- and body-rattling paddle trip. Put in at downtown Silverton, take out at Tacoma, and hike up ATV trails to the Haviland Lake Campground. After a mile in Rockwood, the take-out is river right, with a small sign marking the mandatory exit pool. First-timers on the Upper A should bring a veteran. Stay: The Wyman Hotel & Inn in Silverton is a 1902 building that beautifully bridges the gap between old and new — filled with period antiques, it also offers whirlpool tubs. Complimentary breakfast and afternoon tea. Rates start at $115 (1371 Greene St., 970-387-5372, thewyman.com.). Dine: You'll come off the river with quite an appetite, and a good place to hit soon after is Handlebars Restaurant & Saloon, a great old shrine to the mining town, filled with taxidermy and odds and ends from the area's history. The specialty here is the baby-back ribs, slathered in the house sauce, which is also for sale by the bottle. And if you have a "handlebar" yourself, they'll take your photo and hang it with the others (117 13th St., 970-387-5395, handlebarsco.com.).
Ride the Royal Gorge Route Railroad
There are several options for seeing the Royal Gorge, including from the suspension bridge above it and from a raft bouncing along the mighty Arkansas River that runs through it. But one of the best ways to see it up close is on the Royal Gorge Route Railroad, which takes you on a 24-mile trip through it, often passing mere feet from the canyon walls, with the river right alongside. Step out onto an open gondola car for the best view, or sit in a dome car and have a gourmet lunch or dinner, or take one of the themed trains, with a murder mystery or wine tasting offered. The train also features a ride in the cab for a lucky few (extra fee). Along the route, you may see blue heron, bighorn sheep, bald eagles and other wildlife, and you can wave to the folks who will see you going past from the hanging bridge and rafts — or book a combination package that will put you on either the train and the bridge or the train and a raft (visit website for details). The train leaves from the Santa Fe Depot in Cañon City. Tickets start at $32.95/adults and $21.50/kids, 888-724-5748, royalgorgeroute.com. Stay: Jewel of the Canyons Bed and Breakfast is a cute little spot in an 1890 Queen Anne house just a few blocks off West Royal Gorge Boulevard; the guest rooms are simple and sweetly decorated, and each has a private bath. Rates start at $99 (429 Greenwood Ave., 866-875-0378, jewelofthecanyons.com.). Dine: Merlino's Belvedere is the locals' choice for upscale dining, not especially fancy but with decent Italian food and big portions. The entrees come with bottomless salad. (1330 Elm Ave., 719-275-5558, belvedererestaurant.com.) Dont forget to experience the colorado whitewater rafting.