Digs for dirt bags
New hostel offers hikers, skiers and other frugal fun hogs place to hang their hats
by Jonathan Romeo
Joining the ranks of mountain towns that offer affordable and communal lodging for thrifty travelers and frugal fun hogs, Durango now has a hostel.
Recently, Motel Durango, located at the corner of North Main Avenue and 22nd Street, converted a portion of its lodging space to hostel rooms. For the unacquainted, a hostel is a low-cost, shared lodging where guests typically rent a bunk bed in a dorm style room.
This is Durango’s first hostel in close to 15 years. Durango’s original hostel, on East Second Avenue where the Mears Building now sits, closed in 2002. Another one, operated by Candace Lemon, opened in 2007 on Goeglein Gulch Road, but closed a few years later.
The arrival of a proper hostel in Durango is a huge win not just for recreational road trippers on a budget, but thru-hikers on the Colorado Trail, which has its southern terminus up 25th Street. Now, all those dirty, tired hikers that have made the 567-mile journey from Denver have an affordable place to recharge, celebrate and yes, shower.
“Hostels along the trail are really critical,” Jared Champion, community outreach manager for the Colorado Trail Foundation, which helps maintain and support trails and volunteers, said. “It’s also part of the culture of the trail; those are anchor points.”
Around 2017, Motel Durango was bought by Mountain Capital Partners, the company that owns Purgatory Resort. However, about two years ago, hotel officials started to toy with the idea of converting one of the two buildings on the site into a hostel.
Josh Benson, general manager of Motel Durango, said two main factors went into the decision – the obvious being Durango is the southern end of the Colorado Trail. The other reason, though, is part of the hotel’s larger rebrand as lodging for outdoor recreationists at an affordable rate.
“We wanted to offer a place where you could enjoy Durango and not spend hundreds of dollars on a hotel room,” Benson said. “So we decided to bring a hostel to Durango.”
Previously, there were two buildings at Motel Durango, one that had a lobby and a couple rooms for employees, and another that served as the main hotel building. Ultimately, hotel officials decided to convert five rooms in the lobby/employee housing portion to serve as a hostel.
Now, there are three rooms with three bunk beds each, for a total of six beds per room, 18 in all. Also, there is another room that is female only, with two bunk beds for a total of four beds. And, one room in the building was converted to a lounge/kitchen area for hostel guests to hang out and cook their own meals. There are also lockers to secure gear and laundry machines to get the grime off.
The main hotel building will remain as is, Benson said.
And though Durango has gotten more – ahem – upscale, Motel Durango has tried to keep costs low for hikers, skiers, bikers and others of more limited means. A bunk bed at Motel Durango, for instance, costs about $40 a night, whereas any ole hotel in Durango (not naming names) can run up to $200 a night.
Just a year into the hostel business, Benson said bookings are catching on. “It’s slowly gaining traction,” he said. “It's been a while since Durango has had a hostel, but being so close to the southern end of the Colorado Trail, more trail hikers are discovering this hostel.”
Indeed, the network of hostels along the famed Colorado Trail are essential for thru-hikers, Champion said. “Just having a place where you can put your head down at night can be a big relief for a lot of folks,” Champion said. “Trail towns can be just as important for hikers as the hike itself.”
Over the years, some hostels have even expanded services to cater to thru-hikers, offering shuttle service to trailheads and accepting resupply boxes. And, hostels can be a great place to meet other people and join up for hikes together.
It’s hard to keep an exact tally of hostels along the trail, Champion said, as many open, close or change hands year to year. Suffice to say, there’s around 10 along the route, including in Bailey, Breckenridge, Leadville, Buena Vista, Salida and Lake City.
When a town doesn’t have a hostel or affordable lodging option, it can be tough for hikers to plan out where they can rest before the next big leg of the trail, Champion said. This was the case most recently when Silverton’s hostel was purchased and remodeled into a hotel.
“There have been a couple of dead zones along the trail where hikers have trouble finding an affordable place to stay,” Champion said. “So we’re going to start seeing a lot of folks amped about that hostel being there in Durango.”
Audrey Spickermann, the manager at the Salida Hostel, said the hostel opened in 2017 with its main purpose to serve thru-hikers, offering dorm rooms at $40 a night. Over the years, the hostel has evolved to offer year round lodging for skiers in the winter, too.
In the peak summer months, Spickermann said the hostel is packed with hikers. She said the hostel offers an extra pair of clothes so hikers can wash their own gear, it accepts resupply boxes and has an exchange box where people can take or leave gear.
“The majority of folks who are thru-hiking are doing it solo, so being able to buy a bed versus an entire hotel room is way more affordable,” she said. “And you can meet other people and share a private room (which runs about $100 for four beds).”
Lelis Gonzalez bought the hostel in Leadville, In the Clouds, about five years ago. At the height of summer, Gonzalez said the hostel, which has 45 beds total, can have anywhere from 8 to 15 thru-hikers everyday. But it’s not just people on the Colorado Trail staying there.
“We get people doing all kinds of activities – hiking, running, biking, climbing 14ers,” he said. “Everyone is out here doing something. It's a really cool vibe in the hostel throughout the summer.”
Gonzalez, who has been working in the hostel world since 1999, said the United States is behind in the hostel game. Whereas hostels are commonplace in Europe and other countries, this country is only just coming around to it.
“I don’t know if it’s because of the movie ‘Hostel’ or what,” Gonzalez joked, referring to the splatter-horror films where unsuspecting foreigners are lured into hostels and then tortured or murdered (though hiking up a 14er could be considered a type of torture for some).
Joking aside, Gonzalez said more and more people are open to the hostel concept, which is more communal and allows you to meet people from all over the world.
“I think more people in the U.S. are getting curious and giving them a try,” he said.
Motel Durango’s Benson said the hostel will work to improve the space as it grows in popularity. But long term, he said there could be added amenities such as a shuttle service to the Junction Creek trailhead and partnerships with outdoor guide services.
“We’re at a sweet spot for now, but if it continues to take off, we may expand to more rooms,” he said. “We’re hoping now that it's spring, and word got out last year, that more hikers and outdoor recreationists want a bed to sleep in at night and go explore and play all day.”
And in the long run, towns with hostels find the economic benefit of hikers staying for a few days, eating out, going to bars and recharging (known as a “zero day”). “We have a number of towns along the way that are real draws for hikers to spend days,” Champion said. “People skip towns if they can't confidently know if there’s lodging in those places.”
And now that Durango boasts a hostel, thru-hikers have an affordable option to lay their heads after enjoying that free Carvers beer. But now they have a place to shower first.