The Town of Silverton
Set (9,318-ft.) in a high mountain valley, Silverton is a well-preserved mining town surrounded by 13,000-ft. peaks. Built mainly between 1882 and 1910, the town is a national historic landmark. Surrounded by BLM land, towering peaks and three national forests, the town’s location couldn’t be better for visitors looking for natural beauty and outdoor adventure. The adventure starts while heading for the town from Ouray on the 24 miles of highway dubbed the “Million Dollar Highway”. This famous, incredible, scenic, narrow, winding, sometimes treacherous road lies between two high passes on Hwy. 550, passing mining town ruins on its way to cross Red Mountain Pass (11,018-ft.). The route from Durango to Silverton is equally spectacular, crossing Coal Bank (10,640-ft.) and Molas (10,970-ft.) passes along the way. An alternate route, during the summer and early fall, several times a day the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad (D&SNG) makes the 45-mile run between Durango and Silverton.
Arriving in Silverton, the main street, Greene Street, tells part of the story of the town’s heyday in the 1880s when lots of gold and silver were being extracted from nearby mines. To the east of the main drag, Blair Street and adjacent side streets tell the story of many saloons, dance halls, and brothels that were constructed in Silverton together with lavish hotels and ornate homes. Gift shops, cafes, snack shops and restaurants in restored structures replaced the town’s “red light” commerce as Silverton became a mecca for tourists and sightseers driving the San Juan Skyway. The history of Silverton from the early 1880s to today is exemplified by the Grand Imperial Hotel. Originally the Thomson Block, built by perfume importer and mill owner W. S. Thomson in 1882-83, this enormous granite structure was recently restored to its former elegance by American Heritage Railway Hotels.
Animus Forks, a ghost town 15 miles northeast of Silverton, still contains a large number of buildings and mining structures from the 1820s to the 1920s. (A dirt road leads to the site that doesn’t require but definitely favors high clearance vehicles.) Animus Forks also has the distinction of being the beginning of the Alpine Loop, a National Backcountry Byway. The 65-mile 4WD route climbs over Cinnamon Pass and drops down to Lake City on Hwy 149. The return route to Animus Forks heads over Engineer Pass. The entire route, that passes historic ghost towns and mining sites, winds through beautiful mountain landscapes with panoramic vistas.
Silverton offers visitors and hiking enthusiasts many great day hikes. The scenery of the Ice Lake hike garners the most accolades. Wildflowers fill the Lower Ice Lake basin that leads to waterfalls tumbling down from alpine lakes. The gorgeous blue waters of Ice Lake in the upper basin are surrounded by a cirque of sculpted ridges and peaks. So many visitors to Silverton know about and explore this alpine wonderland that concerned folks in Silverton set up a tiny house at the trailhead to coach visitors about protecting the magical attractions of Ice Lake. Several other lakes near Silverton also have become popular hiking destinations: Columbine Lake, Highland Mary Lakes, Bullion King Lake, Porphyry, Blue Lake, and Mud Lake.
A ski experience at the Silverton Mountain ski area is unlike anything skiers have experienced anywhere else in Colorado. Groomed runs and cut trails are non-existent. Just a single chairlift supports skiers. With plenty of awesome powder (average 400” a year) and the terrain only partially lift accessed, the Silverton Mountain ski experience has become a legend for expert/advanced (and daring) skiers. It is full of thrills and spills. One of the only places to heli-ski in Colorado, it is definitely the place to be for adventuresome skiers.