After a nice stay in Durango, Colorado, we ventured further into the San Juan National Forest, stopping in a quaint little mountain town called Silverton. The drive from Durango to Silverton was only a little over an hour long, but with a name like “Million Dollar Highway,” we knew it was going to be truly magnificent. It did not disappoint, and we enjoyed these views throughout the entire drive.
When we arrived in Silverton, we began the hunt for the perfect campsite to spend the Fourth of July holiday. Last year, we spent the fourth at a perfect site in Oregon’s lovely Umpqua National Forest, and we were eager to find an equally epic spot in Silverton. After finding a suitable site, we settled in for what we planned to be a two-week stay. We were excited to remain stationary for a longer period of time, especially after moving every few days for the previous couple of weeks. Unexpectedly, our stay was only four-days (more on that later), but it was still a fun four days nonetheless.
WHERE we stayed:
We originally wanted to stay at either Sultan Campground or Anvil Campground. Each are located along a tiny creek amongst a forest of towering pine trees. However, when we arrived, we found these two sites totally full. Thus began the hunt for a nice, albeit less busy, campsite.
We eventually settled on a site a few hundred feet from the Animas River, directly adjacent to a bunch of old mining structures. We were less than five minutes from the main town, so we had blazing fast internet, and the walk a few hundred feet from our site landed us amongst a grove of tall pine trees, just beside the roaring river. In addition, the train track for the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad rides by about a hundred feet from the campsite. Unfortunately, it was not running at the time that we visited Silverton, but having the track next to our site was still pretty epic.
Upon arriving at this campsite, we checked our “Public Lands” app, which is an app that tells users if their current location (or any location that is plugged in) is located on public lands. It even goes so far as to specify which type of public land the area is (for example, BLM, national forest, national park, etc.). The area where we decided to camp was listed as BLM land, so we thought we were in the clear. However, on the morning of the Fourth of July, a local sheriff came and told us that the area had been prone to vandalism in the past, so the town had decided to close it. Because of the holiday, all the nearby sites (on public land and at campgrounds) were fully booked out, and we realized that our fun Fourth of July by the Animas River was, unfortunately, not going to happen.
We instead packed up and headed North, towards Montrose. We stopped halfway through our drive to barbeque at a lovely spot in Ridgeway State Park. Despite our bit of misfortune, we made the most of the holiday and still enjoyed it thoroughly. We were even able to play in the state park’s creek with our dogs.
Long story short, we had a great campsite in Silverton, but we would not recommend it to anyone. However, we would recommend coming during the day to check out the old mining structures. Here are the coordinates if you are interested in seeing these up close: https://goo.gl/maps/ZfqZBsQgi3P2.
WHAT we cooked:
After finally being out of the hot weather of Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado, we were stoked to actually be able to cook in the RV between the hours of 9am and 7pm. (We were previously avoiding cooking during the day because it makes the RV EVEN hotter). We made a chicken and broccoli Chinese food on our first day in Silverton, and it was delicious!
We also prepped our Fourth of July cookout food in Silverton and planned to enjoy it there. As mentioned above, we ended up barbecuing in Ridgway State Park, but everything was still delicious nonetheless. We made burgers, hot dogs, potato salad, coleslaw, salad, deviled eggs, corn on the cob, hors d’oeuvres, and, of course, a yummy dessert of blueberries and cream. It was delicious!
WHERE we dined:
While visiting Silverton, we visited a Coffee Bear, a cute little coffee shop for coffees and WiFi a few times. They also specialized in yummy Italian sodas, which come highly recommended.
On our second-to-last day there, we decided to to try the Handlebar Restaurant for lunch. The interior of this restaurant is decorated in a nineteenth century saloon theme, which made it feel more classic and old-fashioned. Bren tried a Mexican Lager from a Ska Brewing in Durango, along with a sandwich and tomato soup combo, and I had an elk burger. It was all delicious.
WHAT we did:
We had a lot of activities planned while in Silverton, but we ended up doing only a few things due to our unexpected early departure. Here, I’ll highlight the things we were able to do and the things we intended to do, in case you are able to visit Silverton and need an easy guide of fun, local activities.
Explore downtown, eat a meal
The downtown area of Silverton is really cute. The buildings are historic and painted in fun, bright colors, and even just walking around and perusing the shops is really fun. We visited for morning coffee a couple of times and another time just to walk around with our dogs.
Go for a mining tour (guided or self-guided)
Besides being parked next to a couple of old mining structures, we didn’t really get to explore many of the famous ones around the town of Silverton. However, if you are in the area, you should totally make the time for this, as it is a quintessential Silverton experience! There is a guided tour offered, as well as a few mines that you can just drive up to and explore on your own. I have even heard that you can find large chunks of quartz at the mine entrances. Check out the linked guides for more info.
Hike to Ice Lake (and Island Lake)
Before even traveling to Colorado, we saw a picture of this magical lake and made a mental note to make sure we hiked to it. However, we never ended up seeing it due to our early departure. This 9-mile hike is said to be fairly difficult, but easily one of the most beautiful hikes in Colorado (or even the world)! This just gives us more reason to return to the San Juan National Forest. 😀
Ride the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
This railroad wasn’t running during our time in Silverton, but it is said to be one of the most famous railroads in the world. The views of the San Juans are unique and like no other. Definitely make this happen if you are in the area and the line is open!
Day trip to Ouray
About an hour north of Silverton lies the small town of Ouray. This town is so unique in that it is situated inside of a tight and narrow canyon, with towering views of red and granite rocks above. We passed through on our exit of the San Juans and were so impressed with the town’s general beauty and innovation. While here, many recommend hiking to Box Falls and the Baby Bathtubs, as well as soaking in the famous hot springs! It’s also recommended to walk through the downtown area and grab a meal or a drink at the brewery.
Drive a mountain pass
Finally, if you are in Silverton, you must drive one of the alpine mountain passes! There are so many to choose from, and they are all unique and totally worth it! We drove Engineer Pass, which you can begin in either Lake City (almost four hours from Silverton), Ouray (an hour north), or just directly from Silverton. If you begin in Silverton, you can drive the Cinnamon Pass until you connect with Engineer, then drive Engineer Pass to the top of Engineer Mountain and turn around to head back to Silverton. You can also begin in Lake City and end in Ouray if you want to drive the entire official pass.
Other popular and nearby trails include Cinnamon Pass (begins in Silverton), Ophir Pass (begins in Ironton, about fifteen minutes north), Yankee Boy Basin (an out-and-back trail that begins and ends in Ouray), and Imogene Pass (a trickier pass that begins in Ouray and ends in Telluride, or vice versa). Each of these can be tricky and should be thoroughly researched prior to attempting. It is recommended to only drive these in a 4×4-capable, high-clearance vehicle. If you do not own one, many shops in Silverton, Ouray and Telluride rent ATVs, UTVs, and Jeeps.
We drove Engineer Pass while in the area and absolutely loved it. We have a stock Jeep Cherokee XJ, which performed perfectly with no issues. (Blog post with more details on Engineer Pass is coming soon).
In short, we really enjoyed our brief stay in the tiny town of Silverton. While here, we experienced perfect mid-70s and 80s temperatures, due to the 9,000’ elevation. This was such was a nice break from the heat of the lower elevations of Southern Colorado. There is so much to do here, and we so wish we had had more time. This town can be visited and enjoyed in all seasons, with skiing and winter sports in the winter, flowers, in the spring, beautiful green meadows and warm temperatures in the summer, and changing leaves in the fall. Definitely plan a stop here if you are passing by on the Million Dollar Highway and want to stay in a quiet, yet lovely mountain town.
Have you been to Silverton, Colorado? How did you like it? Where did you stay? Feel free to share in the comments below!