Silverton - The Heart of the High Country in the San Juan Mountains
Whether you are a first-time visitor or have visited many times, Silverton Colorado is a place that you will enjoy again and again. Silverton is a National Historic Landmark, part of the San Juan Skyway (with the Million Dollar Highway connecting Silverton to Ouray), home to Animas Forks and the Alpine Loop, the summer destination for the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad train ride, a recreational paradise in Winter for snowmobiling, skiing (downhill, extreme, heli, snowcat, cross country), sledding, ice skating, ice climbing, and ice fishing, and in Summer for backcountry touring, Jeeping (Jeep rentals and Jeep tours are available), ATV and OHV riding,fishing, hiking, biking, rafting, horseback riding, hunting, and camping. The Weminuche Wilderness is close by. While you are here, be sure to take a tour of the Old Hundred Gold Mine, the Mayflower Mill, and the San Juan County Historical Society's Heritage Museum. Secluded at 9,318 feet, a visit to Silverton is one that you will not forget any time of year. A perfect combination of supreme natural beauty and magnificent Victorian charm.
Gold was discovered here in 1860, and after negotiations with the Ute Indians, the area was opened for settlement. The Town of Silverton was platted in 1874, and by 1875 the population had doubled. The Stony Pass wagon road became a toll road in 1879, and supplies came in over the Continental Divide from Del Norte. The greatest boom to the area was the construction of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad (now known as the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad) in 1882. By that time, there were seven towns, including Animas Forks (now a well-visited ghost town in the summer months) and Howardsville, which was the first county seat on the Western Slope.
Otto Mears, "Pathfinder of the San Juans," built his famous "Rainbow Route," one of three railroads that carried ore to the smelter in Silverton from the high camps. Mining reached its peak between 1900 and 1912, and the population of San Juan County peaked at 5,000, with Silverton as the metropolis of the district. Hundreds of millions of dollars of gold and silver were extracted from the mines. The last operating mine, Sunnyside Gold, closed in 1991.
Silverton's main business section was built in the late 1800s. Unlike many other mining towns, Silverton never experienced a major fire, and most of the buildings are still standing. The "other side" of town was centered on Blair Street. At one time this notorious street was home to forty saloons and brothels. Almost half of these buildings are still standing today. Today's business district (with its lodging, restaurants, shops, and galleries), is on Greene (main) Street and Notorious Blair Street, and the side streets between them.
Silverton is now the only town left in San Juan County. Its year-round population of 500 is supported by the tourism industry rather than by mining. People from all over the globe come to see the magnificent scenery and to experience the rich history of the area. While summer is the bigger season of the year with the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad train ride from May through October, as well as numerous other area attractions, winter has seen more tourism with the opening in 1990 of Silverton Mountain, an extreme ski area, where snowboarder and Olympic Gold Medalist Shaun White trained in the winter of 2009.The Town of Silverton also runs Kendall Mountain Ski Area, which is family-affordable and family-friendly. Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort is only 23 miles south of Silverton. Snowmobile tours are available.
Keep in mind that Silverton is open year-round for both summer and winter enjoyment. US Hwy 550 to Silverton is well-maintained by the Colorado Department of Transportation. Travelling south from Ouray, 23 miles from Silverton, you will drive over Red Mountain Pass. Traveling north from Durango, 50 miles away, you will drive over Coal Bank Pass and Molas Pass. For road conditions, go to www.cotrip.org.