Silverton is a former silver mining camp, dating back to 1860. By the late 1870’s as many as 2,000 miners and their families lived there as the prospectors mined for silver and gold. Some of the mines were open until the 1990’s and rumor has it that there are still rich deposits in the nearby San Juan Mountains that have yet to be found.
Today Silverton is a good retirement and tourist destination and is a great centrally located “base” in which to explore Southern Colorado. Most of the town is now included in a federally designated National Historic Landmark District, the Silverton Historic District.
We arrived there early in the morning after driving straight through from Fort Worth, Texas (about 13 hours) and due to our adrenaline rush, did not sleep and instead set out immediately to have some fun.
One option we had was taking the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad which has been voted as one of the top 10 most scenic railroads in the world. You can take the railroad and get off near your base camp if you intend to summit one of the nearby 14,000 foot mountains. And since I’m a “railroader” this was really intriguing. We decided, however, we just didn’t have the time so instead we decided to go “4-wheeling”.
Some of the country’s best four-wheel drive roads are found in the area around Silverton. I was amazed at the freedom you had once you rent one of these vehicles and how far the roads/trails go. You could drive for hours and once you get out of town there is virtually no other traffic. I was also amazed at how dangerous this was as some of the roads are narrow single lane with nothing but a cliff to the side. Look at the picture below and you’ll see what I mean. Occasionally you have to pass another vehicle…. Wow… this was a bit nerve wracking.
The town’s website has this great map below that shows you how far you can go but I would recommend a compass and GPS as we got someone lost. For scale, Ouray to the north is about 20 miles away but it’s no easy trek.
Scattered here and there are ruins of some of the old mines. Can’t you imagine some dusty old timer with a pick-ax and crusty beard emerging from one of these shafts?
Mostly what you find these days is not gold or silver but peace and quiet. And spectacular beauty. Our road followed this clear stream for a good ways and we were able to stop and check it out at a few places.
Currently our family is planning a summer camping vacation and we may head back to this area to spend more time. Southern Colorado is one of my favorite places, especially in the summer months when you can get outside with shorts on and enjoy the sunshine. Make it happen!