At the south end of Colorado’s Million Dollar Highway is the rural town of Silverton at an elevation of 9,318 feet. Located in San Juan County, it was originally called Baker’s Park, but was later changed to Silverton when someone reportedly proclaimed, “there’s no gold there, but they have silver by the ton.”
Silverton is in a bowl with majestic mountain peaks towering overhead. The Animas River and its tributaries flow into the bowl with the river being the only outlet. Silverton was founded by prospectors in 1874 after mineral strikes in the nearby mountains. Due to its altitude, remoteness, lack of transportation, and long cold winters, it was a difficult place to live during this era.
Like many early mining towns, Silverton had its share of outlaws and colorful characters. Some of these include Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp, and Jew Fanny. Additionally, with successful mining, the typical vices of the time became available such as gambling houses, brothels, and saloons. Thanks to the efforts of the Silverton community, many of these historic buildings are intact for enjoyment today.
As the mines did well, so did the town. It reached a population of 5,000 and was even in the running against Denver for becoming the State’s Capital. Like all small mining towns, the silver ran out, and the mine shut down. Silverton was no exception. For instance, it was the last major mine closing in 1991 with the population soon falling to approximately 500 year-round residents. Today, tourism and recreation is the lifeblood of Silverton with something of interest for everyone.
For movie buffs, it`s interesting to learn that Silverton is the location for several motion pictures. These include Ticket to Tomahawk, Great Day in the Morning, Run for Cover, and Maverick Queen. Further, Silverton is the one gateway to the Alpine Loop Scenic Byway, and can perhaps lead to a unique adventure in Durango.
Visiting San Juan County and Silverton
The only way in or out of Silverton is over mountain passes with fairly steep twisty grades. So, RVers will need to travel these roads in favorable weather conditions and use lower gears when descending grades.
There are several RV parks in Silverton with a U.S. forest service campground outside of town. If you are a dry camper, there is a free camping area northwest of town (at N37° 49.216 W107° 42.815). It’s known as Kendall Campground, but you are more likely to find it online as Mineral Creek dispersed camping area.
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