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.
Exploring Silverton by RV, just another adventure in RVing!
Dave Helgeson’s many roles in the RV industry started before he even had a driver’s license. His grandparents and father owned an RV dealership before the term “RV” had been coined, and Dave played a pivotal role in nearly every position of an RV dealership. He and his wife Cheri launched their own RV dealership in the Pacific Northwest. The duo also spent 29 years overseeing regional RV shows. Dave has also served as President of a local chapter of the Recreational Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA), worked on the board of advisors for the RV Technician Program of a local technical college, and served as a board member of the Manufactured Home and RV Association. Dave’s reputation earned him the title of “The foremost expert on boondocking,” bestowed by RV industry icon, the late Gary Bunzer (The RV Doctor). When he’s not out boondocking, you’ll find Dave in the spotlight at RV shows across the country, giving seminars about all things RVing. He and Cheri currently roam in their fifth travel trailer, with Dave doing all the service, repair and modifications to his own unit.
Kim Fenske says
The article misses the adventure of narrow-guage railway from Durango to Silverton. Jump off the train and go backpacking for a few days in Chicago Basin. https://summitcountyvoice.com/2011/09/13/a-hike-to-windom-peak-sunlight-peak-and-mount-eolus/
Steve Fennell says
You can read some insight on the railway from Durango to Silverton by visiting an earlier blog at http://rvlife.com/a-unqiue-adventure-in-durango/
Hope this helps.
Rick Peluso says
IMO the most beautiful town in USA. The town has two side : the old preserved wild west section and literally across the tracks the tourist section. San Juan County is the highest county in the country, in terms of elevation 🙂 , that is. The Animas River was polluted by the EPA, some years ago. How ironic is that? Wondering if its all clear now. Oh yeah how can you not talk about the best train excursion in North America, as mentioned above.
Darrel Dickson says
There is great Jeeping in and around the area, so bring your Jeep or Quad.
Lots of old mines and ghost towns as well, enjoy the town too.
marty chambers says
Many years ago my wife and I visited the area and rode the Durango to Silverton train. Great trip, beautiful scenery, and being in a real old west town was exciting.
I have one suggestion, see if you can take a seat cushion for the train. The seats back then were the original bare wood and after bouncing around for a while my back was killing me. But then I was getting over some back injuries from a couple of years before. But just saying.
Ken Saint says
Stop in Ouray coming from the north. It’s a great small town. Heading into Durango, as mentioned, is a fantastic narrow gauge railroad. Then go west to check out Mesa Verde Nat. Park where the cliff dwelling Indian’s used to reside. The drive over so many peaks on some narrow twisty roads is part of the adventure to this beautiful part of Colorado.
I did the train ride a few years ago from Durango to Silverton then back to Durango. Took all day. the ride was okay. we had a special spot on the train and an educated person pointing out points of interest. Silverton was a little disappointing. An obvious tourist trap. I wasn’t unhappy at all to hear the train whistle for the departure back to Durango. The drive through the mtns to Ouray was great.