10 Top-Rated Things to Do in Silverton, CO
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Silverton is not often on a first-timer's list of places to visit in Colorado. But those who venture off the beaten path are rewarded with one of the most beautiful and remote destinations in the entire state. Surrounded by the San Juan Mountains, at one end of the majestic Million Dollar Highway, and steeped in centuries-old mining history, Silverton is a paradise for adventure enthusiasts, adrenaline chasers, and lovers of small-mountain-town charm.
Silverton was originally inhabited by the Ute Native Americans, but eventually mining claims were made in 1860. The town became a booming mining destination between the 1870s and the 1890s, but a collapse of the silver market changed that story. Still, the historic buildings, old mining relics, and still-operating mines tell the history of Silverton, and it's easy to see why the entire town is a National Historic Landmark District.
Today visitors to Silverton enjoy getting out into the great outdoors. Most of the mountains surrounding Silverton crest 13,000 feet, and the town is within a short distance to many of the state's 14ers (mountains that top 14,000 feet). Wild backcountry roads leave ample areas to discover on 4WD vehicles. Hiking abounds, and the small downtown is peppered with cafés, restaurants, and historic buildings.
Silverton is often a day trip from nearby Telluride, Ouray, or Durango, but the town has plenty of tourist attractions to make it a destination all on its own. Get ready to discover the best things to do in Silverton.
1. Drive the Million Dollar Highway
Buckle up for superlative views when you embark along the Million Dollar Highway. This scenic mountain drive connects the mining town of Silverton with the mining town of Ouray.
This special highway was built in the 1880s as part of the San Juan Skyway, and it is one of the most stunningly epic drives in the country. The entire Skyway runs from Ridgway, near Telluride, to Ouray, through Silverton, and onto Durango, serving up spectacular, uninterrupted views of peaks and valleys as far as the eye can see.
The Million Dollar Highway itself runs for 25 miles and is the most trafficked section of the Skyway – and for good reason. It features startling hairpin curves and plunging drop-offs, magnificent peaks, and mining relics from the region's booming past.
It is certainly not for the faint of heart, nor for the novice driver. But it is certainly worth it for the mesmerizing scenery – red-painted mountains, green rivers, gushing waterfalls, and perhaps the occasional elk or goat sighting ensures that the entire 25 miles is nothing short of an adventure.
2. Hike the Trails
Being surrounded by the San Juan Mountains means that Silverton is one of the best places to hike in Colorado. Expect to be simply blown away by the natural beauty of this part of Colorado, which is impressive even by Colorado standards.
You'll find a hike for everyone here, whether you're a skilled mountaineer or someone looking to simply get out for some fresh air. Andrews Lake Trail, for example, is short and sweet, and heads directly to Andrews Lake. Along the way, you'll find mountain views, as well as a paved portion of the trail that runs lakeside.
Then you've got the Engineer Mountain Trail, which gains more than 3,000 feet in elevation over 13 miles. It's certainly not for the inexperienced hiker, especially the end section, which is quite rocky.
If you want to push it even further, the Highland Lakes, Continental Divide Loop extends almost 19 miles and runs across the Continental Divide Trail, a hiking trail that runs from Mexico into Canada.
No matter where you choose to lace up your boots, Silverton has a trail to take your breath away.
3. Ski Silverton Mountain
There's Colorado skiing, and then there is skiing at Silverton Mountain. This is the ultimate in backcountry, extreme skiing and it was built for adventurists who feel like they've mastered the sport. That is because it is one of the highest ski areas on the continent, featuring a peak elevation of 13,487 feet.
Silverton Mountain gets more than 400 inches of snow a year. Combine that with no groomed trails or dedicated runs, and you're looking at one of the most adventurous ski mountains in the country.
For those who want to attempt to conquer Silverton Mountain, many different options are available, from unguided skiing to a guided day trip, and even heli drops for remote skiing in some of the most pristine and unspoiled terrain you'll find in the state.
A chairlift takes you up into the 1,819 acres of wilderness, packed with bowls, chutes, and cliffs. The lift will take you as high as 12,300 feet, and if you wish to go higher, that's where the helicopter comes in.
Don't expect a cushy chalet or a bunny hill here. This is for pure adrenaline and an experience unlike one you've likely had on any mountain before.
4. Pan for Gold
Like many of Colorado's ski destinations, Silverton got its start as a lucrative mining town. What's cool about Silverton is that the past has trickled very much into the present, and the area embraces its industrial roots, encouraging visitors to get in on the action through mining tours.
The Old Hundred Gold Mine, for example, is one of the historic mines in the area that is open to visitors for tours. It opened in 1872 on the slopes of Galena Mountain, just outside of Silverton. It was quite literally a gold mine for the brothers who opened it, as they managed to tap rich sources of gold ore from the tallest peaks of the mountain.
Today the mine offers guided tours that take you deep into the mountain, following the vein, and watching the real-life mining equipment still do its things. They even offer the option for visitors to pan for their own silver, copper, and gold. And yes, you can keep anything you find.
Address: 721 County Road 4A, Silverton, Colorado
Oficial site: https://www.minetour.com/
5. Drink in the History
As remote as Silverton is, at a time it was one of the most important mining towns in the entire area. Prospecting began in the 1860s and by 1871, the town began turning a profit from silver mining. In fact, Silverton became one of the most lucrative mining destinations in all of Colorado, and you'll find evidence of that history today all over the town.
All along the Million Dollar Highway, the backroads, and remote slopes of surrounding mountains, visitors to Silverton will see the relics of the town's mining past. Keep your eyes peeled for the numerous collapsed buildings, foundations, cabins, rail tracks, and more, all of which tell the stories of the centuries-old history of Silverton.
Mining camps were constructed throughout the 19th century up and down Red Mountain Pass. Today, many of these towns like Animas Forks and Red Mountain Town, have become ghost towns, but whispers of their past grandeur and profitability can be found scattered in every nook and cranny.
You can even take a walking tour with Silverton Walking Tours, which meet up on Blair Street and take inquiring minds through the historic sections of the town, shedding light on the ins and outs of Silverton's past.
6. Ride the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
Speaking of history, the past roars to life in Silverton aboard the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. This impeccably preserved steam engine chugs from the Old West into the present aboard a 19th-century, coal-fired locomotive.
Those who ride the rails are traveling the same tracks that were used by frontiersmen, miners, and pioneers in the 19th century. Modern day travelers, however, only have to sit back and relax and drink in the views of the San Juan Mountains, deep valleys, and thick forests.
The train provides several different itineraries based on the time of year, from the Scenic Round Trip Silverton route, which travels to and from Durango, to the Polar Express train ride, which is decked out with a holiday theme.
The Scenic Round Trip Silverton route takes roughly three and a half hours each way and includes two hours in the town of Silverton. The full-day excursion begins at 8am aboard the diesel train, and 9am aboard the Silverton Steam Train. Experience Horseshoe Curve, the famous High Bridge, and the sweeping Animas River Gorge.
Official site: https://www.durangotrain.com/
7. Visit Ice Lakes
Hiking trails abound in Silverton, but one of the most memorable is along Ice Lakes Trail. The trail heads up into the San Juan National Forest and passes by two lakes, as well as waterfalls and through meadows absolutely blanketed with wildflowers.
The majority of hikers on the trail have two destinations in mind: Ice Lake and Island Lake. The hike to Ice Lake is a seven-mile round-trip hike, while Island hike is an 8.4-mile adventure.
The entire adventure is primed with photo opportunities, whether of the lakes themselves, or of looming Vermillion Peak and Golden Horn.
8. Venture to Animas Forks
A bumpy ride from Silverton, Colorado, deep into the San Juan Mountains, will take adventurous travelers to the abandoned mining town of Animas Forks. First established in 1873, Animas Forks was a prime mining destination that sits at more than 11,000 feet.
At the town's peak, around 1876, the town had 30 cabins, a post office, general store, and a saloon. Its peak population was only about 450 people. By the early 20th century, the hills had been depleted, and Animas Forks devolved into a ghost town by the 1920s. Today it remains preserved in time, and its remote location adds to its mystery and intrigue.
Only those with the proper vehicle, and a strong stomach, should make the drive to Animas Forks. The town is off the Alpine Loop, which is a 65-mile road that connects several of southwestern Colorado's towns. The road to Animas Forks from Silverton is unpaved, rocky, and can be treacherous, especially if you're not cruising in a 4WD vehicle.
Certain outfitters in town rent 4WD vehicles, which makes for a fun and adrenaline-boosting afternoon, but it can certainly be tackled in a higher clearance private vehicle.
9. Meander Down Main Street
What better way to get to know the history of Silverton than to walk down the historic Main Street? Flanked with Victorian buildings, surrounded by mountains, the view from Silverton's Main Street has not changed much since the prospectors and miners lived here more than a century ago.
On Main Street, you'll discover quaint restaurants and coffee shops, including one serving the famous Rocky Mountain Funnel Cakes that are produced here.
Also along Main Street is the Grand Imperial, which is the largest building in town. The Grand Imperial was built in 1883 and once played host to a post office, bank, doctor, general store, and newspaper. The third floor housed a hotel, the Grand Imperial Hotel, which has since grown to take over the entire building.
10. Embark with Silverton Powdercats
You can ski almost anywhere in Colorado. But only in Silverton can you have an adventure with the Silverton Powdercats. One of the best things to do in Silverton, the Powdercats experience includes guided cat skiing and snowboarding along the area's iconic Molas Pass.
The backcountry terrain is just 10 minutes outside town and has some of the best powder skiing and snowboarding in Colorado, whether it's along the plummeting face of the pass or in the fields of Lime Creek. The 6,000 acres of terrain are recommended for intermediate to expert skiers, so this would not be the place to practice if you're new.
A day with Powdercats begins around 9am, with an average of eight to 12 runs per day, lunch included. The small group tours pride themselves on no wait times, getting right to the heart of the action as quickly as possible. The entire day experience wraps around 3pm.