A Brief History of Silverton

Our wonderful town has a unique history both visitors and locals can appreciate. The only incorporated municipality in San Juan County, the town is a former silver mining camp—hence, Silverton. Here’s what you need to know.

When Charles Baker’s group of prospectors found traces of gold in the San Juan Mountains, they knew they had stumbled upon something big. After being forced out by the Ute Tribe in 1861, they returned to the area, finding lode gold in the Little Giant vein at Arrastre Gulch. While the land had originally been awarded to the native tribes in the area, the Brunot Treaty of 13 September allowed the miners to stay in the area—in exchange for 4 million acres, the Southern Ute Indian Reservation received $25,000 per year. One year later, in August of 1873, George Howard and R.J. McNutt discovered the Sunnyside silver vein along Hurricane Peak. The Sunnyside Mine quickly sprung up to take advantage of the discovered riches, but was shut down after the 1929 stock market crash.

The Sunnyside Mine and Mayflower Gold Mills, both of which are still available for residents to explore, were acquired by Standard Metals Corporation in 1959. Sunnyside Mine found gold and reopened in 1973. In the 1970s, half of Colorado’s gold production came from this single mine—a pretty significant number for an already gold-rich state

Unfortunately, disaster struck in the late 1970s when water from Lake Emma collapsed a mine shaft. While no miners were present, the water traveled through the tunnels, shooting out a portal along Cement Creek with enough force to topple a 20-ton locomotive. The mine reopened two years later but was acquired by Echo Bay Mines, operating for another five years.

Silverton has a rich and storied history. While the town no longer has active mining, historical and mineralogical tourism drive the town’s economy. Nearby Silverton Mountain also drives a large portion of tourists to the area; in fact, Silverton was named one of the best places for winter sports in the United States. Nestled between two rugged San Juan Mountain passes, Silverton continues to be one of America’s most beloved small towns.

What You Need to Know About the 416 Fire

On June 1 of 2018, the 416 Fire blazed across the San Juan National Forest. The sixth-largest wildfire in Colorado history triggered thousands of evacuations and severely damaged the local economy. While no Silverton residents were evacuated, the fire came dangerously close to the town’s general area, striking Fruitland Mesa near Montrose and an area close to Cochetopa Hills.

Allegedly, the fire was started by a speeding train. Theresa Blake Grave, a spokeswoman for nearby Durango’s Chamber of Commerce, said, “There has been a lot of controversy and rumors about whether the train started the fire.” In May, before this massive fire, the layered fire protection system worked to extinguish five spot fires that sparked to life along the rails of La Plata County, according to those who helped put out the flames. These spot fires and the devastation caused by the 416 Fire are causing locals to wonder if the train, which draws tourists from around the world, may begin to cause more harm than good.

This wildfire took a devastating toll on Durango’s economy–$33 in June alone. The fire has caused health hazards in the area and turned mountain views into groves of charred stumps, which have already led to numerous cancelled real estate transactions. While the fire did not reach Silverton, these latter effects are likely felt throughout the community. U.S. Forest Service law enforcement agents are currently investigating the cause of the fire; the probe could take anywhere from two weeks to two years.

While the 416 Fire did not touch Silverton, fires in southern Colorado are becoming more frequent. As the climate shifts, it brings warmer, dryer weather to an area that has historically seen a large amount of precipitation. If the train did not start this massive fire, it was likely caused by a camper, a dropped cigarette, or a piece of glass magnified by the sun. These small, accidental actions can now cause crippling devastation in this area, and it is advised that Silverton residents take the necessary precautions to protect their homes against fires.


Five Can’t-Miss Silverton Experiences

Silverton, CO is known for its diverse and plentiful recreational opportunities. If you’re in town for a limited time, you may have trouble deciding which adventures to pursue. Similarly, if you’re a local trying to show a visitor the “best of Silverton,” you might be trying to narrow down the best attractions. We’ve done the work for you. Below are five of our favorite Silverton experiences—beloved by both locals and visitors alike.

Million Dollar Highway—This six-mile stretch of the San Juan Skyway offers incredible views of the area. The beautiful scenery, winding road, and diverse views of the mountains make this an excellent experience for lovers of the outdoors and those who prefer to soak in the sights from the comfort of a car.

Ice Lakes Trail—This breathtaking hike takes adventurers up over 3,000 feet of vertical in just 3.5 miles. Featuring waterfalls, sweeping views, and steep switchbacks, this difficult but rewarding trek is worth the effort. Inexperienced hikers should do this one with a friend or group, while more experienced hikers can manage this 7-hour trip on their own.

Island Lake—Located in San Juan National Forest, this alpine like sits at an elevation of roughly 12,400 feet. The four-mile trek up to the lake brings hikers past abandoned mines and equipment from the 1920s, as well as beautiful alpine wildflowers and jagged 13,000 footers. The lake itself is aqua-blue and often surrounded by snow year-round.

Mayflower Gold Mill—The Silverton area is known historically for the abundance of gold and silver. In the late 19th century, thousands of settlers moved to the area hoping to capitalize on this natural resource. The Mayflower Mill, located two miles northeast of downtown Silverton, is one of the best-preserved mining artifacts in the country. A beautiful and easy hike brings visitors up to the mill itself.

Silverton Mountain—If you’re looking for a unique adventure, Silverton Mountain should be the first item on your list. This is, essentially, backcountry skiing with the added accessibility of a chairlift. Often, backcountry skiing is only accessible with hikes and helicopters; Silverton Mountain provides an easier alternative through guided tours and unmatched snow conditions.

Why You Should Set Your Sights and Calendar To Visit Silverton, Colorado

Heading to Colorado is a great thing. The state opens up to visitors in a unique manner. There’s something compelling about the state, and many already know about the big cities and amazing locales to consider. But have you taken time to look at something a bit left of center? That’s where you will find some true charm that is often passed over. It’s within the smaller regions that you will see nature and modernity collide, such as what occurs for those that visit Silverton, Colorado. There are several reasons why you will want to visit, especially if you like nature, scenic drives, fishing, and much more. There’s so much to explore in this somewhat small locale, that you may very well not want to go home after spending some time in this piece of Colorado’s glory.

Challenging The Fit

For those that love fitness, and want a challenge, visiting Silverton will be a great option. Mountain bikers from around the country find the mining roads, and many different routes through the area to be absolutely grand. If you’re looking for a challenge, then you’ll find that there’s a lot to explore around this area. Hiking, climbing, and taking on the snow is also possible, as there’s a great deal of natural terrain to explore, and visit through.

For those that want to take on the area by foot, then you’ll want to look into the trails that are within the San Juan National Forest, and the Weminuche Wilderness. There are groomed trails, and several options to explore for all skill levels of hiking.

For The Fisherman

Love fishing? Fisherman will find that there’s one of the best spots for trout located just 4 miles from the center town. Molas Lake offers anglers of all skill sets an opportunity to fish for trout, and test their skills against the bounty of fish that populate the lake. For serenity, competition, or just the thrill of fishing, this is one place you don’t want to miss.

Historical Districts

The downtown area of Silverton is meant for Historical analysis. They are designated as historic districts, and that means that you’ll see history before your eyes in various shapes. From the Victorian Grand Imperial Hotel, San Juan County Historical Society, and so much more, you’ll find that you can retrace history back to the Wild West, and gold mining rush that gripped the United States as people went west in search for riches in the mountains, etc.

Visitors that venture to Silverton are surprised by the snow in the winter, and the beauty of summer. Some experts in travel have compared the city and the areas surrounding it to a locale akin to Alaska’s wilderness. However, this is something that is not only within the lower 48, but also has a lot to offer people of all ages. Whether you want to visit due to curiosity of history, or to relax, you’ll find that there’s a lot of greatness to be found within Silverton, and beyond. There’s so much to explore here, you will not want to miss out.