Recreation in Silverton
Tucked away in the Southwestern Colorado’s San Juan Mountains is the well-preserved town of Silverton, a prime basecamp from which you can access a wonderland of recreational pursuits. The San Juans are undoubtedly Colorado’s finest range with unsurpassed beauty and enough peaks, lakes and open meadows to feed your mountain climbing, hiking, and biking desires. In fact, the San Juans lay claim to 14 of Colorado’s 53 peaks above 14,000 feet and 314 of the state’s 637 Thirteeners.
Backcountry trails radiate in all directions allowing visitors to enjoy whitewater rafting, mountain biking, horseback riding, climbing, ATV/OHV riding, fishing, hiking, and just about any wilderness activity you can think of! See below for our top area picks along with useful links and resources.
The San Juan Mountains offer many opportunities for climbing, from scrambling through canyon rock jams, or challenging yourself on a technical climb up an ice wall. There are two major areas to climb around Silverton; South Mineral Creek to the west of town, and Eureka, to the northeast which features the popular Stairway to Heaven.
Silverton is surrounded by wilderness that can be wildly explored using four big wheels and hefty power. There is a great place nearby we recommend for rental vehicles accommodating one to four passengers. Old historic mines, hidden lakes, mountain passes, forest trails, and a variety of wildlife such as moose and elk, are all possible sights in the backcountry.
Hiking around Silverton’s beautiful San Juan Mountains is the quintessential wilderness adventure! The local area offers many trails of varied lengths and difficulties that provide access to cascading waterfalls, pristine lakes, exquisite high alpine basins blanketed in wildflowers, spectacular views, and seemingly untouched wilderness areas.
Some of the country’s best four-wheel drive roads are found in the area around Silverton. The famed Alpine Loop and Picayune Gulch provide lots of side roads and wildlife sightings. Jeep rentals are available if you want to explore these roads on your own. If you prefer to ride along, several guide companies will be happy to take you into the high country.
The San Juan region is an angler’s paradise offering a wide spectrum of river, fly, and lake fishing options. Many rivers and streams within easy reach from Silverton are included on the state’s list of Gold Medal Waters. These high alpine lakes offer up excellent pan-size trout. A popular place to cast your line is Molas Lake, located just 4 miles south of town.
World-class Animas River whitewater rafting right out of Silverton. At peak flows this is one of the most demanding commercial whitewater runs in the U.S. The trip starts above 9,000 feet in elevation and plunges through gorges and vast mountains towering at 14,000 feet. Recommended for those with a sense of adventure and a love for the outdoors.
Silverton is located near countless miles of trails and roads accessible by mountain bike. Many single- track backcountry trails offer riders of all levels of experience fun and challenging rides. Famous routes such as the Hermosa Creek Trail and the Colorado Trail attract backcountry mountain bikers from across the nation.
Horseback riding in the beautiful San Juan Mountains will be one of your most memorable Silverton experiences. Spectacular mountain vistas and wide open spaces will rejuvenate your spirit. Find yourself on a guided horseback outing where you’ll be riding through aspen forests and alpine meadows. Giddy up!
Geothermal pools penetrate the surface of Southwest Colorado in abundance. There are several local developed hot springs in nearby Durango, Ouray and Ridgway which offer vapor caves, naturally landscaped pools, private hot springs, and public pools. The hot mineral water soothes the body and revitalizes the spirit.
local trails and attractions
Alpine Loop Backcountry Byway
The Alpine Loop Backcountry Byway is a rugged 4×4 road that winds through the spectacular scenery of the San Juan Mountains, connecting Lake City, Silverton, and Ouray. The byway traverses passes up to 12,800 feet while showcasing old mines, ghost towns, natural wonders, beautiful wildflowers, and abundant wildlife. Alpine Loop is an avenue for exploring nature and history amidst thrilling views and stunning geography. Tackling the loop in its entirety is easily an all-day experience event. However, the main loop is only part of the experience; miles of designated side routes allow visitors to either take a short tour or extend their trip to multiple days.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison
No other canyon in North America combines the narrow opening, sheer walls, and startling depths offered by the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, one of the newest National Parks in the U.S. The canyon, one mile deep at its deepest point, and 1,150 feet across at its narrowest, was carved out over millions of years by the Gunnison River. Start out at the visitor center, where you can view the overlook into the canyon as well as its the history, flora, fauna, and geology of the park. Enjoy it by driving the scenic rim road, or by hiking into the canyon to fish, raft or climb. Options exist for day-hikes into the canyon’s depths, the most accessible route into the canyon’s inner sanctuary is the Gunnison Route.
Colorado National Monument
The monument is an incredible preserve of semi-arid terrain full of sculpted rocks and monoliths. The Rim Rock Drive offers 23 miles of breathtaking views. The road climbs from the Grand Valley of the Colorado River to the park’s high country, then winds along the plateau rim. You can park at several roadside overlooks along the way and enjoy panoramas of the park’s great rock sculptures, canyons and distant valleys and mountains. Hiking and rock climbing are also popular in the area. There are five main sections of the monument that offer beautiful hiking trails: Monument Canyon, Ute Canyon, Black Ridge, Devils Kitchen, and Wildwood Trailhead.
Mesa Verde National Park
Mesa Verde National Park was established in 1906 to preserve and interpret the archeological heritage of the Ancestral Pueblo people who made it their home for over 700 years, from 600 to 1300 CE. Today, the park protects 5,000 known archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings, which are some of the most notable and best preserved in the United States. Try to take in the museum before actually visiting the various ruins, as this will make the viewing of the ruins more meaningful. This park is one of the most beautiful around. Hike, bike, or drive around these unique ruins. Recently named the most popular National Park in the U.S., the ruins at Mesa Verde National Park are well worth the drive.
San Juan National Forest
The 1.8 million square miles of San Juan National Forest is Silverton’s backyard playground. The forest encompasses three wilderness areas: Weminuche, South San Juan, and Lizard Head, two of which are alpine wilderness areas. The park’s terrain ranges from high-desert to alpine peaks of the San Juan Mountains providing countless miles of back roads and trails to explore. This vast tract of ponderosa pine, snowcapped mountains, and fast-flowing rivers is home to a wide variety of flora and fauna. Hiking, biking, camping, fishing and river rafting are just some of the multitude of things to do in this wonderful mountain reserve. Popular highlights include the stunning Ice Lake Basin Trail and Island Lakes.
San Juan Scenic Skyway
The San Juan Skyway is a 233-mile roadway that loops around Southwest Colorado. The section from Silverton to Ouray is frequently called the Million Dollar Highway. Characterized by steep cliffs above and below, hairpin turns, towering peaks, and high elevation, this road is unlike anything you have driven before. The road-to-the-sky undulates among 14,000-foot peaks, notable route offers picturesque views as it ascends up into the San Juans, over three mountain passes, the highest of which is Red Mountain Pass at 11,018 feet, before descending through the spectacular Uncompahgre Gorge. Traveling the skyway is particularly stunning in autumn.
South San Juan Wilderness Reserve
The South San Juan Wilderness is located in the San Juan National Forest and contains nearly 160,000 acres of land. With its stunning meadows, valleys, and forests, South San Juan is probably most famous for the excellent hiking opportunities in the area, including the Continental Divide which passes through the wilderness. The area boasts over 180 miles of trails with a wide variety of environments to enjoy and appreciate. The Continental Divide also passes through the wilderness. The headwaters of three major rivers, the Conejos, Blanco, and San Juan Rivers, can all be found in this wilderness as well as 32 glacier-formed lakes. This scenic and massive wilderness area is a must-see for anyone visiting Southwest Colorado.
Uncompahgre Wilderness Area
The Uncompahgre Wilderness Area, located within the San Juan Mountains, boasts two fourteeners and more than 34 peaks that tower over 13,000 feet in elevation. The area encompasses alpine tundra meadows, rock castles and densely- forested canyons. Below Uncompahgre Peak, the Wilderness is a mountainous land of towering rock castles and sweeping ridges that some claim form the most splendid scenery in the state. More than 100 miles of trails make this wilderness area perfect for hikers, backpackers, horseback riders, and technical climbers. Several forks of the Cimarron River roar through the wilderness, creating numerous alpine lakes and streams available for fishing.
Weminuche Wilderness Area
At almost 500,000 acres, the Weminuche Wilderness is Colorado’s widest and wildest wilderness area. It is located within the San Juan and Rio Grande National Forests, divided by the Continental Divide. Undoubtedly, the most popular recreational activities are hiking and mountain climbing as elevations average out to over 10,000 feet. The Needle Mountains are an especially notable destination since the wilderness’ three fourteener peaks, the Eolus, Windom, and Sunilght Peaks, can be found there in close proximity to one another. The Chicago Basin has become a favored campsite due to its closeness to these peaks and also its innate magnificence.With its massive size, there will no doubt have something for everyone.
Colorado Trail Extensive Report
Collegiate Peaks Loop Guide
Best Hiking in SW Colorado
Train Wilderness Access
Highland Mary Lake Trail Writeup
Backpacker Guide to Weminuche
Trail Groove Trail Report Uncompahgre Wilderness Trip
Southwest CO 14er Guide