Silverton is a small town located in San Juan County in southwestern Colorado. Once famous for its mining resources, it is now becoming famous with the extreme sports set, for a famously tough endurance run (the Hardrock Hundred) and a recently opened ski resort that focuses on giving skiers a back-country experience.
Silverton is on US 550, the famed "Million Dollar Highway" that connects Durango and Ouray, passing through incredible mountain scenery and over several high passes. However, most visitors to Silverton arrive instead by railroad, specifically the Durango & Silverton Narrow-Gauge Railroad, +1-888-872-4607. This scenic line originates in Durango and runs along the Animas River, with a few stops along the way at trailheads for hiking and backpacking. The depot in Silverton is a short walk from the downtown area.
The town itself is tiny, and from the train station you'll be able to get to anywhere in town by foot or bike within minutes. (Allow a little extra time for walking because of the 9000-foot elevation.) If you're venturing into the hinterlands, consider renting a jeep from one of these outfitters:
- Red Mountain Motel, RV Park and Jeep Rentals, 664 Greene St., +1-888-970-5512 or +1 970 387-5512.
- Silver Summit, 640 Mineral St., +1-800-352-1637 or +1 970 387-0240.
- Triangle Jeep Rental, 864 Greene St., +1 970 387-9990 or +1-877-522-2354.
If you arrive via the narrow-gauge and will be departing the same day, you won't have time for much more than a walk around the many historic buildings downtown. The town maintains a web site with a recommended route and information on the history of the buildings, many of them photogenic.
- Silverton Gunfighters Association. Stages mock gunfights on 12th Street when the narrow-gauge train rolls in (around 5:30) on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays during peak season. The show, put on by local volunteers, is not quite as spectacular as when paid stuntmen did it some years ago, but it's still fun to watch.
- Hardrock Hundred Mile Endurance Run. Has been described as the world's toughest endurance race, covering not merely the implied 100 horizontal miles but also a great deal of elevation change, frequently including an ascent of 14,000-foot Handies Peak. Silverton is the starting point for this race, which is held in mid-July. If you're planning to run in it, register early, as participation is on a lottery basis, and arrange accommodations early as well.
- Silverton Mountain. Is a new and unusual alpine skiing area that caters specifically to the expert skier, and has already developed a reputation as a good place for black-diamond skiing. The facility is small, with a single chair lift that services a number of very difficult runs. Mountain biking is possible during the summer.
Souvenir shops line Greene Street, the main drag through town, and "Notorious Blair Street" to its east. Silverton is not a manufacturing city (to put it mildly) and produces few durable goods of any value, but like many Colorado mountain towns, it supports an arts-and-crafts community of sorts, and you may find something artsy-craftsy of interest amid the tourist trinkets.
Restaurants in Silverton live a hand-to-mouth existence (so to speak) because of the very small population base during the off season. Make sure to check locally to be sure that your chosen restaurant is still in business.
- Brown Bear Cafe, 1129 Greene St, ☎ +1 970 387-5630. Great food and the corned beef and hash is a popular menu choice.
- Bent Elbow Hotel and Restaurant, 1114 Blair St, toll-free: +1-877-387-5775. Advertised as "lunch and dinner," but hours not cited. American and Mexican fare. "Notorious Blair Street" was the district for bordellos, gambling dens, etc., during the town's rip-roaring mining-camp days, and this and other businesses on Blair still trade on that atmosphere, although the shady ladies and card sharps are long gone.
- Pickle Barrel, 1304 Greene St. Lunch and dinner; children's menu.
- Bent Elbow Hotel and Restaurant. See above under "Eat." A few (~6) rooms; from $70, with seasonal variations.
- Canyon View Motel, 661 Greene St, ☎ +1 970 387-5400. Rooms from $50, seasonal variations. Unlike most Silverton lodging, this one is definitely not in an "historic" building, but the fact that it's new and inexpensive has its own value. All rooms non-smoking.
- Wyman Hotel and Inn, 1371 Greene St, toll-free: +1-800-609-7845. A small upper-end hotel in an historic downtown building, with a comfortable, gracious, yet family-oriented feel. Under new ownership; the innkeeper is a "hardrocker" (i.e., runs in the endurance race). Rooms (all non-smoking) from $145 (includes an excellent breakfast), and despite being expensive by Silverton standards, still very good value for dollar.
- Silverton's Inn of the Rockies, 220 E. 10th St. (10th & Blair), ☎ +1 970-387-5336. Check-in: flexible, check-out: flexible. Recommended by the New York Times, this is the only year-round AAA three-diamond lodge in Silverton and one of the best values in luxury lodging you will find in the Colorado Rockies. The owner of this historic inn has also been guiding visitors in the backcountry here for many years and is a valuable resource for the outdoor adventure set. Featuring a whole foods breakfast and sack lunches, satellite television, guidebook library, and the nicest hot tub in town. $89 to $139. $89-$139.
- If you arrived by car, make sure to drive the Million Dollar Highway some distance beyond town before continuing on your way, whether heading north or south. The scenery is superb, with a number of pullouts (notably at the summit of Molas Pass south of town and Red Mountain Pass to the north) where you can pause and drink it in. There are also a number of fine day-hiking possibilities that are accessible from side roads leaving the Highway. Some require high-clearance vehicles to approach, but most can be reached by passenger cars. (Tread carefully; this is high country, and altitude sickness is a real possibility, as are dangerous thunderstorms in the summer and avalanches in the winter and spring.)
- Creede, Lake City, Ouray and Telluride (the latter a noted ski resort) are other mountain towns nearby, each with its own Rocky Mountain color.
- Durango is about 50 miles south, and Mesa Verde National Park another 80 or so miles beyond it to the west. Both are worth a visit.
|Routes through Silverton|
|Montrose ← Ouray ←||N S||→ Durango → Farmington|