The ghost town of Animas Forks is an excellent destination, but getting there is at least 40% of the fun. You’ll probably want to be driving a 4-wheel-drive vehicle, or at least something with plenty of ground clearance, for the bumpy ride up a dirt road to this 1800’s mining boomtown. Along the way, you’ll pass relics of mining history and some beautiful mountain scenery.
Animas Forks is located 12 miles north of Silverton, Colorado. To reach Animas Forks, take US 550 (the San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway) from Durango to Silverton.
Drive through downtown Silverton on State Highway 110 (which is only .186 miles long). Watch for a sign for a road that splits off to the right. This is Blair Street, or County Road 2, and it heads northeast as you leave town, passing below the cemetery. Stay on this road until you reach Animas Forks.
The drive to Animas Forks had been on my list for a very long time. I had visited Silverton a couple of times before, once during winter (the road was closed by snow) and once in summer. During the summer visit, I took the wrong road out of town, and although I ended up on a fantastic dirt-road adventure to a couple of high-mountain passes, I didn’t come anywhere close to Animas Forks.
In early October, 2012, I had a much better idea of where I was headed, and this time, I ended up going in the right direction.
You’ll be following the Animas River throughout the drive up to Animas Forks. Just a mile or two from Silverton, you’ll pass through a wide valley that’s home to a mining operation…
… and some old buildings which are, in their own right, very ghost-town-ish.
The wide valley begins at Howardsville and ends at Eureka, where the road crosses the Animas River. From there…
… you’re headed into the mountains.
Expect steep drop-offs during this part of the journey. As you can see, the road is relatively smooth, but there will be some rough patches that make you glad you’re driving a high-clearance vehicle. Could you make it to Animas Forks in a sedan? Perhaps, but certainly no further.
The road has a lot of climbing to do. Animas Forks is at 11,200 feet, while Silverton is at 9,308 feet. Both towns are high enough to give you a serious bout with altitude sickness. If you start to feel weakness and a headache developing, turn around and head to lower ground — it’s the only cure.
There are plenty of turn-outs along the way, with views of the Animas River (and its eerie blue-green color, thanks to mining pollution).
Remnants of old mining operations are scattered along the landscape…
… as well as some very dangerous creek crossings. This used to be a swinging bridge.
Just a couple miles south of Animas Forks, keep an eye out for this nice, colorful spot along the side of the road. An old dam forms a waterfall along the Animas River. Its tinted water nicely complements the brightly colored, ore-rich rocks.
You will need to climb down an embankment to access this area.
Just a bit further, you definitely get the feeling that you’re at a high altitude. The valley opens up again, and the town of Animas Forks is almost in sight. It’s just up ahead, below that scar on the mountainside. I’ll show you what you’ll see in town, on the next page.
The Bottom Line
If you’re prepared for a dirt-road drive, and preferably if you’re behind the wheel of a Jeep or SUV, you’ll have a lot of fun driving from Silverton to Animas Forks Ghost Town. Allow plenty of time for the drive, since it can be bumpy, and because you’ll want to stop for photos in numerous spots along the way.
Check out this time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive from Silverton to Animas Forks…
… and Animas Forks back to Silverton, Colorado: