Silverton is one of my favorite western towns. Hidden away in the San Juan Mountains, it’s still the real deal, with locally-owned businesses, and even a few unpaved streets in town. Opportunities for exploration abound, especially if you have a 4-wheel-drive vehicle.
Before you arrive in Silverton, you get to see it all. Watch for this view of town, as you descend from Molas Pass on US 550, from Durango. That’s the entire town down there, at the bottom of a small but incredibly scenic valley.
Greene Street (Silverton’s main street) is about as authentic, wild-west as you can get. Most of the storefronts are filled with businesses that cater to tourists. You’ll find plenty of restaurants and old-fashioned hotels, along with souvenir shops and other stores.
Among the notable historic structures along Greene Street is Silverton’s Town Hall. It was built in 1907, but nearly destroyed by fire in 1991. A careful restoration brought it back to its original grandeur.
One block east of Greene Street, you’ll notice that you’re walking on dirt instead of asphalt. Yep, they haven’t even paved Blair Street.
You’ll find more businesses here, but not all of the storefronts are occupied.
The Bent Elbow is now a restaurant and hotel, but back in the day, it was a bordello and saloon.
There are more hotels along Greene Street.
I’ve visited Silverton several times, including once in 2005 (when I explored the 4-wheel-drive roads that lead to Hurricane Pass, Corkscrew Pass, Poughkeepsie Gulch, and California Pass. If you have a 4×4, I strongly recommend you carve out a day in your vacation plans to drive these roads. They are simply extraordinary.
In 2005, I didn’t intend to go to Hurricane Pass. I was trying to get to the ghost town of Animas Forks. It wasn’t until this trip, in 2012, that I finally made the drive up to Animas Forks.
I also visited Silverton during the winter, in 2006, when all the dirt roads were closed due to snow.
During that time of year, many of the businesses are closed, and the sidewalks might not even be shoveled. Unpaved Blair Street will likely be covered with snow (plowed, but still slippery). During my 2012 visit, I tried to recreate some of the photos I took in 2006, like the one above (compare it with the one, further up the page)…
… and this one in 2012…
… versus the one in 2006. (Grammar police: I’m still annoyed by the use of the phrase “most unique” on this sign.)
You can’t talk about Silverton or Durango without mentioning the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. This scenic railroad travels between the two towns, on a different course than Highway 550, so you get to see an entirely different view of the San Juan Mountains. And even if you don’t ride the train, there’s a good chance that you’ll see it, either in Silverton or Durango.
The Bottom Line
You can’t get any closer to a turn-of-the-20th century wild-west town, than Silverton, Colorado. I’d highly recommend spending a night here, or two, and taking a drive up to Animas Forks or Hurricane Pass.
Silverton, Colorado is located on US 550, part of the San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway. It’s about 48 miles north of Durango — about an hour’s drive, if you don’t stop to enjoy the incredible scenery.
Note that Silverton is only a few miles from Telluride, Colorado, as the crow flies — but the drive takes nearly two hours, and requires a loop around the mountains. Keep this in mind when booking hotel rooms.
Check out this time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive from Silverton to Animas Forks…
… and Animas Forks back to Silverton, Colorado: