Hidden deep in the San Juan Mountains, the ghost town of Silver Lake is the perfect summer day trek for anyone looking for a scenic and exhilarating adventure. This unique experience combines the use of a high-clearance 4WD vehicle and a demanding hike.
It requires proper planning and favorable weather to reach the destination; achieved by an approximately four-hour hike beginning about 5 miles southeast of Silverton.
History of Silver Lake Mine
In 1875, after years of brewing curiosity about this hidden basin in the Las Animas Mining District, groups of explorers traveled to Silver Lake, initially called Arrastra Lake, for its location within the Arrastra Basin. As they became aware of the rich minerals of the land and staked their claims, news spread of the potential profitability of this remote area and attracted others.
Soon, the lake became the site of a small mining town booming with activity as crews filled the area to work in the newly built mines. In the late 1890s, one of the boarding houses for miners built at the lake was considered amongst the best accommodations in the country – boasting a barbershop, library, and the most modern appliances available.
The mine owner also built a sewer system and installed freshwater piping, providing workers with a quality of life that was virtually unheard of in other boarding houses at the time. A 15,000-foot-long tramway system was also introduced. Despite these innovations, the mines became less lucrative over time.
By the early twentieth century, the decline of Silver Lake was imminent and exacerbated by disasters like fires and avalanches, and a recession that lead to the closing of various facilities at the site. As production slowed, the next few decades saw a series of failed expenditures before a final brief period of prosperity in the 1940s.
What remains of the site today is just a few dilapidated structures surrounding the lake, with scattered materials from the town, and occasionally some interesting artifacts to be seen amongst the rubble. Weathered mining equipment and the remains of the tramway can be seen from the trail.
Those interested in traveling to Silver Lake to see the ghost town up close should plan a trip between July and October when the avalanche risk is less severe and driving to the trailhead from County Road 33 is snow free. This remote lake is only accessible through a relatively challenging hike. The water of Silver Lake is contaminated and not safe for drinking, so be sure to pack plenty of water.
The beginning of the journey involves a particularly steep drive over switchbacks through the mountains toward the Mayflower Mill historic landmark. An off-highway vehicle is recommended to tackle the rough terrain. Alternatively, visitors can elongate their hike and trek this part on foot.
After reaching the Mayflower Mine, the trailhead begins where walking is necessary for the remainder of the journey. Basic climbing is required for a short portion of the hike, with cables and ropes hanging on the trail that should be used with caution. On this route, the steep incline pays off with a picturesque descent into the lake and breathtaking views of the Arrastra Gulch.
Address: County Road 33, Silver Lake Mine, San Juan County, CO 81433
Nearby Town: Silverton
County: San Juan