Your journey begins in Durango, Colorado’s gateway to the Old West. After a day exploring and a ride on the Durango and Silverton Railroad, which brought ore down from the mountains, you’ll be traveling to Silverton, Colorado’s silver capital. The Alpine Loop takes off from Silverton, traveling first through the ghost towns of Howardsville, Eureka and finally, Animas Forks. From there, you’re driving the rocky roads of the Byway, first through Cinnamon Pass, then Sherman Overlook and past Lake San Cristobal, before reaching Lake City. After Lake City, the Ute-Ulay Mine, Pike Snowden Cabin, Lee’s Smelter Stack, Capitol City ghost town, Charcoal Kiln, Whitmore Falls, Rose Lime Kiln, Empire Chief Mine, Rose’s Cabin and the Palmerton Powder House, all appear along the road, before passing through Engineer Pass and rejoining the road to Ouray.

A note about the Alpine Loop: About two thirds of the route is dirt road suitable for 2-wheel drive cars, so everyone can experience a portion of the scenic road. In order to traverse the entire route and cross Engineer Pass, Cinnamon Pass and Mineral Creek, you’ll need a 4-wheel drive, high clearance vehicle. Passenger cars, RV’s, campers, and vans are not recommended. Semi-trucks with trailers are prohibited. Rental services for off-highway vehicles are offered in surrounding towns. Uphill traffic has the right of way on all roads and the speed limit is 15 miles an hour.

Highlighted Attractions

Silverton Historic District Walking Tour

Take a 16 block walking tour through the historic district (pdf included with detailed itinerary) that takes you past the San Juan County Jail, the old hospital, and a selection of the many dens of iniquity that existed during the mining heyday. Besides the town, the Durango and Silverton Railroad and the Mayflower Mill are National Historic Landmarks. The Old Hundred Boarding House is a Colorado Historic Place.

Old Hundred Mine Tour

It’s time to suit up in a yellow rain suit and hard hat to travel 1500 feet underground to see how gold was mined. A mine train takes you one-third of a mile into a mountain to where old mining equipment is still in place.  Live demonstrations include operating drills, a skip, a slusher, mucker operations and honey wagons, all original equipment from the famous Camp Bird, Idarado and Sunnyside mines in the area.  Do your own mining in the sluice boxes outside.

Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

Riding the train that brought over $300 million in gold and silver down from the San Juan mountains is a must do. You’ll see completely different scenery than you will driving the San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway. Constructed in 1881, the line parallels the Million Dollar Highway completed in 1887. Hauling of precious metals continued until 1893, when the bottom dropped out of silver prices. After facing various challenges for nearly 40 years, Hollywood discovered Durango and the railroad, showcasing the train in movies including Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Hinsdale County Museum

Housed in the historic Finley Block, the Hinsdale County Museum celebrates Lake City’s past, with a donated collection of photographs and other materials that relate to early history. 

Capitol City Ghost Town

Traveling the Alpine Loop, you’ll be passing Capitol City nine miles from the junction at Animas Forks with the road to Ouray. Once named Galena City, the deserted mining town once featured the home of want to be Colorado Governor George Lee, built with brink hauled from Pueblo. At one point, the 200-acre town had several hotels, restaurants, saloons, smelters, a sawmill, post office, a schoolhouse and many homes, all thriving during the rich find of 1877. Down from a population of 800, all that is left is a post office and Lee’s smelter stack.

Animas Museum

The Animas Museum delivers an overview of the area’s Native Americans, Old West, fires, railroads, transportation and lifeways. The Joy Family Cabin and Peterson House which contrasts life in 1876 with life in the 1930s are also part of the campus. 

Ouray County Historical Society

When the St. Joseph’s Miners Hospital was transformed into the Ouray County Historical Museum, the Smithsonian called it “one of the best little museums in the West.” Three floors with twenty-seven rooms of exhibits include original documents and thousands of photographs of historic Ouray, an impressive mineral collection, Ute Indian displays, Victorian era displays, mine exhibits, railroading and ranching exhibits, hospital operating rooms from the 1890s and the 1940s, and an original patient room. In addition, the museum offers guided tours of Ouray’s Main Street. 

Historic Downtown Durango Walking Tour and Durango Art Galleries

One of the special things about Durango is the living heritage of the town on display along Main Avenue. The Historic Downtown Durango Walking Tour (pdf included with detailed itinerary) begins at the Railroad depot. As you enjoy the walking tour through town, you’ll pass art galleries and alternative art spaces featuring contemporary to western to Native American art from local, regional and nationally recognized artists. The Durango Art Galleries Collective host events, workshops, shows and gallery walks throughout the year. Among others, members include Diane West Jewelry & Art, Durango Arts Center, Earthen Vessel Gallery,  Sorrel Sky Gallery, Toh-Atin Gallery and Wildshots Gallery.

San Juan Historical Society

The same mining heritage that fueled the development of the beautiful historic towns in the region, also had an impact on San Juan County. You can discover more of the story at the  San Juan Historical Society which operates the Mining Heritage Center, the 1902 County Jail Museum, the Mayflower Mill, the Allen Nossaman Memorial Archive, the Silverton Power Station and the Silverton Standard and the Miner Newspaper, (a National Historic Site in Journalism), and the Little Nation Mill in Howardsville. A three-story addition creating the Mining Heritage Center houses exhibit space, a new wood and metal shop, and curation and restoration space for working on the collections.

Bachelor-Syracuse Mine Tour

A tour of the Bachelor-Syracuse mine will ultimately take you 1,500 feet into Gold Hill. Beginning at ground level, you’ll discover rich ore veins, plus the work environment and equipment used to dig out the ore. After the underground mine tour, you’ll receive gold panning instruction and a tour of the turn-of-the-century Blacksmith shop. If you have not yet had lunch, stop at the Outdoor Café. 

To experience all that the Authentic Ghost Towns & Mining Roads tour has to offer, click below to purchase the complete itinerary! By purchasing this tour itinerary, you'll receive a professionally crafted trip route allowing you to fully experience the incredible story of the byway! Included in your trip planner is a detailed map of the area attractions in geographic order, a suggested day-by-day route plan, as well as traveler-tested recommendations for dining, shopping, and accommodations for each segment of this epic journey. Contact the National Travel Center with any additional questions.

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