San Juan County, Colorado: Attractions & Activities


San Juan County, located in the heart of the San Juan Mountains in southwestern Colorado, is the least populous county in the state, with a population of just 705 as of the 2020 census. Despite its small size, the county boasts a rich history, stunning natural beauty, and unique towns that attract visitors from around the world.


  • San Juan County is known for its high elevation, with a mean elevation of 11,240 feet (3,430 meters), making it the highest county in the United States.
  • The county is home to the historic mining town of Silverton, which serves as the county seat and the only incorporated municipality.
  • Outdoor activities, such as hiking, fishing, and winter sports, are popular attractions in the San Juan Mountains and the surrounding natural areas.

Exploring the Towns of San Juan County

Silverton: A Historical Gem

Silverton, the county seat of San Juan County, is a former mining town that has embraced its rich history and transformed into a popular tourist destination. The town’s well-preserved historic buildings and stunning mountain backdrop create a unique atmosphere that transports visitors back in time.

Some of the key attractions and activities in Silverton include:

  • Exploring the town's historic district, which features numerous buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
  • Riding the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, a historic steam train that connects Silverton to Durango.
  • Visiting the San Juan County Historical Society Museum, which showcases the area's mining history and cultural heritage.

Other Notable Areas

In addition to Silverton, San Juan County is home to several smaller communities and ghost towns that contribute to the area’s character and history. These include:

  • Eureka, a former mining camp that once rivaled Silverton in size and importance.
  • Animas Forks, a well-preserved ghost town located high in the San Juan Mountains.
  • Howardsville, another former mining camp that now serves as a gateway to nearby hiking trails and scenic drives.

Natural Attractions and Outdoor Activities

The San Juan Mountains

The San Juan Mountains are the defining feature of San Juan County, offering breathtaking scenery and countless opportunities for outdoor recreation. Some of the most popular activities in the mountains include:

  • Hiking and backpacking on the numerous trails that crisscross the range.
  • Camping in the San Juan National Forest and other nearby public lands.
  • Scenic drives, such as the Alpine Loop Scenic Byway, which connects Silverton to Lake City and Ouray.

Water-Based Recreation

San Juan County is also home to several rivers and lakes that offer excellent opportunities for water-based recreation. The Animas River, which flows through Silverton, is a popular destination for:

  • Fishing, with abundant populations of trout and other species.
  • Kayaking and rafting, particularly during spring and summer when water levels are high.

Cultural and Historical Sites

Mining Heritage

Mining played a crucial role in the development of San Juan County, and the area’s mining heritage is still evident today. Visitors can learn about the county’s mining history at several museums and historical sites, including:

  • The Silverton Historic District encompasses much of the town and features numerous mining-related buildings and structures.
  • The Old Hundred Gold Mine Tour takes visitors underground to experience the life of a hard rock miner.
  • The Mayflower Gold Mill is a former ore processing facility now serving as a museum and event space.

Architectural Highlights

San Juan County’s towns and villages are home to numerous historic buildings that showcase the area’s architectural heritage. Some notable examples include:

  • The San Juan County Courthouse in Silverton, a stunning Victorian-era building constructed in 1907.
  • The Grand Imperial Hotel, also in Silverton, which dates back to 1882 and is one of the oldest continuously operating hotels in Colorado.
  • The Eureka Schoolhouse, a well-preserved one-room schoolhouse located in the ghost town of Eureka.

Seasonal Events and Festivals

Winter Activities

San Juan County is a popular destination for winter sports enthusiasts, thanks to its abundant snowfall and stunning mountain scenery. Some of the most popular winter activities include:

  • Skiing and snowboarding at the Silverton Mountain Ski Area, a unique, expert-only ski resort located just outside town.
  • Snowmobiling on the numerous trails that crisscross the San Juan Mountains.
  • Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the San Juan National Forest and other nearby public lands.

Summer and Fall Festivals

During the warmer months, San Juan County comes alive with a variety of cultural and outdoor festivals that celebrate the area’s history, heritage, and natural beauty. Some notable events include:

  • The Hardrockers Holidays, a multi-day festival in Silverton that features live music, parades, and other family-friendly activities.
  • The Silverton Arts Festival, which showcases the work of local and regional artists in a variety of mediums.
  • The Silverton Alpine Marathon and 50K, a challenging trail race that takes runners through the stunning scenery of the San Juan Mountains.

Conservation Efforts and Environmental Awareness

Protecting Natural Resources

San Juan County is committed to preserving its natural beauty and resources for future generations. Local organizations and federal initiatives work to promote conservation and sustainable practices, including:

  • The San Juan Mountains Association, a non-profit organization that works to protect and enhance the natural and cultural resources of the San Juan Mountains.
  • The San Juan National Forest, which manages over 1.8 million acres of public land in the region and promotes responsible recreation and resource management.

Sustainable Tourism

As tourism continues to play a significant role in San Juan County’s economy, efforts are being made to promote eco-friendly and sustainable practices. These include:

  • Encouraging visitors to practice Leave No Trace principles when enjoying the county's natural areas.
  • Supporting local businesses that prioritize sustainability and environmental stewardship.
  • Promoting alternative transportation options, such as the Silverton Trolley and the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, to reduce vehicle traffic and emissions.

Economic Overview and Opportunities

Tourism as a Main Economic Driver

Tourism is the primary driver of San Juan County’s economy, with visitors drawn to the area’s stunning natural beauty, rich history, and unique attractions. This creates opportunities for businesses related to hospitality, recreation, and retail.

Local Industries and Employment

While tourism dominates the local economy, San Juan County is also home to other industries contributing to employment and economic growth. These include:

  • Agriculture, particularly cattle ranching and hay production.
  • Construction and real estate development.
  • Government and public administration, with the county and town of Silverton serving as major employers.


What is the best time of year to visit San Juan County?

The best time to visit San Juan County depends on your interests and preferred activities. Summer (June-August) is ideal for hiking, fishing, and festivals, while winter (December-March) is perfect for skiing, snowmobiling, and other snow sports. Fall (September-November) offers stunning foliage and fewer crowds.

Can you explore San Juan County’s ghost towns?

Yes, many of San Juan County’s ghost towns, such as Animas Forks and Eureka, are accessible to visitors. However, respecting private property rights and exercising caution when exploring these historic sites is important, as many buildings and structures may be unstable.

What are the top outdoor activities in San Juan County?

Some of the most popular outdoor activities in San Juan County include hiking, fishing, camping, skiing, snowmobiling, and scenic drives. The San Juan Mountains offer endless opportunities for exploration and adventure, while the Animas River and other waterways provide excellent fishing and water-based recreation.

How can visitors contribute to conservation efforts in San Juan County?

Visitors can contribute to conservation efforts in San Juan County by practicing Leave No Trace principles when enjoying the area’s natural beauty. This includes properly disposing of waste, minimizing campfire impacts, respecting wildlife, and staying on designated trails. Additionally, visitors can support local organizations and businesses prioritizing sustainability and environmental stewardship.

What are some must-see historical sites in San Juan County?

Some must-see historical sites in San Juan County include the Silverton Historic District, the Old Hundred Gold Mine Tour, the Mayflower Gold Mill, and the Animas Forks ghost town. These sites offer a fascinating glimpse into the area’s rich mining history and cultural heritage.

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About the author

Simone Weisman

My deep appreciation for nature and active living strongly aligns with the vibrant outdoor culture of Colorado. My enjoyment of yoga, hiking, and exploring scenic trails provides me with a unique perspective that I bring to This personal passion enriches my ability to connect with and inspire our audience, whether they’re local residents or visitors seeking to explore all that Colorado has to offer.