The rugged San Juan Mountains are home to some of Colorado’s most spectacular scenery and best outdoor recreation. Silverton, a historic mining town located between Ouray and Durango along the famous Million Dollar Highway, is perfectly positioned for exploring all that this beautiful region has to offer. If you’re planning a visit in the warmer months, dispersed camping near Silverton is an awesome (and free) way to enjoy all of the great activities in town while also experiencing the wilderness that makes this area so special. Keep reading to see all of the best places for dispersed camping near Silverton and find your perfect campsite.
In This Post…
- The Basics
- The Best Dispersed Camping Areas Near Silverton, CO
When to Camp Near Silverton, CO
The best time for dispersed camping in the Silverton area is from May through October. The higher elevations (above 10,000 feet) can hold snow well into the summer, so it’s best to plan your trip to those areas for June-September. The fall months bring beautiful changing colors, but be prepared for chilly nights and mornings.
What to Bring
Preparing for your Silverton camping trip involves more than deciding which campsite best fits your needs. There is also the important job of making sure you have all the right gear you’ll need to ensure a great trip.
- Coleman Camping Stove – This classic piece of gear is perfect for cooking up deluxe campsite dinners.
- Portable water container – These portable water containers are a lifesaver, especially as some camping areas do not have water available.
- Cooler – Keeping food and drinks cool is essential when camping, particularly in the hot afternoon sun. We can’t recommend Yeti enough!
- Bug Spray– The mosquitos can be pretty nasty in the summer months, but good bug repellent makes a huge difference.
- Portable Toilet– Even if there are vault toilets near your campsite, you might prefer this clean, private, and convenient option. It’s a great way to ensure you leave no trace! Also, don’t forget to pack TP!
Permits and Fees
At of the time of writing, permits were not required to camp at any of the locations included in this post. As some areas grow in popularity, permit systems could be implemented. It’s a good idea to do a quick internet search or check with the local field office before setting out.
Fees are not required to park or camp at any of the BLM or Forest Service lands included in this post.
Seasonal fire restrictions and fire bans are common in the wilderness areas surrounding Silverton. It’s important to check for the latest restrictions before heading out on your camping trip. This website has a comprehensive list of links to all current fire information in the state of Colorado, including USFS and BLM areas. You can also contact the appropriate field office for the area in which you’ll be camping.
Pets are welcome at all of the dispersed camping areas included in this post. Pets should be kept leashed and under control at all times, especially in areas where wildlife could be present. Remember to pack out pet waste and ensure that pets are protected from extreme temperatures.
- Elevation: Many of the dispersed camping areas near Silverton, CO are at 9,000 feet or higher. Bring warm gear and a sturdy tent to prepare for the extreme weather conditions that are common in these areas.
- Cell Phone Service: Reception is spotty at best in most of the dispersed camping areas near Silverton. Assume you won’t have service and plan accordingly (download maps ahead of time, let other know where you’re going and when you’ll be back, etc).
- Access: We’ve done our best to describe the road conditions you can expect when heading to each of the areas described in this post. Not all are accessible by 2WD vehicles, and conditions can quickly change due to weather and usage. Use your best judgement when navigating mountain roads, as no campsite is worth jeopardizing your safety for!
- Water: The Animas River and surrounding creeks may contain high concentrations of mining byproducts that can’t be removed by standard water purification methods. Use caution when drinking from these sources, or bring your own water supply to be on the safe side.
- All of these dispersed campsites are first-come, first-served. Many fill up quickly on summer weekends- you may need to get there on a Thursday and/or arrive early in the morning to secure a site.
- Wildlife: Store all food, trash, and other scented items in your car to avoid attracting bears and other wildlife.
- Leave No Trace so that others can enjoy these beautiful places, too.
The Best Dispersed Camping Areas Near Silverton, CO
Kendall Camping Area
Located close to town along the famous Million Dollar Highway, this camping area is perfectly positioned for those wanting to explore the greater Silverton area. Tucked in the trees along the banks of Mineral Creek, it is a lovely place to pitch your tent or park your RV. The area feels a bit like a campground, as the sites are pretty close together and there are vault toilets available. Be advised that this is a very popular area, meaning that sites can be hard to come by on summer and fall weekends. It’s advisable to pack in drinking water, as the creek may contain significant concentrations of lead or other byproducts from the mining operations upstream. Sites are large enough to accommodate most rigs, and the road in is bumpy but accessible for all vehicles.
Sultan & Anvil Camping Areas
This camping area is just up the road from Kendall Camping Area and it’s essentially a smaller, more basic version of Kendall. It is nestled in the shadows of majestic peaks, right alongside Mineral Creek. You’ll pull into the Anvil Camping Area from the road, but you’ll need to cross the creek to get to the Sultan Camping Area. The areas are a bit tight for larger rigs, but smaller RVs and trailers should be fine. Just like the Kendall Camping Area, this area fills up quickly in peak season so get there early! Additionally, it’s advisable to pack in drinking water, as the creek may contain significant concentrations of lead or other byproducts from the mining operations upstream. Campers can use the toilets down the road at the Kendall Camping Area.
Golden Horn Camping Area
The Golden Horn Camping area is another good option for those seeking something close to town. Located just under 5 miles from Silverton, this large, open area is suitable for RVs and tents alike. There isn’t much privacy, but the views are excellent and it has a peaceful creekside setting. As of Spring 2021, the road towards the Ice Lakes Trailhead was closed just past the campground due to fire damage, so it’s a good idea to check the latest closures before setting out.
Ophir Pass Dispersed Area (Forest Road 679)
The Ophir Pass Camping Area is located just off Highway 550 along Mineral Creek. This small area has several flat sites that vary in both privacy and size, with just a handful that are suitable for larger RVs. Ophir Pass has all of the beauty and tranquility of the wilderness, while still being just minutes from Silverton. The road to the camping area is a bit rocky, but should be accessible for most vehicles.
Sultan Creek Dispersed Area
Yet another great dispersed camping option just off the Million Dollar Highway, the Sultan Creek Dispersed Camping Area consists of several nice sites located along a short dirt road pull-off near Sultan Creek. Due to its proximity to Highway 550, campers can expect to hear some road noise throughout the day and into the night. Despite this slight nuisance, this is a clean, peaceful, and scenic place to camp. Plus, it’s conveniently located near Silverton and lots of great hiking areas. The area can accommodate most RVs and trailers.
Little Molas Lake Campground
Those willing to travel a bit further from town and brave the high elevation will be richly rewarded at this special place. Little Molas Lake feels more like a campground than true dispersed camping, but it’s hard to believe it’s free to spend the night in such a beautiful place. The camping area is right next to Little Molas Lake and is surrounded by pristine high alpine scenery. There are great hiking options close by, including access to the Colorado Trail. Since sites are on the smaller side, it is better suited to small and medium RVs and trailers.
Hermosa Creek Special Management Area
This recently-established Special Management Area was created to protect the Hermosa Creek Watershed, and therefore has some additional restrictions and regulations. However, dispersed camping opportunities are plentiful throughout this beautiful swath of wilderness. One good option is the decommissioned Sig Creek Campground, which is no longer maintained but remains open for free camping. The road to the campground is pretty rough, but it’s one of the better options if you’re coming in 2WD vehicle. There is also dispersed camping further up the road from Sig Creek Campground (Forest Road 578), as well as along roads 577, 579, 580, 581, and 550. A high-clearance 4WD vehicle is necessary to navigate most of these roads. Be sure to visit the Hermosa Creek SMA website for more information.
County Road 26
There are a handful of campsites located along County Road 26, a short dirt spur road off of County Road 2. The area is generally quiet and peaceful, and you’ll be surrounded by some of the finest peaks in the San Juan’s. The Animas River is also close by, although you should not drink from it due to contamination from mining activities in the area. This is a great basecamp for hiking Handies Peak, one of Colorado’s gorgeous 14’ers. The road in is narrow and rugged at times, and probably not suitable for large rigs or 2WD vehicles.
Maggie Gulch is a large open area just off County Road 2, northeast of Silverton. It is accessible for all vehicles, can accommodate big rigs, and is close to lots of great hiking, biking, and OHV trails. Those looking for peace and solitude should camp elsewhere, as this area can be noisy and packed with RV campers and OHV users. However, those looking for convenience, a camp community, and a wide variety of recreational activities will appreciate Maggie Gulch. Although the camping area is adjacent to the Animas River, you should not drink from it due to contamination from mining activities in the area.
Cunningham Gulch/Highland Mary Lakes TH (County Road 4)
With a sparkling creek running through its center and tall peaks in every direction, Cunningham Gulch is an incredibly scenic area. To reach the best campsites, follow Co Rd 4 past the Old Hundred Mine and into a lovely valley with some good, flat sites. 2WD vehicles should be able to make it this far, but should not attempt to continue any further towards the trailhead, as the road becomes quite steep and rocky. Due to the size and limited number of sites, the area cannot accommodate larger RVs and trailers. Cunningham Gulch and the surrounding area are filled with lots of interesting mining history, and the hike to Highland Mary Lakes is not to be missed!
Have a great trip!
We hope we’ve provided all of the information you need to plan your Silverton, CO dispersed camping trip, and we know you’ll find the perfect campsite for your upcoming adventure! Be sure to let us know in the comments below if you have any questions and be sure to tell us about your trip!
And if you’re looking to explore more of this beautiful region, be sure to check out these other dispersed camping posts: