Dispersed camping near Silverton

Best Dispersed Camping Areas Near Silverton CO

Situated along the well-known Million Dollar Highway between Durango and Ouray, this historic mining town has a perfect location for experiencing the wild beauty of the San Juan Mountains. 

Camping near this lovely town is a great and entirely free way to experience the unique wilderness of this region.

To help you plan your trip, I’ll provide all the essential info regarding dispersed camping near Silverton and tell you everything you need to know about the best camping spots in the area.

When Should I Camp Near Silverton?

Beginning of fall in Silverton

The best time for primitive camping in this region is during the warmer part of the year. You should aim to stay near Silverton between May and October. 

If you’re planning to pitch your tent in one of the dispersed camping zones situated at higher elevations, make sure to head there between June and September. That’s because campsites located at 10,000 feet and higher tend to hold snow throughout the spring and sometimes even longer. 

Camping near Silverton in the fall is also possible. While you’ll undoubtedly enjoy the area’s fabulous colors, you’ll also have to deal with chilly mornings and nights. Therefore, you’ll need to prepare yourself accordingly, bring a sturdy tent and lots of warm clothes. 

Best Camping Spots Near Silverton

Now that you’ve learned a thing or two about camping in this part of Colorado let’s take a look at some of the region’s best dispersed camping areas. 

Here’s everything you need to know about these places: 

Anvil & Sultan Camping Areas

San Juan Mountains

A smaller and more basic variant of the trendy Kendall Camping Area – which I’ll describe next – this particular place is located about 3.5 miles northwest of Silverton, just up the road from Kendall. 

Situated on both sides of the pristine Mineral Creek and surrounded by the soaring peaks of the San Juan Mountains, the Anvil and Sultan camping areas comprise one campground separated by the creek. 

Accessing the Anvil Camping Area is as easy as possible – you just have to pull off the road. To access the Sultan Camping Area, on the other hand, one needs to drive further west, cross the creek, and then take the first right. 

If you own a larger rig, you’ll have to look elsewhere: the camping spots at both places are tight. Smaller trailers and RVs should be OK. 

These camping areas are popular and fill up quickly during the peak season. If you plan to stay at either of these places over the weekend, arrive a few days in advance. 

Despite its pristine look, the creek separating these two camping zones is notorious for high concentrations of dangerous mining byproducts, such as lead, from upstream mining sites. So, bring lots of clean water in portable containers. 

Lastly, there’s no need to worry about the fact that the Anvil and Sultan Camping Areas have no toilets. Visitors can use the restrooms at the Kendall Camping Area just down the road. 

Kendall Camping Area

Nature along the Million Dollar Highway
  • Map 
  • Overseen By: San Juan National Forest 
  • Crowds: Busy 
  • Water: No 
  • Restrooms: Yes 
  • How Far From Silverton: 3 miles 

If you’re an outdoor enthusiast planning to explore the greater Silverton area, this particular dispersed campsite is an excellent option. Its location is ideal – the Kendall Camping Area can be found right next to the well-known Million Dollar Highway. 

Nestled in a woodland on the banks of Mineral Creek – which I’ve mentioned above – Kendall Camping Area is a genuinely charming place and a great location to park an RV or pitch a tent. 

One thing you may or may not like about it is that it feels more like a developed campground than a regular dispersed camping area. It features vault toilets (always a massive plus in my book), and all its camping spots are spaced relatively close together (not so great for those who value privacy). 

Another critical thing to remember here is that the Kendal Camping Area is one of the most popular camping destinations near Silverton. In other words, its camping spots can be pretty tricky to come by on weekends, especially during summer. 

As mentioned above, the nearby Mineral Creek is notorious for containing mining byproducts, so pack sufficient drinking water. Finally, you should have no trouble parking your big rig here – even though they’re pretty close together, the area’s camping spots are very roomy and easily accommodate larger RVs. 

Forest Road 679 (Ophir Pass Dispersed Area)

Colorado wilderness
  • Map 
  • Overseen By: San Juan National Forest 
  • Crowds: Busy 
  • Water: No 
  • Restrooms: No 
  • How Far From Silverton: 5 miles 

The next Silverton dispersed camping area on my list is situated only five miles northwest of the town. Like the campsites described above, it is close to Million Dollar Highway and Mineral Creek. 

Compared to other places mentioned in this guide, the Ophir Pass Dispersed Area is relatively small – it has just a handful of camping spots. Although each of these spots is flat, they vary in size and privacy, and only some of the sites can accommodate larger recreational vehicles. 

Those who decide to camp here certainly won’t regret their decision, though. Even though it’s very accessible – just minutes away from Silverton – Forest Road 679 provides its visitors with all the tranquillity and beauty of Colorado wilderness. 

The last thing worth mentioning here is that the road leading to the Ophir Pass Dispersed Area is somewhat bumpy. If you’re planning to come here in a regular passenger vehicle, take it slow and be careful. 

Golden Horn Camping Area

Nature surrounding Silverton
  • Map
  • Overseen By: San Juan National Forest 
  • Crowds: Busy 
  • Water: No 
  • Restrooms: Yes 
  • How Far From Silverton: 5 miles 

Another excellent option for outdoor enthusiasts searching for something close to Silverton is the Golden Horn Camping Area. It’s a spacious camping zone that easily accommodates both tents and RVs and is only minutes away from the town. 

While you won’t enjoy much privacy here, you’ll like the atmosphere of this place. The Golden Horn Camping Area features a tranquil creekside setting – if you’re looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city, this is a great option. 

Bear in mind that this is a busy place, though. You’ll have to arrive here a few days in advance to secure a good spot for a weekend camping trip. This is one of those rare Silverton dispersed camping areas with vault toilets. 

Finally, don’t forget to check for the latest closures before heading over to this place. That’s because the road leading to the Golden Horn Camping Area has already been closed several times due to fire damage. 

Little Molas Lake Campsite

Lake Molas Colorado
  • Map
  • Overseen By: San Juan National Forest 
  • Crowds: Busy 
  • Water: No, but you can filter some from the lake 
  • Restrooms: Yes 
  • How Far From Silverton: 8 miles 

The Little Molas Lake Campsite is excellent if you don’t mind driving a bit further from Silverton and tackling high elevation. You’ll be richly rewarded for your effort – it’s a special place in every sense of that word. 

Situated right next to the lake of the same name, this dispersed camping zone is surrounded by immaculate alpine scenery. It’s a beautiful option for stargazers: the area’s dark, starry skies free from light pollution are not something you’ll forget any time soon. 

This place feels more like an established campsite than a real dispersed camping zone. However, spending a night here is free, and you’ll also have access to restrooms – always a big plus in my book! 

All the camping spots at the Little Molas Lake Campsite are small, so you’ll have to look elsewhere if you own a larger rig. Finally, those who decide to stay here can access many extraordinary hiking trails, such as the world-famous Colorado Trail. 

Sultan Creek Dispersed Area

San Juan National Forest
  • Map
  • Overseen By: San Juan National Forest 
  • Crowds: Moderate 
  • Water: No 
  • Restrooms: No 
  • How Far From Silverton: 5 miles 

The Sultan Creek Dispersed Area is yet another among the unique dispersed camping zones located just off the Million Dollar Highway. Unfortunately, its closeness to the highway is also one of its most significant drawbacks – don’t expect too much peace here. 

This is actually just a dirt road pull-off featuring several excellent camping spots near the titular Sultan Creek. Despite the noise issue mentioned above, this dispersed area is a scenic and clean place to stay at. 

All of the camping spots easily accommodate larger trailers and RVs. Moreover, the Sultan Creek Dispersed Area is only moderately populated even during the peak season – you’ll never have too much trouble finding a free site here. 

Another thing worth mentioning is that this SJNF-managed dispersed camping zone is very close to Silverton’s town and near several unforgettable hiking trails. 

County Road 26

Handies Peak

A dirt spur road off of County Road 2, County Road 26 is a short wilderness road with several nice camping spots located alongside it. 

When it comes to natural beauty, this is an excellent place to stay. You’ll be surrounded by the tall peaks of the San Juan Mountains while also being relatively close to the beautiful Animas River. 

Besides the fact that it’s an outstanding choice for outdoor enthusiasts seeking peace and quiet, County Road 26 is an excellent option for folks looking to hike Handies Peak. 

The road that leads to this place isn’t suitable for regular passenger vehicles. Important to keep in mind – you shouldn’t try filtering water from the Animas River.

Hermosa Creek Special Management Area

Hermosa Creek Area
Photo by John Sowell via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)
  • Map
  • Overseen By: San Juan National Forest 
  • Crowds: Busy 
  • Water: No
  • Restrooms: No 
  • How Far From Silverton: 25+ miles 

Established to protect the Hermosa Creek Watershed, this recently-created SMA (Special Management Area) is a bit further away from Silverton, but it’s undoubtedly worth the trip. 

One of the best places to stay in this area is the Sig Creek Campsite. This is a genuinely wild campground now, as it’s no longer maintained by anyone. Vast swathes of breathtaking Colorado wilderness surround it, and it’s free to stay at. 

The road leading to this place is rough, but you shouldn’t have too much trouble reaching it with your regular passenger vehicle. However, to get to the dispersed camping areas alongside other roads in this area (550, 581, 580, 579, 577, and 578), you will need a 4WD vehicle. 

For more information on dispersed camping in this region, visit the Hermosa Creek Special Management Area website

Highland Mary Lakes TH / Cunningham Gulch (County Road 4)

Country Road 4
Photo by H Flannery via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
  • Map 
  • Overseen By: San Juan National Forest 
  • Crowds: Busy 
  • Water: No 
  • Restrooms: No 
  • How Far From Silverton: 8 miles 

With soaring peaks in every direction and a pristine creek running through its center, Cunningham Gulch is a picturesque region in every sense of that term. 

To reach the best camping spots in this area, you’ll need to drive down County Road 4 until you reach a charming valley with plenty of sites to choose from. You’ll have no trouble getting to this area with your passenger vehicle, but don’t try driving up to the trailhead – the road becomes very rugged and steep. 

Unfortunately, the camping spots inside this zone can’t accommodate larger recreational vehicles. Nevertheless, this dispersed camping area is bustling during the peak season, so make sure to arrive as early in the morning as possible. 

Also, I recommend hiking to the nearby Highland Mary Lakes while in the area. You’ll be thanking me later! 

Maggie Gulch

Animas River
Photo by Mike McBey via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)
  • Map 
  • Overseen By: BLM (Gunnison Field Office) 
  • Crowds: Busy 
  • Water: No 
  • Restrooms: Yes 
  • How Far From Silverton: 6.5 miles 

The last Silverton dispersed camping area on my list is Maggie Gulch, a wide-open space northeast of town, just off Country Road 2. 

The best thing about this place is that it’s very roomy. It can accommodate huge rigs, it’s accessible to all vehicles, and it’s close to many excellent OHV, biking, and trekking trails. 

However, those seeking tranquillity and solitude probably won’t find this dispersed camping zone to their liking. As you can already guess, Maggie Gulch is often packed with OHV users that tend to create a lot of noise. 

On the other hand, if you are looking for a wide variety of recreational activities, a camp community, and overall convenience, you’ll love camping at Maggie Gulch. Just remember not to drink water from the nearby Animas River.

For more camping areas in Colorado, check out our guide to dispersed camping near Buena Vista, CO.

What Should I Pack for My Camping Trip?

Silverton in summer

Besides the essentials – like the tent or a sleeping bag – you’ll also want to bring the following items: 

  • Portable toilet – Nobody likes answering the “call of nature” with a shovel in their hands. Fortunately, a convenient, private, and clean solution to this problem is a portable camping toilet. Make sure to pack some toilet paper as well.  
  • Portable water containers – Most dispersed camping areas described in this article have no water access. You will, therefore, want to bring your water in a few portable containers. 
  • Camping stove – What’s an outdoor adventure without delicious campsite dinners? With this simple but instrumental piece of gear, you’ll be able to prepare mouth-watering meals for yourself and other group members. 
  • Portable cooler – As stated above, the best time to camp in the San Juan Mountains is during the warmer part of the year. And since nobody likes drinking warm beer, soda, or water on a hot day, you’ll want to pack a portable cooler. 
  • Insect repellent – A quality insect repellent can make or break a camping trip. Mosquitoes and other flying pests can be pretty nasty between June and September – keep them at bay with bug spray. 

What About Fees and Permits? 

At the time of writing, staying in any of the dispersed camping areas mentioned in this post required no permits. 

However, an important thing to mention here is that dispersed camping is now a much more popular activity than it once was. The direct consequence of this is general uncertainty of when and where could a permit system be put into effect. 

This is why it’s crucial always to find out (whether by calling a local field office or by searching online) whether you need to obtain a permit for camping in a particular area.

When it comes to the fees, on the other hand, they are not required to camp or park at any of the United States Forest Service (USFS) or Bureau for Land Management (BLM) properties described in this guide. 

Can I Build a Campfire While Camping Near Silverton?

Campfire in Colorado

Just like in other parts of the western United States, seasonal bans regarding campfires are common in the backcountry surrounding the town of Silverton. 

This website contains all the information concerning current fire bans on BLM and USFS lands in Colorado. 

Another way to get the necessary information is by calling a ranger’s office responsible for the region you plan to visit and camp in. 

Can I Bring My Pet? 

You can bring your four-legged companion to any of the dispersed camping zones included in this article. 

However, all who decide to do so must keep their furry friends leashed. Keeping your pet under control in dispersed camping zones with a significant presence of wildlife is vital. 

You should also take proper care of your pet while staying in the wilderness surrounding Silverton – pick up and pack out its waste and do your best to protect the animal from extreme temperatures. 

Other Essential Considerations

Wildlife in San Juan Mountains
  • The easiest way to ensure that all future visitors can enjoy these dispersed camping areas in the same way you did is by practicing a set of outdoor ethics known as the Leave No Trace principles
  • Be especially careful when it comes to wildlife. You don’t want to attract bears or other animals with your provisions or garbage. Put the trash in your vehicle and store the food inside bear canisters. 
  • All primitive camping zones described below function on a first-come, first-served basis. Those who reach these areas first usually get the best spots. If you’re planning to stay at any of these places over a summer weekend, arrive early on Thursday morning. 
  • The Animas River and many creeks in its vicinity contain water that can’t be purified with standard backpacking filters. This is because these watercourses have high concentrations of various mining byproducts. If you plan to camp in the area, your best bet is to bring water in portable containers. 

Due to frequent usage and unpredictable weather, road conditions can change quickly in this part of Colorado. Furthermore, not all these roads can be accessed by standard passenger vehicles. 

So, if you plan to camp in the San Juan Mountains, take it slow and use your best judgment while navigating the region’s tricky roads. Never risk your safety for a campsite, no matter what kind of views it offers. 

  • Those who’d like to park their RV or pitch their tent in the wilderness surrounding Silverton shouldn’t expect much in terms of cell phone signal. With the reception being spotty at best, your best bet is to plan for the worst and download all the stuff you’ll need (like maps, for example) in advance. 
  • As mentioned above, many of the region’s dispersed camping zones are situated at very high elevations. You’ll want to prepare for extreme weather conditions – bring a sturdy tent that can withstand high winds and pack a lot of warm gear. 

The Takeaway 

That’s it! Now you know everything about the rules and regulations regarding camping in the Silverton area, as well as when you should go camping there and what to pack for it. 

Hopefully, this guide has helped you select a dispersed camping area whose location and atmosphere suit your needs. Good luck, and stay safe!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top