We rented a side-by-side ATV in Silverton, Colorado and drove the Alpine Loop through the San Juan Mountains. It was stunningly beautiful.

Read on for details about our experience. We provide details on the town of Silverton, renting an ATV, and driving the Alpine Loop.

We also camped at an RV park in downtown Silverton. (See our review of the Red Mountain Motel & RV Park.)

Silverton, Colorado

Silverton, Colorado, located in the heart of the San Juan Mountains in southwest Colorado, is a picturesque town that boasts a rich history and breathtaking natural beauty.

Grand imperial hotel silverton colorado
Grand Imperial Hotel, Silverton Colorado

Once a mining town during the silver boom of the late 19th century, Silverton has transformed into a haven for adventurers and history lovers alike.

Its well-preserved Victorian-era architecture, including the iconic Grand Imperial Hotel, offers a glimpse into its storied past.

colorful buildings in silverton colorado downtown
Colorful buildings in downtown Silverton, with off-road vehicle passing by in the road

Not surprisingly, the town of Silverton is a National Historic Landmark, with a colorful history and beautiful architecture.

city hall in silverton colorado
City Hall in Silverton
flowers planted in mining cart
Flowers in mining cart in Silverton

The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, a historic steam-powered train, provides a scenic journey between Silverton and Durango, offering panoramic views of the surrounding mountains.

silverton steam engine train

Silverton’s blend of historical charm and natural wonders makes it a unique destination in the American Southwest.

historic house in silverton colorado
Cute house in Silverton along the road from the RV park to the main downtown area
american legion post 14 in silverton colorado
American Legion Post 14 in Silverton
the slaying of town marshal clate ogsbury historic sign in silverton colorado
Historical sign in Silverton
blacksmith shop in silverton colorado
Craftsman shop in Silverton

Blair Street in Silverton

Blair Street in Silverton, Colorado, holds a notorious place in the town’s colorful history, primarily known for its rowdy and somewhat lawless character during the mining boom in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

notorious blair street sign in silverton colorado
Notorious Blair Street sign in Silverton

This area was the town’s red-light district, where miners, seeking to unwind after long hours in the mines, frequented saloons, gambling halls, and brothels.

It formerly had 32 saloons, gambling halls, and houses of ill-repute where ladies of the night entertained clients.

blair street historic association sign for red light district in silverton colorado
Blair Street history

The street was home to a lively, albeit often unruly, nightlife that contrasted sharply with the more family-oriented businesses found on Silverton’s main thoroughfare, Greene Street.

Over the years, Blair Street has evolved, with many of its historic buildings now housing shops, restaurants, and museums that pay homage to Silverton’s rich and diverse past.

shady lady in silverton on blair street
The Shady Lady in Silverton on Blair Street

Several of the restaurants play up this history in their current operations.

Tesla Charging Station in Silverton

If you happen to come into town with your Tesla, there’s even a Tesla charging station for your electric vehicle in Silverton.

tesla charging station in silverton colorado
Tesla charging station in Silverton, Colorado

ATVs in Silverton

An ATV, or All-Terrain Vehicle, is a type of vehicle designed for off-road use.

Similar vehicles include UTVs (Utility Task Vehicles or Side-by-Sides), and dirt bikes.

ATVs are built to handle rugged terrain and are commonly used for recreation, including trail riding, exploring, and accessing remote areas that are not suitable for regular vehicles.

OHV route in silverton colorado
Street sign indicating off-road vehicle usage is permitted in Silverton, Colorado in 2020

They are equipped with features tailored to off-road conditions, such as high ground clearance, off-road tires, and enhanced suspension systems.

When we visited Silverton to ride the Alpine Loop in 2020, Silverton catered to ATV adventurers.

Back then, Silverton allowed side-by-sides, four-wheelers, etc to drive on the town’s roads. These roads had signage indicating that off-road vehicles are allowed.

OHVs parked on street in silverton colorado
Off road vehicles parked along town streets in Silverton in 2020

In 2020, you would also see lots of off-road vehicles parked along the town’s streets.

Updates to Silverton’s ATV Rules

In October 2021, the citizens of Silverton voted against allowing ATVs or unlicensed dirt bikes within the town limits. This changed how things operate in the town of Silverton with respect to ATVs.

See the most up-to-date details on Silverton’s ATV rules provided by the town.

The website includes the following map as well as additional details.

Map provided by the Town of Silverton on areas where ATVs are permitted. (Source)

Where ATVs are Allowed in the Silverton Area

ATVs are still permitted on certain San Juan County Roads surrounding Silverton, following a resolution passed in 2022.

For ATV use on these county roads, registration with Colorado Parks and Wildlife and displaying a visible registration sticker on your vehicle is required.

Colorado does not recognize out-of-state license plates for ATVs as street legal, and there are specific rules regarding where you can park and how you can traverse between different areas around Silverton.

Driving an ATV into the town limits of Silverton can result in a $300 fine or towing, emphasizing the town’s stance on keeping these vehicles out of the town proper for safety and quality of life reasons​.

Renting an Off-Road Vehicle in Silverton to Drive the Alpine Loop

You can still rent side-by-sides, Jeeps, and other types of 4×4 vehicles in Silverton.

san juan ohv rentals in silverton colorado
San Juan rentals in Silverton, Colorado in 2020

To make things easier, some businesses also offer guided tours, so you can let someone else do the driving for you.

There are several places in Silverton that rent off-road vehicles to drive into the San Juan mountains, including the Alpine Loop.

For example, see San Juan Backcountry, Loop SXS Adventures, and Rock Pirates Backcountry Adventures.

We rented a side-by-side off-road vehicle from Rock Pirates Backcountry Adventures in 2020. This location was walking distance from the Red Mountain Motel and RV Park in downtown Silverton.

rock pirates backcountry adventure rentals in silverton colorado
Rock Pirates Backcountry Adventure Rentals in Silverton, Colorado in 2020

Rentals aren’t cheap… our rate was over $400 for a full-day rental in 2020.

However, we thought it was worth it and had an amazing time driving the Alpine Loop.

The staff at the rental company went through all of details of the vehicle which was easy to drive like a regular car.

You can also bring your own ATV to Silverton and keep it at one of the RV parks and campgrounds.

There were many campers who took this approach, based on there being at least one off-road vehicle per RV in the campground where we stayed.

The Alpine Loop Back Country Byway

The San Juan mountains in the area surrounding Silverton have many off-road trails that are accessible in the summer months.

It is an incredibly popular area for off-roading, and justifiably so as the scenery is outstanding.

One of the most popular is the Alpine Loop, which is a spectacular scenic byway located in the heart of the Colorado Rocky Mountains.

This off-road trail weaves through the rugged San Juan Mountains, offering breathtaking views of alpine landscapes, wildflower-filled meadows, and pristine mountain streams.

You can obtain a copy of the map presented below for free at several places in Silverton.

alpine loop map
Map of the Alpine Loop from the Bureau of Land Management

Stretching approximately 65 miles and connecting the historic mining towns of Silverton, Ouray, and Lake City, the loop is accessible only during the summer months when the snow has melted.

When we visited in August 2020, there was still snow on the ground on several of these passes, which our dog thoroughly enjoyed.

dog in snow on mountain
Our dog playing in the snow on one of the mountain passes in August

The route traverses high mountain passes, including Engineer Pass and Cinnamon Pass, both exceeding 12,000 feet in elevation, providing adventurers with unparalleled vistas and challenging driving conditions.

The area is steeped in history, with numerous abandoned mines and ghost towns along the way, providing a glimpse into Colorado’s rich mining heritage.

In addition to the 65-mile Alpine Loop, there are many designated side routes to additional mountain passes and gorgeous scenery.

Alpine Loop from Silverton

The Alpine Loop is maintained for high-clearance vehicles and given the road conditions, is best taken at a leisurely pace. We started the Alpine Loop in Silverton.

alpine loop entrance sign
Entrance to the Alpine Loop from Silverton sign
four wheel drive or high clearance sign on alpine loop in silverton colorado
Sign recommending four wheel drive or high clearance vehicle at the start of the Alpine Loop

It took us all day to complete the loop, with many stops along the way at old mining towns, waterfalls, and more. We also explored a few side routes.

Our route took us from Silverton, to Animas Forks, over Cinnamon Pass, to the American Basin, to Lake City, over Engineer Pass, up Maggie Gulch, and back to Silverton, with other stops along the way.

Animas Forks Ghost Town on the Alpine Loop

animas forks mining ghost town silverton colorado
Animas Forks mining town

One of the first sights you’ll come across is Animas Forks.

It is located about 12 miles northeast of Silverton and will be one of the first ghost towns you encounter on the Alpine Loop.

animas forks historical sign in silverton colorado
Animas Forks historical sign

Founded in 1873, this once-thriving mining community sits at an elevation of over 11,000 feet, making it one of the highest and most remote settlements of its era.

At its peak, Animas Forks boasted a population of several hundred residents, complete with homes, a general store, a saloon, and a post office.

animas forks building
Historical building at Animas Forks mining ghost town

Visitors to Animas Forks can park and explore the remaining structures.

Old mine at animas forks ghost town
Old mine at Animas Forks ghost town
House in animas forks in silverton
House at Animas Forks
Interior of house at animas forks
Interior of house at Animas Forks
animas forks ghost town scenery
Animas Forks ghost town
Ghost town buildings in animas forks
Old buildings remain in the town of Animas Forks
Animas forks exterior of building
Pretty wood used to construct a building at Animas Forks

Gustavan Family House

The Gustavan house was built in 1906-1907.

gustavson house in animas forks
Gustavson family house in Animas Forks

It was originally the home of the Gustavson family in Animas Forks. The family had come from Scandinavia to Animas Forks.

This fancy residence has an “indoor toilet” which was actually just an outhouse with a closed hallway.

The family lived in this house year round during some long winters.

gustavson house sign in animas forks in silverton colorado
Historical details of the Gustavson house in Animas Forks

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) does a good job of maintaining the Animas Forks town and reminding people to respect its historical significance.

BLM historic sign in animas forks
BLM sign at Animas Forks

You can get there by a regular passenger car without four wheel drive, but it will be a bumpy road.

We even saw a Porsche parked among the many off-road vehicles at Animas Forks.

Porsche parked at animas forks ghost town
Porsche parked at Animas Forks

The road beyond Animas Forks on the Alpine Loop definitely requires an off-road vehicle with four-wheel drive.

Camping Near Animas Forks on the Alpine Loop

There are a few areas to camp around Animas Forks in either a tent or a small RV that can be driven along a bumpy gravel road.

We saw some tent campers as well as some campers in a VW Westfalia. They had amazing views of the San Juan mountains.

tent camping near animas forks
Tent camping near Animas Forks
VW Westfalia pop-up camper near Animas Forks in San Juan Mountains
VW Westfalia pop-up camper camping near Animas Forks with an amazing view of the San Juan Mountains

Cinnamon Pass on the Alpine Loop

Cinnamon Pass is the first mountain pass you’ll encounter along this route of the Alpine Loop. It is one of the two major mountain passes along the Alpine Loop (Engineer Pass is the second).

Cinnamon Pass sign with OHV in San Juan Mountains
Cinnamon Pass sign with our side-by-side parked nearby

Each of the mountain passes has a sign with the elevation that make excellent photograph opportunities.

At 12,640 feet high in elevation, the scenery of the Colorado Rockies is stunning. We parked our rented ATV and took in the scenery.

Alpine Loop road near Cinnamon Pass
Alpine Loop road near Cinnamon Pass
drive from cinnamon pass to american basin
Drive down Alpine Loop from Cinnamon Pass toward American Basin

American Basin on the Alpine Loop

american basin and cinnamon pass sign on alpine loop road
American Basin and Cinnamon Basin sign

The American Basin area of the Alpine Loop is a gorgeous high alpine basin at an elevation of 12,365 feet.

From about mid-July to early August, the basin is teaming with wildflowers and is a much photographed area.

american basin on alpine loop
American Basin
Drive through american basin on alpine loop
Gorgeous drive near the American Basin

Lake City

Lake City makes a great stopping point for lunch. There are many restaurants that cater to travelers along the Alpine Loop.

Along the way you’ll pass historical mining artifacts that you can stop at to view.

Hard Tack mine on alpine loop with OHV and dog
Hard Tack Mine with our rental off-road vehicle and dog enjoying the view
old mining cart on alpine loop
Old mining cart along the Alpine Loop

Ute-Ulay Mine

The Ute Ulay Mine was a silver and lead mine that began operations in the late 1800s. Several of the mining buildings remain.

Ute-Ulay mine historical sign on alpine loop
Ute Ulay mine historical sign

Whitmore Falls on the Alpine Loop

Whitmore falls on alpine loop
Whitmore Falls as seen from the Alpine Loop

This is easy to miss, but Whitmore Falls is a stunning waterfall along the Alpine Route.

It’s a short steep downhill hike to the falls from the road.

Whitmore falls
Whitmore Falls

If you’re brave, take a dip in the freezing Henson Creek pool at the bottom of the waterfall.

Henson creek at whitmore falls base
Henson Creek at the base of Whitmore Falls

Cabin for Sale along the Alpine Loop

Continuing along the Alpine Loop toward Engineer Pass will take you past this interesting house that happens to be for sale (as of August 2020).

Alpine loop cabin
House for sale along the Alpine Loop

In case you’re in the market for a new house, the contact information for the realtor is in the photo below.

hall realty sign on alpine loop
House for sale sign with Hall Realty

Engineer Pass on Alpine Loop

At 12,800 feet in elevation, Engineer Pass is the highest mountain pass we crossed on the Alpine Loop.

engineer pass sign
Engineer Pass elevation sign
engineer pass historical sign
Engineer Pass historical sign
Engineer pass with polaris ohv and dog
Our dog enjoyed her view from the back of our side-by-side at the top of Engineer Pass

It offers gorgeous views of the alpine tundra, with signs reminding you to be respectful of the fragile tundra environment.

alpine tundra sign on alpine loop
Alpine tundra sign

The drives and views in this area are spectacular.

Words can only provide so much detail, so we’ve provided photos to help showcase the beautiful scenery along the Alpine Loop.

alpine loop view
View from our side-by-side off-road vehicle on the Alpine Loop
alpine loop drive through san juan mountains
Views along the Alpine Loop
Engineer pass road
Views near Engineer Pass
Engineer pass view
View from Engineer Pass
alpine tundra on alpine loop
Alpine tundra along the Alpine Loop
alpine loop mountain scenery
Beautiful mountain scenery along the Alpine Loop

The tiny white dots in the middle of the photo below are actually sheep grazing near Engineer Pass.

They have a special permit to graze in this area.

sheep grazing near engineer pass on alpine loop
Sheep grazing near Engineer Pass

Once you cross Engineer Pass, you head back towards Animas Forks, but are free to explore additional side roads if you have enough time.

road down from engineer pass toward animas forks
Road down from Engineer Pass toward Animas Forks
rough road on alpine loop near engineer pass
Road near Engineer Pass on the way to Animas Forks

Keep an eye out for ice tunnels along the route.

The one in the photo below was one of several we saw along the route.

ice tunnel on alpine loop near animas forks
Ice tunnel near Animas Forks along the Alpine Loop road
View of road from animas forks to silverton in san juan mountains
View along the road back to Silverton from Animas Forks

Maggie Gulch

On our way back to Silverton, we took a detour up Maggie Gulch.

This is a less well-traveled 4×4 road that takes you up the Intersection Mill. We didn’t make it that far, as we had to turn around to get back to Silverton in time to return our side-by-side rental vehicle.

slackline in maggie gulch in silverton colorado
Slackline along the road in Maggie Gulch

However, we were surprised to come across a woman on a slackline crossing the gulch. (Look closely in the photo below to see a woman on a long slackline across the canyon.)

woman on slackline maggie gulch silverton colorado
Woman on the slackline at Maggie Gulch near Silverton, Colorado

She was impressive in her abilities! It was a gorgeous setting with a waterfall behind the slackline.

We’re happy to say we watched her make it safely across the slackline.

Summary of the Alpine Loop Journey

We really enjoyed our time camping in Silverton and driving the Alpine Loop.

It is a stunning area of the Rocky Mountains in SW Colorado. To really enjoy it, splurge on a rental to see the Alpine Loop!