Dispersed camping area near Silverton, Colorado

The 10 Best Dispersed Camping Areas Near Silverton, CO

The San Juan Mountains, which are a part of the larger Rocky Mountains Range, offer some of the best outdoor recreation not only in the state of Colorado but also in the entire country. 

The best starting point for exploring this beautiful region and taking in its spectacular scenery is the historic mining town of Silverton. 

Located between the towns of Durango and Ouray, right along the nation’s most breathtaking drive – the Million Dollar Highway – Silverton serves as a hub for outdoor enthusiasts keen to explore the rugged American Southwest. 

And the best way to experience the wilderness around Silverton, as well as to enjoy the activities taking place in the town, is to engage in dispersed camping in one of the camping areas located close to this town. 

Fortunately, there are plenty of such places around Silverton. In this article, I’ll be taking a closer look at the 10 best dispersed camping zones situated within a few dozen miles of this town.

I will also try to provide some general advice on dispersed camping and help you adequately prepare yourself for an unforgettable adventure in the Rockies. 

Silverton Dispersed Camping – The Overview 

If you’ve never done any dispersed camping before, it’s very important that you read this part of the article first. As you can already guess, getting ready for your outdoor adventure near Silverton takes more than just deciding which of the areas listed down below suits your needs the best. 

Here, I will tell you everything you need to know before heading out into the wilderness that surrounds this town – when to go there, what to pack, and which permits to obtain. I will also provide some info on pet allowance, seasonal fires, and other crucial considerations. 

When is the Best Time to Camp Near Silverton?

Autumn in Silverton, Colorado

One of the most important things an outdoor enthusiast needs to find out before heading somewhere is when is the best time to actually visit that place. 

Due to the country’s diverse geography, some areas of the United States are best visited during the summer months, while some provide the best scenery during the shoulder seasons. 

When it comes to Silverton and the wilderness that surrounds it, the best time to visit this region as a camper is undoubtedly between May and October. 

However, if your plan is to pitch a tent in a high-elevation camping area, i.e. one that’s situated above 10,000 feet, your best bet is to go there between June and September. This is due to the fact that high-elevation campsites typically hold snow well into the summer. 

On the other hand, those wishing to enjoy Colorado’s extraordinary autumn scenery should keep in mind that camping near Silverton in October and November means having to deal with cold nights and chilly mornings. Make sure to pack your warmest clothes! 

What Should I Pack for Dispersed Camping Near Silverton?

Camping gear on the floor

As I said above, preparing for a camping adventure in this part of Colorado involves more than just choosing the best-looking dispersed camping area. For a safe and enjoyable experience out there in the wild, you will need to pack all the necessary gear. 

You probably already know everything about the importance of having quality camping gear essentials – a sleeping bag that’s both cozy and capable of keeping you warm at night, a durable tent, and a few comfortable campsite chairs. 

Here are a couple of additional items you may want to consider bringing with you on a Silverton dispersed camping adventure: 

  • Portable toilet – As you will see down below, some of the dispersed camping areas listed in this article have restroom facilities. However, some don’t, and for these locations, a portable toilet is the best solution. It is convenient, clean, and private. 
  • Portable water containers – Besides not having restroom facilities, some Silverton dispersed camping areas have no access to water at all. That’s why you’ll want to bring as much water with you as possible.  If you need a water bottle, I recommend Yeti or one of these great Yeti alternatives.
  • Water filter – It goes without saying, but this simple device can literally save your life in dire situations. You never know what could go wrong, so get yourself a quality water filter and pack it up for complete peace of mind. 
  • Cooler – One thing that can easily ruin the entire camping experience is when all of your refreshing drinks become lukewarm in the hot afternoon sun. Fortunately, the solution to this issue is quite simple – bringing a good cooler with you on the trip. 
  • Bug spray – Another thing that can ruin your adventure is a cloud of pesky mosquitoes that just refuse to leave the campsite. These and other bugs can be incredibly annoying in the summer, so make sure to pack a bug spray to keep these pests at bay. 
  • Camping stove – The best camping escapades are the ones spiced up with tasty, cooked meals. And to cook up mouth-watering campsite dinners, you’ll need to get yourself a camping stove. 

Formore information, check out our post on wild camping essentials.

Permits and Fees Required for Dispersed Camping Near Silverton 

At the time of writing, camping in any of the dispersed camping zones listed in this article required no permits of any sort. In other words, you only have to pack up your gear and you can head straight to one of these areas to pitch your tent or tent cot in it. If you are looking for tent cot recommendations, check out our tent cot reviews.

However, some of these areas have recently experienced a growth in popularity and could see the implementation of a permit system in the future. For that matter, make sure to check about this online – or give a call to the local field office – before heading out. 

Fees, on the other hand, are not required for camping in any of the USFS (United States Forest Service) or BLM (Bureau for Land Management) areas listed in this article.

What Should I Know About Seasonal Fires Near Silverton?

Forest in Silverton, Colorado

In this part of the United States, seasonal fire bans and restrictions are a common occurrence, and this includes Silverton and the surrounding area. 

Therefore, checking for the latest restrictions before actually setting out on a camping trip is vital. For the latest info on fire restrictions in BLM and USFS areas located in Colorado, have a look at the list of links on this website

One other thing you should do is give a call to the field office responsible for the area you wish to camp in, just to be sure. 

Are Pets Welcome at Silverton Camping Areas?

Some people like taking their pets with them on camping trips – it’s as simple as that. If you’re one of those people, you’ll be glad to hear that animal companions are welcome at all camping zones listed in this article. 

However, keep in mind that you’ll have to take special care of your pet while camping near Silverton. This doesn’t only mean keeping the animal protected from extreme temperatures but also keeping it leashed (due to the potential presence of wildlife in the area) and taking care of the waste it leaves behind. 

Other Important Considerations 

Sign in Silverton, Colorado
  • Access – Due to the fact that the roads leading to some of these places are quite rugged, I’ve done my best to provide all the necessary information on road conditions in regards to Silverton dispersed camping areas. 

Unfortunately, not all of the campsites can be accessed by regular passenger vehicles. What is more, the weather changes quite quickly in this region, so your best bet is to use a high-clearance 4WD vehicle. But even so, use your best judgment while traversing these roads and never put your safety at risk. 

  • Elevation – Another important consideration is elevation. As I’ve already mentioned, a lot of the dispersed camping areas in this part of Colorado are located at high elevations – 10,000 feet or higher. 

Obviously, this means that pitching a tent at such places introduces a myriad of challenges, the biggest of which is properly protecting yourself from extreme weather conditions. Bring a sturdy tent and some warm gear. 

  • Wildlife – While staying in the dispersed camping areas near Silverton, be mindful of the local wildlife. Do not try to feed – or even hunt – any of the wild animals you notice while being there. 

Also, make sure to store scented items, as well as all of the food and trash, in your vehicle. The reason why you’ll be doing this is not to attract bears and other dangerous animals. 

  • Water – The Animas River (which I’ll mention down below) as well as some of the creeks that surround it all contain traces of mining byproducts. Unfortunately, regular water filters are incapable of removing these dangerous substances from the water. 

For that matter, exercise extreme caution while drinking from these sources. Obviously, your best bet is to simply bring an ample supply of clean water, which you’ll also be carrying on yourself during your day hikes from the campsite. 

  • Cell phone service – The next important thing to keep in mind is that the mobile phone reception in remote places around Silverton can be quite spotty. It goes without saying, but this can put careless campers in dangerous situations. 

The best way to go about this problem is to simply assume you won’t be able to properly use your cellphone at all and prepare yourself accordingly. Tell everyone where you’re going and download all the necessary maps that you’ll be able to use offline. 

  • First-come, first-served – The term “first-come, first-served” is pretty self-explanatory – those who come to these places first often get the best spots. All of the dispersed camping areas I have described down below operate on this principle. 

If you’re planning to camp in any of the camping zones listed in this article on a summer weekend, you’ll have to arrive there a bit earlier. This usually translates to getting there a few days earlier – on a Thursday morning, for example. 

  • Leave no trace – The only way to ensure that other folks will be able to properly enjoy these breathtaking places too is by being mindful of the environment. No matter which one of these areas you choose to camp in, try to leave your own camping spot in the exact way you found it. 

Furthermore, do not dig trenches or build structures, and always leave plants, rocks, and other objects as you found them. Also, minimize campfire impacts and pack out all of your trash, from spilled foods to used toilet paper. 

The Best Areas for Dispersed Camping Near Silverton 

Anvil & Sultan Camping Areas 

Mineral Creek, Colorado
Photo by Larry Lamsa via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
  • Crowds: Busy 
  • Water: No
  • Restrooms: No
  • Distance to Silverton: 3.5 miles 

These two camping zones are situated less than half a mile away from the Kendall Camping Area, which I’ll describe next. Essentially, both of these are smaller and more basic versions of the aforementioned Kendall Camping Area. 

They are located right next to the Mineral Creek, nestled in the shadows of striking peaks. You can get inside the Anvil area straight from the road. To pull into the Sultan area, on the other hand, you will have to cross the creek. 

One major disadvantage of these two camping zones is that they can’t really accommodate larger rigs. Moreover, they are very busy and fill up quite quickly – make sure to come here a few days before the weekend. 

Since the water from Mineral Creek is not drinkable, don’t forget to bring some with you. And, as none of these two areas have restrooms, keep in mind that you can always pay a visit to the Kendall Camping Area and use the toilets there. 

Kendall Camping Area 

San Juan Skyway
  • Crowds: Busy 
  • Water: No
  • Restrooms: Yes
  • Distance to Silverton: 3 miles 

Next up is the aforementioned Kendall Camping Area, which is located right next to the well-known Million Dollar Highway. As far as I’m concerned, this place has an ideal position for all those wishing to explore the wilderness around Silverton. 

Tucked between the Mineral Creek and the Million Dollar Highway and shaded by trees, this is a phenomenal spot to park your RV or set up your tent. One important thing to mention here is that the place has a campground feeling – there are vault toilets and the campsites are quite close to each other. 

Due to it being very busy, getting a camping spot in this area can be quite challenging, especially during summer. And, just like in the case of Anvil and Sultan camping zones, you will have to bring your own water. 

Besides the fact that it has vault toilets, another great thing about this place is that it’s very accessible and easily accommodates larger rigs. 

Ophir Pass Dispersed Area 

Ophir Pass, Colorado
  • Crowds: Busy 
  • Water: No
  • Restrooms: No
  • Distance to Silverton: 5 miles 

Here we have yet another dispersed camping area that is located between Mineral Creek and the Million Dollar Highway (Highway 550). And, since it has no access to clean water and you can’t filter some from the creek, this means you’ll have to bring some with you. 

The Ophir Pass Dispersed Area is a relatively small camping zone, with several campsites that vary in both size and privacy. Unfortunately, not all of them are suitable for RVs and larger rigs. 

The Ophir Pass itself is a great destination for all nature lovers, though. Even though it’s very close to Silverton, this region just oozes wild beauty and unmatched tranquility. 

Finally, the road that leads to this place is somewhat bumpy, but still traversable for most vehicles. 

Golden Horn Camping Area 

Ice Lake Basin, Colorado
  • Crowds: Busy 
  • Water: No
  • Restrooms: Yes
  • Distance to Silverton: 5 miles 

The next camping area on my list stands as yet another excellent choice for folks looking for something close to Silverton. The Golden Horn Camping Area is situated only 5 miles from the town and it’s very large and open. In other words, there’s plenty of space for tents and RVs. 

While it doesn’t offer much in terms of privacy, it certainly does when it comes to the scenery. The place is tucked in a valley of towering mountains and has a very peaceful creekside setting. 

This turns it into one of the best free campsites in the region. However, that is also why this place becomes quite packed during the summer. 

The nearby route that leads to the Ice Lakes Trailhead has been closed several times due to fire damage. For that matter, make sure to check for the latest closures before heading out. 

Read our post on the best dispersed camping spots near Colorado Springs as well.

Little Molas Lake Campground 

Lake Molas, Colorado
  • Crowds: Busy 
  • Water: No, but you can filter some from the lake 
  • Restrooms: Yes
  • Distance to Silverton: 8 miles 

If close proximity to the town doesn’t matter that much to you and you’re willing to travel a bit further down from Silverton, the Little Molas Lake Campground is a great option. Be ready to brave the high elevation, though, and make sure to prepare yourself accordingly. 

While it’s true that this place feels more like a regular camping zone than a true dispersed camping area, it looks absolutely stunning and you’ll have a hard time believing that camping in such an amazing place can be completely free. The pristine alpine scenery is guaranteed! 

What is more, there are some excellent trekking options close to this campground, including easy access to the well-known Colorado Trail. 

The place is best suited for medium-sized trailers and RVs. 

Sultan Creek Dispersed Area 

  • Crowds: Moderate 
  • Water: No
  • Restrooms: No
  • Distance to Silverton: 5 miles 

Just like many other camping areas on the list, this one is also located just off Highway 550. As its name suggests, it’s right next to the Sultan Creek, or to be more precise, on a dirt road pull-off situated next to the stream. 

There is only one major disadvantage to camping in this zone – the traffic noise. Due to the area’s close proximity to the Million Dollar Highway, folks spending time in it can expect to hear road noise during daylight hours.

But even despite this nuisance, the Sultan Creek Dispersed Area is still very scenic, peaceful, and clean. 

In addition, this place easily accommodates most trailers and RVs and it’s quite close to some excellent trekking trails. 

If you are interested in camping in Colorado, check out our guide to dispersed camping near Telluride and our guide to dispersed camping near Buena Vista.

County Road 26 

Handies Peak, Colorado
  • Crowds: Moderate 
  • Water: No
  • Restrooms: No
  • Distance to Silverton: 12 miles 

A dirt spur route that connects to a larger road, County Road 26 has a handful of camping spots that are located on both of its sides. There’s a lot to like about this particular place – not only is it peaceful and quiet, but it also offers great views of the magnificent San Juan peaks. 

Furthermore, this road is quite close to the Animas River. But, as I already said several times throughout this article, the water from this river is not drinkable. Due to mining activities in the region, it has been severely contaminated by dangerous byproducts. 

The County Road 26 itself is quite rugged and narrow at times, so your best bet is to use a 4WD vehicle.

Lastly, it’s a phenomenal basecamp for those wishing to summit one of Colorado’s Fourteeners – Handies Peak, in this case. 

Hermosa Creek Special Management Area

  • Crowds: Busy
  • Water: No
  • Restrooms: No
  • Distance to Silverton: 25+ miles 

Established quite recently, this particular place has the status of a Special Management Area. As such, it has some extra regulations and restrictions. And, as its name suggests, it was founded in order to protect the Hermosa Creek Watershed. 

Here, dispersed camping opportunities are plentiful. One of the best options is the Sig Creek Campground, which is, although decommissioned, still open for outdoor enthusiasts. The road that leads there is kind of rugged but still traversable by regular vehicles. 

Of course, there are additional dispersed camping options further up the road from this place, such as Forest Roads 550, 581, 580, 579, 577, and 578. 

However, most of these roads cannot be easily navigated without a high-clearance vehicle. 

Cunningham Gulch

San Juan Mountains
  • Crowds: Busy
  • Water: No
  • Restrooms: No
  • Distance to Silverton: 8 miles 

Cunningham Gulch is, without a shadow of a doubt, a fabulously scenic area – there are majestic peaks in every direction and a bubbly creek runs right through its center. 

To reach the best camping spots in this dispersed camping area, one has to get past the Old Hundred Mine while following County Road 4. This will lead you into a charming valley filled with some genuinely amazing spots for you to pitch your tent on. 

And while it’s completely possible to reach this place with most vehicles, Cunningham Gulch cannot accommodate larger trailers and RVs due to the limited number of camping spots (as well as their size). 

If you decide to do some dispersed camping here, I would recommend hiking to the nearby Highland Mary Lakes. 

Maggie Gulch 

Animas Fork, Colorado
  • Crowds: Busy
  • Water: No
  • Restrooms: Yes 
  • Distance to Silverton: 6.5 miles 

The last Silverton dispersed camping zone on my list is Maggie Gulch, a large and open area that’s located north of the town, just off County Road 2. Not only can this place easily accommodate larger vehicles, but it’s also close to a plethora of OHV, cycling, and trekking trails. 

An important thing to mention here is that Maggie Gulch is not suitable for outdoor enthusiasts looking for peace and solitude. This is due to the fact that this place is usually packed with OHV users and RV campers and can, therefore, be very noisy. 

However, folks looking for a camp community, convenience, and a number of enjoyable recreational activities are bound to enjoy camping in this area. 

Just keep in mind that you should avoid drinking water from the nearby Animas River – it contains traces of mining byproducts, as mentioned above.

If you want to go camping in Britain, check out the best wild camping spots in the UK.