Wilderness Trails provides our guests the opportunity to experience the historic Durango to Silverton Narrow Gauge Train as either a self guided stand alone day trip adventure or as a part of our new guided San Juan Skyway Overland tour.
Starting in historic downtown Durango, Colorado, the largest and most diverse community in Southwest Colorado, our San Juan Skyway Overland Adventure Tour follows the complete designated Scenic byway and also includes the only National Park devoted to Archaeological study, Mesa Verde National Park, and the world famous Durango and Silverton Narrow Guage Railroad.
On our first day, guests have the choice of departing historic Durango by way of our Motor Coach or the Durango to Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Train. Which ever route is chosen, you can’t go wrong. Equally stunning and equally unique, you could toss a coin and come up heads either way.
The roughly 48 mile route from Durango to Silverton transitions gradually at first and then rather abruptly into the heart of the San Juan Mountains.
Both routes follow the Animas river north past the wide open and lush lower Animas Valley with its striking red rocked hillsides framing and juxtaposing the green of irrigated hay fields and the meandering river corridor. At the point where the lush lower valley gives way to the first mountain grades, the San Juan Skyway and train route diverge slightly.
The train will continue to directly follow the rugged and remote Animas river corridor, while the scenic byway will take the higher route, traversing two high alpine passes as it winds along the shoulders of the San Juan mountains and dissects into one of the continents highest elevation areas. The route climbs, then descends and then repeats as we gain more and more elevation, passing forested areas and then finding we are right at the tree line beyond which only tundra exist.
The first point of interest heading north on the scenic byway is the ski resort of Purgatory at Durango Mountain. Just past the ski area the road begins to climb and twist as it climbs to lofty 10,640-foot (3,240 m) Coal Bank Pass. This will be the first of many views that showcase the enormity of the San Juan Mountains. A long descent and climb brings us next to the impressive 10,910-foot (3,330 m) Molas Pass where on any given day the view can stretch to New Mexico more than 70 miles to the south. After taking in the sights and sounds at the tours highest overlook we will start the long descent into the Silverton Valley.
In Silverton we rejoin the Durango and Silverton Narrow Guage Train just as it finishes the trip from Durango up the Animas Gorge to the center of historic Silverton. This daily ritual is just as it was in the late 1800’s.
Silverton is a Victorian mining town frozen in time. Fewer than 500 year round residents call this alpine paradise home. Nowadays the miners have been replaced by visitors wanting to experience the best of what the San Juan high country offers. Situated well over 9,000 feet and surrounded in all directions by some of the largest and most beautiful mountain scenery it is as close to traveling back to the turn of the century gold rush era as one is likely to ever experience.
Lunch is at an authentic turn of the century hotel with rag time piano and full Victorian decor and appointments while also taking time to stroll the downtown and enjoy a slice of the local color and charm.
At this point you have the choice of returning back to Durango or the ranch, or if you are on the Overland San Juan Skyway AdvenTour, our entire group will board the motor coach and drive towards what will be the highest section of the trip, Red Mountain Pass, over the famous Million Dollar Highway section of the scenic byway.
From Silverton heading north to Ouray the highway is called the Million Dollar Highway. Some say the name is for the million dollars per mile that were required to construct the passage while others contend that over a million dollars worth of gold dust were buried in the road base used to construct the ambitious project.