Silver Thread Scenic Byway
- DesignationNational Scenic Byway (2021)
- Intrinsic QualitiesHistoric
- Length117 miles
The colorful old mining camps of the Silver Thread offer history, scenic beauty, and a heavy dose of authenticity. The heights around Creede and Lake City remain strewn with abandoned mining structures, most of them accessible via rugged backcountry roads. Between the two towns, Highway 149 shadows the upper reaches of the Rio Grande, serving up a bounty of natural wonders - sparkling North Clear Creek Falls, the Slumgullion earth slide, and the shark-like fin of Uncompahgre Peak. These mountains can be unforgiving: In 1848 explorer John C. Fremont lost a third of his men - and a quarter of a century later the infamous Alfred Packer cannibalized his companions - in two ill-fated winter expeditions.
Story of the Byway
The Silver Thread Colorado Scenic and Historic Byway is known for its incredible contributions to the nation’s silver mining boom as well as for some of the country’s most notorious outlaws. Creede was Colorado’s last silver mining camp with a wild and rambunctious reputation. Prior to the Silver Panic of 1893, about half of the nation’s silver was from Colorado, and with the discovery of silver in Creede, Colorado’s silver production increased exponentially. The Commodore Mine has been listed as one of Colorado’s Most Endangered Places, and was the site of the shooting of Bob Ford, the man that killed Jesse James. Other historical figures of this area include Calamity Jane, Wild Bill Hickok, Poker Alice, Bat Masterson, and Soapy Smith.
This byway provides important access to the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail and to the Old Spanish Trail which crossed what is now the Silver Thread Colorado Scenic & Historic Byway. Rising over 3,000 vertical feet in 55 miles before a dizzying descent into Hinsdale County, the road unveils the mysteries of the Mighty Rio Grande, and showcases historic and the archeological finds of early man and Native Americans. Isolated and exquisite, this road was once a footpath worn into the earth by Ice Age man.
Thousands of years later, the Ute Indians used these trails to reach hunting camps, hot springs, and the sacred Wheeler Geological Area. Native American ancestral paths were widened and altered to become the Del Norte-Antelope Park Toll Road. This pay-to-ride stage line linked the supply station of Del Norte to the mines in Creede, Lake City, and over Stony Pass to Silverton. Today, this byway still acts as a reminder that this road not only winds up toward the sky, but also back in time.
From Gunnison, take US-50 W to CO-149 S for 46 miles. In Lake City, continue south on CO-149 S for 51 miles to Creede, continuing on US-160 W to South Fork.
Points of Interest
One of Colorado’s newest towns, South Fork, named after the southern junction of the Rio Grande, is the lower entry to the scenic byway and gateway to the San Juan mountains.
Coller State Wildlife Area
This is an excellent vantage point for viewing wildlife, such as elk, bighorn sheep, golden eagles and bald eagles.
Rio Grande National Forest
Rio Grande National Forest is a 1.86 million-acre U.S. National Forest located in southwestern Colorado.
Wheeler Geologic Area
The Wheeler Geologic Area is a highly eroded outcropping of layers of volcanic ash, in the La Garita Mountains of Mineral County, in southern Colorado in the western United States about 10 miles east north-east of Creede.
A Weekend in Creede
Along the Silver Thread byway, tucked in the San Juan Mountains, Creede is an historic town with plenty to see and do. Settle into a guest ranch before embarking on the Bachelor Loop Historic Tour. Explore the historic district of town over a long lunch. At night, take in a show at the regarded Creede Repertory Theatre.
After breakfast, enjoy a leisurely morning at the Underground Mining Museum. Continue along the byway toward South Fork, where you can spend the day exploring the Rio Grande National Forest before continuing onward or returning home.
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