San Juan Mountains

Last updated
San Juan Mountains
Uncompahgre peak.jpg
Highest point
Peak Uncompahgre Peak
Elevation 14,309 ft (4,361 m)
Coordinates 38°04′18″N107°27′14″W / 38.07167°N 107.45389°W / 38.07167; -107.45389 Coordinates: 38°04′18″N107°27′14″W / 38.07167°N 107.45389°W / 38.07167; -107.45389
CountryUnited States
StateColorado, New Mexico
Parent range Rocky Mountains
The San Juan Mountains in southern Colorado SanJuanMountainsMap.png
The San Juan Mountains in southern Colorado

The San Juan Mountains is a high and rugged mountain range in the Rocky Mountains in southwestern Colorado and northwestern New Mexico. The area is highly mineralized (the Colorado Mineral Belt) and figured in the gold and silver mining industry of early Colorado. Major towns, all old mining camps, include Creede, Lake City, Silverton, Ouray, and Telluride. Large scale mining has ended in the region, although independent prospectors still work claims throughout the range. The last large scale mines were the Sunnyside Mine near Silverton, which operated until late in the 20th century and the Idarado Mine on Red Mountain Pass that closed down in the 1970s. Famous old San Juan mines include the Camp Bird and Smuggler Union mines, both located between Telluride and Ouray.


The Summitville mine was the scene of a major environmental disaster in the 1990s when the liner of a cyanide-laced tailing pond began leaking heavily. Summitville is in the Summitville caldera, one of many extinct volcanoes making up the San Juan volcanic field. One, La Garita Caldera, is 35 miles (56 km) in diameter. Large beds of lava, some extending under the floor of the San Luis Valley, are characteristic of the eastern slope of the San Juans.

Tourism is now a major part of the regional economy, with the narrow gauge railway between Durango and Silverton being an attraction in the summer. Jeeping is popular on the old trails which linked the historic mining camps, including the notorious Black Bear Road. Visiting old ghost towns is popular, as is wilderness trekking and mountain climbing. Many of the old mining camps are now popular sites of summer homes. Though the San Juans are extremely steep and receive much snow, so far only Telluride has made the transition to a major ski resort. Purgatory Resort, once known as Durango Mountain Resort, is a small ski area 26 miles north of Durango. [1] There is also skiing on Wolf Creek Pass at the Wolf Creek ski area. Recently Silverton Mountain ski area has begun operation near Silverton.

The Rio Grande drains the east side of the range. The other side of the San Juans, the western slope of the continental divide, is drained by tributaries of the San Juan, Dolores and Gunnison rivers, which all flow into the Colorado River.

The San Juan and Uncompahgre National Forests cover a large portion of the San Juan Mountains. The Continental Divide Trail, a long-distance hiking trail follows the crest of the San Juan Mountains. The Weminuche Wilderness, Colorado's largest wilderness area, with an area of 499,771 acres (202,250 ha) is in the San Juans.

The San Juan Mountains are also distinctive for their high altitude plateaus and peaks. As a result, facilities in the towns and cities of the region are among the highest in the nation. Telluride Airport, at an elevation of 9,070 feet, [2] is the highest in the United States with regularly scheduled commercial service.

Prominent peaks

San Juans in the fall of 2008, viewed from north of Durango San Juans north of Durango.jpg
San Juans in the fall of 2008, viewed from north of Durango
Sneffels Range viewed from Ridgway, Colorado SWCO.JPG
Sneffels Range viewed from Ridgway, Colorado
Red Mountain Pass Red Mountain reflected in Crystal Lake (10 miles south of Ouray, Colorado).jpg
Red Mountain Pass
Trout Lake near Telluride LakeTell.JPG
Trout Lake near Telluride
Twilight Peak 16 21 2587 twilight peak.jpg
Twilight Peak
Bridal Veil Falls near Telluride Waterfalls in Tomboy, Colorado.jpg
Bridal Veil Falls near Telluride
The 28 peaks of the San Juan Mountains with at least 500 meters of prominence
Rank Mountain Peak Elevation Prominence Isolation
1 Uncompahgre Peak NGS 4365 m
14,321 ft
1304 m
4,277 ft
136.9 km
85.1 mi
2 Mount Wilson [3] 4344 m
14,252 ft
1227 m
4,024 ft
53.2 km
33.1 mi
3 Mount Sneffels NGS 4315 m
14,158 ft
930 m
3,050 ft
25.3 km
15.73 mi
4 Mount Eolus [3] 4294 m
14,089 ft
665 m
2,183 ft
40.5 km
25.2 mi
5 Handies Peak NGS 4285 m
14,058 ft
575 m
1,888 ft
18 km
11.18 mi
6 San Luis Peak NGS 4274 m
14,022 ft
949 m
3,113 ft
43.4 km
27 mi
7 Vermilion Peak [3] PB 4237 m
13,900 ft
642 m
2,105 ft
14.6 km
9.07 mi
8 Rio Grande Pyramid NGS PB 4214 m
13,827 ft
567 m
1,861 ft
17.31 km
10.76 mi
9 Mount Oso [3] 4173 m
13,690 ft
507 m
1,664 ft
8.81 km
5.47 mi
10 Tower Mountain [3] PB 4132 m
13,558 ft
504 m
1,652 ft
8.62 km
5.36 mi
11 Sultan Mountain [3] PB 4076 m
13,373 ft
569 m
1,868 ft
7.39 km
4.59 mi
12 Summit Peak NGS PB 4056 m
13,307 ft
841 m
2,760 ft
64.2 km
39.9 mi
13 Dolores Peak [3] PB 4053 m
13,296 ft
594 m
1,950 ft
8.02 km
4.98 mi
14 Lavender Peak [3] PB 4037 m
13,245 ft
872 m
2,860 ft
39.9 km
24.8 mi
15 Bennett Peak [3] PB 4026 m
13,209 ft
531 m
1,743 ft
27.5 km
17.1 mi
16 Conejos Peak NGS PB 4017 m
13,179 ft
583 m
1,912 ft
13.12 km
8.15 mi
17 Twilight Peak [3] 4012 m
13,163 ft
713 m
2,338 ft
7.86 km
4.88 mi
18 South River Peak [3] PB 4009 m
13,154 ft
746 m
2,448 ft
35.3 km
22 mi
19 Peak 13,010 [3] PB 3967 m
13,016 ft
546 m
1,790 ft
15.39 km
9.56 mi
20 Lone Cone [3] PB 3846 m
12,618 ft
693 m
2,273 ft
14.97 km
9.3 mi
21 Graham Peak NGS PB 3821 m
12,536 ft
778 m
2,551 ft
16.78 km
10.43 mi
22 Elliott Mountain [3] PB 3763 m
12,346 ft
683 m
2,240 ft
8.26 km
5.13 mi
23 Cornwall Mountain [3] PB 3746 m
12,291 ft
532 m
1,744 ft
8.37 km
5.2 mi
24 Sawtooth Mountain NGS PB 3704 m
12,153 ft
587 m
1,927 ft
28.3 km
17.57 mi
25 Chalk Benchmark NGS PB 3669 m
12,038 ft
601 m
1,971 ft
11.68 km
7.26 mi
26 Little Cone NGS PB 3654 m
11,988 ft
561 m
1,841 ft
9.7 km
6.03 mi
27 Cochetopa Dome 3395 m
11,138 ft
537 m
1,762 ft
9.9 km
6.15 mi
28 Horse Mountain [3] PB 3033 m
9,952 ft
575 m
1,887 ft
22.5 km
13.96 mi
Hayden Geological Survey, 1870s Trail in the San Juan Mountains. Cunningham Gulch. Colorado - NARA - 517106.jpg
Hayden Geological Survey, 1870s

History of the area

Mining operators in the San Juan mountain area formed the San Juan District Mining Association (SJDMA) in 1903, as a direct result of a Western Federation of Miners proposal to the Telluride Mining Association for the eight-hour day, which had been approved in a referendum by 72 percent of Colorado voters. [4] The new association consolidated the power of thirty-six mining properties in San Miguel, Ouray, and San Juan counties. [5] The SJDMA refused to consider any reduction in hours or increase in wages, helping to provoke a bitter strike.

Telluride Panorama annotated metric3.jpg
360° panorama of the northwestern San Juans, photographed from the Gold Hill Ridge of the Telluride Ski Resort. Ridgeline annotation indicates the names and elevations of 43 visible peaks

See also

Related Research Articles

Telluride, Colorado Town in Colorado, United States

Telluride is the county seat and most populous town of San Miguel County in the southwestern portion of the U.S. state of Colorado. The town is a former silver mining camp on the San Miguel River in the western San Juan Mountains. The first gold mining claim was made in the mountains above Telluride in 1875, and early settlement of what is now Telluride followed. The town itself was founded in 1878 as "Columbia", but due to confusion with a California town of the same name, was renamed Telluride in 1887 for the gold telluride minerals found in other parts of Colorado. These telluride minerals were never found near Telluride, but the area's mines for some years provided zinc, lead, copper, silver, and other gold ores.

San Miguel County, Colorado County in Colorado, US

San Miguel County is one of the 64 counties of the U.S. state of Colorado. As of the 2010 census, the population was 7,359. The county seat is Telluride. The county is named for the San Miguel River.

San Juan County, Colorado County in Colorado, US

San Juan County is one of the 64 counties of the U.S. state of Colorado. As of the 2010 census, the population was 699, making it the least populous county in Colorado. The county seat and the only incorporated municipality in the county is Silverton. The county name is the Spanish language name for "Saint John", the name Spanish explorers gave to a river and the mountain range in the area. With a mean elevation of 11,240 feet (3426 meters), San Juan County is the highest county in the United States.

Ouray County, Colorado County in Colorado, US

Ouray County is a county located in the U.S. state of Colorado. As of the 2010 census, the population was 4,436. The county seat is Ouray. Because of its rugged mountain topography, Ouray County is also known as the Switzerland of America.

Ouray, Colorado Home Rule Municipality in Colorado, United States

The City of Ouray is the Home Rule Municipality that is the county seat and the most populous municipality of Ouray County, Colorado, United States. The city population was 1,000 as of the 2010 census. The Ouray Post Office has the ZIP code 81427. Ouray's climate, natural alpine environment, and scenery has earned it the nickname, "Switzerland of America".

Silverton, Colorado Town in State of Colorado, United States

The town of Silverton is a Statutory Town that is the county seat of, and the only incorporated municipality in, San Juan County, Colorado, United States. Silverton is a former silver mining camp, most of which is now included in a federally designated National Historic Landmark District, the Silverton Historic District. The town population reached 637 in the U.S. Census 2010.

Wolf Creek Pass Mountain pass in Colorado

Wolf Creek Pass is a high mountain pass on the Continental Divide, in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. It is the route through which U.S. Highway 160 passes from the San Luis Valley into southwest Colorado on its way to New Mexico and Arizona. The pass is notable as inspiration of a C. W. McCall song. The pass is significantly steep on either side and can be dangerous in winter. There are two runaway truck ramps on the westbound side for truckers that lose control of their brakes.

U.S. Route 550 (US 550) is a spur of U.S. Highway 50 that runs from Bernalillo, New Mexico to Montrose, Colorado in the western United States. The section from Silverton to Ouray is frequently called the Million Dollar Highway. It is one of the roads on the Trails of the Ancients Byway, one of the designated New Mexico Scenic Byways.

Elk Mountains (Colorado)

The Elk Mountains are a high, rugged mountain range in the Rocky Mountains of west-central Colorado in the United States. The mountains sit on the western side of the Continental Divide, largely in southern Pitkin and northern Gunnison counties, in the area southwest of Aspen, south of the Roaring Fork River valley, and east of the Crystal River. The range sits west of the Sawatch Range and northeast of the West Elk Mountains. Much of the range is located within the White River National Forest and the Gunnison National Forest, as well as the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness and Raggeds Wilderness. The Elk Mountains rise nearly 9,000 ft. above the Roaring Fork Valley to the north.

The San Juan Skyway is an All-American Road and a component in the Colorado Scenic and Historic Byway System. It forms a 233.0-mile (375.0 km) loop in the southwest part of the U.S. state of Colorado traversing the heart of the San Juan Mountains. It roughly parallels the routes of the narrow gauge railways: Rio Grande Southern ; and the unconnected Ouray and Silverton Branches of the Denver & Rio Grande along US 550 with the Silverton Railroad bridging a part of the gap. Its origin can be traced to the Around the Circle Route promoted by the D&RG.

Rio Grande Southern Railroad

The Rio Grande Southern Railroad was a 3 ft (914 mm) narrow-gauge railroad which ran in the southwestern region of the US state of Colorado, from the towns of Durango to Ridgway, routed via Lizard Head Pass. Built by Russian immigrant and Colorado toll road builder Otto Mears, the RGS operated from 1891 through 1951 and was built with the intent to transport immense amounts of silver mineral traffic that were being produced by the mining communities of Rico and Telluride. On both ends of the railroad, there were interchanges with The Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, which would ship the traffic the RGS hauled elsewhere like the San Juan Smelter in Durango.

Weminuche Wilderness

The Weminuche Wilderness is a wilderness area in southwest Colorado managed by the United States Forest Service as part of the San Juan National Forest on the west side of the Continental Divide and the Rio Grande National Forest on the east side of the divide. It is about 5 miles (8.0 km) south east of the town of Silverton and about 15 miles (24 km) northeast of Durango. At 499,771 acres (2,022.50 km2), it is the largest wilderness area in the state of Colorado. The wilderness was named after the Weminuche Indians.

San Luis Peak

San Luis Peak is the highest summit of the La Garita Mountains range in the Rocky Mountains of North America. The prominent 14,022-foot (4273.8 m) fourteener is located in the Gunnison National Forest portion of the La Garita Wilderness in Saguache County approximately 10 miles (16 km) north of Creede. It is situated rather far to the east of the other fourteeners in the San Juans, and has more of a wilderness setting than many of the others.

West Elk Mountains

The West Elk Mountains are a high mountain range in the west-central part of the U.S. state of Colorado. They lie primarily within the Gunnison National Forest, and part of the range is protected as the West Elk Wilderness. The range is primarily located in Gunnison County, with small parts in eastern Delta and Montrose counties.

Gold mining in Colorado Overview of gold mining in Colorado

Gold mining in Colorado, a state of the United States, has been an industry since 1858. It also played a key role in the establishment of the state of Colorado.

Camp Bird Mine

The Camp Bird Mine is a famous and highly productive old gold mine located between Ouray and Telluride, Colorado. The mine is within the Sneffels-Red Mountain-Telluride mining district in the San Juan Mountains.

La Garita Mountains

The La Garita Mountains are a high mountain range in the San Juan Mountains, a sub-range of the Rocky Mountains. The mountains are located in Saguache and Mineral counties in southwestern Colorado and are almost entirely managed as public land within the Gunnison National Forest and the Rio Grande National Forest.

Emil B. Fischer published six detailed maps of the San Juan area of southwestern Colorado between 1883 and 1898. A surveyor’s son, he came to America around 1872. He moved to Durango in 1880 when the building of the Denver & Rio Grande Railway to the San Juan attracted widespread attention, then to Silverton. These maps aided silver and gold prospectors to file their claims; they enabled investors to locate mines and view their proximity to famous neighboring mines; and they encouraged tourists to visit the depicted mining regions and invigorate the local economies.


  1. Slothower, Chuck (25 Feb 2015). "It is 'DMR' No Longer". Durango Herald (26 Feb 2015). Archived from the original on 5 June 2016. Retrieved 17 May 2016.
  2. "Welcome to Telluride Regional Airport - TEX - Sits atop Deep Creek Mesa and is North America's highest commercial airport. Provides airline information and flight schedules, as well as details for pilots". Archived from the original on 24 March 2018. Retrieved 5 May 2018.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 The elevation of this summit has been converted from the National Geodetic Vertical Datum of 1929 (NGVD 29) to the North American Vertical Datum of 1988 (NAVD 88). National Geodetic Survey Archived 2011-10-19 at the Wayback Machine
  4. RoughneckThe Life and Times of Big Bill Haywood, Peter Carlson, 1983, page 65.
  5. The Corpse On Boomerang Road, Telluride's War On Labor 1899-1908, MaryJoy Martin, 2004, page 201.

Further reading