Exploring Silverthorne, Colorado’s ‘Gateway to the Wilderness’

Leaf-peeping in Silverthorne, Colorado is in full swing this month. Photo by Bill Linfield, courtesy Town of Silverthorne
Leaf-peeping in Silverthorne, Colorado, is in full swing this month. Photo: Bill Linfield/Town of Silverthorne
If you’re headed for mountain adventure in Colorado, chances are you’re going to be rolling through Silverthorne, the first town you’ll encounter in Summit County after crossing the Continental Divide as you head west from Denver on I-70. A lot of folks know it for its outlet-store shopping, where out-of-towners can and do gear up head to toe for whatever adventure they have planned, while other folks probably don’t make it much farther than the first gas station, a pit stop on their way to the many nearby resorts.

But Silverthorne is also increasingly a year-round adventure destination in its own right, with whitewater sports and world-class trout fishing along the Blue River and an extensive trail system including two National Forest Service trailheads and access to the Eagles Nest and Ptarmigan Peak wilderness areas. Silverthorne’s paved Blue River Trail, open to cyclists and pedestrians, connects the town to the nearby Dillon Reservoir, to other Summit County destinations including Keystone, Frisco and Copper Mountain, and to Vail Pass, the Vail Valley and beyond.

Silverthorne turns gold this time of year. Photo by Bill Linfield, courtesy Town of Silverthorne
Silverthorne turns gold this time of year. Photo: Bill Linfield/Town of Silverthorne
As you pull into Silverthorne, find (or lose) your bearings with a stop at Bakers’ Brewery, opened in 2014 and already home to some of the best food we found in town. Barking Dog Brown Ale, French Silk Stout and Mango-Ginger Saison were all popular with the large group we visited with. Pro tip: Ask brewmaster Cory Forster for a taste of whatever small-batch madness he’s been experimenting with lately, and take a growler to go for your campsite or condo or whatever you have planned next.

This month, the area is a leaf-peeping Mecca, with the aspen trees doing their glorious thing. To make the most of all that fall foliage, try the 4.2-mile hike along the Mesa Cortina and Gore Range trails to Willow Falls, elevation 10,007 feet, and, if you’re feeling inspired, push on to Red Buffalo Pass at 11,748 feet and Eccles Pass at 11,900 feet. Afterward, stop for showers and a swim at the Silverthorne Recreation Center, and check out the skatepark and playground at the adjacent Rainbow Park.

Rafting on the Blue River through Silverthorne, Colorado. Photo of the author and his family courtesy KODI Whitewater Rafting.
The author and his family rafting on the Blue River through Silverthorne, Colorado. Photo: Courtesy of KODI Whitewater Rafting
We visited in midsummer, camped out along the Blue River and (after a breakfast at the locals-packed Sunshine Café), took a wild adventure with KODI Whitewater Rafting that took us right past our camp spot. The same stretch of river was closed the following day for dangerously high water levels, helping us appreciate having had good guides — and good lifejackets — in the boat with us even more.

In the winter, Silverthorne boasts an impressive system of groomed Nordic ski trails, and diehard powder chasers use the town as staging area and carpool meet-up as they wait for the 5 a.m. snow reports. As often as not, the most snow will be at nearby Breckenridge or Copper Mountain, but Steamboat, Vail and Beaver Creek are all also within reach in time for first chair. Check out OpenSnow.com for the best powder predictions to help plan your mission.

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