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San Juan Mountains
Uncompahgre peak.jpg
Highest point
Peak Uncompahgre Peak
Elevation 14,309 ft (4,361 m)
Country United States
State Colorado, New Mexico
Parent range Rocky Mountains
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. 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, is the highest in the United States with regularly scheduled commercial service.

Prominent peaks

San Juans north of Durango
San Juans in the fall of 2008, viewed from north of Durango
Trout Lake near Telluride
Waterfalls in Tomboy, Colorado
Bridal Veil Falls near Telluride
  • Note: This is only a partial list of important peaks in the San Juans, listing peaks by prominence only. There are dozens more summits over 12,000 feet.
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 &100000000000043650000004365 m
14,321 ft
&100000000000013036300001304 m
4,277 ft
&10000000000136890000000136.9 km
85.1 mi
2 Mount Wilson &100000000000043440799994344 m
14,252 ft
&100000000000012265150001227 m
4,024 ft
&1000000000005321000000053.2 km
33.1 mi
3 Mount Sneffels NGS &100000000000043153999994315 m
14,158 ft
&10000000000000929639999930 m
3,050 ft
&1000000000002532000000025.3 km
15.73 mi
4 Mount Eolus &100000000000042942550004294 m
14,089 ft
&10000000000000665378000665 m
2,183 ft
&1000000000004048000000040.5 km
25.2 mi
5 Handies Peak NGS &100000000000042848000004285 m
14,058 ft
&10000000000000575461999575 m
1,888 ft
&1000000000001800000000018.00 km
11.18 mi
6 San Luis Peak NGS &100000000000042738000004274 m
14,022 ft
&10000000000000948841999949 m
3,113 ft
&1000000000004341000000043.4 km
27.0 mi
7 Vermilion Peak PB &100000000000042367190004237 m
13,900 ft
&10000000000000641604000642 m
2,105 ft
&1000000000001460000000014.60 km
9.07 mi
8 Rio Grande Pyramid NGS PB &100000000000042143999994214 m
13,827 ft
&10000000000000567232999567 m
1,861 ft
&1000000000001731000000017.31 km
10.76 mi
9 Mount Oso &100000000000041726589994173 m
13,690 ft
&10000000000000507187000507 m
1,664 ft
&100000000000088100000008.81 km
5.47 mi
10 Tower Mountain PB &100000000000041324459994132 m
13,558 ft
&10000000000000503529999504 m
1,652 ft
&100000000000086200000008.62 km
5.36 mi
11 Sultan Mountain PB &100000000000040762150004076 m
13,373 ft
&10000000000000569365999569 m
1,868 ft
&100000000000073900000007.39 km
4.59 mi
12 Summit Peak NGS PB &100000000000040560479994056 m
13,307 ft
&10000000000000841248000841 m
2,760 ft
&1000000000006423000000064.2 km
39.9 mi
13 Dolores Peak PB &100000000000040525920004053 m
13,296 ft
&10000000000000594360000594 m
1,950 ft
&100000000000080200000008.02 km
4.98 mi
14 Lavender Peak PB &100000000000040371979994037 m
13,245 ft
&10000000000000871727999872 m
2,860 ft
&1000000000003991000000039.9 km
24.8 mi
15 Bennett Peak PB &100000000000040260569994026 m
13,209 ft
&10000000000000531265999531 m
1,743 ft
&1000000000002752000000027.5 km
17.10 mi
16 Conejos Peak NGS PB &100000000000040170000004017 m
13,179 ft
&10000000000000582778000583 m
1,912 ft
&1000000000001312000000013.12 km
8.15 mi
17 Twilight Peak &100000000000040120960004012 m
13,163 ft
&10000000000000712621999713 m
2,338 ft
&100000000000078600000007.86 km
4.88 mi
18 South River Peak PB &100000000000040093899994009 m
13,154 ft
&10000000000000746149999746 m
2,448 ft
&1000000000003534000000035.3 km
22.0 mi
19 Peak 13,010 PB &100000000000039672620003967 m
13,016 ft
&10000000000000545591999546 m
1,790 ft
&1000000000001539000000015.39 km
9.56 mi
20 Lone Cone PB &100000000000038460999993846 m
12,618 ft
&10000000000000692809999693 m
2,273 ft
&1000000000001497000000014.97 km
9.30 mi
21 Graham Peak NGS PB &100000000000038210999993821 m
12,536 ft
&10000000000000777544999778 m
2,551 ft
&1000000000001678000000016.78 km
10.43 mi
22 Elliott Mountain PB &100000000000037629409993763 m
12,346 ft
&10000000000000682751999683 m
2,240 ft
&100000000000082600000008.26 km
5.13 mi
23 Cornwall Mountain PB &100000000000037461829993746 m
12,291 ft
&10000000000000531571000532 m
1,744 ft
&100000000000083700000008.37 km
5.20 mi
24 Sawtooth Mountain NGS PB &100000000000037041999993704 m
12,153 ft
&10000000000000587350000587 m
1,927 ft
&1000000000002828000000028.3 km
17.57 mi
25 Chalk Benchmark NGS PB &100000000000036693000003669 m
12,038 ft
&10000000000000600760999601 m
1,971 ft
&1000000000001168000000011.68 km
7.26 mi
26 Little Cone NGS PB &100000000000036540000003654 m
11,988 ft
&10000000000000561136999561 m
1,841 ft
&100000000000097000000009.70 km
6.03 mi
27 Cochetopa Dome &100000000000033948380003395 m
11,138 ft
&10000000000000537057999537 m
1,762 ft
&100000000000099000000009.90 km
6.15 mi
28 Horse Mountain PB &100000000000030333069993033 m
9,952 ft
&10000000000000575158000575 m
1,887 ft
&1000000000002246000000022.5 km
13.96 mi
Trail in the San Juan Mountains. Cunningham Gulch. Colorado - NARA - 517106
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. The new association consolidated the power of thirty-six mining properties in San Miguel, Ouray, and San Juan counties. The SJDMA refused to consider any reduction in hours or increase in wages, helping to provoke a bitter strike.

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
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