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Cunningham Gulch

San Juan Mountains, Colorado

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Cunningham Gulch

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  • Old foundations to a mining cabin in Cunningham Gulch.- Cunningham Gulch
  • Aspen during the autumn in Cunningham Gulch.- Cunningham Gulch
  • Peaks surrounding Cunningham Gulch.- Cunningham Gulch
  • A dispersed camping campsite in Cunningham Gulch.- Cunningham Gulch
  • Falls along Cunningham Creek in Cunningham Gulch.- Cunningham Gulch
  • Remains of the Green Mountain Mill in Cunningham Gulch.- Cunningham Gulch
  • Remains of the Green Mountain Mill in Cunningham Gulch.- Cunningham Gulch
  • The rough road and switchbacks along the way to Cunningham Gulch.- Cunningham Gulch
  • Peaks surrounding Cunningham Gulch.- Cunningham Gulch
  • Old mining structures are scattered throughout Cunningham Gulch.- Cunningham Gulch
  • Cunningham Gulch.- Cunningham Gulch
  • Cunningham Gulch.- Cunningham Gulch
  • Dispersed campsite in Cunningham Gulch.- Cunningham Gulch
  • Cunningham Gulch.- Cunningham Gulch
  • Abandoned pickup truck in Cunningham Gulch.- Cunningham Gulch
  • Cunningham Gulch.- Cunningham Gulch
  • The road leading from Cunningham Gulch.- Cunningham Gulch
  • - Cunningham Gulch
Overview + Weather
Pros: 
Mining history. Free campsites. Access to Highland Mary Lakes.
Cons: 
Rough access.
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Region:
San Juan Mountains, CO
Congestion: 
Moderate
Pets allowed: 
Yes
Parking Pass: 
Not Required
Preferable Season(s):
Summer
Current Local Weather:
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Adventure Description

Adventure Description

Contributor

The Cunningham Gulch is a fantastic backcountry camping option for those visiting the Silverton area, whether for off-road excursions or hiking. Ideally located at the trailhead to the Highland Mary Lakes, one of the premier day hikes in the San Juan Mountains, the Cunningham Gulch offers a plenitude of backcountry campsites, including those right at the Highland Mary Trailhead, and old mining sites to explore.

The Cunningham Gulch has long been ranch and mining land, and the Bureau of Land Management initiated a conservation program in 2002 to restore the creek. Camping here is free from a nightly fee. As such, those looking to complete the Cunningham Gulch loop, which includes the Highland Mary Lakes Trail to pristine alpine jewels above treeline and the surrounding peaks, will enjoy a convenient and easy camping option here.

Like much of the San Juan Mountains, the area has a strong mining history. Perched high above Cunningham Gulch on Galena Mountain is the Old Hundred Boarding House, built in the first decade of the 20th century by Reinhard and Gustave Niegold, German prospectors of the Midland Mining Company. The musical brothers—Reinhard a pianist and Gustave a professional opera singer—eventually sold their interests to the Old Hundred Mining Company in 1904, which expanded the mining infrastructure in the area. The Old Hundred Mining Company built tramways and bunkhouses throughout Cunningham Gulch, but the area was never particularly productive, and mining ceased in 1908 at a loss. Neither mining nor oil drilling was ever productive in Cunningham Gulch, but the framework of structures remain to this day.

There are two “tiers” to the Cunningham Gulch: a lower, which includes a loop adjacent to the road for camper vehicles and campsites, and an upper, which includes the Highland Mary Lakes Trailhead. A four-wheel drive, high-clearance vehicle is required for the road to the upper tier, and the road here is rough. Two-wheel drive is not recommended for the lower portion.

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Field Guide

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Location + Directions

Location + Directions

Nearby Camping + Lodging

(7 within a 30 mile radius)

Nearby Adventures

(33 within a 30 mile radius)

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