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Trip Report: Cinnamon Pass Road, Colorado

Basic Information

  • What: Cinnamon Pass Road
  • Where: Outside of Lake City, Colorado
  • More Information: DangerousRoads.org

Map of Cinnamon Pass Road

Narrative

For anyone looking to hike Redcloud and Sunshine Peaks from the Silver Creek Trailhead a drive up Cinnamon Pass Road also known as Hinsdale County Road 30 is a must.  I drove up this road early in the morning and could not see anything which was probably a good thing.  However, after finishing my hike up Redcloud and Sunshine Peaks the drive back on Cinnamon Pass Road I found to be quite scenic:

Picture from Cliff Road, Colorado

From the Silver Creek Trailhead the road continues up to American Basin and over the high peaks of the San Juan Mountains.  I drove part of this section of the road last year and found it to be quite scenic.  To get back to Lake City I had to head east on Cinnamon Pass Road from the Silver Creek Trailhead.  This section of the road to the Mill Creek Campground is known as the Cliff Road area of the route and is quite rough in spots.  This section of the road can be driven across by a sturdy two-wheel drive vehicle if driven carefully, though I would not recommend it.  As I drove from the Silver Creek Trailhead on the north side of the road there was not much to see since the steep slopes of the 14,001 foot Sunshine Peak rises high above the road:

Picture from Cliff Road, Colorado

Picture from Cliff Road, Colorado

However the views to the south of the deep gorge, with rising mountains, and roaring waterfalls was quite scenic:

Picture from Cliff Road, Colorado

I kept finding myself stopping to take pictures of the beautiful views.  However, these dramatic views mean that the drop off on the south side of the road is quite steep:

Picture from Cliff Road, Colorado

At the bottom of the valley is the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River that carved out this deep gorge in the mountains::

Picture from Cliff Road, Colorado

Here is a picture of my truck on the road backdropped by the rugged San Juan Mountains:

Picture from Cliff Road, Colorado

Here is a view of this scenic valley from Cliff Road:

Picture from Cliff Road, Colorado

Here is a couple of views of Cliff Road on its steepest section that is literally cut into the rocky cliffs on the side of Sunshine Peak:

Picture from Cliff Road, Colorado

Picture from Cliff Road, Colorado

Next Cliff Road comes to a lookout where the mountains that tower over the old ghost town of Sherman can be seen:

Picture from Cliff Road, Colorado

The views of the various 13-thousand foot mountains that rise over Sherman are tremendous:

Picture from Cliff Road, Colorado

Here is a wider angle view of these mountains:

Picture from Cliff Road, Colorado

The town of Sherman was founded in 1877 as one of the many mining camps in the area.  Due to the isolation, spring time floods, winter avalanches, and finally the closing of the mines the settlement was abandoned in 1925.  Here is a brief history of Sherman from the Historic Lake City webpage:

Sherman was one of the many small communities in this region which boomed briefly, then slowly perished. Named for an early pioneer, Sherman was founded in 1877, four year after the U.S. government and the native Ute Indians signed a treaty which opened up the San Juan Mountains to mining and settlement.

Sherman grew slowly at first, then expanded quickly in the 1880s. The largest mine in this area, in addition to several smaller mines, was the Black Wonder. The Black Wonder was a primarily silver mine and was located on the hillside north of town. For many years, this mine was the mainstay of Sherman’s economy. Sherman, like many other mining towns in the San Juans, was basically a “one-mine town”. Like a roller coaster, Sherman’s population and prosperity fluctuated with the fortunes of the Black Wonder mine.

During its peak in the mid-1880s, the summer population of Sherman reached about 300 people, mostly miners. During the fall, most residents left, and few stayed in Sherman over the winter.  Like many San Juan mining towns, Sherman’s downfall began in the 1890s. When the U.S. government went off the silver standard in 1893, the demand for silver dropped, creating a nationwide depression. The drop in demand for silver forced the closure of scores of mines in the San Juans, and several in the Sherman area. Sherman never recovered from its setbacks, and by 1925, the town was deserted.

Little is left of Sherman today. Still visible are the ruins of a few scattered cabins, many of which sit amidst stones rounded by streams and deposited by floodwaters. The largest structure, the foundation of the Black Wonder mill, serves as a quiet reminder of this once-thriving town.

From the lookout I next drove further down the road to the intersection that leads to Sherman:

Picture from Cliff Road, Colorado

Above me the views were still dominated by the orange colored cliffs of Sunshine Peak:

Picture from Cliff Road, Colorado

Here is a view of the well maintained dirt road that leads down the valley to Sherman:

Picture from Cliff Road, Colorado

As I drove into Sherman I was expecting to see more structures, but all I could see was the remains of two cabins:

Picture from Cliff Road, Colorado

Picture from Cliff Road, Colorado

Here is a picture of the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River that flows through Sherman:

Picture from Cliff Road, Colorado

Here is another view of the large cliffs below Sunshine Peak from Sherman:

Picture from Cliff Road, Colorado

After spending a few minutes checking out Sherman I then drove back up the access road on to County Road 30 again to head back to Lake City.  A sight that can be seen on this section of the road is Sunshine Falls:

Picture from Cliff Road, Colorado

Here is a closer look at this waterfall which really isn’t all that impressive compared to other waterfalls that can be seen in the area:

Picture from Cliff Road, Colorado

The next the road exits the mountains and enters into a wide green valley.  Behind me I could see the summit of Sunshine Peak just visible through the clouds:

Picture from Cliff Road, Colorado

On this stretch of road various cabins can be seen since both sides of the road consists of private property:

Picture from Cliff Road, Colorado

Someone even erected a teepee to hang out in:

Picture from Cliff Road, Colorado

Here is a picture looking back towards the San Juan Mountains from near the end of the road where a beautiful green meadow is used to graze horses:

Picture from Cliff Road, Colorado

Besides horses, deer and elk can often be seen grazing in this meadow as well:

Picture from Cliff Road, Colorado

Next the Cinnamon Pass Road passes by the beautiful Lake San Cristobal:

Picture from Cliff Road, Colorado

Lake San Cristobal is the second largest natural lake in Colorado behind only Grand Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park.  This lake was formed 850 years ago by the Slumgullian Mudflow which continues to slowly creep down the side of the nearby mountains to this day after heavy rains:

Picture from Cliff Road, Colorado

The final thing of interest that can be seen on Cinnamon Pass Road before heading back to Lake City is this remarkably well preserved mining structure:

Picture from Cliff Road, Colorado

Conclusion

Even for people visiting Lake City with no intentions of hiking any of the mountains along Cliff Road, I still highly recommend taking a drive up this road just to see the beautiful American Basin below the 14,048 foot Handies Peak or taking the extreme 4-wheel drive road over the mountains to Ouray.  The scenery is some of the best that can be seen in Colorado.

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