As a longtime Denver resident, I’m somewhat abashed to admit that I had never explored Silverthorne, a small town off Exit 205 of I-70, at 8,730 feet above sea level and the epicenter of Colorado’s Summit County.
The county is home to five major ski areas and vast Lake Dillon. I have been in or through Summit County countless times, but like many others, just thought of Silverthorne as a place to buy gas, grab a McFlurry, or maybe shop at the outlet stores.
A few weeks ago, I learned to my surprise that Silverthorne is a destination in itself. That’s why, in just 25 years or so, over 2,000 folks have moved to the town, which so nicely hides its residential areas from the highway. Today, about 4,000 call it home.
The result is that many folks speeding by on their way to Arapahoe Basin, Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, Keystone, Loveland and beyond have no idea that Silverthorne is much more than a pit stop. Indeed, this year is the 50th anniversary of the town’s incorporation, originally as a camp to house workers building the Dillon Dam. It’s now a four-season go-to destination.
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We drove up to Silverthorne from Denver on a sunny Sunday July morning in just over 1 1/2 hours. About 70 miles from downtown, traffic to the mountains from the metro area can be daunting, so we wisely avoided Friday afternoon and Saturday morning and returned on Monday rather than Sunday. As always, the welcoming panorama of Summit County after the grim darkness of the long Eisenhower Tunnel was a pleasant harbinger of our fun-filled weekend. We came up to attend the opening musical (“Sister Act”) of the new 16,000-square-feet Silverthorne Performing Arts Center, home of the Lake Dillon Theatre Company, previously housed in the adjacent town of Dillon. The Center is open year-round, and presents two plays during the same period — ideal for tourists with limited time.
As it turned out, the outstanding play was just one of several treats in store for us, and many are available all year. The long-established Outlets at Silverthorne are said to give up to 70 percent off retail, and are perfect for those stuck on certain brands, like Tommy Hilfiger, Columbia, Ann Taylor, etc. A free shuttle takes shoppers to the three shopping “villages,” but we simply strolled from one to the other.
On this summery weekend, we hiked 3.3 miles to the delightful Lily Pad Lake, within the White River National Forest. The trailhead for this moderate, wildflower-bedecked hike is just 10 minutes from town center, and is accessible via the free Summit Stage shuttle bus. There are many gorgeous hikes in the region, including several fourteeners, but Lily Pad Lake offers the reward of two lakes at its finale, one of which is filled with thousands of lily pads adorned with yellow blooms.
Despite having driven by five-acre North Pond countless times, we’d never noticed the pretty site since it is happily hidden from highway view. On this visit, we enjoyed standup paddleboarding — much more manageable than on the huge Lake Dillon, to our minds. Various shops rent equipment and can deliver it to the pond, such as KODI Rafting (970-668-1548.)
Those aspen trees turn bright golden in early to mid-September, and leaf peepers flock to the mountains to ooh and aah, as we do every year. Try hard to not do this on a weekend — it can be a nightmare, while on a weekday, it will be a delight. The bright yellow against the brilliant blue Colorado sky is truly awesome — whether by hiking, biking or simply gazing from the car. A lazy, relaxing way to do this would be to take the Summit Stage, the county’s free public bus service throughout Summit County, providing service to ski areas, lodging, town centers, retail areas, medical centers, and some residential areas, including the towns of Breckenridge, Dillon, Frisco, Silverthorne and Blue River; and Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, Breckenridge Ski Resort, Copper Mountain and Keystone Resort.
Naturally, skiing and snowboarding are the big draws here in Silverthorne — which many use as their hub to visit all five grande dame ski resorts in the area. Passes for Vail Resorts (Arapahoe Basin, Breckenridge, Keystone) are at snow.com, while Loveland and Copper Mountain have separate passes. Deals can sometimes be found at City Market/King Sooper supermarkets as well. For a change, families enjoy ice skating on North Pond, which offers an enclosed pavilion that serves as a warming hut in cold weather.
Arapahoe Basin is consistently open longer than the great majority of ski resorts in the nation, often until June. Most resorts close mid-April, depending on weather and snow conditions. Springtime can be very muddy for hiking, so this is a good time of year to visit the outlets, the Rec Center and to just chill.
If you go
Silverthorne is about 70 miles west of Denver via I-70. There are various shuttle services from Denver International Airport for those who do not choose to drive.
Summit Express: 970-986-4398, www.summitexpress.com/exit205
Where to stay
Hampton Inn & Suites: 970-513-4020, located off I-70, with easy access to skiing via the free shuttle offered by Summit County, located steps away. The Blue River is adjacent to the property for fly fishing, rafting and hiking, and the Outlet Stores and many restaurants are within easy walking distance as well. The hotel has a heated indoor pool, hot tub, gym and complimentary breakfast.
Where to eat
The Mint 970-468-5247 (kids and adults alike enjoy grilling their meats on a giant hibachi)
Bakers’ Brewery 970-468-0170 (microbrew pub with eclectic offerings and fun, family-friendly vibe)
Sauce on the Blue 970-468-7488 (new chic Italian-inspired bistro on the river, very popular)
Silverthorne Recreation Center 970-262-7370 Open to tourists and residents alike, the center offers a large aquatics area with various slides and a bubble attraction, hot tub, gymnasium, indoor track, full fitness area, and a range of classes, along with onsite child care and free WiFi.
Outlets of Silverthorne 970-468-5780
More information: www.silverthorne.org