On the road to Silver City, Idaho
Trip Stats :
The Idaho Hotel and Bar, Silver City, Idaho
Violence, shootings, claim disputes, The Owyhee “war” of 1868, and the extraction of millions of dollars of gold and silver ore are a few of the subjects for the storied past of Silver City, a preserved ghost town tucked high in the Owyhee Mountains in southwestern Idaho. In 1863, gold was discovered in Jordan Creek, a pleasant stream that cuts the valley in which this town lies by a party of gold prospectors from Boise Basin. Legend has it that gold nuggets were found earlier in nearby Sinker Creek, named so by emigrants on their way to Oregon who used these for sinkers on their fishing lines. Rich veins were discovered after prospectors traced placer gravels near Sinker Creek to their source near War Eagle Mountain, southeast of the town. Two periods of lucrative and frenzied mining activity took place in Silver City between 1863–1914, resulting in mines such as the Poorman, Golden Chariot, Mahogany, and Afterthought.
At its peak, Silver City had about 75 businesses, 300 homes and a population of 2,500. Currently, there are about 75 remaining structures, many of them restored. The Idaho Hotel, moved from Ruby City to its present location in 1866 is open during the summer months, so you can rent a room and have some great meals; however, watch out – rumor has it that the hotel is inhabited by ghosts. The kitchen at the Idaho Hotel serves delicious homemade pies in the summer months.
Fred and I like to snowshoe into Silver City in the winter, along with a few other hardy souls that venture in on their snow machines or skis. It takes more effort than in summer months, but the rewards are worth it, like the scenery of snow-covered Florida Mountain and War Eagle Mountain. We get the whole town to ourselves to explore. Because of Idaho's "Snowmageddon" this year, we haven’t been able to get close to the town because of the record snowfall this winter. We attempted to snowshoe in at the beginning of February, but asphalt road that leads to higher elevation wasn’t plowed, so we had to park our truck only one mile up Silver City Road from the intersection of Hwy 78 southeast of Murphy, leaving us 22 miles from the town. In past years, we are able to park our truck within 4 or 5 miles of the town and then snowshoe in. The only drawback to Silver City in the winter is that Hotel Idaho is closed, so there is no pie.
Silver City Schoolhouse (in summer)
Last March, we walked 4 miles into the town on firm snow, so walking did not necessitate wearing snowshoes, although we carried them just in case. We ran into a snow-cat group who were playing in the snow because they couldn’t get their machine over the steep and deep New York Summit, the pass into Silver City.
Silver City Citizens Cemetery
There has always been a “watchman” on duty during the winter, or as in the case when we walked in four years ago, a “watch husband and wife” that were so happy to see us they gave us warm blueberry muffins. The streets are usually packed snow from snow machines, so walking around the town is usually easy.
Last year, the watchman stood in front of his residence at the entrance to town, ready to check us out. You can’t miss the large sign on the road across from his place. It reads, “Welcome to Silver City, Idaho. Security on duty. Winter visitors must check in with Watchman”. A camera near the town entrance detects movement. You can learn a lot in just a few minutes of chatting with someone who winters mostly by himself for months with the ghosts and old buildings of Silver City.
This hike is a great opportunity to take a day off from the city, and be in a quiet place where you can experience an important chapter in Idaho’s history and imagine what mining life was like in Silver City in the 1800’s. Fresh air, solitude, history, exercise – what could be better?
By the way, the word "Owyhee" is an anglicization of the word Hawai'i. Three Native Hawaiian fur trappers went missing in the Owyhee Mountains in the winter of 1819 - 1820. They were presumed dead. In memory of these fur trappers from Hawai'i, this region was called "Owyhee" by British fur trappers.
The Owyhee Mountains, Southern Idaho
Conway Welch, J. (1982). Gold Town to Ghost Town: The story of Silver City, Idaho. Moscow, ID: University of Idaho Press.
Asher, R. R. (1968) Geology and Mineral Resources of a Portion of the Silver City Region, Owyhee County, Idaho. Pamphlet #138 prepared for the Idaho Bureau of Mines and Geology, Moscow, Idaho.
About this blog
– "explorumentaries" list trip stats and highlights of each hike or bike ride, often with some interesting history or geology. Years ago, I wrote these for friends and family to let them know what my husband, Fred and I were up to on weekends, and also to showcase the incredible land of the west. I hope to hear about your adventures!
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