La Plata Canyon is located west of Durango in the San Juan National Forest area of southwest Colorado. Rugged mountains and snow-melt waterfalls await visitors to this verdant, river-cut canyon.
The first 4.6 miles is paved road (CR 124) and there after the road turns to gravel and then to mixed dirt and rock. The last 2.1 miles of the 9.5 miles is rugged and 4-wheel drive with high clearance is recommended.
Along the way are eight (8) campgrounds, several waterfalls and some interesting landmarks (old chimney and a couple of old mine camps scattered about). After passing through the old mining camp of La Plata City is the summit of Kennebec Pass (11,500 ft), which offers a breathtaking view across the La Plata Mountains from Indian Trail Ridge (part of the Colorado Trail).
From the parking area at the top of the summit are several trail options for mountain biking and hiking. The most popular is an easy to moderate 1.5 mi (2.4 km) round trip trail to Taylor Lake. The photo opportunities are great along this trail especially during the flower blooming in June and July.
➠ More Info on Hiking Trails
History of the Area
Info from USFS site panels
John Moss arrived in La Plata canyon in 1872 with lofty dreams. His satin tongue allowed him to mine investors pocketbooks. Moss persuaded the Parrott
Banking Company in San Francisco to invest in his mining ventures in La Plata canyon. Moss funded mining operations in the La Plata Mountains. In 1876, he managed to convince legislatures in Denver to designate Parrott City as the county seat for newly created La Plata County.
Parrot City at the mouth of La Plata Canyon, became the county seat in 1876. The community lost that designation to Durango in 1881, when mining in the La Plata Mountains declined and the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad arrived in Durango.
John Moss left Parrott City in the mid-1880s. His departure dashed the hopes and the financial backing of many of the remaining miners. Visions of wealth and dreams of success resulted in little return for their years of hard work. The miners that remained faced difficult obstacles of isolation, low grade ore, high transportation costs, and poor working and living conditions. The harsh reality of mining in the La Plata Canyon overshadowed the will of the average miner and most eventually moved on.
In the late 1800s placer mining along Boren Creek was a common practice. Miners shoveled gold-bearing dirt onto a screen in a sluice box. Water pouring over the dirt caused the heavy gold-bearing sand to settle in the wooden riffles. This form of mining was popular because it was relatively inexpensive method to extract "free" gold from the streams.
La Plata City was originally established as a staging area for mining camps in the mid-1870s. Soon the community bustled with activity as placer mining and hard rock mining for gold began to pay-off in La Plata Canyon. From 1878 to 1883, La Plata City pulsed with activity as the ramshackled settlement began to take shape in one of the only level areas in La Plata Canyon.
During the great boom of 1884, Bessie Rivers arrived in La Plata City with six young maidens in search of a location for a "palace of pleasure." A large log cabin was hastily constructed and business commenced immediately. As the story goes, the women were terrified of bears and would not step outside the cabin. As a result, the men called the establishment "Bessie's Convent" and later just "the Convent."
Most of the family men lived in La Plata City, while unmarried men lived in boarding houses close to the mines. The bachelors often came into town for supplies or to attend dances on Saturday nights. Deep snow in winter, required the miners to use snowshoes
or homemade skies to travel to the mines or to town.