I would say, and I think history will back me up on this, Stony Pass gets it’s name because the summit is so rocky.
This is one of my personal favorites. Not because it is so challenging. Not because it is so beautiful. Not because it is so long. It’s just a lot of everything. It’s not difficult but it can sneak up on you, especially if it is wet.
This pass was reportedly discovered by Charles Baker in 1860, well before the Brunot Treaty officially opened up the territory in 1873. Actually the Ute had been using this route long before Mr. Baker happened onto it. Spanish artifacts have also been discovered in the area.
Actually, the pass has had several names. Hamilton Pass, named after Major E.M Hamilton built a wagon road along the route in 1872. It has also been known as Rio Grande Pass. because it traveled up the very headwaters of the Rio Grande, crossed over the Continental Divide and dropped down into Cunningham Gulch about two miles from Howardsville and six miles from Silverton.
In 1874, the San Juan Division of the Hayden Survey crossed Stony Pass. The 1977 Hayden Atlas of Colorado shows Stony Pass as a wagon road when, in reality at that time the upper reaches of the route was barely a burro trail.
In 1879 a wagon road was constructed slightly north of the original gateway which led to the road being heavily used by stagecoaches as a major supply line for the four thousand mines that were operating in the area.
Stony was the gateway into Silverton until the Denver & Rio Grande narrow guage locomotives began chugging up the Animas River from Durango. In 1882, the railroad reached Silverton and the pass was used less often. The route did remain open and in the early 1900’s it was classified as a State Highway.
Eventually, the route was completely abandoned until the Forest Service opened it back up as a 4WD recreational route in the 1950s.
Today, Stony Pass has one of the longest sustained climbs of any Colorado pass road.
Historic Sites: Highland Mary Town Site, Buffalo Boy Tramhouse and Tramway, Beartown Town Site
Campgrounds: USFS Thirtymile Campsite, USFS River Hill Campground
Trailheads: Pole Creek Trailhead
Connecting Routes: Animas Forks Road