The Stage 3 fire and access restrictions to the San Juan National Forest have been rolled back to a Stage 2 condition which means access to the forest is once more open to the public. However, fire conditions still remain high and we are currently in the middle of a strong heat wave. Consult current regulations with the San Juan NF before planning any trips. Fines for violations are significant.
These trailhead directions will assume you have a good enough vehicle to make it to an intersection where a 4WD road in Placer Gulch joins another 4WD road in California Gulch. To get there, find your way to Silverton by your preferred route. From Silverton, drive NE out of town on the main road that heads up along the Animas River. This road is known as "The Alpine Loop Road." It's identified as Colorado 110 and/or BLM 4500. For several miles, it is a well-maintained, graded, gravel road. In 4 miles, you'll come to "Howardsville." Continue NE all the way to "Animas Forks." Most passenger vehicles should be able to make it to here. At Animas Forks, head west on BLM 4505, which goes up California Gulch. The turnoff is before the road for Cinnamon Pass. When we drove this in 1996, it was in excellent shape and a vehicle with higher ground clearance could have easily made it (i.e. - Subaru's, etc.), but with all the four-wheeling activity that goes on in this area these days, the road could be in much sadder shape. Drive a mile and a half to the turnoff for Placer Gulch. Park here somewhere out of the way of all the daytime four-wheelers.
For those with high clearance, 4WD, and want to continue driving, here's more data for driving on up Placer Gulch: In general, we found the road in good shape. At about 12,000 ft. elevation, we encountered a rough patch where some road restoration was going on. At 12,200 ft., the road swings by the Gold Prince Mine and begins to climb steeply on switchbacks. It becomes rocky here. At 12,600, a short road that breaks off to the south makes a good parking spot to begin a hike up Hanson. If wanting to continue on from here, the road heads east and it's an easy drive over to a saddle and parking area that overlooks Parson Lake. UN13,075 is a very short and easy hike from here, with barely 400 feet of gain. It's also possible to continue on down this road as it crosses the ridge of Treasure Mountain and drops into Picayne Gulch. The drive back down the gulch and back to CO 110 was never difficult, but was steep in sections. All of this we drove in a Jeep Cherokee Sport.
At-large, primitive sites for camping occur in several places as you drive up CO 110 to Animas Forks. On summer weekends, most of these places will have campers. A few spots host hordes of RV's. Take your pick. It would be possible to camp at the trailhead coordinates we provide, but there are no trees or privacy. We also noted that Picayne Gulch not only has some beautiful tundra areas, but may also offer some campsites lower in the trees. Try turning off CO 110 where the Picayne Gulch heads up to the west. This is about one mile before Animas Forks. There's a branch of that road that heads off and climbs up a ridge with trees on the south side of the gulch. Eventually, that same road rejoins the main road at a switchback at 11,800 ft. You should be able to find some camping spots in here if you have the vehicle that can drive to them. This road can be very steep in spots. You'll need a good low gear. Wherever you try to camp, expect to see others.