Conquering the drained Lake Emma in San Juan County by car

Lake Emma is a drained lake at an elevation of 3,809m (12,496ft) above sea level, located in San Juan County, in the US state of Colorado. Mining was being conducted under the lake when, in June 1978, the roof of the stope collapsed, flooding the mine and draining the lake. It’s one of the highest roads of Colorado.

Lake Emma

Where is Lake Emma in Colorado?

The lake is located in the southwestern part of Colorado, high in the San Juan Mountains, nestled amongst the highest mountains in South Park.

When did Lake Emma disappear?

In the winter of 1977 the water from the lake began to leak into the Sunnyside mine that was still being worked. Then, on a Sunday in June 1978, the roof of the stope collapsed, flooding the mine and draining completely the lake. Lake Emma was gone and the mine was destroyed. Fortunately, because this incident occurred on a Sunday, the mine was closed, and no one was working inside. If it had happened on any other day, as many as 125 men could have lost their lives in the violent rush of mud and water, estimated to be around 500 million gallons, into the mine.

How to get by car to Lake Emma in Colorado?

The road to the missing lake is called County Road 25 (Sunnyside Mine Road). The road is entirely unpaved. It's an old mine road and can be navigated with a passenger car, but it can be very rugged and rutted after a hard winter. Accessibility is largely limited to the summer season.

How long is the road to Lake Emma in Colorado?

Starting from the ghost town of Eureka, on County Road 2, the ascent is 5.79km (3.6 miles) long. Over this distance, the elevation gain is 764 meters. The average gradient is 13.19%.
Pic: Bob Zook