When you plan a visit to Colorado, you’re probably expecting to visit the Rocky Mountains, see the unique landscape of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, or explore the mile-high city of Denver. But have you considered exploring the numerous ghost towns in Colorado?
Although devoid of life now, these settlements were once bustling communities of silver miners hoping to strike it rich. Let’s learn more about seven of the best ghost towns in the Rocky Mountain State and why you should make plans to visit!
What Is a Ghost Town?
Out west, there are dozens and dozens of ghost towns. Although most are dilapidated, these abandoned villages or cities usually have remaining buildings and roads.
A city often becomes a ghost town because the economic reason for its settlement – like mining for gold or silver out west – ended. Sometimes, fires, droughts, war, or other natural or human-caused disasters initiate the decline. There could still be residents in a ghost town, although the population is far from what it once was.
Where Did Colorado’s Ghost Towns Come From?
Many ghost towns in Colorado were initially settled during the 1800s as hopeful Americans joined the Gold Rush. When the mines closed and silver lost value in the late 1800s, most of these once-thriving towns became nothing more than abandoned buildings and memories. Mill towns no longer serviced the mining towns, leading to their demise.
Some cities were initially railroad centers. These rail stops were profitable and prosperous until rerouting. Like Radiator Springs in Pixar’s “Cars,” these towns became distant memories as the people moved away to find work.
What Is the Biggest Ghost Town in Colorado?
The town of Ashcroft is the largest town to become a ghost town in Colorado. Originally named Castle Forks City, then Chloride, Ashcroft adopted its current name in 1882.
By 1885, anywhere from 2,000-3,000 people lived in Ashcroft. The town also had six hotels and 20 saloons.
Pro Tip: If you’re traveling through Colorado to explore a ghost town, beware of these Scariest Roads in Colorado.
7 Best Ghost Towns in Colorado You Must See
If you want to go ghost town hopping through Colorado, you’re in luck. Although these are the seven best ghost towns, dozens exist throughout the state. As you visit, make sure to remember that safety is essential.
Don’t go inside buildings that look unsafe. Obey any no trespassing signs. Keep an eye on children who may wander into danger.
These ghost towns in Colorado are full of history and tales of the Wild West, but they can also be dangerous.
About: At an elevation of nearly 12,000 feet, Carson is near the Continental Divide in Hinsdale County. Because of its high height, Carson was unpopular with miners and the harsh winters experienced there.
Gold and silver mines were here until the people had had enough and headed down the mountain for a more suitable climate. Today you’ll still find some remaining buildings you can explore.
How to Get There: Carson is remote. It was in the 1800s, and it still is today. You’ll need a 4×4 to visit the Colorado ghost town.
From Lake City, take Highway 149 to County Road 30. You’ll drive past Lake San Cristobal. Then take the Wager Gulch trail to Carson.
About: In the late 1880s, Teller City was a booming silver mining town. Hundreds of log cabins and 27 saloons littered the area. But it was short-lived.
By 1902, it had become another ghost town in Colorado after the devaluation of silver. Today you can explore a few remaining houses. Expect to walk quite a bit as the ghost town spreads throughout the forest. A three-quarter-mile loop trail guides visitors through the cabin remains and artifacts.
How to Get There: Teller City sits about 9,000 feet above sea level in Jackson County. You can take Highway 125 near Rand or Highway 14 near Gould. Just follow the signs to Teller City.
You’ll want to visit in a 4×4 high clearance vehicle because the last three miles of dirt roads are rocky and uneven and climb over a narrow mountain pass.
About: In the heart of the Sawatch Range in central Colorado, St. Elmo sits at an elevation of about 10,000 feet. In this mining town, approximately 2,000 people once lived in search of gold and silver.
The mining industry declined, and the railroad stopped serving the city by 1922. St. Elmo is still inhabited today.
When you visit, you’ll notice how well preserved the ghost town compares to others on this list. The general store is open during the summer, and over 40 buildings like a saloon and various homes are still standing. You can stay at the Ghost Town Guest House bed and breakfast.
How to Get There: St. Elmo is easily accessible. You don’t need a 4×4 unless you want to do some off-roading to explore more remote areas of the ghost town.
Take Highway 24 South from Buena Vista. After you pass Nathrop, take County Road 162 for 19 miles to St. Elmo.
About: Now owned by the Bureau of Land Management, Animas Forks is on the 65-mile Alpine Loop in Colorado. It sits at 11,200 feet in the San Juan Mountains.
Once a thriving mining town, Animas Forks had 30 cabins, a hotel, a general store, a saloon, and a post office. Like the other Colorado mining towns, this one ceased to exist by the 1920s.
When you arrive, pick up the interpretive brochures and maps of the ghost town provided by the BLM and San Juan County. Entry to all buildings is unrestricted.
How to Get There: The Alpine Loop is a system of unpaved roads. In the summer, a 2×2 vehicle should get you to this Colorado ghost town safely, but at any other time of the year, you’ll need a 4×4.
From Ouray, follow US 550 South to County Road 18. Take a left and continue as the road becomes County Road 17 and County Road 2. Another two miles, and you’ll find the parking area for Animas Forks.
About: Located just off State Highway 82 in the eastern corner of Pitkin County, Independence is another well-preserved ghost town in Colorado. It’s also another location high in elevation at 11,000 feet.
Like Carson, Independence was unpopular because of its harsh winters. In 1899, a blizzard wiped out much of the remaining settlement.
Today, it’s only accessible from spring through fall. Several buildings remain: a general store, stable, houses, and Farwell Stamp Mill. The Independence mines produced $190,000 worth of gold during its brief success.
How to Get There: The 32-mile Independence Pass runs through Independence. The ghost town is 16 miles southeast of Aspen on Highway 82. However, Independence Pass is only open seasonally. The entire drive takes about an hour and offers stunning scenery.
About: Close to Independence, Ashcroft is another ghost town in Pitkin County. In its heyday, the city had two newspapers, a school, sawmills, six hotels, a smelter, and 20 saloons.
Silver deposits were shallow, however, and mines couldn’t replicate the initial 14,000 ounces of silver to the ton. In 1884, another rich strike was discovered in nearby Aspen, luring most of the Ashcroft residents away.
Over the years, the Army used Ashcroft for mountaineering training and became home to dog sledder Stuart Mace. Today the Aspen Historical Society gives tours of the Colorado ghost town’s remaining buildings, including the saloon, post office, and hotel.
How to Get There: In Aspen, take CO-82 West. At the traffic circle, take the third exit onto Castle Creek Road. Follow this road for eleven miles to the historical site of Ashcroft.
About: George Lee, the founder of Capitol City, named it, hoping it would become the capital of Colorado. Although that never happened, Capitol City did experience brief success as a silver mining town in Hinsdale County.
Lee also built himself a gorgeous mansion with a theater that included an orchestra pit, a ballroom, and a few guest bedrooms. Today, the post office and “Lee’s Smelter Stack” are all that remain.
How to Get There: Like Animas Forks, Capitol City is on the Alpine Loop. But you can access this ghost town from Lake City with just a 2wd vehicle.
Take County Road 20/Henson Creek/Engineer Pass Road west out of Lake City. The townsite is just nine miles down the road.
Can You Take Things from Ghost Towns?
Colorado’s ghost towns are on the National Register of Historic Places. Legally, you can only take pictures when you visit ghost towns.
Even if they aren’t historic properties, you should treat them like you would a National Park site. Follow the Leave No Trace principle and make sure to clean up any trash and leave everything in its place for future visitors to enjoy.
Pro Tip: Spend the night at one of these 7 Best Campsites for Boondocking in Colorado.
Which Ghost Towns in Colorado Will You Visit?
Colorado is well-known for its ghost towns. Silver mining, although short-lived, was a massive draw in the 1800s and brought Americans to Colorado who probably would otherwise have avoided this mountainous state. Some ghost towns’ remote locations make them even more desirable for visitors.
Imagine how life was like 150 years ago for these miners and their families with blizzards and harsh winters. No wonder some of these settlements didn’t make it longer than a few years. But today, it’s a unique experience to walk on the dirt roads once bustling with people hoping to strike it rich.
Which ghost town in Colorado will you visit first? Tell us your thoughts in the comments!
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