When you think of the days of the “old west” in America, you probably imagine the deserts of the southwest. What you may not know is the wild towns of the nineteenth-century formed wherever there was a fortune to be made, which includes the rich expanse of Colorado. This state was once a thriving network of mining towns and farming communities, and that history has left a stamp on the modern landscape of the centennial state. There are a wealth of ghost towns in Colorado that you can visit to experience the days of pioneers and cowboys.
Today we will look at eight of the most popular ghost towns in Colorado that you should consider visiting the next time you're in the Rocky Mountain state.
What Is A Ghost Town?
Technically, a “ghost town” is an abandoned town, village, or city with no current inhabitants or sustained population but which still has visible and substantial remains. That describes what most people think of when imagining a classical ghost town, but that's not necessarily all there is to a “good” ghost town. The American landscape is dotted with the remains of the old days, so finding an old burg of rotting buildings isn't enough to warrant a visit.
There are, however, many places you can see that hold historical value to our shared culture. These are places where the remnants of a once thriving community tell a story of surviving the harsh preindustrial landscape of the American wilderness. There are dozens of historically recognized ghost towns in Colorado that offer a unique experience to travelers. This article will look at our picks for the top ghost towns in Colorado you should visit the next time you're in the state.
Eight Ghost Towns In Colorado Worth Exploring
Choosing just one historical spot to visit would be impossible because each of the ghost towns in Colorado tells an important story of the state's past. We have taken this long list down to our eight favorite ghost towns you should explore when you're in Colorado.
If you're looking for a hike in the wilderness with some great historical landmarks, then Teller City is the place to see. This former mining settlement is deep in the Roosevelt National Forest, which is a sight to behold on its own. Wrapped by several hiking trails, the ghost town of Teller City has been mostly reclaimed by the surrounding forest. Even though there are only a handful of surviving structures, you can walk amongst the foundations of this once booming mining town. At the height of the silver rush in the Grand Lake region, this settlement housed almost 1500 people.
Teller City came and went in a flash, with the peak population only living there for about six years until the silver boom crashed. By the first decade of the 1900s, the entire town had been abandoned, allowing nature to take back the land occupied by hundreds of cabins, mining facilities, and local businesses. Teller City can be found by way of the town of Gould, which is the gateway to that side of the Roosevelt National Forest.
While most of the ghost towns in Colorado were “flash-in-the-pan” mining settlements, the city of Crystal had a long history before its demise. Buried deep in the woods, the city of Crystal was home to zinc, lead, and silver mines. Because of the remote location and lack of road access, it took several decades for Crystal to reach the peak population. After nearly twenty years on the map, the town hit its stride, with hotels, many saloons, a post office, and The Silver Lance, a well-respected local newspaper.
But, the Colorado winters proved too much for this town, making the remote location impossible to reach with even the lightest dusting of snow. The difficult trek to get there, combined with the collapse of the local silver industry, caused most residents to abandon the settlement in the last decade of the nineteenth century. The roads have improved little over the last hundred years, so to get there you will need a good off-road vehicle and some gumption. The paths into Crystal can be found just outside of the cities of Crested Butte and Marble.
South Park City
Not to be confused with another South Park, Colorado, this once thriving collection of mining settlements is a sight to behold. If you're looking for an authentic look back into the days of the Colorado gold rush, then this is where you want to be. South Park City was founded as a series of small mining camps in the late 1850s, eventually connecting these separate settlements together to form a large city.
This is the perfect example of a boomtown. Great attention to detail was used in restoring the buildings and artifacts to show what life was like in the time of the gold rush of 1859. South Park City is just outside the city of Fairplay which houses the historical museum of the same name.
The ghost town of Independence is a nationally recognized archeological site, and many of the original buildings have been carefully dug out from the landscape to tell the story of life in the 1880s. The Farwell Mining Company seized their chance to acquire much of the land in the area at the beginning of the gold boom, gobbling up most of the small mining operations in the area and uniting them into one large settlement.
This town housed 500 folks at its height, which was short-lived, and collapsed at the onset of the gold bust. You can still see many of the original buildings and roads of Independence today by following highway 82 just outside of Aspen.
Once known as Nevada City, this is one of the more accessible ghost towns in Colorado as it's right down the road from the bustling Central City. At its peak, Nevadaville had nearly 4000 residents, with everything a thriving city could need. The original streets and most of the original buildings are still there today. Like so many other mining settlements, the city of Nevadaville collapsed at the end of the silver and gold rushes of the late 1900s. You can see this ghost town through Central City: just follow Nevadaville Road for a couple of miles and you can't miss it.
Originally founded as Virginia City, this mining town changed their name to separate themselves from the many other settlements with the Virginia moniker. There's a lot of interesting history in the town, most of it bloody and violent. The deaths of lawmen and politicians did little to scare away the miners looking for their share of the riches buried in the hills. There were almost 1500 citizens of Tincup at its peak, with a fully stocked downtown area that still stands today. This is a small ghost town with a big history, and it's definitely worth a visit if you're in the area.
This is one of the best-preserved ghost towns in Colorado and a must-see site for people looking for an authentic look at the 1880s. Originally founded as Forest City, this mining town changed its name to St. Elmo to distinguish itself from the many other Forest Cities of the day. Nestled in the woods of the Swatch Range, this rural town was home to 2,000 workers at the height of popularity.
Built during the gold rush, like most future ghost towns of the day, St. Elmo enjoyed a life extended beyond the ore bust of the 1890s. It survived longer than most by entertaining the mass of people constructing the nearby Alpine Tunnel. Even though there was a prominent rail line nearby that connected St. Elmo to Denver, it still fell silent in the early 1920s.
You can find your way to this historic ghost town through the modern city of Buena Vista, which is about twenty miles from St. Elmo proper.
The remnants of Dearfield tell the story of one of the most fascinating places in Colorado history. Dearfield was founded by Oliver T. Jackson, an entrepreneur from Boulder, and was to be a community for African Americans. The early days of the town were difficult for settlers, as most were farmers looking to grow crops on their land, but the first winters were especially frigid. A series of harsh seasons weren't enough to dissuade people from settling there, and by the 20s there were nearly 700 residents that called Dearfield home.
Unfortunately, the Great Depression claimed this agricultural town, like so many others in this part of the country, and forced a majority of the popular to move elsewhere. This is one of the more recently abandoned ghost towns in Colorado, surviving well into the twentieth century before it was finally empty. Dearfield is located in Weld County southeast of the city of Greeley.
Why Does Colorado Have So Many Ghost Towns?
It's much easier to live in the modern state of Colorado than it was a few centuries ago. Before the industrial revolution in America, Colorado was one of the wild frontiers waiting to be settled and gentrified. This harsh landscape welcomed only the toughest of frontiersmen, cowboys, and miners, all of whom came to find their piece of the American pie. The Rockies offered ample opportunity to mine for riches, and the lush landscape gave the bravest families a place to settle their homestead. But, like many of the settlements in the west, time marched on and left many of these communities to fend for themselves.
Each of the towns we talked about above came in and out of existence for different reasons, be it economic collapse, resource depletion, or mass relocation to more populated areas like Denver or Colorado Springs. The reasoning behind each abandoned town tells a different story about the history of the state.
Colorado Ghost Towns: Plan Your Visit
The ghost towns we highlighted above are each wonderful destinations with something unique to offer visitors. Before you add a ghost town to your itinerary, make sure the location is accessible for the time of year you're planning to visit. Colorado is a snow-packed wonderland for several months out of the year, and some ghost towns on this list might be closed to the public because of winter conditions.
Most of the ghost towns on this list are near major hotels or other recreational spots, so it's possible to plan an entire vacation around one of these historical sites. If you're looking for a great place to learn, play, and enjoy a piece of classic Americana, then be sure to check out one of these ghost towns in Colorado.