Visit These Colorado Ghost Towns to Experience History

Colorado’s mining history is rich and storied; its traces apparent from Denver to Durango, and everywhere in between. Several former mining outposts, like Idaho Springs, Fairplay, and Silverton, survived the fluctuations of the boom-or-bust industry and are now some of Colorado’s most desirable destinations. Other towns slowly died out as residents moved westward or into larger cities, but the once-bustling saloons, hotels, and general stores whisper stories of a time gone by. For those desiring to experience Colorado’s history up close and personal, plan a trip to these ghost towns around our state.

St. Elmo

This well-preserved ghost town lies just west of Buena Vista and sits only 1,000 feet below the tree line. A former gold mining town, St. Elmo was once home to 2,000 people, comprised of miners, families, and business owners. The South Park and Pacific Railroad built a station in town, which spurred even more development. In its prime, St. Elmo’s five hotels were filled with travelers and businessmen, its schoolhouse packed with children, and each night, the multiple saloons and dance halls would fill up with rowdy goldminers.

In 1890, a fire broke out and destroyed much of the business sector, subsequently causing the town to die. Legend has it that the city’s populous packed their bags and rode the train out of town, never to return. Four-wheel drive vehicles or ATVs are needed to reach this ghost town. Upon arrival, history buffs and hikers may explore this well-preserved area by foot.

Dearfield

Contrary to popular belief, not all of Colorado’s ghost towns are nestled high in the mountains. East of Greeley lies the town of Dearfield, the only all-black settlement in the state. Over 700 African Americans planted their roots in Dearfield during the early 1900’s but, unfortunately, the town didn’t last through the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression.

This town is unique amongst Colorado’s ghost towns because it lies in the high plains and wasn’t developed around gold and silver mines. Explorers will find no former mining camps, saloons, or brothels, but instead a gas station, a diner, and the founder’s former home. Current efforts from the BlackAmerican West Museum and History Colorado Center are underway to preserve these remaining buildings. From Greeley, take CO 34 east for 25 miles and keep your eyes peeled for this scenic abandoned outpost.

Independence

Situated in Pitkin County, Independence is accessible from spring through autumn. This ghost town is less isolated and more trafficked than others as it’s only 16 miles from Aspen’s elegant downtown. Visitors may tour exhibits, walk the dirt roads around town, and learn more about Independence’s history from the docent onsite during summer from June 22 to August 26. At its height, Independence had over 40 businesses, three post offices, and 1,500 residents. Stables, a general store, log homes, and Farwell Stamp Mill still stand, and visitors may explore each via the connecting dirt roads.

Animas Forks

Far and away, one of the most photographed ghost towns in Colorado is this former beauty, about 10 miles north of Silverton. Animas Forks’ buildings speckle the hillside and the picturesque mountain relief provides a breathtaking backdrop. The town thrived through 1875 but was plagued by avalanches and eventually drove all remaining occupants out of town. Animas Forks is accessible by four-wheel drive or ATV, which can be rented in Silverton through the end of October. Keep your eyes peeled for burlap bags poking out of the rugged hillsides. Legend has it that miners would steal gold and silver from the very mines they worked and had to stash it secretly as the offense was punishable by death.

Colorado’s history is vast and varied. Telltale signs of the state’s railroad days, western expansion, and subsequent shift from mining to industry dot the plains and mountains. Habitat Apartments in Boulder is conveniently located in close proximity to I-25 and US-36, both of which can take residents into the snow-capped Rockies or east to the rolling prairies. Our tranquil apartments allow residents to take full advantage of all our wonderful state has to offer. Contact us today to schedule a showing. 

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