10 ghost towns you need to see when driving Colorado

Lifestyle

One century’s gold is another one’s ghosts.

Gold rush fever marked many of Colorado’s mountain towns in the late 19th century, but eventually faded to dust – and took the residents with it. Today, visitors can take a fascinating time-traveling tour through Colorado’s past, sometimes with a dash of spookiness, in these abandoned mining towns.

Even some of Colorado’s most popular tourist towns, like Breckenridge, Idaho Springs and Leadville, are former hot spots of mining action, except they managed to stay alive (or even thrive) after the crash.

Other ghost towns are completely abandoned, peppered by rickety, falling structures marking saloons, houses and shops. And some remain slightly inhabited, not fully dead, yet not exactly lively either, where residents coexist with the ghosts of yesterday.

Colorado has more ghost towns than you could ever see, so choose carefully and see the best. Here are our favorite 10 ghost towns in Colorado, roughly zig-zagging from north to south.

Pro tip: This road trip is best in the warmer months, as many of these remote towns get completely snowbound at the first snowfall. 

1. Dearfield

One of the few remaining structures in DearfieldOne of the few remaining structures in Dearfield — Photo courtesy of Mick Melvin / flickr

Dearfield is our recommended starting point for this ghost town tour. Located around 25 miles east of Greeley, it was an all-black settlement in the Wild West – at one time home to over 700 African-American settlers.

Today, visitors can still see an old diner, a home and a gas station. The little that remains has been restored over the years, but finances to maintain it can’t keep up with the demand.  It remains an endangered place.

2. Teller City

Teller City, near Rand and south of Walden, is also in Northern Colorado, about three and a half hours west of Dearfield. Teller City wasn’t big for gold; its claim to fame was silver.

Visitors can take a looping trail through various wooden remains of what used to be a bustling town with hundreds of homes and nearly 30 saloons. The loop through this forgotten town is made even more interesting by the nature that surrounds it.

Teller City has no residents today, although visitors can pop up a tent in the nearby national forest to stay the night.

3. South Park City

South Park City, not to be confused with South ParkSouth Park City, not to be confused with South Park — Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Beall / flickr

A not-quite-three-hour drive south will take you to South Park City in Fairplay. Don’t confuse this restored ghost town-slash-museum with the other South Park in Colorado (the one with a TV show).

The museum provides an educational look at the region’s history and lets you get up close to ancient memorabilia – a slight change of pace from other more rugged and unstructured ghost town experiences.

4. St. Elmo

The well-preserved St. ElmoThe well-preserved St. Elmo — Photo courtesy of iStock / BackyardProduction

Just an hour and a half from Fairplay, you’ll arrive at one of the state’s most popular and best-preserved ghost towns: St. Elmo.

If you had to pick only one ghost town for your trip, this would be the one. St. Elmo is distinguishable by its vacant and dusty Main Street lined with desolate wooden buildings, a store and saloon. As you walk down the street, it feels like you could be living in the Wild West, almost. Or at least on a well-designed movie set.

As befitting a ghost town, this location is said to be haunted.

5. Tin Cup

Tin Cup, near Pitkin, is less than an hour from St. Elmo and is often paired with trips there. But this ghost town is a bit wilder in history. It’s fun to rent a four-wheeler to get to Tin Cup, a town with a raucous history and many still-standing buildings.

As the stories go, Tin Cup was run by the rebels in town, who drove sheriffs away (or killed them). A visit to Tin Cup’s cemetery is a must-do; look for sheriff tombstones as proof that the legends are true.

6. Independence

Independence offers panoramic views — Photo courtesy of iStock / haveseen

Aspen is just over two hours from the St. Elmo area, and it’s also home to the Aspen Historical Society, which leads tours of the Independence ghost town. Visitors can also book Jeep tours of the area, if so inclined.

Independence, way high up on the 11,000-foot Independence Pass, is a quirky ghost town with a short-lived mining history and stunning views. Miners used to have to access Independence via skis or a stagecoach. You’ll see why when you see the roads.

7. Vicksburg

About an hour and 40 minutes east of Aspen is Vicksburg, a town along Clear Creek. Today, visitors will find cabins still standing, as well as a small museum that makes this destination stand out. See various artifacts on display and dig a little deeper into the vanished lifestyle that used to define the area.  

Some buildings have been nicely restored, but some private buildings aren’t open to the public. Respect the location and check before you enter.

8. Animas Forks

Duncan House in Animas ForksDuncan House in Animas Forks — Photo courtesy of iStock / Name_Thats_Not_Taken

Now it’s time to see Colorado’s southern ghost towns. Head way south, about four-five hours south of Aspen, to find Animas Forks, another one of Colorado’s best-known ghost towns.

It’s the two-story Duncan House that has earned Animas Forks its fame, even today. It’s rare to see such an impressive building, with dramatic window openings, in a deserted community. The town has a good number of other standing buildings, too.

Pro tip: If your vehicle doesn’t have four-wheel drive, rent a four-wheeler before coming here. The roads can be rough.

9. Silverton

Main Street in SilvertonMain Street in Silverton — Photo courtesy of E+ / Missing35mm

Just about an hour south of Animas Forks is Silverton, another old town with a reputation. Like Animas Forks, Silverton is located at a high elevation, north of Durango. In fact, the best travel bet here (and a highlight of your ghost town trip) is to take the scenic narrow-gauge train ride that takes you from Durango to Silverton.

Back in the day, Silverton was mainly a supply center for other mining camps. Today, visitors can see a charming, colorful and interesting Main Street lined with old wooden buildings that almost looks like it could still be a lively community.

10. Old Carson

Old Carson is a wild card ghost town because of its ultra-remote location. At nearly 12,000 feet in elevation near the Continental Divide, it’s one of the highest ghost towns in Colorado. Naturally, that means the views here are also the best.

It’s not easy to find Old Carson, but because of that, the buildings are relatively untouched. Find roofless cabins amid perfect mountain wilderness. It’s no mystery why people don’t live here today – the winters are harsh. But it’s also no wonder some adventurous tourists are willing to make the trek to see its splendor.

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