5 Must-See Ghost Towns in Colorado
America is scattered with ghost towns. These abandoned communities left eerie reminders of time standing still. In Colorado, you can find many examples of these creepy ghost towns.
Due to the discovery of precious metals, the Rocky Mountain State has seen many thriving townships fall into demise.
Today we’re sharing 5 of the must-see ghost towns in Colorado!
What is a Ghost Town?
A ghost town is a remnant of an old settlement or town, often in the West, that was founded on a local economic boom that ran its course… and is now mostly (or totally) abandoned because residents have moved on.
Some are still maintained, some are historic monuments with curated information, and some are decaying into the landscape. But, all are interesting places to visit and to learn about the history of the area. These 5 ghost towns in Colorado are like stepping back into the past.
Located 20 miles southwest of Buena Vista in the Sawatch Range, St. Elmo was founded in 1880. This ghost town sits at 9,961 feet, making this a breathtaking visit!
Known as one of the best preserved ghost towns in the West, 43 buildings remain. Buildings include a saloon, courthouse/jail, mercantile, and also private homes. Gold and silver were the main reason for forming St. Elmo. Because of the boom, in 1881 more than 2,000 people lived here.
Things to do in St. Elmo:
- Visit the St. Elmo General Store, open May to Sept.
- Stay in the cabin at St. Elmo General Store
- Explore the 43 well preserved buildings in town
- Go Jeeping or 4×4 to explore ruins including Hancock and Mary Murphey mines
- Go over Tincup Pass (high clearance and only in summer)
Nearby Camping: Cascade Campground
This national forest campground is $22 a night, and has toilets and shared water. The 21 partially wooded sites are open from June 1-Oct 15, and are reservable. There is no dump station on site and the park gets heavy usage.
Vicksburg is located between Leadville and Buena Vista, in the Clear Creek Canyon. In 1879, prospectors started an encampment that led to the Vicksburg settlement.
History says that the prospectors burros escaped – but they found them by a creek. When they found the burros, they also found a vein of gold! By 1880 there were 40 plus buildings, and at its heyday, Vicksburg had 600-700 residents. Some cabins have been continually occupied to this day.
In 1971, a historical society formed to help keep the area preserved. There are also other ghost towns in the area to make a full trip of it!
Things to do in the ghost town of Vicksburg:
- Tour the well-preserved buildings
- Learn mining history from the museum portion of the town
- Hike the Missouri Gulch Trail
- Fish the creek
- Look at antique mining equipment, old wagons, and other machinery of the time
Nearby Camping: Clear Creek Reservoir Dispersed
This State of Colorado owned Wildlife Area allows dispersed (free, dry) camping. A valid fishing or hunting license is required to enter. No amenities, seasonal restroom, pack in and pack out.
Feeling like a high altitude adventure? The Animas Forks ghost town is at 11,200 feet in the San Juan Mountains near Silverton, Colorado. Because of the rough roads, a high clearance 4×4 vehicle is strongly recommended.
In 1873, the first cabins were built where three rivers meet, and the town was originally called Three Forks. By 1876, Animas Forks had 30 cabins, a saloon, a hotel, a post office, and a general store for the 450 residents to enjoy. The town also had a newspaper! Every winter, the residents would come down the mountain to Silverton to ride out the harsh season.
In 1884, a blizzard dumped 25 feet of snow on the town. Because of this insane amount of snow, residents had to dig tunnels to get from building to building! By the 1920s, the mining had dried up and the town was mostly abandoned.
Things to do in Animas Forks:
- Learn from the interpretive brochures by the BLM and San Juan County (located in parking lot)
- Explore the fragile historic buildings
- 4×4 over Engineer Pass to Lake City
- Visit nearby Silverton or Ouray for great lunch, craft brews, coffee, and shopping
- Drive the unpaved Alpine Loop 65 miles
Nearby Camping: Eureka Campground
Eureka Campground has gorgeous high mountain views and is located in the historic town of Eureka. 42 sites, 10 have electric. There is also a rustic cabin with electricity, and tent sites. Water and out houses are available. Only open from June to the end of September.
This ghost town is in the woods around Walden, Colorado. Many of the existing structures are spread out, so plan on spending some time exploring on foot.
Sitting at 8,200 feet, this town was formed in 1879 when silver was discovered in the area. Because of the discovery of silver, within a few years this was the largest town in the area with over 1500 people. The Yates House Hotel had 40 rooms and was the largest building in town.
Some reports say that 27 saloons and hundreds of log cabins made up Teller City. But, by 1887, only 300 residents remained. And, in 1902, Teller City was a ghost town.
Things to do in Teller City:
- The Roosevelt National Forest land allows dirt bike, OHV riding, mountain biking etc NEAR this area (not in town).
- Fish in the beautiful creeks with plentiful brook and cutthroat trout (license required)
- Pan for gold in the streams
- Wildlife viewing is plentiful
- Hike to the Gaslight mine
Nearby Camping: Ranger Lakes Campground
This State Forest State Park has 32 sites open from June 1-Oct 15. Unlike many state sites, this one can accommodate bigger rigs up to 60 feet. Amenities include 30 amp hookups, firepits, tables, grills, toilets, dump, and firewood. You can also enjoy fishing in the campground.
Unlike most of the other ghost towns, Dearfield is not in the mountains, but on the plains 30 miles east of Greeley, Colorado. Also unusual, this settlement was formed as a historically black settlement by Oliver Toussaint Jackson. Oliver Toussaint Jackson sought to form a self-sufficient colony for African Americans in 1910.
After making his fortune in Boulder, Jackson filed a homestead claim for the town, and began to advertise for settlers to come to Dearfield. By 1920, the town had 200-300 residents trying to farm the harsh landscape, two churches, a school, and restaurant.
The residents were successful in raising many vegetables, wheat, cattle and horses, also selling produce to canneries in Denver. Most of the farming work was done by women and children, because the men commuted to work in the city. Denver residents from Five Points would travel by train on weekends to Dearfield for barn dances and entertainment.
When the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl happened, the agricultural success of the town declined and settlers began to leave. As a result, by 1940 there were only 12 residents left. Mr. Jackson died in 1948. There are a few deserted buildings left to explore in Dearfield, including a gas station, a diner, and the founder’s home. In 1995, the town was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Things to do in Dearfield:
- View the 2010 monument about the history of the site
- Visit the state historical marker on US Route 85 near marker 264 near Evans about Dearfield
- Explore the remaining buildings and see the preservation work by various universities and Black American West museum
- Water sports and fishing on Jackson Lake
Nearby Camping: Jackson Lake State Park
Visit this “oasis on the plains” for some wonderful water sports in a huge park. Boats, fishing, jet skis, kayaks, canoes…all are welcome at this large and popular lake. Open all year round, there are 251 sites available, most with electric. Each site has a fire ring and picnic table. This campground also has seasonal showers and pit toilets that are open year round. Big rig friendly, and reservable ahead of time.
Visiting ghost towns can be a great theme to follow, and most of them are located in beautiful wild locations with plenty of outdoor activities and great scenery to enjoy.
Additionally, learning the history of a region and the way people lived hundreds of years ago can be a fun way to spend time.
Ghost towns can be combined with photography, wildlife viewing, hiking, off-roading, water sports, ATV and mountain bike riding, fishing, photography, and even some quaint off-the-beaten-path towns! Check out the top ghost towns in Colorado for great adventure with the whole family.
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