Where History Sleeps: Colorado Ghost Towns

black and white, building, outside
Photo Courtesy of St. Elmo Ghost Town

Beyond its famous landmarks and vibrant cities, much of Colorado’s rich history lies in the almost-forgotten ghost towns scattered throughout the state. relics and fragments of the past. Built on a dream, but soon became relics of the past, these abandoned settlements harbor stories of silver booms, optimism, and the fleeting nature of life. These five Colorado ghost towns offer a hauntingly beautiful experience through the American frontier and are the most accessible to tour and hike. This summer, explore these once-booming towns for a glimpse into the lives of pioneers who once thrived in these now-quiet places.

Ashcroft

cabin outside, Colorado Ghost Towns
Photo Courtesy of sheenashahangian.com

Where: 11000 Castle Creek Rd., Ashcroft

The Lowdown: 11 miles up Castle Creek Road and 10 miles from Aspen, you’ll find the remains of Ashcroft, a town that once rivaled its now infamous celebrity ski destination. Surrounded by lush alpine meadows, the skeleton of this once-booming mining sanctuary is open for visitors to explore. Ashcroft boomed quickly during the late 1800s after two prospectors discovered silver deposits in Castle Creek Valley. As soon as word got out, they formed a Miner’s Protective Association, paved streets, and built a courthouse in two weeks. Ashcroft’s population grew to 2,000, but as fast as the town developed it declined at the same rate.

The mines that once provided 14,000 ounces of silver soon became shallow deposits, and the residents left in heaps. By 1885, 100 citizens remained holding on to Ashcroft’s promise of prosperity.

In 1974, Ashcroft became a National Register Historic Site and was preserved as a ghost town. Now tourists can explore the restored historical buildings including The Blue Mirror Saloon, a post office, a jail and a hotel. With the warm weather, the ski season has come to an end. Take a detour this summer and explore the remains of Ashcroft Ghost Town.

Independence

grass, building remains, Colorado Ghost Townbs
Photo Courtesy of AllTrips Aspen

Where: 620 West Bleeker St. Aspen

The Lowdown: High in the Roaring Fork Valley and 16 miles east of Aspen sits the leftovers of another faded place, Independence Ghost Town. This was the first mining site in the valley and rumor has it that the Independence Gold Lode was discovered on July 4th, 1879. Soon after, the town was home to 500 residents, four grocery stores, four boarding houses and three saloons. A year later, Independence hit its peak with a boom in business and an estimated population of 1,500 but soon outside forces would take a toll.

Residents found the winters harsh and Aspen lured the miners away to lower altitudes, milder temperatures and great pay. Production of gold had dropped from $190,000 to $2,000 within a year, and Colorado’s worst winter storm in 1899 cut off the supply routes from the town. Miners tore apart their homes to make 75 pairs of skis to escape the unlivable conditions.

Only a year after Aspen Historical Society received a permit to interpret Ashcroft as a ghost town, they received another permit for Independence. In addition, this ghost town was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Not much is left of Independence Ghost Town, aside from traces of the stables, the general store and the restored Intern Cabin, but history remains at the forefront of this eerie and abandoned site.

St. Elmo

Black and white cabin outside, mountains
Photo Courtesy of St Elmo Ghost Town

Where: 25865 Co Rd 162, Nathrop

The Lowdown: Founded in 1880, St. Elmo is Colorado’s most famous and well-preserved ghost town in the state. Once a former mining community filled with gold and silver mines in Chaffee County, St. Elmo welcomes tourists to take a time machine and explore the General Store, church, school and several cabins revived from its peak.

Like Ashcroft, the town developed quickly and rose to a population of 2,000 when locals saw the promise of wealth and business. After ten years, hope diminished when a fire destroyed St. Elmo’s establishments. The mines were depleted, miners fled and the town was never fully rebuilt.

Located 12 miles west of Mt. Princeton Hot Springs Resort, although it’s now considered a ghost town, St. Elmo is as lively as ever. Visitors can tour the conserved land by ATV or horseback and hike through ST. Elmo Trail. There is an opportunity to befriend the town’s newest residents, chipmunks that roam the deserted streets searching for seeds and nuts.

Arrow

Postcard, buildings, outside
Photo Courtesy of Visit Winter Park

Where: R000228, Winter Park

The Lowdown: Located North of Winter Park on top of Rollins Pass, unlike the other relics on our list, Arrow began as a railroad and lumber camp. Now a hidden gem of Winter Park’s history, the community started when tracks were laid in 1904. Over 2,000 people lived in nearby construction camps and received mail from Arrow. At one point, the town had an “eating house” and saloons attracting locals to dine and drink liquor.

Arrow may be considered the most eerie ghost town in Colorado. Nothing remains of this once lively community, but the land is far from desolate. Add Arrow to your Colorado bucket list and you will be rewarded with the serenity of mountains and plush meadows.

Holy Cross City

Outside, cabin, trees, rocks, mountains
Photo Courtesy of trailsoffroad.com

Where: CGCF+7W, Minturn

The Lowdown: When explorers caught a glimpse of gold southeast of the Mount of Holy Cross, they sought to develop a new camp and mining district. By 1881, Holy Cross City would take shape and newspapers would announce that the community was enriched with gold ore. Around 300 people called Holy Cross City their home, and developed two general stores, several saloons, a blacksmith shop and two rows of cabins. Optimism for this new town spread like wildfire, but hope was not enough to keep this land alive.

Daydreams of abundance quickly diminished when the mines became unprofitable. Miners found the gold ore laced with pyrite and impossible to separate. Harsh winters took a toll on Holy Cross City’s residents, and they had no choice but to abandon the site.

Although Holy Cross City became extinct, exploring the uninhabited land off-roading or hiking is still possible. Holy Cross City Trail offers a challenging 7.4-mile journey near Red Cliff, but the trek is worth it. Take on this adventure and be rewarded with surreal views and a peak at history.

This summer, take a journey back in time and experience the fragile remains of Colorado’s ghost towns. These places encapsulate the spirit and dreams of the pioneers looking to find a home.

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