6 Reasons Why Georgetown Is a Hidden Colorado Treasure
Nestled into the mountains, Georgetown is one of the best-preserved 19th-century boom towns in the American West. Photo Credit: Gary A. Haines, Grizzly Creek Gallery
Georgetown is a picturesque time-capsule-of-a-town that’s cozily nestled into the mountains just 45 miles west of Denver on Interstate 70. More than 200 Victorian-era structures still stand here — making it one of the best-preserved 19th-century boom towns in the American West. These buildings from Georgetown’s heyday have been lovingly maintained over the years, creating a magical postcard-like atmosphere that makes the town a great retreat from today’s 24/7 plugged-in lifestyle.
Founded in 1859 during the Pikes Peak Gold Rush, Georgetown actually began to thrive as a center of residence and commerce for prospectors and miners following the 1864 discovery of silver in the area. Although it’s a small town today, it boasted a population 10 times its current size in the late 1800s, earning it the nickname the “Silver Queen of Colorado.” Today, there are many attractions in all seasons that will allow visitors to enjoy the local history and natural beauty of the area.
1. You Can See the Sites … by Rail, by Car
Originally built in 1884, and an engineering marvel of its time, The Georgetown Loop Railroad is a 4-and-a-half-mile narrow-gauge railroad that traverses a canyon with horseshoe bends and four bridges (one of them towering 93 feet) over Clear Creek. It passes by the remains of silver and gold mines, and offers spectacular panoramic views throughout — giving riders the sense of stepping back into another era.
Starting from Georgetown, Guanella Pass Scenic Byway crisscrosses up the mountainside, following an old wagon route that linked the mining towns of Georgetown and Grant. The paved 23-mile road is great for sightseeing drives, passing through forests of pine and groves of aspen, and providing breathtaking views of the 14,000-foot-plus peaks Mount Evans and Mount Bierstadt. As spring turns to summer, alpine flowers cover the ground, in early autumn it’s one of the best places in the state to view turning aspens, and in winter a herd of bighorn sheep can often be spotted along the roadside when they’ve moved to lower elevations for grazing.
2. The Waters Support Recreation in All Seasons
Clear Creek travels along I-70 through Georgetown, inviting mountain anglers to enjoy its easily accessible population of brown, rainbow and brook trout. True to its name, it’s quite clear, and for the most part it is fishable year-round with plentiful populations.
Since Clear Creek River flows into Georgetown Lake, it’s a trout fisherman’s dream for all the same reasons, but you may also be able to catch some lake trout. You can bring a boat or raft, but no motors are allowed. Once the water freezes over in the winter months, the lake becomes the perfect place for ice fishing. Another event that heats up when the lake freezes over in January and February, are the ice races that the Our Gang 4 Wheelers club has been holding since 1976. All you need to join them is a 4WD or AWD vehicle, a driver’s license and a small registration fee. And if you’d rather just watch this unique and exciting event, spectators are always free.
3. An Affordable Alternative to Resorts for Winter Sports
Being centrally located among Colorado’s best ski resorts makes Georgetown an awesome winter basecamp when it’s time to hit the slopes. Closest is Loveland Ski Area, only 13 miles from Georgetown, which has been a local favorite for over 80 years. There you’ll enjoy 1,800 acres of terrain spread across the Continental Divide, where an average of 422 inches of snow falls each season.
Other nearby resorts include: Arapahoe Basin, only 20 miles away; 30 miles from Georgetown are Winter Park Resort which features over 3,000 acres of award-winning terrain, and Keystone Resort with its three unbelievable mountains; Copper Mountain and its laid-back vibe is a 35-mile trip; and an hour drive from Georgetown is world-class skiing and riding at Breckenridge Ski Resort or Vail Ski Resort.
Georgetown also has all types of lodging available from chain hotels to mountain lodges and quaint bed and breakfasts, which are more economical than your typical resort stay.
4. So Many Ways to Get Closer to Nature
Hiking is a great way to connect with your natural surroundings, and a variety of excellent trails can be accessed from Georgetown. Tom Bennhoff Lake Trail is a wide, mostly flat gravel walking path that does an easy 2-mile loop around Georgetown Lake. Trails considered moderate include the 3-and-a-half-mile Griffin Memorial Trail, the 8-mile Hells Hole Hike, and the 2-mile Rutherford Trail which provides an excellent hiking route from Georgetown up to Silver Dale. Other moderately rated trails can be accessed via Guanella Pass, such as Lake Naylor Trail and Silver Dollar Lake Trail.
Clear Creek River is open for rafting from mid-May through mid-August. With an aggressive grade, it’s the steepest rafting river in Colorado, and offers trips for every level: beginners, intermediate rafters and thrill seekers.
There are several areas near Georgetown to enjoy off-roading. Argentine Pass is a relatively easy 9-mile road that reaches a high point where alpine meadows fill with wildflowers in spring and summer. Kingston Peak is a 7-mile intermediate route that climbs past tree line and provides amazing views. For more experienced drivers there are difficult routes, like the 6-mile path that leads up to Bill Moore Lake.
5. It’s Steeped in History and Vintage Appeal
There are several Victorian-era locations in Georgetown that have been wonderfully preserved and are open for tours to give visitors a feel for the town’s origins. Alpine Hose No. 2 is partly to thank for the many surviving vintage structures in Georgetown — because, unlike many other mining towns, it never experienced a massive fire. This landmark building has been converted into a local firefighting history museum. The Capital Prize Gold Mine is still a working mine, where you’ll descend more than 1,000 feet to see and feel what it was like to be a gold miner over 100 years ago. The Hamill House — originally constructed in 1867 and expanded into a lavish home by 1879 — boasts original details like a marble fireplace, gas lighting and walnut woodwork, giving visitors a glimpse into what life was like during the town’s boom era.
Georgetown’s Hydroelectric Plant has been powering the city since 1900, and also houses the Georgetown Energy Museum, which covers the history of hydroelectric power locally and elsewhere. Silver Queen Tours offers different walking tours that take you to see some of the most haunted buildings in Georgetown, or to experience the town via newspaper headlines from the 1800s, including its ties to Old West luminaries like Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane.
6. You Can Have Fun Just Wandering around Town
With a variety of fantastic shops, galleries and boutiques, it’s a pleasant experience just to spend a day moseying through Georgetown’s historic downtown. And when you’ve worked up an appetite doing that, the town also has you covered with a variety of eateries, watering holes and more. Shops range from boutiques with one-of-a-kind clothing and accessories, to a candy company that specializes in handcrafted sweets, and a shop inspired by the upcycling movement that showcases the work of local crafters. There are also multiple galleries, including one of Colorado’s oldest art co-ops, and an antique gallery.
Then there are restaurants to please any palate, from burgers and pizza to a Tea Room that serves Victorian High Tea and pastries in a historic building, and restaurants that cater to more epicurean tastes. And if you’re thirsty after a day of browsing and shopping, there’s a brewery at the foot of the Guanella Pass Scenic Byway with a range of excellent craft beers you can explore in their rustic taproom.