Miners flocked to Colorado at the turn of the 20th century looking to hit it big and get rich from the dense ore found in the Rocky Mountains. Though the mining boom has long since passed, the remains of the famed frontier towns of the Wild West endure as well as the pioneering spirit of their residents. We’ve chosen three iconic ghost towns in Colorado whose unmatched natural scenery and intriguing history make them must-see destinations.
1. Independence, Pitkin County
Closest Town: Aspen
History: Legend has it that miners struck gold at the Independence Ghost Town site on July 4, 1879. Within two years, the population had increased to over 1,500 residents, and the mine had produced almost $200,000 in gold mining revenue. But mine production quickly slowed, and Independence was abandoned by 1899. What is thought to have been the General Store still stands as well as remnants of the stable and other building foundations.
Getting Here: Drive 16 miles east of Aspen on Highway 82 toward Independence Pass. Open June 14 through Labor Day; $3 suggested donation.
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2. Tomboy, San Miguel County
Closest Town: Telluride
History: This gold mining town that sits at approximately 12,000 feet was established in 1880 above the town of Telluride. Before the ore ran out in 1927, the mine was one of the most profitable in the country. The diary of Harriet Backus (Tomboy resident and wife of a mining engineer) is entitled, “Tomboy Bride” and is the only published first-hand account of life in a Western mining town at the turn of the century.
Getting Here: Experienced driver with a four-wheel drive, off-road vehicle required. Tomboy Road is shelf road that begins in the town of Telluride and has an upper elevation of over 12,000 feet at the top of Imogene Pass. Typically accessible beginning in July when San Miguel County can plow the route.
3. St. Elmo, Chaffee County
Closest Town: Buena Vista
History: The 1880 discovery of a vein of silver ore found in nearby Chrysolite Mountain in the heart of the Sawatch Range spurred rapid population growth and the expansion of the railroad to this remote mountain locale. Though the town was abandoned in the early 1930s due to lack of profit from the mine and the closing of the dangerous rail route, St. Elmo’s 43 buildings remain as one of the most intact ghost towns in the West.
Getting Here: Follow Highway 24 eight miles south out of Buena Vista and turn right onto County Road 162 into Chalk Creek Canyon. The road dead-ends at St. Elmo.