Deep in the Sawatch range above the Arkansas River Valley, St. Elmo was once home to some 2,000 people and 150 mines. The town along Chalk Creek was founded in 1880 and later exploded when the railroad arrived; the tracks eventually ran all the way to the Gunnison Valley via a famous tunnel beneath the Continental Divide. The tracks were abandoned in 1922, and legend has it that the remaining residents rode the last train out of town. Many of the buildings were lost to a fire in 2002, though some have since been rebuilt with donations. Unlike most ghost towns deep in the mountains, the general store in St. Elmo is still open (from early summer to late fall, anyway) offering souvenirs, snacks and cabin rentals. The road to St. Elmo is good for any vehicle and those with four-wheel-drive, high-clearance vehicles can continue on to Tincup Pass over the Divide.
- Chalk Creek Road (Chaffee County Road 162) is very heavily-used in summer, with a commercial hot springs and two 14,000-foot peaks (Mount Princeton and Mount Antero), so be sure to make camping reservations in advance, as the campgrounds often fill by Friday afternoons. Dispersed camping can be found above St. Elmo.
- The best time to pay a visit to nearby Mount Princeton Hot Springs is after the snowmelt, when the creek-side pools are usable.
- Be sure to take some time reading about the colorful history of St. Elmo, including the saga of the Stark family, who were the last full-time residents, clinging on until the early 1950s.
Recommended season(s): Early May to mid-October.
—R. Scott Rappold