Many Colorado mountain towns got their starts thanks to the gold and silver mining booms of the mid- to late 1800s. However, these booms came to an end at the beginning of the 20th century, which led to thousands of these small towns being abandoned. Presently, it’s estimated that there are upwards of 600 ghost towns in the state that have some structures remaining. As you might expect, the Arkansas Valley and the surrounding area are home to a number of interesting ghost towns. Exploring these towns not only provides a fascinating look at the area’s history but also a chance to see some beautiful scenery. Two words of caution, however: the abandoned buildings you come across may not be structurally sound or safe to enter and it is never safe to enter an abandoned mine. It’s also worth noting that the summer and early fall are usually the best times to visit most of these towns due to their high altitude. If you’ve want to get a better look at Colorado history, here are some of our favorite ghost towns that are within easy driving distance from Creekside Chalets and Cabins.
Billed as one of Colorado’s best preserved ghost towns, St. Elmo boasts a picturesque Main Street with a dozen or so intact buildings. While it is considered a ghost town, it’s home to a handful of year-round residents as well as a general store that is open during the summer months and a guest house that is open all year long. During the warmer months, you’ll see hummingbirds flitting to and from the feeder at the general store. Across the street from the general store is Chipmunk Crossing, where the town’s friendly chipmunks will anxiously be awaiting some treats. The scene is especially beautiful in the fall when the aspens on the nearby mountainsides turn a beautiful golden color. St. Elmo is located west of Nathrop at the end of County Road 162.
If you’d like to have a more unique experience with St. Elmo, Absolute Bikes Adventures in Salida offers guided rides in the area. One of their most popular rides take participants from St. Elmo to the Mount Princeton Hot Springs for a soak in one of their pools or creekside springs. For a more challenging ride, you can choose the guided tour which travels from St. Elmo up to the abandoned and collapsed Alpine Tunnel, located about nine miles away. There’s also a St. Elmo loop ride, which covers 18.5 miles and takes five to seven hours to complete. Or if you think you might need a little assistance due to the altitude, you can also to take an e-bike tour of St. Elmo and the surrounding area.
Hancock is located southwest of St. Elmo on County Road 295 (you’ll see the turnoff for this road as you enter St. Elmo). If you decide to venture on to Hancock, it’s probably best if you have a higher clearance vehicle as the road conditions may not always be optimal. While there’s only part of one structure remaining in Hancock (the foundation of the saloon), there are abandoned cabins nearby (some more intact than others) as well as the Alley Belle Mine, which is frequently photographed due to the way the structure is oddly perched on the hillside.
Vicksburg is another well-preserved town that’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There are some seasonal residents and several of the existing cabins are owned by descendants of the first settlers. Vicksburg was founded due to some errant burros who wandered down to the creek for water. When the prospectors went to retrieve their animals, they discovered gold in the creek bed. The town’s main street is lined with beautiful Balm of Gilead trees, which the original residents planted in order to have more shade. There’s also a museum that’s open on weekends during the summer. To get to Vicksburg, head north out of Buena Vista on Highway 24 to County Road 390, where you’ll turn left (west) and drive for about another 8 miles.
You’ll find Winfield about four miles past Vicksburg on County Road 390. In town, there’s a cabin and an old schoolhouse, both of which are maintained by the Clear Creek Canyon Historical Society. Just north of town is the cemetery, where, while 25 people are buried there, only two headstones have survived. The town grew quickly after its founding in 1881 as lots of land were given to anyone who would build there. But while the population was home to an estimated 1500 residents in 1890, mining operations slowed in 1893, the post office closed in 1912, and the last ore was hauled out of town in 1918. As with Vicksburg, Winfield has some seasonal residents.
Bonanza has faced a number of hardships since the discovery of rich silver ore there in 1880. While the initial discovery was promising, it turned out that the deeper ores primarily contained other minerals that were much more difficult to mine. Many of the mines failed and the population of the town dropped to just 100 people in 1899. While mining continued in the area until the 1930s, most mines were shut down. Then, there was the fire of 1937, which burned down 30 buildings that were never rebuilt. However, there are still several historic buildings standing as well as the remnants of old mines. Presently, the town has one full-time resident. Bonanza is located about 14 miles west of Villa Grove on County Road LL56.
Independence is located just past the summit of Independence Pass, which is about a 1.5-hour drive from Creekside Chalets and Cabins. The pass is typically open from the end of May to October, conditions permitting. The road is narrow and winding, so if you’re uncomfortable with mountain driving, you may want to skip this one. If, however, these driving conditions don’t bother you, Independence is quite the sight to see. Located at just about 11,000 feet above sea level, the town was settled in 1879 after the discovery of gold but it was mostly abandoned by 1890 due to the harsh conditions and diminishing mining productions. There are several cabins and other structures on site, all of which are set against a stunning mountain backdrop. If you have the time after visiting Independence, you can continue on down the pass and into Aspen.
Need Lodging for Your Ghost Town Adventures?
At Creekside Chalets and Cabins, we offer one- to three-bedroom cabins that are perfect for families and friends alike. Take a look at our cabins and book online! You may also want to take a look at our Specials to see what our current discounts are before you get your reservation squared away. We look forward to welcoming you!