Colorado is lined with ghost towns. Many of these abandoned communities are echoes of the gold rush fever that struck the state in the late 19th century. These towns, mostly in the high mountains, were once a bustling, strong sector in Colorado’s economy. But when the dust dried up, so did the communities.
Today, you can visit Colorado’s abandoned mining towns to get a glimpse at the history (and maybe even a shiver down your spine when you walk past the crumbling wooden houses and mine shaft skeletons). Many towns don’t feel like towns at all but may only be marked by a few barely-standing structures, such as previously operating saloons or brothels or banks.
Some former mining towns are far from ghostly and have evolved into thriving towns in their new incarnation. These include towns like Breckenridge, Leadville, and Idaho Springs.
But if you want to venture back in time, a bit off the beaten path and into a less polished piece of Colorado’s heritage, here’s where to go. It’s best to make this trek in warmer weather because some of these roads aren’t plowed or may be dangerous in winter. Here are our 10 favorite Colorado ghost towns.
01 of 10
This is hands down our favorite ghost town in Colorado. Prepare to be surprised. Not only can you explore the grounds of this former mining community in southern Colorado but you can actually stay the night in one of the restored former mining cabins. To make it even better, they’re restored luxuriously and part of an all-inclusive getaway in the San Juan Mountains. Guests get access to three natural, private hot springs, including a breathtakingly beautiful indoor hot springs in a historically inspired bathhouse.
This is a five-star escape like no other, and it's rich with history. The Dunton mining settlement was founded in 1885 and never grew very big. Less than 50 people lived here, and by 1918, it was completely abandoned. It was later converted into a cattle ranch before it was then renovated to become a visitor getaway.
But the new owners took great care to preserve the history and authenticity. The interior of the cabins was redone, but the exterior of the cabins is rugged and shabby and feels like they’re transported directly from the 1800s.
02 of 10
South Park City
No, this isn’t the South Park with the funny TV show. South Park City, located in the city of Fairplay, has been restored and turned into an open-air museum, which you can walk through to learn about the area’s history.
Stroll through 44 authentic buildings, from frontier homes to businesses, including seven on their original sites. Look at the mining memorabilia (more than 60,000 artifacts), and get up close and personal with a piece of the past.
This ghost town experience is more structured and polished up, rather than an explore-at-your-own-pace (and sometimes own risk) adventure that you might find at other Colorado ghost towns.
03 of 10
St. Elmo is one of Colorado's best-preserved and also most popular ghost towns. It is located just past Buena Vista is on the National Register of Historic Places. This magical town feels like you are in an Old West film, only it's totally abandoned. Walk down the dusty Main Street and past wooden stores. Tip your hat at the old saloon.
St. Elmo was founded in 1880 (originally under the name Forest City) for its natural gold and silver resources, and it grew popular, housing nearly 2,000 people. It thrived until the early '20s when the railroad shut down, and people began moving out.
Visitors are surprised to learn that some people still live in St. Elmo. Fishing is great here, and you can actually go shopping in the general store. Not everything still stands; some buildings burned down, but St. Elmo remains remarkably intact.
04 of 10
This is another one of Colorado's most popular ghost towns. Animas Forks, in southern Colorado (12 miles southeast of Silverton and four hours south of Aspen) is famous, as much as an abandoned town can be. One of the coolest sites here is a two-story house with large windows; you don't often see multi-story structures this old still standing.
Animas Forks was founded in 1873, and it quickly grew. It used to have 30 different homes, plus a saloon (of course), a store, hotel, and even its own post office. At its peak, it boasted 450 residents.
Make a day out of your Animas Forks visit and spend time in the colorful, Victorian downtown of Silverton. It will set the tone for this time period. The jaw-dropping town of Ouray is also in this area.Continue to 5 of 10 below.
05 of 10
Tin Cup (also called Tincup and TinCup), not far from Pitkin, is where the Wild West got really wild. As the legends go, this mining town used to be run by rebels. They ran the sheriffs out of town or killed them. You can see the sheriff gravestones in the cemetery.
Tin Cup was founded at Virginia City in 1878 but renamed because several other cities in the nation already had that name. Even before that, Tin Cup was considered dangerous; in the 1850s, when the original gold was discovered, few people wanted to live here because there was the threat or perceived threat of attack by Native Americans in the area.
For a taste of the Wild Wild West, rent a four-wheeler and check out the remaining buildings of Tin Cup, arguably Colorado's naughtiest ghost town. Taylor Park, where Tin Cup is located, is considered one of the best ATV destinations in Colorado.
Today, not only do some historic buildings still stand, but some are in use.
06 of 10
This former mining town is far from abandoned. In fact, it's a hot place to visit in southern Colorado, not far from Ouray and north of Durango, and it has excellent restaurants, lodging, adventure outfitters and coffee shops.
Silverton is also home to a narrow-gauge train that still runs today. Pair that with your visit to the historic structures and you'll truly feel like you're in another time period.
The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, a real steam engine powered by coal, began running in 1881. Today, it winds through the mountains between Durango and Silverton and has been named one of the top 10 scenic railroads in the world.
Silverton used to be mainly used as a supply center for other mining camps, making it historically important in the thriving of other ghost towns. The colorful Main Street is so stunning you will have to get out your camera for a photo shoot.
07 of 10
This is a ghost town that's truly been forgotten. It's extremely remote and not restored, making it a completely different experience than former mining areas like Silverton. You can find Carson near the Continental Divide, perched at about 12,000 feet above sea level, earning it the honor as one of Colorado's highest ghost towns. It is located near Lake City.
The buildings here are as they were forgotten and as nature has done with them: missing roofs and walls, all surrounded by nature. No one lives here today and it's not a tourist sensation. But it's a fine reward of scenery and solitude for those off-the-beaten travelers looking to experience something unique. Note: You will need a four-wheel-drive vehicle to manage these dirt roads.
08 of 10
If you've visited the Aspen area, you've surely heard of Independence Pass, one of the best places to watch the leaves change color in the fall. The ghost town of Independence is perched atop this high mountain pass.
The best way to experience Independence is to book a guided tour via the Aspen Historical Society or a Jeep tour of the area. This is a rare instance where you can visit a ghost town with an expert guide.
Independence has a short history but endless views. The reason its mining stint was so short is likely due to access. Miners could only get there on stagecoach and skis. Not exactly convenient.
Today, the pass is paved so you can enjoy the views easily.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
09 of 10
The south wasn't the only place for miners. Teller City is in Northern Colorado, near the town of Rand. This mining town was all about silver.
Back then, it has hundreds of homes and (get this) almost 30 saloons. (Apparently, the silver miners liked to party.) In its peak, Teller City housed about 1,500 people.
Today, you can check out the skeleton remains of this lost town. No one lives here, but one thing that makes Teller City worth the visit is you can camp nearby in the national forest. So spend some time exploring the abandoned buildings (it'll take you about an hour) and then pop up a tent for the night to let the experience sink in. Bring a fishing pole because there are multiple lakes and streams here great for fishing.
10 of 10
This ghost town stands out because it's different for three big reasons. First, it's not in the mountains, like most of Colorado's ghost towns. Second, Dearfield was an entirely African American settlement.
Third, this abandoned town wasn't lost after the mining boom dried up. This unique community was founded to create a municipality owned and run by African American people. It didn't become endangered until 1999.
Today, some remnants of the community remain, including a gas station, house, and diner. It is currently being restored but it is still considered a ghost town.