Spooky past behind ghost towns

More than 1500 registered ghost towns are strewn across Colorado.

Close to 600 of these sites feature remnants of their past residents. These abandoned towns are like time machines, perfect for uncovering Colorado’s colourful past, with a bit of spooky sightseeing on the side.

To embrace the true spirit of Halloween and to see firsthand traces of how these popular mining towns went from gold to ghosts, make note of the following destinations for future travel.

St Elmo, near Buena Vista
Only 25 miles southwest of Buena Vista is St Elmo, one of Colorado’s most popular and well-preserved ghost towns. At its peak in the 1870s, St Elmo had more than 2000 residents, five-star hotels, saloons, and a telegraph office. It boasts the most paranormal activity of all the ghost towns in the state. Despite this, the area still has a small number of part-time residents. Visitors that choose to take a self-guided tour through St Elmo need to drop in on the most famous resident ghost ‘Dirty Annie’ Stark’s two favourite haunts – The General Store and Home Comfort Hotel.

Tomboy, near Telluride
This once-bustling mining town had a seductive secret that has since become a major tourist hotspot – the ‘Social Tunnel’. Travellers will pass through this trail on the way to town, taking a similar journey to the men of Tomboy Mine. Allegedly it is here single women would intercept the miners trip home to their wives for some … intimate socialising. While local outfitters offer Jeep tours, biking into Tomboy from Telluride is an opportunity that should be seized.

Independence, near Aspen
Located at around 11,000 feet on the Independence Pass, this ghost town near Aspen is accessible only during the spring through to autumn season. In 1879, the town was named Independence when miners found fortune there. The community had more than 40 businesses and close to 1500 residents. But its harsh weather had most townsfolk heading to Aspen by 1890. After the blizzard in 1899, few remained and by 1912 the town was completely deserted. The steep passage was a treacherous journey for the stagecoaches brave enough to venture along it to reach Leadville and Aspen in the 1800s. Relive the exciting adventure thanks to the Aspen Historical Society, which offers tours of the abandoned mining town. Come for the history but stay for the views.

Credit: Aspen Chamber Resort Association

Alta, near Telluride
From 1877 through to the late 1940s, Alta was considered a leading town to head to if you had gold fever! This region, close to 10 miles from Telluride, is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The site boasts several original buildings including outhouses, a boarding house and the cabins townsfolk once resided in. The best part about visiting this historic town are the stunning high-alpine views. After visitors have explored the ghost town they should venture to Alta Lakes, the perfect destination for hikers, campers and lovers of the outdoors.

Credit: Dan and Zora Avila

Animas Forks, near Ouray
About five hours south of Aspen is one of Colorado’s best-known southern ghost towns. Famed for the two-story Duncan House, local lore suggests that this impressive building was where mining heiress and owner of the Hope Diamond, Evalyn Walsh, wrote her biography. With rough road conditions it is best to tackle this route by four-wheel drive.

Credit: Photo courtesy of the Ouray Chamber Resort Association and Brian K. Foster

South Park City, Fairplay
Not to be mistaken for the one with a TV show, this restored ghost town/museum is another southern gem. While most ghost towns leave visitors to their own devices when touring the ruins of their gold rush heyday, South Park City Museum takes a more structured approach. The region’s history is displayed clearly and in an educational way, even allowing guests to get up close to the ancient artifacts. There is also the Mountain Man Rendezvous each summer, where you can watch re-enactments of Colorado’s early days.

Ashcroft, near Aspen
Just 10 miles from Aspen, this historic town was home to 2000 residents, two newspapers, 20 saloons and a school. It is safe to say that this area was thriving back in the gold rush days. But it often surprises people to hear that its glory days were shortlived, going from boom to bust in about five years. Take a guided tour of a dozen or so buildings preserved by the Aspen Historical Society. They cover everything from the jail, post office, livery stable and the Blue Mirror Saloon. If a guided tour is not what visitors are after, the town encourages a $5 donation before travellers can tread their own path. 

Credit: Denise Chambers /Colorado.com

Capitol City, near Lake City
A short 9-mile drive on Henson Creek/Engineer Pass Road offers up another ghost town, not far from Lake City. This town had lofty dreams of being a silver-mining town and the state’s capital city. Nowadays this is the ideal spot to see a slice of history. Travellers enjoy visiting George S. Lee’s mansion, built in the 1870s, as well as the original town’s post office and cabins. While there it is impossible to not take a moment to drink in the incredible views, thanks to the region’s blanket of aspen trees.

Credit: Matt Inden/Colorado.com

Guston, near Ouray
In the late 1880s this town established itself as one of the richest mining areas. It took its name from the nearby Guston Mine, however it was the Yankee Girl that became the most famous in the area. Most traces of this region have vanished today. With the exception being the headframe of the Yankee Girl Mine, its remains being one of the most photographed sites in Colorado.

Credit: Photo courtesy of the Ouray Chamber Resort Association and Hank Christensen 

For further information on all of these spectacularly spooky places and experiences, visit www.Colorado.com.

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Written by Aisling Nesbitt


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