Driving through Colorado is a spectacular experience on its own, but ghost towns like St. Elmo or Ashcroft can make it even more exciting. Though these former mining towns are now abandoned, they all have rich histories to explore—and incredible views to boot.
The Centennial State is home to some of the most beautiful mountain scenery, much of which hosted gold and silver mines in the nineteenth century.
Colorado has over 1,500 ghost towns tucked between mountain tops and valleys alike.
Some ghost towns are more accessible than others, but the roads to many of these abandoned sites can be precarious. When you use the car insurance super app
Jerry, you can visit Colorado’s coolest ghost towns with confidence, knowing your car is protected along the way.
St. Elmo and Tin Cup
What’s the story of St. Elmo and Tin Cup?
Just west of Buena Vista and situated in Chalk Creek Canyon lies the Old West town of St. Elmo—one of the state’s best-preserved ghost towns. St. Elmo is a piece of the western American frontier frozen in time, complete with wooden buildings and a single dusty road.
Officially founded in 1880, St. Elmo was a hotspot for gold and silver miners. In its prime, St. Elmo was home to saloons, dance halls, a newspaper office, and a schoolhouse to serve its population of about 2,000 people. It’s said that when the train stopped running to Chalk Creek Canyon in 1922, the population of St. Elmo rode the last train out of town and never returned.
If you make your way 13 miles west, you’ll run into Tin Cup (also spelled Tincup), a semi-ghost town founded in 1879 after lode deposits were discovered. This town lacked the jolliness of St. Elmo, however. Tin Cup was known to be a lawless, violent town run by criminals and murderers.
Any sheriffs with integrity who came to Tin Cup were usually run off or even met with untimely—and grisly—deaths. The rare nice folks of Tin Cup populate the town cemetery, which is rumored to have an eerie atmosphere.
What makes St. Elmo and Tin Cup special?
Both of these towns still host curious visitors today. Here are some fun facts about each:
There are 43 buildings scattered around St. Elmo, including a saloon, courthouse, jail, mercantile, and private homes. St. Elmo is accessible year-round, while Tin Cup is primarily a summer town.
Both St. Elmo and Tin Cup have operating general stores, though they’re typically only open in the summer months. The St. Elmo General Store carries everything from antiques and souvenirs to yard art and snacks. Tourists can also rent ATVs.
St. Elmo claims to have more paranormal activity than any other ghost town in Colorado.
Tin Cup has an active cafe and church for the few residents who live there.
Visitors to Tin Cup can explore a multitude of ATV trails in the area.
How to Visit St. Elmo and Tin Cup
St. Elmo lies in the Chalk Creek Canyon in the heart of the Sawatch Range, just 20 miles southwest of Buena Vista. To reach St. Elmo, take the scenic Chalk Creek Drive (aka County Road 162). This road is mostly paved, with dirt roads in some areas.
You can reach St. Elmo in a regular vehicle, though the roads to get there are pretty steep since the town sits at an elevation of around 10,000 feet. Though St. Elmo is accessible all year, you should check the weather and road conditions before you go.
Tin Cup can be reached via Tin Cup Pass (County Road 267), which is completely unpaved. Many visitors choose to take the 12-mile road from St. Elmo, but you definitely need a 4x4 vehicle to drive it. The road to the summit is one of the highest in Colorado, so it’s only open from mid-June to early fall.
Tourists to St. Elmo can choose to camp at one of the nearby campgrounds or cozy up in the
local bed and breakfast on Main Street. Tin Cup visitors can stay in the town’s summer cabins or choose to off-grid camp in the area.
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What is the story of Ashcroft?
Ten miles south of Aspen lies Ashcroft, the site of multiple historic ruins and homesteads. Originally founded in 1880, the area blew up when two miners came searching for silver and got lucky. Two weeks after the discovery, the town had a courthouse and streets.
Three years in, Ashcroft had around 2,000 residents with two newspapers, a school, sawmills, and a whopping 20 saloons. Boasting a population bigger than Aspen at this point, it offered closer access to the Crested Butte Railroad. At its peak, Ashcroft had a population of 3,500 people and six hotels.
This boom didn’t last forever, however. When miners struck it big in nearby Aspen, the population dwindled as residents flocked to search for riches elsewhere. Ashcroft’s final resident, Jack Leahy, died in 1939, solidifying Ashcroft’s label as an official ghost town.
What makes Ashcroft special?
Ashcroft is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is still a popular site for visitors. Here’s what they can expect to find:
Ashcroft features the restored remains of a handful of historic buildings, like a saloon, post office, and the Bird House Hotel. Six buildings are still in their original condition.
Tourists will see the set of a 1950s TV series Sgt. Preston of the Yukon. Ashcroft was fitted with false fronts for the production, which are still standing today.
Just north of Ashcroft, visitors may see the historic Highland-Bavarian Lodge, built in the 1930s and known as Aspen’s first ski lodge.
How to visit Ashcroft
Those who are Ashcroft-bound can take CO-82 west out of Aspen. Then at the roundabout, take the third exit onto Castle Creek Road for 11 miles. The road is suitable for all vehicle types.
In the summer, visitors can go on a
guided tour through the ghost town. In the other seasons, you can take a self-guided tour to hear tales from the former boomtown. Admission is $5 for adults over 18.
Ashcroft doesn’t have any accommodation for overnight stays, but there are a few campgrounds nearby, along with several hiking trails.
What is the story of Independence?
Another ghost town outside of Aspen is Independence, just 16 miles east on Highway 82. Prospectors supposedly discovered the gold lode in the area on July 4, 1879, and by 1880 the camp had 300 people.
The Farwell Mining Company acquired most of the mines in the area by 1881, then opened the Farwell Stamp Mill and sawmill in the area. Independence’s population grew to 500, with four grocery stores, four boarding houses, and three saloons to serve them. By the next year, they had a newspaper, over 40 businesses, three post offices, and a population of about 1,500.
As with most boomtowns, the population of Independence declined, as miners traded the 11,000-feet elevation and harsh weather for nearby Aspen’s milder climate and 8,000-feet elevation. Aspen also offered more work and better pay, solidifying the fate of Independence.
By 1888, only 100 citizens lived in the town. The winter of 1899 brought even more hardship, as the worst storm in the state’s history cut off all supply routes to Independence. Facing starvation, the remaining miners dismantled their houses to create skis to flee to safety in Aspen.
What makes Independence special?
As the first mining site in the Roaring Fork Valley, Independence is now an archeological preserve maintained by the Aspen Historical Society. It was also added to the National Register of Historic Places, which protects the remaining structures under federal law.
Visitors can go on a self-guided tour during the summer months for a suggested donation of $5.
The town features the remains of stables, houses, the stamp mill, and a general store.
Interpretive elements were added to the ghost town in the late twentieth century to recount the tales of the characters, enterprises, and structures of Independence.
Located below the Continental Divide, the town is a must-see along Independence Pass on the Rockies’ Scenic Byway.
How to visit Independence
Visitors from Aspen can take Highway 82 southeast for 16 miles to get to Independence. This is part of the seasonal Independence Pass, a 36-mile scenic byway. The road features steep inclines but is suitable for vehicles with only two-wheel drive.
There aren’t any places to stay in the area, but you can camp in a few neighboring campgrounds. Explorers can also make use of the hiking trails in the area and enjoy the incredible views.
What is the story of Ironton?
As one of Colorado’s easiest-to-reach ghost towns, Ironton is situated between Silverton and Ouray. Ironton, previously called Copper Glen, was officially founded in 1893. The relatively flat landscape made for easier building, so the town had 300 buildings after just a few months.
Ironton quickly became a crucial hub of transportation between the town of Ouray and the mining camps in the Red Mountain District. Travelers made stopovers in Ironton before trekking over the pass to Red Mountain Town, another former mining town.
At its prime, Ironton’s population sat around 1,000. Mines, hotels, saloons, two daily trains from Silverton, and several chain stores from the nearby towns helped support the residents. The mining slowed down by the early twentieth century and its population dwindled along with it. The final town local, Milton Larson, passed away in the 1960s.
What makes Ironton special?
It may not be the hub it once was, but curious travelers and history buffs still stop in Ironton on their way through southwest Colorado.
While it’s not as perfectly preserved as other ghost towns, Ironton still features several original buildings and homes. Ironton was ranked number six on a list of America’s Coolest Ghost Towns.
How to visit Ironton
Positioned on the Million Dollar Highway between Ouray and Silverton, Ironton is pretty easy to reach. Vehicles with two-wheel drive are suitable for the road year-round, but the area does receive its fair share of snow.
Coming from Ouray, you can take Highway 550 south for about seven miles before reaching Ironton, which will be marked with a sign. From Silverton, travelers will take Highway 550 north for 15 miles, passing the ghost town of Red Mountain on the way. Ironton Park Campsite is the nearest campsite visitors can stay near Ironton.
Why you need good car insurance
Driving to these remote ghost towns can sometimes be dicey. Between the steep roads, extreme weather, and wildlife crossing, the likelihood of having a car accident increases. That’s why it’s crucial to make sure you have great car insurance coverage.
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