Colorado is home to its fair share of ghost towns because of its mining history. Amidst the gold rush, new towns popped up in gold and silver hot spots in the mid 1800s. But by the end of the century, many of those towns were abandoned in pursuit of more comfortable living conditions. Today, there are over 1,500 ghost towns that still exist across the state that lay empty or nearly empty. Many of the 200-year old structures are phenomenally preserved, and easy to visit. There are a few ghost towns that are inaccessible to the public due to toxic conditions. Here are three of Colorado’s spookiest ghost towns plus everything you need to know about them.
Located southwest of Buena Vista, Saint Elmo is one of Colorado’s creepiest ghost towns. First established as Forrest City in 1880, Saint Elmo was part of the gold rush, drawing inhabitants from all around the country. By 1881, the town had about 2,000 residents. But the boom only lasted about five years due to limited mining resources. Less than 100 years later, nearly everyone had left the town.
While many ghost towns are categorized as such due to their vacancy, Saint Elmo could have a resident with slightly creepier implications. Legend has it that a skier spotted a pretty woman in a white dress, staring out the window of a hotel room. Some speculate that she was a descendant of one of the town’s founders and she continues to protect that region today.
Those who are adventurous enough to visit the town will find that it’s still not entirely empty. The town is not only accessible all year round, making it a great adventure spot. It’s also one of the best-preserved ghost towns in the state, giving visitors tremendous insight into what it might’ve looked like in the 1800s. There are 43 structures still standing proudly in the town today. One of them is an operational general store where adventurers might stop for a cold drink. To get there from Denver, drivers should expect nearly a 3-hour drive. Take 285 S almost the whole way there before turning onto CO RD 162/Chalk Creek Dr.
The town of Independence is situated near the Aspen at 11,000-feet, in an extremely exposed area. Its location is enough to give most drivers the heebee jeebees since its always predisposed to extreme weather conditions.The town was first established in 1879, but it was only open for about 20 years because it was inaccessible in the winter, making it impossible for residents to resupply or leave during horrible conditions. In its prime, Independence had about 1,500 residents and 40 businesses, making it an extremely bustling place during the mining days. However, living in this area meant that residents had to face the potential for starvation and exposure. If the dried up mine and treacherous weather conditions weren’t enough to encourage existing residents to leave, a terrible storm would chase off the last of them by 1899.
The town of Independence is still accessible to most visitors, but the pass closes every year between early November through Memorial Day. To get there from Denver, most drivers take I-70 W to CO-91 S to CO-82 W. The journey takes about 2.5 hours without traffic.
Gilman – Inaccessible
Gilman is easily one of Colorado’s scariest ghost towns because of the circumstances surrounding its abandonment. Located in Eagle County, this town was established by John Clinton, a prospector and a judge. It quickly became a mining town for about 100 years, where workers collected silver, copper, gold and zinc. While most mining towns lasted just 20-50 years, Gilman was situated on enough material to keep the mine going for much longer. The town saw so much early success that the population grew to about 1,500 people. It was fully functional, and even contained a school and bowling alley.
Like many of Colorado’s ghost towns, Gilman’s population started to dry up with the gold. By the end of the 19th century, only300 people inhabited the town. However, in 1984, the town was entirely abandoned after the Environmental Protection Agency ordered its closure. Scientists determined that the town was full of toxic components and pollutants that caused harm to residents. Even the groundwater was found to be contaminated. In addition to finding these toxins, the EPA found 8 million tons of mine waste.
Gilman was designated as a superfund site in 1986. Officials were able to clean many of the toxins found in the town, and the area is still inhabitable today although it remains closed to visitors. Officials have been known to prosecute trespassers for visiting.
Colorado is known for everything from its steep and rocky peaks to its outdoor adventure culture and micro breweries. But a lesser-known attraction is the state’s collection of ghost towns, which welcome visitors from around the country every year. With a rich history in mining that continues even today, some of the state’s abandoned mining towns are among the biggest and most developed in the country. Spending a weekend exploring these destinations can be one of the most gratifying spooky-season activities in the state.