Colorado is full of fascinating ghost towns located throughout the state, some of the best preserved around. These towns were abandoned for different reasons, some due to mining or economic struggles, others due to natural forces like cold winters.
Ghost Towns in Colorado
Year round you can explore the best abandoned, old ghost towns in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains and beyond. Some high elevation former mining camps are only accessible in the summer. 2WD cars will be fine for most, though, some require a high-clearance 4×4 or a hike-to access. Not all ghost towns listed are worth visited, as little to nothing remains, but we’ll still note their history.
Guide to Ghost Towns in Colorado
Colorado is a state filled with a rich, Wild West history, which can be easily experienced with a trip to a ghost town. During the Great Gold Rush in the second half of the 19th century, settlers headed west in search of their fortune. Mining camps boomed.
Saloons, shootouts, cowboys and sheriffs were commonplace during these glory days. When the heyday passed, most villagers left the often high elevation mining camps.
Now, these towns remain stuck in their 19th century life as ghost towns. But just because no one lives there doesn’t mean that they are totally devoid of life. Many of the ghost towns in Colorado are considered to be national historic treasures, and are preserved and visited as such.
A few western museums stage an “Old West” style ghost town with original buildings and artifacts. South Park City in Fairplay, and Gunnison’s Pioneer Museum are two examples. Being able to enter centuries-old saloons, still furnished with original 19th century stools and bars, is an unforgettable rush.
Visiting Colorado’s Top Ghost Towns
There are well over fifty ghost towns to visit. Each has its own local flavor, so many tourists decide to visit multiple during a journey through this beautiful state. Most towns are absent of any full time residents. However, some like Nevadaville, have a few, although they’re still pretty much deserted.
Some are remote and only accessible by 4×4, while others are just off a main road. They make for a relaxing day trip and fun addition to your travels. Depending on the route back, some can be accessed in the winter, while others are best saved for spring, summer and fall.
Tucked away on the side of Independence Pass outside Aspen, Independence also houses a large number of original homesteads. It’s one of the better preserved ghost towns in the state.b
Remote Off-Road 4×4 Ghost Towns
Graysill Mines is a good choice if you want to see the lifestyle that miners led, or Homestead Meadows if you want to check out the remnants of buildings that the earliest Rocky Mountain settlers once called home.
Hidden on the Alpine Loop 4×4 byway by Silverton, Animas Forks is one of the highest ghost towns at 11,200 feet. It has many original buildings remaining. Vicksburg and Winfield is secluded in Clear Creek Canyon, north of Buena Vista. Both have a good amount of historic structures to explore.
Many of the ghost towns in Colorado contain little evidence of previous inhabitants. There may only be one building or a few scraps of wood remaining. Bowerman, Hancock and Teller City each have only a select amount of ruins left. They do, however, have an interpretive sign with the town’s history, so you can use your imagination on what life might’ve been like back then.
Haunted Ghost Towns
Historians and explorers aside, there is another major group of people who enjoy taking a trip to local ghost towns. Famous TV personas from series like TAPS, Paranormal State and similar ghost hunting shows have visited local ghost towns.
They’re in search of the residents whom may have decided to stay, long after they had died. It isn’t uncommon to hear legends of cowboys, sheriffs, and criminals who were shot during altercations. If anywhere in the Wild West would be haunted, it’s probably Colorado.
There are many ghost towns to visit, and there are a lot of nearby resorts that accommodate adventurous travelers in search of Western history and hauntings. One of the most notable towns is Saint Elmo, which is cited as one of the best preserved in the entire state.
It houses forty-three buildings, including a still operating General Store, open summer and fall, as well as an abandoned railroad and a cemetery that definitely leaves a haunting impression.
Ancient Puebloan Villages
A different type of ghost town exists in Southwest Colorado, which is much older than former mining towns. The Anasazi or Ancient Puebloan inhabited the Four Corners region until about 1300 AD, until they mysteriously vanished. Reasons for their disappearance vary, with the most popular conclusion being they exhausted the area’s natural resources.
Evidence of their homesteads exist at Mesa Verde by Mancos, Canyons of the Ancients in Cortez and Hovenweep in Dolores. Unbelievable cliff dwellings and mesa top villages are waiting to be explored year round. You can camp at all three parks.
Latest in Ghost Towns
Rent an ATV and explore the mountain backcountry. Finding ghost towns is a cinch with a Jeep. Some historic mines offer tours into the mine.