Although difficult to reach, Crystal, CO is a gem of a ghost town, with many buildings still standing and mining remnants scattered around. It’s hidden away on a dirt 4×4 road, 6 miles east of Marble in Gunnison County.
Crystal is home to one of the most sought after photographs for history buffs and explorers alike, the old Crystal Mill. This wooden powerhouse was built in 1893 as the Sheep Mountain powerhouse, on an outcrop of the Crystal River.
Miners began working the area in the 1860s, however, the area was so difficult to access because of the roads that it took another twenty years for things to start booming. Established in 1880, Crystal also was known as Crystal City. The town boomed as a mining camp for several decades with an average population of around 500, but was nearly a ghost town by 1917.
In 1893 there a half dozen mines, which produced silver, zinc and lead. Crystal in its heyday had a newspaper: The Silver Lance, which had replaced the Crystal River Current, as well as a post office, hotels, general stores, saloons, a pool hall and the Crystal Club, an executive club for men.
Ultimately, the difficulty in reaching Crystal led to its demise. Even in the dry, summer months it was tough to reach for mail, necessities and to transport ore to either Carbondale via Marble, or Crested Butte.
In the winter and even into the spring due to late lying snow, it was nearly impossible to reach. This cut into profits for the town, which by 1889 had only 100 people in its winter population.
The Crystal Mill was built to improve the town’s efficient after the silver panic in 1893. However, it wasn’t enough and the town declined further, reaching 8 residents in 1915 and all the mines closed by 1917.
Today only a few hearty locals spend summers there, and leave again when the snow falls. The region is an outdoor paradise, tucked between the Maroon Bells–Snowmass Wilderness to the north and the Raggeds Wilderness to the south. Hiking, biking, fishing, ATVs, and really any of Colorado’s great recreation is prime there.
From Marble – You’ll need a 4×4 with high-clearance to reach Crystal. Take County Road 3 for 5.4 miles out of Marble to reach Crystal, passing the Crystal Mill first. After reaching Crystal if you continue on, you’ll head over Schofield pass and Gothic before reaching Crested Butte. Don’t even attempt this route unless you’re an experienced 4×4’er, as it’s one of Colorado’s most dangerous and narrow roads.
From Crested Butte – Take Forest Road 317/Gothic Road for about twenty miles from Crested Butte to reach Crystal, passing Gothic ghost town on the way. This difficult 4×4 route traverses the Devil’s Punchbowl, which is one of Colorado’ deadliest 4×4 trails. It has a history of cars sliding off the edge into the canyon below.
County: Gunnison County
Roads: 4WD, high-clearance
Season: Year round[sc name=”Ad-Activity-Bottom”]