Imagine a place where people used to live more than 100 years ago. Can you picture the bustling streets, busy stores and daily activity? Imagine — for whatever reason — that same sense of excitement slowed to a trickle. Then it stopped. And as the activity ceased, the people moved away. All that’s left as a monument to those times are abandoned buildings, closed stores and a foreboding sense of days gone by in a ghost town.
Ghost towns are real, of course, and there are plenty of reasons for them to exist. In some cases, settlements sprang up because of a specific economic activity, like mining for gold or drilling for oil. As the resources dried up, the people moved on, too.
In other cases, towns that once served motorists or tourists may experience a decline in business as new roadways, like the interstate, take travelers in a different direction.
Ghost towns exist all over the United States, and Colorado has plenty to offer. The mining boom of the late 1800s brought considerable wealth to the Denver area, and towns like Breckenridge, Leadville and Idaho Springs remain top destinations in the state. But not all of these mining villages were so lucky.
Explore these Denver ghost towns
While Denver offers plenty to do for visitors and residents alike, taking a day trip outside the city limits can put you in proximity to some of the most interesting ghost towns that Colorado has to offer. The following ghost towns are within a day’s drive of the Mile High City and are perfect short trips you can take, whether you’re renting a car for a road trip across the state or using Avail to borrow a car for a day.
Just up the road from Central City, CO, a former mining town that managed to survive the bust, the ghost town of Nevadaville is a 48-minute drive west of downtown Denver. In its heyday, Nevadaville was home to around 4,000 people. This former boomtown is one of many that played host to miners and the merchants who served them.
Today, you can still see several original buildings and gravesites. One building still in use, Nevada Lodge No. 4, hosts Freemasons’ monthly meetings.
The Apex mining camp grew quickly in the late 1800s and was, at one point, the capital of the Pine Creek Mining District. The site of a rich ore vein that encouraged rapid growth, Apex once had nearly 1,000 residents and more than 100 businesses on its busy Main Street. Because two fires decimated most of the town’s structures, visitors to this location can only see a handful of scattered buildings, summer cabins and a single resident who still calls the place home.
Apex is located not far from Central City. It’ll take roughly 49 minutes (around 38 miles or so) to get there from downtown Denver.
The now-abandoned boomtown of Gilman sprang up in 1886 thanks to the Colorado silver boom and was Eagle County’s most successful settlement. By the end of the 1890s, 300 people called Gilman home and even enjoyed the presence of a local newspaper.
Unlike the previous two towns on the list, Gilman remained in continuous use as a mining site until 1984, when authorities demanded its closure due to toxic conditions. Although it has been cleaned up significantly, the town sits on private property and cannot be directly accessed. If you take Highway 24 west of Vail, however, you can pull off the road and look down at this monument to history.
To reach Gilman from Denver, head roughly two hours west via I-70.
4. Mount Vernon
One of Colorado’s first settlements, Mount Vernon currently sits in Morrison in the Matthews/Winters Park area. Although not much more than two stone homes and a cemetery sit on the site today, it’s an important landmark in the state’s history.
Mount Vernon served as a mining staging area after its founding by Joseph Castro in 1859. Castro offered free plots of land to anyone who agreed to build there and eventually became the Jefferson Territory’s de facto capital. For two years, Mount Vernon was home to dozens of cabins, hotels, a saloon, a blacksmith and a general store.
After the federal government created the Colorado Territory in 1861, the town fell out of favor with area miners and politicians. Other routes into the mountains grew, and the town lost its purpose. As stagecoach traffic declined and the railroads sought other paths into the mountains, many of these structures either collapsed out of disuse or were likely demolished to make way for the construction of Interstate 70.
Today, you can still visit the two remaining buildings, which are privately owned. To get there, take US-6 West from downtown Denver to Matthews/Winters Park. You must park at the trailhead and walk the trail to the Jefferson County Open Space.
5. Teller City
If you drive southeast from Walden, CO, you’ll find Teller City. A former silver-mining camp established shortly after 1879, this boomtown was once home to the Yates House Hotel, a 40-room establishment, and hundreds of log cabins. Despite its rapid growth and prosperity, settlers largely abandoned Teller City by 1887, leaving only 300 residents. By 1902, the town was functionally deserted.
Today, only a few cabins and foundations remain as monuments to the settlement’s speedy ascent and decline. If you’re curious to see it, the drive to nearby Walden takes around three hours from downtown Denver on US-40 W and CO-125 N.
Caribou, CO, and its two remaining stone ruins are located 20 miles west of Boulder. At its peak, nearly 3,000 people called this boomtown home — enough to support a church, three saloons, a brewery and a newspaper.
The mining rights to the Caribou silver mine changed hands at least three times during the 1870s, but a fire consumed the town in 1879. By the 1920s, fewer than 50 people remained.
To reach Caribou, make the 30-mile trip to Boulder from downtown Denver. You’ll then head west for 20 miles to nearby Nederland.
Dearfield, which sits an hour northeast of Denver via I-76 E, has the distinction of being Colorado’s only all-Black settlement. It was at one point home to more than 700 African Americans. However, its success was short-lived: Dearfield died during the Great Depression and Dust Bowl. Only three buildings remain today (a gas station, a diner and the founder’s home). Thanks to Denver’s Black American West Museum and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, efforts to preserve the town are underway.
Located not far from present-day Breckenridge, Dyersville, CO, is a former mining town in Summit County. The remaining elements include a dozen log cabins and roofless walls. Founded by Methodist John Lewis Dyer in 1881, the town sprang up quickly thanks to the arrival of miners and merchants from Warriors Mark mine.
Dyersville collapsed not long after the mine’s closure in 1908, largely in part due to the town’s high elevation of 10,879 feet. To get to Dyersville, take I-70 an hour and a half west to Breckenridge. You’ll then take Boreas Pass south about six miles.
9. Homestead Meadows
Unlike many of the towns on our list, Homestead Meadows didn’t start as a mining town. Instead, it hosted farmers and lumber mills. This ghost town sits not far from Estes Park, CO, about an hour and a half to the northeast of downtown Denver. Visitors will need to hike to the town sites along a well-marked trail.
Homestead Meadows grew as a result of staked claims made possible by the Homestead Act of 1862. The loose collection of ranches never had a school or post office. But by 1952, the last of the area’s residents had moved away.
To get there, take US-36 West about an hour and a half to the Homestead Meadows Trailhead.
Montezuma differs from many of the locations on our list in that it’s a “semi ghost town”: There are still some year-round residents and vacation homes here. Montezuma got its start as a silver mine and grew quickly before its collapse in the late 1800s. Like many ghost towns, fires have claimed several of the village’s older structures.
Because Montezuma is still occupied, it’s important to follow the town’s rules, especially if you’re visiting to take in the sights, walk the trails and enjoy the off-road experiences that the area has to offer. To reach Montezuma from Denver, head an hour and a half west along I-70, and then south on U.S. Highway 6. The winding road will get you there.
Journey along I-25 S about two hours south of Denver to find Goldfield. This former union mining settlement hosted 3,000 citizens at its peak, but the town was unable to survive the bust that hit once the nearby Portland Mine closed. Today, the town is home to just over 50 people. Many of its oldest structures exist in varying states of decay.
Discover the historic ghost towns near Denver
Colorado is an exciting state with a rich history and beautiful mountain landscapes to explore. Driving across the state on a sightseeing trip can be a fantastic way to spend time with your friends and family, whether they’re history buffs seeking out evidence of the past or outdoor explorers who want to hike the wilderness.
If you’ve ever considered hopping behind the wheel and taking a trip to see one of Colorado’s ghost towns, there’s no time like the present. For those who don’t own a car and want to find convenient car rental alternatives, Avail car sharing is one of the easiest ways to borrow a car in Denver.
Avail makes finding a car to explore Denver and the surrounding areas simple, with affordable insurance coverage, clean vehicles and plenty of convenient self-service locations to pick up and return your vehicle.