There’s something compelling about walking around an abandoned town where relics of rusty outbuildings tilt in disarray, the wind whistles from channels created by nearby mountains, and the mind imagines what it was like to live in such a remote, difficult location as miners headed back from a long day in dirt-streaked long-sleeved shirts, blue jeans and a hat.
The first gold mining claim was made in the mountains above Telluride in 1875, and not long after, what was once christened the town of Columbia eventually got renamed Telluride, as miners and their families settled in a number of camps in the western San Juan mountains and along the San Miguel River. After the gold mining started to become scarce, the silver crash of 1893 wiped out the remaining towns. Those days may be long gone now, but the remnants of their lives still live on in Colorado.
There are roughly 1,500 ghost towns in Colorado. Currently, only about 640 remain that provide that spooky, anachronistic feeling… if you dare. The summertime is the best time to explore them as the crowds are fewer. But be careful as many of the abandoned buildings are unsafe to enter, and look out for any uncovered shafts. Here are the two closest ghost towns you can get to near Telluride.
Alta Ghost Town
It’s a four-mile drive (and 11,800 feet) to get up to the high alpine Alta Ghost Town in a four-wheel drive vehicle. Imagine how hard it was to get up these narrow, steep dirt roads with horses and supplies. Once there, this is a photographer’s dream—one of the best-preserved ghost towns in Colorado with still-intact-but-drooping log cabins, a boarding house and outhouse buildings, while the pine and spruce sway against the forlorn backdrop of the San Juan mountains. A visceral historical site! If you want someone else to do the driving, Telluride Outside offers a 4 WD Alta Ghost Town off-road tour.
Tomboy Ghost Town
Here’s another tour offered by Telluride Outside. Or if you’d rather do it yourself, Mountain Adventure equipment provides 4 x 4 rentals to get up this steep and narrow drive through Imogene Pass. The trip takes you up to 3,000 feet, to a ghost town situated high in the mountains overlooking Telluride. The miners dug for ore in this town, and until the 1920s, nearly 1,000 people lived and worked here until the veins ran out. Here you’ll find boarding houses and dance halls, and saloons and brothels for miners. The buildings have been remarkably preserved for such a high elevation. When you’re done exploring, head back into town and grab a cup at the eclectic and innovative Ghost Town coffee shop.
For more information on how to enjoy the best of Telluride, call SilverStar Telluride Luxury Rentals at 970-728-3001 or visit us online.