Nature versus civilization is a time-honored battle, and there are some beautiful, abandoned places in Colorado where it is clear nature has won: worn, rusted places returning to the earth. As summer ends, you can enjoy seeing nature triumph — and leaves turn — while also checking out everything from ghost towns to abandoned mines to Old Man Jenkins guarding a race track by Lakeside. Here are ten of the most amazing abandoned places in Colorado.
US Route 285, Jefferson in Park County
The overgrown train tracks at Kenosha Pass hold deep history, beginning with their construction in 1878. This line was a part of the Denver, South Park, and Pacific Railroad — a crucial artery to the mining areas of Colorado during the mineral boom in the late nineteenth century, after Kenosha Pass had already served as a key route for more primitive travel in the gold rush of the 1860s. Now you can find gold of a different variety, as the turning aspens illuminate the entire area.
11520 Co Rd 3, Carbondale
You’ll find Crystal Mill outside of Carbondale, about four hours west of Denver. This historic old mill may be one the most photogenic of the abandoned places on this list; it’s stood in this spot for over a century, ready for its closeup. The hike to this spot is not easy, but it's worth it — as shown by talented local photographer Brandon Tormanen, who took the shot featured above. The Crystal Mill is on private property, so you'll have to admire its abandoned beauty from across the river. And plan on spending time in Carbondale, which is full of old-timey charm.
4601 Sheridan Boulevard
Closer to home is a place with a very Scooby Doo-esque vibe, complete with nearby carnival rides and a creepy Old Man Jenkins, who will yell at you if you trespass — so definitely admire this abandoned site from a distance. In its former glory, the Lakeside Speedway welcomed most of the big race-car names; it opened in 1938 and, after a break for WWII, was racing midget and stock cars again until its closing in 1988. Vines have been growing over the asphalt ever since.
Mount Vernon Historic Town Site and Cemetery
1103 Co Rd 93, Golden
Mount Vernon's original townsite is sometimes called the old Cemetery at Red Rocks. Joseph Casto founded the Town of Mount Vernon in 1859, at what is now Matthews/Winters Park. By 1885, only the Matthews family were residents. The dates on the gravestones date back to as early as 1860; they are all that remain of the original Mount Vernon, considered by some the "birthplace of Colorado." To see it, take the White Hill hike across the Red Rocks trail to the Village Walk Trail, and head to the picnic area across from Mount Vernon Creek. Take the Village Walk Trail .3 miles through the gently sloping meadow, continuing to the hilltop scattered with gravestones.
Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory
8000 CR 317, Crested Butte
Founded in 1928 outside of Crested Butte, Gothic is not completely abandoned — which could be why it holds some of the most beautifully preserved abandoned buildings in the state. The area is home to a cutting-edge biological field station, an offshoot of a lab that was the best in the nation in the '30s. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. through September 30, you can stop at the Gothic visitor center for tours of the ghost town and laboratory.
Exact coordinates in San Juan
The Sunnyside Mine is located seven miles northeast of Silverton, at an elevation of 12,240 feet on what had been the shore of Lake Emma. The mine was very active for fifty years, from the 1880s to the 1930s. On June 4, 1978, Lake Emma collapsed into the upper area, sending a landslide of dirt and debris through most of the mine. Fortunately for the miners, it was a Sunday and no one was hurt or killed. Sunnyside officially closed in 1991, after having produced over $150 million worth of metals in its time. Of course, it's since produced waste and plenty of headlines, since it's right next to the Gold King Mine.
Red Mountain Ghost Town
Exact coordinates in Ouray
Between Ouray and Silverton on Highway 550 — the Million Dollar Highway — is the Red Mountain valley and ghost town, the site of another abandoned mine, the National Bell Mine. In its heyday, there were a hundred thriving businesses in Red Mountain, including saloons and gambling halls — despite the intense cold during the winter. You can see the town from the Idarado Mine turnoff, or park at the Red Mountain Pass area and hike down. A mountain slope on your left called "the Knob" holds the remnants of the Bell Mine, as well as one building: the town's former jail.
Dam in Castlewood Canyon
2989 CO-83, Franktown
At Castlewood Canyon Park, you enjoy views of the Flatirons and Pikes Peak, as well as the ruins of the circa 1890 Castlewood Dam. You can even walk on what remains of the dam, right by the Cherry Creek trail.On August 3, 1933, this dam burst, causing the second worst flood in our history.
Mount Falcon Castle
3852 Vine Street, Morrison
In 1879, John Brisben Walker was commissioned by the government to investigate agriculture in the arid regions of the West, so he purchased over 1,600 acres north of Denver. He named this area Berkley Farm and began growing alfalfa there. In 1880, Walker purchased land near present-day Union Station, where he developed Denver's first amusement park: River Front Park. This historic Denver spot boasted a racetrack, the Castle of Culture and Commerce, ballparks, an excursion steamer, and numerous other features, such as firework displays; he also staged Denver's first rodeo. But his abandoned castle outside Morrison may be his most scenic legacy.
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25850 Co Road 162, Nathrop
Founded in 1880 in Chaffee County, this picturesque ghost town is home to both a bed-and-breakfast and a general store that are still operational. Mining for gold and silver a century ago made this town flourish, and it was home to 2,000 people in its heyday. Today it's on the state's historic registry.