Colorado is well-known as a top destination for travelers who love the great outdoors. The Rocky Mountains provide thousands of miles of trails to hike, dozens of peaks to climb and endless opportunities for skiing, snowboarding and mountain biking, and the state’s pristine lakes and rivers offer beautiful settings for kayaking, sailing, swimming and other water sports.
However, if your interests tend to take you off the beaten path to explore long-deserted villages and vacant infrastructure, the Centennial State still has you covered. Keep reading to learn about the 7 most amazing abandoned places in Colorado that should definitely be part of your next visit.
Need a strong camera to photograph abandoned places in Colorado? Look no further than our two top recommendations, the Canon EOS 90D and the Nikon D7500. Find more DSLR options in our comprehensive guide.
Interested in venturing outside Colorado? Here are a few guides to surrounding states that will be helpful in your explorations outside of the wonderful abandoned places in Colorado:
- Our Guide to the 7 Best Abandoned Places in Arizona In 2021
- Our Guide to the 10 Best Abandoned Places in Nevada 2021
The Best Abandoned Places in Colorado
Titan 1 Missile Silo (Deer Trail)
Though the Cold War has been over for more than 30 years, remnants of this tumultuous time in world history are still visible in the vast open spaces of Colorado. The state is home to six abandoned subterranean missile silos constructed to house Titan 1, one of the earliest intercontinental ballistic missiles developed in the U.S. Measuring nearly 100 feet long, the Titan 1 was intended to carry nuclear warheads to their desired destination. Four of these silos are located in Aurora, a suburb of Denver; the other two are located in Elizabeth and Deer Trail.
After being decommissioned in 1965, the silos were handed off to new owners, stripped of most of their equipment and subsequently abandoned, leaving behind a jumble of vacant underground tunnels in the Rocky Mountain foothills.
Of the six, the Deer Creek site is the most popular destination with urban explorers. The defunct silo is located about 45 minutes outside Denver, and the metal gate blocking entry to the site has been repeatedly breached by determined visitors.
Several dozen people have been arrested for trespassing while attempting to access the privately-owned Deer Creek silo, so be ready to assume the risk for any consequences of being caught on the property.
With no electrical power or exposure to natural light, the tunnels and rooms inside the silo are pitch-black, so explorers will need to bring reliable light sources in order to navigate the treacherous passageways, many of which are covered in colorful graffiti. Masks are also strongly recommended due to the presence of asbestos and other potentially toxic substances in the air underground.
Watch your footing as you traverse the beams and metal walkways inside, as some panels have been removed or have simply disintegrated over time, making it easy to slip and fall into the stagnant, fuel-filled water that has collected at the bottom of the silo. If you’re looking for one of the most interesting abandoned places in Colorado, look no further.
Crystal Mill (Crystal)
Perched above the Crystal River, the Crystal Mill—also known as the Sheep Mountain Mill—has developed a reputation as one of the most-photographed sites in the state. The historic wooden mill was built in 1892 and was designed to draw power from the river’s moving water and transfer it to an air compressor inside.
A dam crossing the river sent water down the vertical ladder-style penstock onto a horizontal wheel, which moved an axle in the penstock to power the air compressor. In turn, the air compressor provided energy to operate drills connected to the nearby Bear Mountain and Sheep Mountain. Dynamite was then placed into the drilled holes and detonated to allow miners to access the ore hidden inside the rock.
Though it ceased operating in 1917, the mill has been relatively well-maintained by several historic preservation groups and is one of the main attractions in the small town of Crystal. The site was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. Plan to visit in the summer or fall months when the site is most accessible; you’ll need a four-wheel-drive vehicle, a horse or a good pair of hiking shoes to reach the mill. One of the most sought-after abandoned places in Colorado, the Crystal Mill is a must-see when exploring the state.
If you are on the hunt for a great respirator to more safely observe some of these incredible abandoned places in Colorado, we highly recommend the 3M 6800 for a full-face option and the North 7700 if you would prefer a half-face option. Find more respirator options in our in-depth guide.
Ludlow Massacre Site (Trinidad)
Though it rarely gets more than a passing mention—if that—in the history books, the Ludlow Massacre remains one of the most violent and tragic events in the American labor movement. Fortunately, the site of this painful incident in rural Colorado has been preserved and memorialized for future generations.
The primary catalyst of the deadly showdown began in the summer of 1913, when roughly 8,000 employees of the Colorado Fuel & Iron Company formed a union expressly to protest the dangerous and unhealthy living and working conditions maintained by the company’s owners, the famed Rockefeller family. The miners immediately went on strike, and in retaliation, the company expelled the disgruntled employees and their families from the company town.
Undeterred, the workers literally put stakes in the ground, establishing a hastily-assembled tent city adjacent to the mines. Private security forces and National Guard troops raided the makeshift settlement in an effort to intimidate the union, but the situation remained tense but stable until April 20, 1914.
On that day, the militias onsite fired shots into the tent city, and the miners responded in kind. The opposing forces traded bullets throughout the day, but when darkness fell that evening, the National Guard set a fire that quickly consumed the encampment. When the sun rose the next day, more than two dozen civilians had lost their lives, including two women and 11 children who had taken shelter in an underground cellar.
The remains of the Ludlow company town are still visible on the site about 125 miles south of Colorado Springs. The former tent city has been designated with a monument funded by the United Mine Workers of America, and a worn cellar door still marks the site where the 13 women and children took their last breaths.
Gold Camp Road Tunnels (Colorado Springs)
Near the rugged hills of the Pikes Peak region, a collection of now-defunct railroad tunnels have become the subject of considerable curiosity—and more than a few urban legends and ghost stories.
Located along the winding 31-mile route between the area’s former gold mines and the city of Colorado Springs, the tunnels were built in the late 19th century, and dangerous conditions likely cost many workers their lives. The Short Line Railroad ran trains along the route through the 1920s, and the tracks were finally removed in 1929 so they could be replaced with a traditional roadway.
Over the decades, inadequate maintenance and vandalism resulted in the collapse of three of these iconic arched tunnels. One of these collapses is (falsely) rumored to have trapped a school bus full of children, killing all on board; however, the collapse occurred in 1988, and no news reports exist to corroborate the story. Still, the collapsed tunnels did require the rural roadway to be rerouted, and menacing black steel fences adorned with warning signs now surround these hazardous areas.
To access the historic tunnels, take Gold Camp Road until it transitions from asphalt to dirt. Plan to park at the collapsed Tunnel 6 and hike or ride a mountain bike six miles to Tunnel 3, passing through Tunnel 4 and Tunnel 5 along the way.
Animas Forks Ghost Town (Silverton)
Located at an elevation of more than 11,000 feet, this high-altitude ghost town in the San Juan Mountains is best explored via Jeep or another four-wheel-drive vehicle.
Animas Forks was founded in 1873 and quickly blossomed into a thriving mining community roughly 12 miles from the town of Silverton. Located at the junction of three rivers, the town was first known as Three Forks of the Animas before settlers shortened its name to simply Animas Forks.
Within a few years, the town had grown to include more than 30 cabins, a hotel, a general store, a post office and a saloon serving around 450 residents. Regular publication of the Animas Forks Pioneer kept citizens informed about local news.
Due to the town’s altitude, residents were forced south to Silverton every autumn to wait out the harsh winters. The infamous blizzard of 1884 crushed the region with more than three straight weeks of heavy snow that eventually reached a whopping 25 feet, requiring residents to carve out tunnels in the snow to move between buildings.
As mining activity in the area declined in the early 20th century, most residents relocated elsewhere, and by the 1920s Animas Forks was essentially abandoned. Several of its original structures are still standing and open to the public, drawing thousands of visitors annually traveling the 65-mile Alpine Loop between Lake City, Ouray and Silverton.
Urban exploration of abandoned places in Colorado is no fun if one of your hands is occupied with a flashlight. Save yourself with a headlamp, one of the most versatile pieces of urbex gear. We highly recommend either the PETZL Actik Core, or the Black Diamond Wiz for those on a budget. For a complete breakdown, please view our headlamp buyer’s guide.
Abandoned Mine – Leadville Silver (Leadville)
Though prospectors first descended on Leadville in the mid-19th century in search of gold, the region didn’t become known for its riches until 1879, when massive deposits of silver were discovered, launching the 15-year frenzy known as the Colorado Silver Boom.
A sudden and precipitous drop in silver prices led to the silver crash of 1893, when many silver mines were idled or abandoned and roughly 9 in 10 miners in the area lost their livelihoods. Fortunately, discoveries of additional valuable minerals, including zinc, molybdenum and (at long last) gold, allowed the industry to survive for nearly a century beyond the silver boom that started it all.
The first half of the 20th century brought both feast and famine to the mines, with demand increasing during the two World Wars but plummeting during the Great Depression in between them. In the post-World War II era, community leaders realized that mining could not sustain the regional economy indefinitely, so they invested in tourism and other industries that remain profitable today.
Though Leadville is no longer known for its rich stores of minerals, visitors to the area can still peek into the past at the site of an abandoned silver mine just east of the town limits. Crumbling wooden shacks, twisted piles of metal debris, stacks of excess rock and smelting piles dot the land around the defunct mines, creating a stark contrast to the lush evergreens and endless blue skies that surround them.
Valmont Butte (Boulder)
Centuries before the first white explorers set foot on Valmont Butte, the distinctive rock outcropping was celebrated as sacred space among the Native Americans living in the area that would eventually become the city of Boulder. The butte drew members of multiple tribes to its stark, regal beauty, providing a spot to camp, hunt and conduct spiritual ceremonies; artifacts uncovered on the site also indicate it was used as a burial ground.
When settlers arrived in the area, the butte became the heart of the town of Valmont, which soon grew into a thriving population center with three saloons and a local newspaper. The community expanded further in the 1930s and 1940s, when rock quarries were developed on the sides of the butte and a mill was built for processing the gold ore and fluorspar extracted from the mountain.
Sadly, these highly profitable businesses were devastating to the health of the surrounding environment, contaminating the soil and groundwater with toxic heavy metals and radium. Eventually, the EPA named Valmont Butte to its list of the 10 most contaminated locations in the state.
The City of Boulder purchased the property in 2000 and has attempted multiple cleanup and remediation efforts on the historic site, but the once-majestic Valmont Butte remains a desecrated shadow of the cherished site where the region’s native peoples once sought solitude in the breathtaking beauty of nature.
Cameras, headlamps, respirators and more. Urban exploration can be very gear-heavy, especially when exploring abandoned places in Colorado. When this is the case, it’s important to have a good-quality backpack.
We recommend both the Osprey Packs Daylite for sling backpacks when exploring abandoned places in Colorado, or the Mardingtop Tactical Backpack for a standard two-strap backpack. Alternatively, check out our comprehensive guide for far more options, tips, and tricks.
Our Final Thoughts on Abandoned Places in Colorado
Those who are into urban exploration in the Colorado state area, and wanting to explore abandoned places in Colorado, should get comfortable with Colorado trespassing laws. Luckily, in the state of Colorado, the laws are easy to understand and are pretty cut and dry.
For these cases, you should familiarize yourself with x. For more about obtaining permission to explore abandoned places in Colorado, check out our guide Explore Abandoned Buildings: How To Get Permission.