Ghost Towns in Southwestern Montana

In this post, I review several, cool ghost towns in southwestern Montana.

 

Montana IS the Old West!  It’s full of small, dusty, cowpoke towns where you can just imagine characters like Buffalo Bill Cody and Wyatt Earp walking its streets.  What better way to enjoy that experience than visiting an authentic ghost town?  We saw a few on a recent road trip to western Montana (though there are still plenty more on our list!)  See below for details!

Elkhorn State Park (Ghost Town)

Elkhorn is a tiny town located in the high mountains of southwestern Montana.  It is situated in a lovely valley with a mountain expanse that spreads out before you.  Technically this is a state park but the park portion only encompasses two buildings and a picnic area, the rest of the town is privately owned.  Feel free to walk the local roads though.  There are a number of signs that show where buildings used to be, what they were used for, etc.  

Front of old, wooden building. Sign says, "Gillian Hall: Built 1880's, Bottom a store or saloon, dances upstairs."

You can reach Elkhorn from the south by taking Exit 256, off of I-90, near Cardwell, Montana.  From here you will take Route 69 north.  After about 25 miles you will turn right on White Bridge Road (it’s literally just a short road that crosses the river on a small bridge.)  Once you cross the river turn right at the T-intersection onto Lower Valley Road.  You then take this road to the town.

There are a few signs for the Elkhorn mountains and Elkhorn state park but don’t rely on these to guide you.  It will be about 40 miles until you reach the town going this route.  As long as you stay on the main gravel road once you reach Lower Valley Road, you should be fine.  These roads are almost all dirt but they’re in good shape for basically any vehicle in good weather conditions. 

Old wooden building

You can also reach the town from the north from I-15.  From Exit 164 on I-15 at Boulder, MT, take Route 69 south and then take a left onto White Bridge Road.  The town is about 20 miles from the I-15 exit going this route.

Front of old, wooden building. Sign says, "Fraternity Hall, shows were upstairs"If you continue up the dirt road past town and follow the signs, you will end up at the old cemetery in the woods. (The road is in pretty decent shape in good weather conditions–though we admittedly had a 4×4 truck.  We did see a sedan up there but I’d be careful with any car other than a Subaru or something else with higher clearance.  There were a few ruts and rocks in the road that could damage a lower-clearance vehicle.).

The cemetery was really neat but also very sad.  There were SO MANY graves of babies and children (apparently there was a diphtheria epidemic in the town that killed many children).  You’d see families where multiple children died within just a few days of each other.  I always love visiting old cemeteries.  It’s always very sad to see how frequently young people died, but the histories of the area that you can gather are always so interesting. 

Old, wooden building

Old, decrepit, wooden mine stands on a mountainside
The mine in Elkhorn

Nevada City and Virginia City Ghost Towns

These two towns are also located in southwest Montana.  They are only about two miles apart.  The easiest way to reach them is probably from Three Forks, Montana.  Take Exit 274 off of I-90 for US 287 south.  Then take this road to the town of Ennis and turn right onto State Route 287 (yes, the roads are the same number. 😉)  This road runs right to the towns.  It is around 60 miles to the towns from I-90.

Related Info:  Activities in Nevada and Virginia Cities, Virginia City history, Nevada City history, Bannack HistoryHistory of Elkhorn; 6 Don’t Miss Places for your Western Montana Road Trip

Nevada City was our favorite site of the two.  It is an outdoor museum of sorts.  Once you enter you can then walk around the entire town.  There are many buildings that you can actually go inside that are modeled to look as they would have in their heyday (such as a barbershop, the blacksmith shop, the general store, etc.).  Many of the structures are not native to this exact location, rather they were saved by historical foundations and brought here from around the state to be preserved. (It reminded me a little of the 1880 town in South Dakota.)

View down dirt, main street of Nevada City ghost town. Old, wooden buildings on each side.
Main Street Nevada City

View down dirt street of a ghost town. Old, wooden buildings on each side. Blue sky with clouds

Barber Shop, Nevada City:

Interior of building. Sinks, mirror and wash basin in foreground, antique chair to the side, antique wood stove through doorway. Sign above door says, "Bath's"

One great part about this museum, it was Puppers friendly!

Front porch of old Post Office, dog walking through front door.
Puppers enjoyed the post office!

Virginia City was ok.  There were some decent sites to see but mostly it was a busy, commercialized town filled with shops, restaurants, and saloons.  Some people enjoy that atmosphere and that’s fine, but the Trekkers (and Puppers) prefer the quiet and solitude of the real ghost town. 😁  The town did offer some historical tours in horse-drawn stagecoaches that looked kind of cool, though we didn’t partake.

View down modern, paved, main street of Virginia City ghost town. Cars line both sides.
Main Street Virginia City (it isn’t quite so ghostly)

Bannack State Park (Ghost Town)

The easiest way to get to Bannack would be to take I-15 to Exit 59, near Dillon, Montana.  From here you will take Route 278 west.  After about 17 miles, Bannack Bench Road will break off to the south (left).  That takes you right to the state park.

Some of the roads to get to the park are gravel, but they were in great shape!  As long as you take it easy and don’t mind getting your car dirty, any sedan should be able to handle the drive in good weather conditions.

View down dirt, main street of Bannack ghost town, Bannack State Park. Old, wooden buildings on each side, blue, cloud-covered sky, dusty mountains in background..
Main Street Bannack

Old, wooden buildings line one side of dirt, street.

Old, wooden buildings line one side of dirt, street.

Old, wooden jails. Dusty mountains in background.
The jails in Bannack
Interior of old, wooden jail. Shackle points in floor.
You can see where the prisoners were chained

Bannack is AWESOME!  It’s one of the better preserved, true ghost towns I’ve ever seen (meaning it’s still in its original location and the buildings are in fairly good shape.)  They let you just wander around the town on your own, you can go in the buildings (that aren’t locked) AND you can bring dogs!

Smoky sunset over scrub-brush covered pastureland.
A smoky sunset over wild Montana
Woman and dog walking away from camera on dirt street of ghost town, sun setting into the clouds in background.
Puppers and I searching for ghosts at sunset
Interior of old, one room schoolhouse. Antique desks fill the room.
Inside the schoolhouse

Rules for teachers written on the schoolhouse chalkboard:

Rules for teachers at the schoolhouse in 1915 written on a chalkboard. These include, "you may no loiter downtown."

Rules for teachers at the schoolhouse in 1915 written on a chalkboard, including, "you may not dress in bright colors."

My favorite are no wearing bright colors over that scandalous one petticoat! 🤣 

View down spiral, front staircase of old hotel.
Not gonna lie, I couldn’t help imagining myself descending these stairs in a hoop skirt!

If you can make it work I STRONGLY recommend camping in the park, it’s about a half-mile walk from the campgrounds to the ghost town, and being there in the evening as the light wanes is AMAZING! (If you choose not to camp the park is open till 9 at night, in the summer).  The campgrounds are rustic (read vault toilets) but they were cute, well-maintained, and quiet.  This was our favorite stop of the trip and Mr. Trekker’s favorite campground (mostly because of the access to the ghost town.)

Foggy campsite surrounded by trees, tent in middle.
Our cute little campsite at the Bannack State Park campground
View from top of hill overlooking the ghost town of Bannack, Montana. Smoky mountains in background.
View of Bannack from the hill above the town
Dog asleep in back of vehicle, strapped into harness and seat belt.
Sleepy puppy after chasing ghosts! (BTW that seatbelt harness she’s wearing is AWESOME!)

Though they weren’t nearly as good as the ones we found for Colorado, I did find a series of books that is helpful when visiting Montana ghost towns:  

Book, "a pocket guide to ghost towns of Montana, volume 1."

This volume didn’t cover EVERY town we’d like to see but it did review many of them.  I’ll look into getting one of the other volumes when we go out for our next trip.  The book focused mostly on the histories of the towns (which is always interesting) but it did give a quick synopsis of how to find the town at the end of each section.  It even made helpful suggestions such as, “it is not advisable for any vehicles towing trailers to approach using the southern route.”

Bannack and Nevada/Virginia Cities are only about 80 miles apart.  While you can certainly enjoy Nevada City and Virginia City on the same day, I would encourage you to save one whole day for Bannack.  This will allow you to fully enjoy that park and give it the time it deserves.   

Ghost towns are such a great way to experience history and gain an appreciation of the “cushier” lives we lead today.  So if you find yourself in southwestern Montana, check out some of these cool destinations!

Have you been to any of these awesome ghost towns?  Are there others we should put on our list?  Let me know in the comments!

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Do you enjoy immersing yourself with the ghosts of yesteryear? Check out these cool ghost towns in southwestern Montana!

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Empire Mine, Black Hills of South Dakota

In this post, I review a trip to the “secret” site of the Empire Mine, found in the central Black Hills.

Author’s Note:  I struggled with whether or not to write this post.  I wanted to blog about this location because it is a cool place and I love sharing the history and beauty of our Black Hills with others.  However, it is a bit of a secret spot and I didn’t want to be “that guy” who gives away closely-held, local secrets.  My personal policy is to not offer more directions to these types of sites than are already available on Google.  Unfortunately, there isn’t much to be found regarding the Empire Mine…

My main goal with this policy is to protect the site from vandalism and/or destruction.  We have unfortunately had these types of issues in some local places such as the Spokane ghost town and the iconic Poet’s Table, as of late.  For this reason, my directions below are intentionally vague.  If you want clearer instructions on how to reach the site, you may contact me via social media as indicated below, or by using my contact form, and I may be able to help you a little more. (I got some helpful directions from a friendly and helpful local so I am willing to pay their goodwill forward and do you the same favor. 😀)

 

There is a somewhat well-known, secret location many people enjoy hiking to in the central Black Hills.  It is the site of the now-defunct Empire Gold Mine!  You can reach the ruins of this mine via the Samelius trailhead, which is part of the Black Hills Centennial Trail.

That’s it.  Those are my directions. 😇  I told you they would be vague! 😉  I don’t feel like these approximate instructions are giving anything away as this much is available on the AllTrails site.  That page also offers a little more information as to the whereabouts of the mine, including a vague map.  Also, I knew the mine could be reached from this trailhead for quite some time and that didn’t aid me in finding this secret locale (maybe I’m just not that bright? 😂 )

The storehouse at Empire Mine.  At one point in time trucks could drive here.

What is the trail to the Empire Mine like?

The trail to the Empire Mine is about 4.2 miles in total length, out-and-back.   You should be aware, a goodly portion of the route going out is downhill…you know what that means for a goodly portion of the path coming back?! 😝  The trail is also fairly obvious the entire way.  Much of it follows old forest roads and the portions that don’t are heavily used so they are well-trodden.

When is the best time of year to visit the Empire Mine?

The hike is a bit lengthy but it isn’t overly difficult.  Some of the trail sections could become quite icy during the colder months, especially as this route sees a lot of traffic that can pack the snow into hard ice.  If the weather has been particularly wet recently, or during the spring thaw when snow is melting, mud could also make this trail slippery.

Another ruin from the site’s mining days. You can see how dilapidated the buildings are becoming.

These factors could make the downhill portions of the route troublesome, so please use caution.  The hike is especially lovely in fall when the trees change color!  This is because along the way you walk near several aspen groves that turn a brilliant, golden hue (hey look, another clue as to the location of the mine! 😉)

What is there to see at the Empire Mine?

Some of the main ruins that remain of the mine are the brick loading area and a VERY large copper funnel.  Those are found at the bottom of the hill.  As you work your way up the hill you will encounter a number of buildings and mine equipment that still remain in the forest.

A WORD OF WARNING!  The mine was built in the late 1930s so these buildings are OLD!  They are made of wood that has weathered and has not been maintained in many years.  PLEASE do NOT enter them.  Also, watch your step throughout this area as portions of the ground (especially near some of the buildings) are degrading into sinkholes.

A large funnel that was used at the mine

This is a pretty neat site to visit.  It is also not that far from several nearby, Black Hills’ towns and it isn’t really that hard to reach IF you know where you’re going.  If you’re interested in some of the mining history of the Black Hills I encourage you to look into this secret locale.  Just please, treat it with the historical respect it deserves, and don’t ruin the site for those who come after you.  *stepping off my soapbox now* 😇 

Have you visited the site of the Empire Mine in the central Black Hills?  Share your experience with me in the comments!

 

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Looking for a historical, hidden gem of the Black Hills that is easy to reach and nearby? Check out the Empire Mine...if you can find it!

 

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Opening Weekend on Beartooth Pass

In this post, I review our Memorial Day road trip to the Beartooth Highway in Montana.

Unless you are a local, this trip is probably not an option for you right now.  However, once this COVID crap is over and life returns to normal, this is a great option to have on your Bucket List!  Also, feel free to enjoy it right now, virtually!  

One item you should definitely have on your Road Trip Bucket List is to drive the Beartooth Highway on Opening Weekend.  This route connects Red Lodge, Montana, on the north side; Yellowstone National Park, to the west;  and Cody, Wyoming, to the south.  The route usually opens by the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend, though this is always weather-dependent.  Also, temporary closures may occur after the opening date, also due to weather.

Click here to watch videos of snowplows clearing the route on YouTube (be warned, they are addictive!) 😉  The Montana DOT often has to clear snowdrifts that are over 20 feet deep in some areas! 

Washoe Ghost Town near Red Lodge, Montana

You can travel the road from either direction.  We started in Red Lodge, Montana.  We noted on the map that there was a ghost town not far from our hotel, and since we hadn’t visited any of these in Montana yet, we thought we’d take full advantage of the opportunity.  The Washoe ghost town and mine site is located on Route 308, between Red Lodge and the tiny town of Bearcreek, on the way to Belfry.  The actual site is situated on private land, so you can’t tour it, but it is easily visible from the side of the road.  This location’s (unfortunate) claim to fame is that it was the site of the worst mining disaster in Montana history in the 1940s. 😐

Washoe Ghost Town

Lodging along the Beartooth Highway

We’ve been learning the joy of simple motels on recent trips.  Air B&B’s have become our “lodging of choice”, though we’ve been finding, if we MUST stay in a hotel, the simpler, local options appeal to us the most.  They have to be clean, and well-maintained, of course, but they often have so much more character than the stale, chain hotels people usually think of.  We also, frequently, stay in smaller towns, where the larger chains don’t often have a large presence.  So, being willing to expand our horizons a bit makes lodging much easier to locate.

We had incredible luck with finding places to stay on this trip.  In Red Lodge, we chose the Red Lodge Inn, which was absolutely ADORABLE.  It was a simple motel, but it appeared that the rooms had been refurbished recently, and they were quite nice.  We were also impressed by how large they were!  The motel is owned by a young family, and the hosts were incredibly friendly and helpful when we needed information regarding local attractions.

In Cody, Wyoming, we stayed at the Cody Cowboy Village, and it was equally as cute.  This one had more of a “Western” theme, while the room in Red Lodge felt more like a mountain cabin, but both were equally enjoyable.  At the motel in Cody, large wooden beams made up the small cabins and reminded me of the ADORABLE Grandma’s Cabin that we stayed in, with Mr. Trekker’s family, in Island Park, Idaho, during our Yellowstone trip in 2014!

Places to eat along the Beartooth Highway

We’re also learning that simplicity is our friend when it comes to finding meals out on the road.  We love little cafes and diners, and again, when you stay in small towns, it’s good to enjoy these. 😁  When in Red Lodge we had dinner at one of our favorite places, Red Lodge Pizza.  The restaurant is housed in the old post office and features creations along that theme such as, the Cliff Claven!  We’ve never had a bad meal there!  We enjoyed breakfast at Honey’s Cafe the next morning (which is known for its large portions), and it was equally delicious.

In Cody, we ate breakfast at Our Place, a charming little dive (to be clear, I use that term affectionately) just across the street from our hotel.  Some of the best meals I’ve eaten at a restaurant were cooked in “dives”.  These places are usually locally-owned by regular, small-town folks.  The owners are often a joy to talk with, and any time the place is crowded with locals, you know you’re in for a treat!

We enjoyed dinner at the Occidental Saloon in Buffalo, Wyoming the final night.  We’ve visited there before and have always been happy with the meals.  This site is attached to a historic hotel in town, where the likes of Teddy Roosevelt, Butch Cassidy, and Calamity Jane once rested their weary feet.  As usual, we ate the final meal of our trip, breakfast on Memorial Day morning, at the Busy Bee Cafe, also in Buffalo.  I’ve waxed lyrical about how much we like this cute little restaurant before.

The drive on Beartooth Pass!

Although weather forecasts made it appear doubtful, we did get to drive the full extent of the road…on the Montana side.  We had to wait 1.5 hours for it to open up but got to enjoy views from one of the main lookout points while we waited.  When we heard whoops of delight from the skiers and snowboarders that were parked near us and saw the snowplows drive by, we knew we were headed to the summit!

Weather had been pretty wild in this part of the country that spring, and this area had received close to a foot of snow just a few days before the road opened.  The Forest Service had gotten the Wyoming side of the route mostly open, save for the last few miles at the summit.  With the recent lousy weather though, this portion had drifted shut again. Fortunately, we have driven the entire route before (just not on Opening Weekend).  The weather didn’t seem much different from when we were there in July of 2016, there was just–a little–less snow in the summer.  There were still plenty of gloomy gray clouds, and the temperature was, maybe, only 1o degrees warmer. 😛

We found it to be almost disorienting near the summit.  The way the white snowfields melded with the pale, gray sky, it was hard to tell where the land ended and the sky began!

To check current conditions on this incredible stretch of road, you can check out these sites:  Montana DOT; Beartooth Highway in Wyoming.

Because the road was closed, we had to embrace our motto from a previous road trip, and “Just Groove“, and boy, were we glad we did!  The alternate route we chose was Route 72, south of Belfry, Montana, into Wyoming, and may I say it is absolutely GORGEOUS!  It offers incredible views of the Absaroka Mountains as you drive along their length.

Click here for a video I made of our drive. We definitely saw large piles of snow but didn’t quite get to experience the “snow tunnels” I was hoping for.  I guess we’ll just have to go back and do this route again on another Opening Weekend!

Cooke City Montana

When we reached Route 296, in Wyoming, we took that road (the Chief Joseph Highway) back to US 212 (the Beartooth Highway) on the Wyoming side, as that portion was open.  This takes you all the way to Cooke City/Silver Gate back in Montana, and eventually on to Yellowstone National Park.  These two, tiny towns had been on our “must visit” list since our Yellowstone TripThe towns were teensy but enjoyable.  They definitely felt like the type of places you’d visit in the high mountains.  For those who may be interested, I should note that there are several campgrounds in this vicinity.  HOWEVER, they only allow hard-sided campers (no tents) due to regular bear activity.  Just something to be aware of. 😳

Drive the Chief Joseph Highway in Wyoming

I can never get over how beautiful northeastern Wyoming is.  On our trip, everything was so uncharacteristically green!  This is an unusual sight for this normally dry area, but the early season and recent rain had the grass growing well.  There were some gray clouds (though we enjoyed more sun than expected) and these, contrasted with the vibrant green of the new grass and the steely, dark gray mountains, with snow still capping their summits, made for quite the scenic view!  The somewhat dreary–yet picturesque–image made both of us think of Scotland (or what we imagine Scotland to look like, having never been there…YET!) 😮😉

There’s a story that goes with this picture. Mr. Trekker had to take it from the bridge because I was too chicken to stand near the edge!

See below for more pictures of our drive.  As you can see, there was still some snow on the upper peaks:

Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming

We eventually made our way back down the Beartooth Highway and stayed in Cody, Wyoming Saturday night.  We’ve stayed there several times as a stopover, and each time we thought we should take the time to visit the Buffalo Bill Center of the West (but never got the chance).  Since this was a weekend of “checking things off the list”, we decided now was as good a time as any!

The museum is actually made up of five different areas.  We both enjoyed the Natural History portion the most.  This section comprises multiple levels, as though you were traversing down a mountain, from the tundra ecosystem near the summit, to the prairie/grassland found far below.  We also enjoyed the firearms museum, that showcased items from around the globe and from a wide range of battles throughout history.  There was also a section regarding the life of Buffalo Bill Cody and his Wild West Show that was quite interesting.

Ten Sleep Canyon, Bighorn Mountains

We took one of our favorite routes home through the Big Horns, US 16 through Ten Sleep Canyon.  This is, absolutely, one of the most beautiful canyons I’ve ever seen.  They call this the most scenic route through the Big Horns and I believe it!  Route 14 and 14a are pretty in their own right (and you’re much more likely to see moose) but the southern route through the canyon is one that shouldn’t be missed!  As you’re driving into the canyon from the west, you have the Absaroka Range in your rearview mirror while the Big Horns loom ever larger in front of you.  This area is quite dry and barren, as it’s in the rain shadow of the Absaroka’s, adding to its rugged beauty.

I know I’ve mentioned it before, but I can’t get enough of the ruggedness that makes up the Wyoming countryside.  The drab yellow of the badlands that contrasts–this time of year–against the almost florescent, green grass of Spring in the foreground, and the imposing, dark mountains in the background (with their bright white caps).  This area is pretty all the time, but especially so this time of year before the hot summer conditions have baked it dry.

This route is also called the Cloud Peak Skyway Scenic Byway, as it is the main road that runs nearest to Cloud Peak, the tallest summit in the Big Horns (though you can’t actually see the summit from the road as it’s in the middle of a Wilderness Area).  Click here for a video I made of a Labor Day Weekend drive through the canyon.

It’s also a beautiful drive down the east side of the Big Horns into Buffalo, WY.  If you’re there at the right time, you may see yaks grazing on the steep hillside near the side of the road! 😮

I recommend everyone check out these drives if they have a chance, as they are all quite beautiful.  There are LOTS of tiny lakes that make for great pictures (not to mention plenty of marmots posing for photos in the higher elevations!)  Be prepared though, winter conditions can occur at any time in that area (we had thunder and slushy snow falling on us in July!) 😮  So go tour these highways, you’ll be glad you did! 

Longmire Store, Buffalo, Wyoming

Finally, we were able to cap off our weekend in the best way!  Each time we visit Buffalo, I hope to stop at the Longmire store, named after the well-known book and Netflix series.  As we learned, it used to ONLY be open during Longmire Days each year in July, as it was just a satellite store.  Well, it is now open all season and we FINALLY got to partake of its wares!  See, persistence pays off. 😁

Have you visited the Beartooth Highway on Opening Weekend?  Tell me about it in the comments! 

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Have you been looking for an incredible spring trip that offers beautiful sites to see? Check out opening weekend on the Beartooth Highway in Montana.

 

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Spokane, South Dakota (ghost town)

I discuss our discovery of the ghost town of Spokane, SD near Custer State Park.

There is a really cool, hidden site in the central Black Hills, the ghost town of Spokane, South Dakota!  I don’t know how it’s possible that we’ve lived in the Black Hills for so long and JUST heard of this location?! 😳 (This is likely due to it not being well-publicized, even though it’s very near a major tourist attraction in the local area…)

The site was pretty amazing (it didn’t hurt that the day we visited was GORGEOUS!)  I’d encourage you to research the town’s history as it’s pretty interesting.  Spokane was an actual town at one point (rather than just a simple mining camp) complete with a schoolhouse and a general store. While the majority of the buildings have been destroyed by fire and Mother Nature, we think we found the foundation of the old schoolhouse.  The only structures still completely standing were a house with some outlying buildings.  There is also a root cellar in the main valley and the mine manager’s home still sits on a hill, overlooking the former town that was nestled in the meadow below (or it would overlook the town if there weren’t trees in the way, now.)  😉 

The mine manager’s house

Hazards in a Ghost Town

There are always numerous hazards to be VERY cautious of at these sites. Among a few other foundations, metal remnants and ancient mining equipment, there was also an old well that had been sealed with a cement cover, but this has since been dislodged.  While you could see the bottom, a fall of 20 – 50 feet could be deadly, and either way, the rescue operation would be difficult for all involved. (This is another time it’s important to remember you can NOT rely on cell service when in the mountains).  

*Let’s talk safety for a bit, shall we?  When you visit ruins of old towns, mines, natural caves, etc. safety should be your #1 priority (respect for the site should be a VERY close #2).  These buildings can be dangerous. The wood is rotting, most are in the process of falling down.  Many have basements/root cellars (that you may not even be aware of).  If you fall through the wood into these, you could be seriously injured.  Many of these buildings are also havens for rattlesnakes and other critters who may not appreciate you barging in (a mountain lion could be using a cool, abandoned root cellar as a place to nap.)  

Old mines can collapse or cave-ins–even in natural caves–can occur at any time and with little to no warning.  I cringe whenever I see pictures of people venturing into abandoned mines. 🤦‍♀️  So, adventure at your own risk, but, the Trekkers NEVER encourage people to actually venture into any of these structures. They can be enjoyed perfectly well and safely from outside.  (You should be watchful even in the outside areas around these old sites.  You never know when old holes, sharp metal pieces, or even disgruntled snakes may be camouflaged by the tall grass that often surrounds the structures.)

This hole in the ground appeared to be constructed, not sure if it was an old well, or what.  This is what I’m talking about with safety, though.  This hole was in the middle of what used to be the yard, without a cover or barrier around it.

Unique sites in Spokane, South Dakota

One unique aspect of this ghost town (at least compared to others the Trekkers have visited) is the presence of old cars!  Most of the towns we’ve toured had heydays in the late 1800s when horse and cart were the primary source of travel.  This town hit it’s prime in the 1920s (and wasn’t abandoned until the 1940s) so the unusual site of motor vehicles and evidence of electrical wiring on the buildings felt out of place.

I LOVE this old truck!

IMG_2007

IMG_2010

Where is the Spokane ghost town?

In order to help preserve the integrity of the site, I’m not going to give the exact directions to this location–other than what is already available with a simple Google search.  I will give a few hints though:

      • It’s near Custer State Park (VERY, near).  You can reach the site using Playhouse Road and/or Iron Mountain Road.
      • There are two entrances to the site.  The main entrance, described in Google, requires a half-mile (or so) walk up a steep, rocky, abandoned forest road to reach the valley.  We–somewhat accidentally–stumbled on the back entrance with an easy walk of only about 1/8th of a mile to reach the meadow.
      • The rest of the discovery is up to you (as I said, Google is your friend!)

The mood this site created was pretty cool.  The sun-dappled trees and forest floor make shadows flit on the ruins.  You can almost smell the musky scent of horse, and hear the horses, wagons–and cars?! 😳–that trundled down the rutted, dirt road, as the wind rattles the dry leaves of the aspen trees that border the ramshackle houses.  

While visiting the ghost town, why not check out Iron Mountain Road found nearby, as well?

This location would also make for a creepy adventure during the Halloween season! 👻  The site was pretty haunting, between the dilapidated old cars and buildings, you got a sense that this is what a post-apocalyptic society would look like (I may have been watching too much Walking Dead lately.) 😜

Below are some more pics of our adventure (thanks, as usual, to Mr. Trekker for many of these)!

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To be clear, the house is leaning, not the photographer!  😉

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Dishwasher or a washing machine?

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Ok, I’m pretty sure this was just a unique design created by broken paneling and a knot in the wood, BUT…doesn’t that look like the drawing of a deer?

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I’m loving the old stove!  (FYI, those are YEARS of pine cones, left by squirrels, layering the floor in front of it!) 😳

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Have you ever visited this unique place?  Tell me about it in the comments!

Did you enjoy this post?  Pin it!

Looking for a cool ghost town to visit in the Black Hills? In this post I'll offer some tips on how to find one that is easy to reach, Spokane, SD!

 

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7 “Must-See” Colorado Ghost Towns

I review several ghost towns we toured around the Colorado High Country as well as our drive up Independence Pass.

During our 2018 road trip, we REALLY enjoyed the ghost towns we visited in Colorado.  I am a big fan of ghost towns, they give you a true, visual understanding of how people lived “back in the day”.  I’m a very visual person so this helps me fully appreciate what their lives must have been like.  I prefer the towns that are restored, with at least several buildings remaining that you can view.  Sometimes, however, the places that are comprised mostly of ruins allow you to use your own imagination of how they must have appeared in their heyday.

Below is a list of the several ghost towns we visited:

Teller City Ghost Town: 

This was the first ghost town we visited and the one that required the most effort to access.  The townsite is near State Forest State Park, around nine miles south of Gould, Colorado, on Route 740 (Baker Pass Road).  You reach it by driving on a, somewhat rough, 4WD shelf road. (The Guide to Colorado Backroads† book that I mentioned in a previous post, rates this road as “easy”.  I would rate it as “moderate”.  A high clearance, 4WD vehicle should be all you’d need to access this site in good conditions).  The route was fairly well marked and obvious, but be watchful.  The road branched off several times and the correct route was only marked with orange, snowmobile trail markers (this is a snow machine route in the winter months).  

One plus with this site is that there’s a designated parking area and then you hike a Nature Trail loop to view the remains of the town.  Not much is left, but you could almost hear the voices of the patrons visiting the bustling shops, and smell the dust kicked up by the wagons as they rolled along, what used to be, a bustling Main Street.  

At various stops along the trail, markers describe the history of that home or business.  At one of the stops, the words of a young girl who came into town one winter night, via the pass, were noted.  Her description of the twinkling town lights flickering through the evening shadows was incredible.  We didn’t actually complete the 4×4 road all the way to Baker Pass, though we spoke with a local who said it was worth the drive, but daylight was waning (and the mosquitoes were starting to bite!) 😝

Below are some pics of the ruins at Teller City (as usual, thanks to Mr. Trekker for several of these):

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An old well pit

Coalmont, Colorado: 

After leaving State Forest State Park, we visited this site on our way to the Flattop Wilderness area.  Only the schoolhouse remains of this dusty hamlet, but from what we could see through the grime-spattered window, it appears to have been restored inside.  It would have been neat to be able to view it in more detail! 

The townsite is located off of Route 14, southwest of Walden, and can be reached via either Route 24 or Route 26 (they form a half-moon shaped loop here).  The location is directly off of Route 26.

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Remains of an old ranch at Grand Mesa National Forest:

This site is located on top of the mesa, off the Land’s End Road.  It is the remains of a ranch that operated in this area long ago.  Several cabins, one of which you can walk inside, and an old livestock corral, have been restored.  They can be viewed on a Nature Trail loop (it is part of a cross-country ski trail in the snowy months).  

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The old corral

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Pitkin Ghost Town: 

This “living” ghost town is located about 27 miles east of Gunnison Colorado.  Take US 50, east, from Gunnison, then turn left onto Route 76 in Parlin.  

As an aside, we enjoyed several good meals in Gunnison.  We had a wonderful breakfast at the W. Café, and, I can attest, that the High Alpine Brewing Company makes great pizza!

At about the halfway point on Route 76, you will pass the “living” ghost town of Ohio City.  I call them “living” because some hearty souls are still living in both of these locations!  The rain was falling fairly heavily as we passed through Ohio City, so we chose not to stop, but Pitkin should definitely be on your list of places to visit!  It was one of the more “real-feel” ghost towns we toured as it wasn’t crowded with visitors, and enough of the old buildings have been restored that you felt as though you were actually walking down the town’s Main Street.  Silver Plume General Store, located on the east side of town at the corner of 9th and State Streets, is a great place to stop for lunch.  We certainly enjoyed our burgers from the outdoor grille!  This is the last chance at civilization if you’re venturing onward to Tincup, Cottonwood Pass, the Alpine Tunnel, or St. Elmo ghost town via Tincup Pass.

We didn’t make it to Tincup on this trip, being that Cottonwood Pass was closed for paving.  We are hoping to, one day, try the Tincup Pass between Tincup and St. Elmo and hike to the Alpine Tunnel.  Another journey for another time, I don’t worry that we’ll be back in Colorado soon!  😁

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Below is a short video I took of the hummingbirds near the Pitkin Hotel.  I’ve always liked hummingbirds, but I’ve never heard them make this noise outside of Colorado…

St. Elmo Ghost Town: 

Everyone we talked to (and the books we read) told us we HAD to visit St. Elmo, and it was, definitely, worth the visit.  The only disappointment I had with this town is that vehicles are allowed to park in the town itself.  The spirit of the old town is kind of ruined when there’s a modern Audi parked in front of Town Hall. 😝  Also, they were restoring several buildings while we were there—which I’m sure is necessary and will be wonderful when it’s completed—but it meant that construction equipment was parked along Main Street.  *sigh*  Guess we’ll have to visit another time! 😉 

As I mentioned previously, if you’re daring, you can reach St. Elmo via Tincup Pass.  If you’re looking for a tamer route, you can do what we did and take the long way.  The following day, we took Route 50 east of Gunnison through Monarch Pass (another great view) and turned north onto US 285 at Poncha Springs.  We then took Route 162 west–an out-and-back road (for the less daring among us)–toward the Mt. Princeton Hot Springs resort and on to St. Elmo.  

Near this area, there’s also a turnoff for Hagerman Pass Road to the site of another ghost town, Hancock.  From there, you can hike to the Alpine Tunnel from the east, though it sounded as though the hike is longer and the view isn’t quite as good as hiking from the west side–we chose not to complete the hike at this time due to time constraints and the monsoon-fueled thunderheads that were threatening.  

As I stated previously, since we missed a few spots this time around, we’ll be putting this area on our “must-visit” list for the future.  It’s always a shame when you visit a location and find out you HAVE to come back to explore further (that happens to us regularly on trips, especially in Colorado…have I mentioned that I enjoy vacationing in this state?) 😉

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The Cascades Waterfall near Buena Vista, Colorado:

After leaving Saint Elmo, on our way east, back to US 285, we stopped at the Cascades.  This is a lovely waterfall that’s just off the side of the road.  It’s a beautiful, peaceful location where you can walk right up to the base of the river that creates a picturesque waterfall in this area as it cascades across boulders–hence the name. 😉  

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Gothic Ghost Town, Crested Butte, Colorado: 

I was a bit disappointed by this town.  The restoration of many of the buildings is exceptional, as they are still in use.  The Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory bought the town–which we knew, what I hadn’t realized is that the lab has taken over almost the entirety of it.  As it’s now, mostly, all private property, it’s almost impossible to tour around and browse the various buildings.  I’m glad the town is being used for something, and I’m thankful to the lab for helping to save its structures, I just wish the historical features were easier to access.  And a note to the general store in town; you close by four, in the middle of summer, on a Saturday?!  REALLY?!  Afternoons are a good time for people to eat ice cream you know!  😝😳😉

You can reach Gothic by taking Gothic Road, Route 317, north of Crested Butte and the ski village.  You can’t miss it, this is, literally, the only main road going north of town! 😉  This will also lead you to Schofield Pass that I discussed in this post.  

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Signs regarding the lab dotted the entire town 😕

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Main Street in Gothic

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The General Store with its questionable hours of operation 😝

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Independence Ghost Town and Independence Pass:

This was my favorite ghost town of the entire trip!  It’s easy to access as the site is located directly on Independence Pass.  You actually park at a pullout on the Pass road and then hike out to the site, so no vehicles marred the view.  You walk in about one mile, on an old, two-track road.  You can see the townsite from quite a way off, which helps you to imagine what it must have felt like riding a horse or wagon along that route during the height of the town’s life.

Related Posts:  Guide to Colorado Backroads and 4-Wheel-Drive Trails: Book ReviewThe Best Hidden Gems of Northern ColoradoThe Backroads of ColoradoThe Drive to Crystal Mill in Colorado

The town is located on Independence Pass (Route 82), around 16 miles east of Aspen, and around 21 miles west of Twin Lakes.  It’s just east of the peak of the Pass itself, and is, actually, easy to miss.  It’s below the grade of the road and the two parking pullouts are small and not well marked.  There are, blue, “Places of Interest” signs, but you have to be watching for them.  We actually saw the ruins of the mill, first.  The townsite is located in a valley, along the Roaring Fork River, framed by the towering Sawatch Range on both sides.  

Independence Pass was incredibly beautiful as well.  This one has been on my Colorado Bucket List for some time and it did not disappoint! (It was also the highest altitude we reached on this trip, maxing out at, just over, 12,000 feet!)  The scenic overlook and hiking area at the top of the Pass offer, almost, 360-degree views of the Continental Divide, which the Pass spans.

Independence Pass:

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We finally topped 12,000 feet!

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I made another video of our drive up Independence Pass.  I think my videographer skills got a “little” better with this one! 🤔

Independence Ghost Town:

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I don’t imagine this view was much different when the town was thriving

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You may have noticed I’ve been enjoying using a Sun Company altimeter† on this trip.  It responds to changes in barometric pressure caused by weather, as well as pressure, so you may have to recalibrate it a little each day to maintain the most accurate readings. But, for amateur interest, it’s a fun, portable, way to keep track of changes in elevation–it connects to the vehicle using velcro so it can be easily removed and taken on a hike if you’re so inclined. 

If you’re looking for something fun to do this summer, definitely check out the ghost towns of the Colorado High Country! 

Have you visited any of these amazing places?  Tell me about it in the comments!

Did you enjoy this post?  Pin it!

Who doesn't like a good ghost story?! Be sure to put these ghost towns around Colorado's High Country on your must-see list!

 

†As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases

Like what you read here today? Please feel free to leave a comment, like or share this post! Add your email at the bottom of the page, or the sidebar to the right, to be notified when a new post is published. By signing up for the email list, you will also receive a free copy of the Tranquil Trekker’s Top 10 Tips of Trekking Do’s and Don’ts!

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