The Colorado mountain country is riddled with long-abandoned mining operations. And perhaps none is as famous as Ashcroft Ghost Town, nestled in the White River National Forest just a half-hour drive from Aspen.
As Colorado locals who have visited our fair share of the state’s ghost towns, we’re here to give you the lowdown on everything you need to know about the history of Ashcroft and how to plan your visit (along with plenty of photos of our adventures here).
Quick History: Ashcroft Ghost Town was home to a 5-year boom and bust silver mining frenzy in the late 1800s. In 1880, prospectors discovered silver deposits. 3 years later the town had grown to host about 2,000 residents and was actually bigger than Aspen.
However by 1885 other mining operations nearby lured away much of the town’s population and Ashcroft had dwindled down to about 100 seasonal residents.
According to the Aspen Historical Society, by the time 1900 rolled around, the town hand become what some might consider a bachelor’s paradise. Ashcroft consisted of “a handful of aging, single men…[who] spent their time hunting, fishing, reading, and drinking”.
Since that time, the area was used for a variety of purposes. At one point in the early 20th century, a ski resort was planned but never came to fruition after the outbreak of World War II. In mid-century, a dog-sledding operation came to Ashcroft and was featured in a popular television series.
Ultimately, the Ashcroft Ghost Town was transferred to the US Forest Service (USFS) and became listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the USFS set out preserving and interpreting the town.
Now that we’ve gotten our Ashcroft Ghost Town history lesson out of the way, let’s dive into the must-know details about visiting this charming little Aspen gem.
Disclosure: We’ve included lodging near Aspen, Colorado and gear recommendations in this guide to Ashcroft Ghost Town. If you choose to book or buy through our links, we may earn a commission, at no cost to you. Shopping through these links helps support our small Colorado business. All recommendations are crafted with love and expertise, from platforms we use and trust for our own adventures.
Directions to Ashcroft Ghost Town from Aspen
If you’re traveling to Ashcroft Ghost Town from Aspen, you’ll head westbound on CO-82 until you get to a roundabout on the edge of town. You’ll take the 3rd exit for Castle Creek Road (the one right before it is for Maroon Creek Road, which is what you’d take if you were visiting Maroon Bells).
From there, the directions are pretty straightforward. You’ll drive 11 miles up Castle Creek Road and then you’ll see a dirt parking lot on the lefthand side of the road at the GPS coordinates we’ve included below. This is where you can park and pay the fee to visit Ashcroft Ghost Town.
Directions from Snowmass to Ashcroft are just flipped. You’ll take CO-82 going eastbound and take the second exit at the roundabout (Castle Creek Road). The only difference is that you’re coming from the west on CO-82, rather than the east.
How to Access Ashcroft Ghost Town in Winter vs Summer
Ashcroft Ghost Town is open and accessible year-round. That said, some seasons are easier to navigate than others.
We’ll chat about this more later, but in general traveling to Ashcroft in the summer is the most straightforward. No special equipment is needed and road conditions are at their best during this time of year.
If you’re visiting Ashcroft Ghost Town outside of the summer season, we advise traveling in an AWD vehicle or having tire chains handy. Outside of summer, anything goes when it comes to snowstorms (yes, even in spring and winter!).
Technically, Castle Creek Road is open in the winter up until a little past Ashcroft. Past that, they do close the road, so if you’re planning to grab a bite at the iconic Pine Creek Cookhouse (more on this spot later), you’ll need to snowshoe about 1.5 miles in.
Ashcroft Ghost Town is one of the most well-preserved historic mining towns in Colorado. The Aspen Historical Society maintains the site, and guided tours are offered during the peak summer season, making this an awesome spot for families traveling in the Aspen area.
There are also plenty of informational signs about the site as you walk the pathway through Ashcroft, so you can get a sense of the history on your own self-guided tour outside of the peak season guided walks.
While Ashcroft Ghost Town is a well-known spot, it’s not a super busy place, which we love. As Colorado locals, we see firsthand how crowded our state can get, particularly in the peak summer and fall seasons.
Every time we’ve visited Ashcroft Ghost Town, we’ve never felt that overwhelm (especially compared with other Aspen spots like Maroon Bells, where it’s practically a zoo). Plus, we love how close it is to Aspen, one of our favorite mountain towns in the state
Ashcroft Ghost Town and Aspen only scratch the surface of what Colorado has to offer. If you have a couple weeks to dedicate to a visit, we highly recommend traveling the state by car.
And we’ve created the ideal CO road trip itinerary that hits up all of our favorite spots, including lesser-known gems.
Ashcroft is a ghost town because it was on the wrong end of a silver mining-driven boom-and-bust cycle. According to the Aspen Historical Society’s Museums, Ghost Towns, & Other Fun pamphlet, Ashcroft once had “a poplulation of about 2,000 and boasted two newspapers, a school, sawmills, a small shelter, and 20 saloons”.
It exceeded Aspen in size and was closer to Crested Butte, which was a railroad waypoint. The town was quickly deserted, though, and fell into disrepair and ruin. Ashcroft officially became a ghost town in 1939 after its last resident, Jack Leahy, died.
The only buildings that stand today have been preserved, restored, or interpreted by the USFS to tell the story of the town that once was.
To be frank, when it comes to visiting Ashcroft Ghost Town no season can compete with fall. The former mining town is nestled in between peaks absolutely covered in aspen trees, and they absolutely light up in the fall. Specifically, we’re talking about the window of late September to early October (peak colors will vary from year to year).
Ashcroft Ghost Town is also stunning in the summer, with lush green mountains surrounding you in all directions. Weather-wise, summer is the winner. We like to visit at either sunrise or sunset to ensure we encounter less people and have more peace and quiet. And the high country tends to be quite chilly at those times, even in the warmer months. Summer is ultimately the most comfortable season.
Plus, if you’re planning on doing high elevation hikes or mountain pass drives (more on this later) near Ashcroft Ghost Town, summer tends to be the most accessible and predictable. Outside of the summer season, anything goes snow-wise, and roads and passes can completely shut down.
Generally speaking, high country spots like Ashcroft Ghost Town are muddy messes in the springtime, and it makes visiting a whole lot less enjoyable. Plus, when the snow has melted, everything is still brown. While most of the country views spring as a time for blooming, in high elevation places like Ashcroft, you really want to wait until June.
And then there’s winter. While Ashcroft Ghost Town is beautiful in winter, it’s also a lot less accessible. Castle Creek Road is still open to vehicles in the winter up until you get to Ashcroft (that’s where they close the gate), so you can still drive up.
But you’ll either want a vehicle with AWD or one equipped with tire chains. And once you’ve reached Ashcroft Ghost Town, you’ll want snowshoes to really explore the area. Snow at these elevations can get quite deep in the winter months.
Colorado’s seasons are quite literally the wild west, and aren’t as straightforward as the rest of the country. If you’re not sure when to book your travels, our guide to the best time windows to travel in the Rockies covers the must-know details about the best and worst seasons.
The closest city to Ashcroft Ghost Town is going to be Aspen, located about 30 minutes away. You can also stay in Snowmass, Colorado, which is located a little more than 5 miles west of Aspen (and tends to be a bit less expensive). Both are solid options.
We’ve included a few Aspen and Snowmass favorites that we recommend if you’re planning on exploring Ashcroft and the surrounding beauty nearby:
If you’d rather stay at a hotel when visiting Ashcroft Ghost Town, it doesn’t get more classically Aspen than the Hotel Jerome. It’s an iconic and historic Aspen hotel, built in 1889 and known as Aspen’s original luxury hotel. And if you’re traveling with kiddos, not only do they have free cribs you can use, but there is also on-site babysitting.
Independence Pass, one of our all-time favorite mountain drives in all of CO, is located right outside of Aspen. It’s home to plenty of epic hiking trails, scenic roadside pull-offs, the ghost town of Independence, and plenty of fall leaf peeping opportunities.
You do not need reservations to visit Ashcroft Ghost Town. Outside of the summer season, you can show up and do a self-guided tour, and in the summer, you have the option of a guided one (but it isn’t a requirement by any means).
While many of the buildings at Ashcroft Ghost Town are barricaded and inaccessible, some of the buildings do allow visitors to enter.
Most impressively, visitors can explore the inside of an old two-story hotel, getting a sense of how the old buildings would come together and what residing in these cabins would have been like.
The road to Ashcroft Ghost Town from nearby Aspen is paved, and the road is open to this point year-round. Just after Ashcroft, the road is gated off and closes to automobile traffic seasonally for the winter months.
As with all mountain roads in Colorado, just because a road isn’t closed doesn’t guarantee accessibility. Winter storms come through, and it may be some time before roads are clear.
Pro Tip: Roads in Colorado’s high country can get dicey in the winter months. We always recommend coming prepared. Accidents can always happen, and the road to Ashcroft Ghost Town doesn’t have cell service to call for help (another reason we love having our satellite communication device with us).
When it comes to fall colors, Ashcroft Ghost Town is actually one of our favorite spots in all of Colorado. There are tons of aspens meandering up the mountainsides surrounding the abandoned mining town, and they are absolutely stunning in the fall.
It goes without saying, especially given the name, but Aspen is a go-to spot for seeing the changing of the aspen leaves. And Ashcroft Ghost Town, in our humble opinions, rivals even the most iconic Aspen spots, like Maroon Bells.
We also highly recommend adding Indy Pass outside of Aspen to your itinerary if you’re visiting Ashcroft. It’s a leaf-peeping dream of a scenic drive in the fall.
With Ashcroft Ghost Town located just under 30 minutes outside of Aspen, Colorado, there is a lot to do in the area. We’ve included a few of our favorite must-see to-do’s below.
It wouldn’t be a trip to Aspen without visiting the iconic Maroon Bells. The Bells are quite possibly the most famous view in all of Colorado (heck, they’re on our drivers license).
Much like with Ashcroft Ghost Town, the most scenic time to visit is in the fall, when the aspens are ablaze. Seeing them go from green to golden yellow to dreamy sunset hues is one of our favorite things to witness.
Winter can also be very special, since Maroon Creek Road closes and the Bells are way less visited during this season. So if you’re up for cross country skiing or snowmobiling in, you’ll be rewarded with the dreamiest winter wonderland.
Pro Tip: Between 8 am and 5 pm, you can’t drive to Maroon Bells; you’ll have to take the paid shuttle (which runs from late May to late October). We prefer driving our own vehicle, so we opt to enter before 8 am when we go (note: there is a $10 entry fee).
It’s also worth noting, Maroon Bells is very busy during the peak season (summer and fall). You can expect hundreds of people standing by the shoreline of Maroon Lake waiting to see the Bells light up with alpenglow in the morning.
So arriving a couple hours before sunrise is going to be your best bet to finding a good parking spot and a good spot to witness sunrise. We personally recommend choosing to visit on a weekday as well, to avoid the worst of the crowds.
If you’re experienced at off-roading, driving Pearl Pass is a must. This point-to-point, 22.7 mile long route is located 1.9 miles south of Ashcroft Ghost Town on Castle Creek Road (these are the GPS coordinates) and connects Aspen to Crested Butte, Colorado.
Some people opt for hike the pass, while others prefer to drive it. Just note: this is a very bumpy, very rocky route with narrow sections and water crossings. A high clearance AWD or 4WD vehicle is essential. Please do not try driving this route if you’re not an experienced off-roader.
You also cannot drive Pearl Pass outside of summer, as snow makes it impassable. Truly, we’d only recommend driving this road in August. Snow can still be up on the pass even in July (it tops out at an elevation of 12,705 ft, so snow is up here most of the year). Only add this stop to your Ashcroft Ghost Town itinerary if you’re traveling in the thick of summer.
If you’re planning on hiking Pearl Pass after visiting Ashcroft Ghost Town, just note: large chunks of this route are completely exposed to the sunshine. And with this trail being at very high elevation, burning is no joke. A solid sunscreen (this one is our fave) that can stand up to the harsh Colorado sun is a necessity.
Pine Creek Cookhouse is an iconic Aspen restaurant located just 1.5 miles south of Ashcroft Ghost Town on Castle Creek Road. It’s definitely a pricier spot with a stringent reservation policy, but if you’re looking for a unique dining experience that incorporates the great outdoors, it doesn’t get any better.
While the portion of Castle Creek Road that goes up to Pine Creek Cookhouse (the part that continues past Ashcroft Ghost Town) is closed in the winter, the restaurant is open year round. You can snowshoe, cross country ski, or take a sleigh ride in winter (you can find info about renting equipment or reserving a sleigh ride here).
The interior of Pine Creek Cookhouse is a cozy log cabin and the back patio has stunning mountain views, with a creek running alongside. So dreamy.
Address: 12500 Castle Creek Road, Aspen, Colorado 81611
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We won’t speak to whether or not ghosts and paranormal activity are real, but there are many who believe Ashcroft Ghost Town is actually haunted.
There are some who have claimed to have spotted spirits in the town’s hotel (pictured above) and consider this to be the haunted hot spot of the town.
Sheena and Ed here! We’re Colorado-based hikers, outdoors advocates, and adventure photographers who believe in sharing the best Colorado has to offer (no gatekeeping here).
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