6 Best Places To Visit In Cripple Creek, Colorado And Victor, Colorado

Cripple Creek, Colorado and its sister city, Victor, are located about an hour southwest of Colorado Springs at an elevation of almost 9,500 feet. Although it is known as one of Colorado’s casino towns with plenty of modern casinos, the Cripple Creek area has a rich and vibrant history.

Cripple Creek
Cripple Creek, Colorado (Photo by David Shankbone via Wikipedia)

Ute tribes used the land as part of their trading and hunting routes until gold was discovered in 1890, starting the last of Colorado’s gold rushes.

By 1900, the Cripple Creek and Victor area had a population of over 50,000 people.  Over the next seven decades, more than 500 mines in the area produced more ounces of gold than either the California or Alaska gold rushes. As with many gold towns, the successful mining industry brought brothels, railroads, entertainers, outlaws, millionaires, and lawmen.

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The CC&V open-pit mine (Photo via Wikipedia)

The gold rush continues in the Cripple Creek area, with several operating mines, including the Cripple Creek & Victor (CC&V) Gold Mine, currently operated by Newmont Mining.

Historically known as the Cresson Mine, CC&V is a large open-pit mine that sits between the towns of Cripple Creek and Victor and produces over 450,000 ounces of gold annually.

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Modern-day downtown Cripple Creek (Photo by TC Wait)

In addition to the excitement of the casinos, there are many non-gambling activities visitors can enjoy.  Here are some local favorites.

1. The Butte Theater

The Butte Concert and Beer Hall first opened in Cripple Creek in 1896. The City refurbished the theater in 2000, and visitors can now enjoy some of the best professional theater from classic melodramas to Broadway hits in this historic venue.

The theater also hosts community theater troupes and free community movies through the year.

2. Outlaw and Lawmen Jail Museum

The Outlaws and Lawmen Jail Museum is a unique way to experience the wild west days of Cripple Creek.  Here you can learn about the notorious criminals, and the group of men sworn to uphold peace among the booming town.

Outlaws and Lawmen Jail Museum. Photo via TripAdvisor

The building was home to the Teller County Jail for over 90 years and the original jail cells are authentic to the day.  Authentic police logs from the 1890s and knowledgeable staff help visitors gain a one-of-a-kind glimpse into the more sketchy side of the past.

3. Cripple Creek & Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad

Restored narrow-gauge steam locomotives carry passengers through the Rocky Mountains, and back in time through the Cripple Creek mining district from mid-May through mid-October.

At the historic 1894 Cripple Creek Midland Depot, visitors can purchase tickets for the 45-minute trip powered by historic 15-ton Iron Horses built between 1902 and 1947.  The trip includes several stops at historic locations and photo opportunities.

4. Mollie Kathleen Gold Mine Tour

Gold mining is woven into every aspect of Cripple Creek.  One of the unique experiences you can have is to explore the gold mining history on a tour at the Mollie Kathleen.

The Mollie Kathleen mine was initially started by Mary “Mollie” Catherine Gortner in 1891.  The mine operated almost continuously until 1961 and has since continued as a tour mine.

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The old mine. Photo by W.G. Dayton/Flickr

The hour-long tour includes a wealth of historic mining information, starting with a ride on a skip nearly 1000 feet (100 stories) below ground.

The descent into the vertical mine shaft is not for the claustrophobic but does give spectacular insight into how gold deposits form, and the processes used to extract gold ore for production.  The tour includes a ride on an underground tram locomotive.

5. Gold Camp Trail Hike

The Gold Camp Trail is nearly 2 miles from the Cripple Creek District Museum (9,520 ft elevation) to Hoosier Mine (10,342 ft elevation).  This trail offers interpretive signs for hikers to learn more about Cripple Creek’s mining history.

6. The Cripple Creek Donkey Herd

Cripple Creek has a herd of about 15 roaming wild donkeys that are free to move through the town as they see fit.  The herd is made up of descendants of the donkeys that were used to work the gold mines and were let loose as miners left the area.

Cripple Creek
The herd of wild donkeys hanging out at the Westward Ho Motel (Photo by Clyde Byers)

The herd is considered to be Cripple Creek mascots, and a group of volunteers from the Two Mile High Club supervises the herd and provides feed and veterinary services for them from funds raised through the year.

The donkeys are usually friendly, but if provoked or bothered, they may kick or bite, so treat them with the respect they deserve.

See also: 5 Fall Activities To Try In Steamboat Springs, Colorado



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Places To See In Nederland, Colorado On The Peak-to-Peak Highway

The Peak-to-Peak Highway has been traveled since the early 1900s and is Colorado’s very first designated Scenic Byway. The highway skirts 55 miles of the Front Range’s foothill mountains along the scenic peaks between Estes Park and Central City.

The route begins as Highway 7 in Estes Park on the north end, and continues south as Highway 72 and then Highway 119. As you travel the Scenic Byway, you move through some of Colorado’s historic gold towns, including Allenspark, Ward, and Nederland.

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The quaint and quirky mountain town of Nederland, CO (Photo via Wikipedia)

The quaint and quirky town of Nederland is located about 30 minutes north of Central City in the Eldora Mountains at an elevation of 8200 feet.  The town is renowned for its colorful locals and hosts numerous diversions and annual events that give visitors an idea of the unique nature of the little town.

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The mining town of Caribou in 1911 (Photo via Wikipedia)

Nederland was initially established as a trading post along a trade route used by the Ute Indians.  In 1859, gold, silver, and tungsten mineral deposits were discovered in the Caribou gold district in the mountains west of Nederland, and the resulting “gold rush” brought people to the area in search of fortune.

In 1873, the Caribou Mine was sold to a Dutch mining company from the Netherlands, which brought the gold ore from the mine at 10,000 feet elevation down to the area now known as Nederland to process the ore out of the wind and deep snows found higher up.  In 1874, the town was officially incorporated with the name of Nederland.

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The ruins of the Potosi Mine boarding house is all that remains in the ghost town of Caribou. (Photo by TC Wait)

You can explore the town’s mining history at the Nederland Mining Museum, which showcases many of the tools used by the early miners. It will give you a great feel as to what daily life was like during the gold rush era.

It is also worth the detour up to the location of the old Caribou townsite if you have a road vehicle that can negotiate steep gravel roads with some washboard areas. The sweeping views of the Colorado high country provide a sense of the same wilderness that greeted the original gold rush miners.

The Wild Bear Mountain Ecology Center is a non-profit nature center that hosts educational opportunities for kids of all ages (even the grown-up ones) and has two locations: one in downtown Nederland and the other at Mud Lake just a few minutes out of town.

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Historic mining equipment at the Nederland Mining Museum (Photo by TC Wait)

Although there is still some modern mining in the area, Nederland is now known largely as a mountain town offering access to the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, Eldora Mountain Resort ski area, and year-round outdoor recreation activities.  Visit the Mud Lake or Caribou Ranch open space areas to enjoy the natural setting and spectacular scenery of the area.

Nederland has a rich history of famous musicians that contributed to the cultural fabric of the town.  During the late 60s and early 70s, the Caribou Recording Studios (which burned down in the 1980s) hosted many notable musicians of the time, such as Neil Young, Jackson Browne, the Eagles, Joni Mitchell, and Michael Jackson.

More recent musical residents of Nederland include Leftover Salmon, String Cheese Incident, and Yonder Mountain String Band (to name a few).  As part of the music scene, NedFest is a 3-day music festival that is typically held the last weekend of August and features a wide variety of music ranging from bluegrass to jazz, including many local musicians.

Nederland
Frozen Dead Guy Days is a quirky local tribute to Nederland’s cryogenic resident. (Photo via Wikipedia)

One of the town’s truly unique local events occurs during the first weekend in March.  Nederland celebrates Frozen Dead Guy Days to honor the town’s notorious cryogenically frozen resident, Norwegian Bredo Morstøl, who has been in a state of cryopreservation in a Tuff Shed in Nederland since the 1990s.

The Carousel of Happiness is open during the summer season.  This carousel is a throwback to the early 1900s when merry-go-rounds were common in America.  There are now only a few hundred of the original wooden carousels left in the US.  The Carousel of Happiness was created in 1910 and much of it has been restored to its original condition, featuring more than 50 hand-carved wooden animals.  There is even a second story viewing balcony where you can observe the inner mechanical workings of the carousel.

The downtown area is filled with interesting shops, eateries, coffee houses, brewing companies, fortune tellers, and time-warps that hold endless surprises for all interests.  Some local recommendations include Ned’s, Kathmandu Restaurant, New Moon Bakery, and Blue Owl Books. If you want to stay and explore, check out the dry campsites nearby at Kelly Dahl National Forest Campground, located just off Highway 119.



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RVing And Camping Near Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

On a crisp fall day, I stand on the shore of a lake that is sparkling with a million sunlit stars across it; the warm sun on my face making a noticeable contrast to the coolness of the breeze at my back.  The day is a perfect blend of summer shorts and soft fall flannel shirts. 

Flattop Mountain and the Bighorn flats seem to stand guard over the abundant wildlife in the valley floors where the golden leaves of the aspen trees are glowing with the backlighting of the sun. 

The gentle breezes play along the lake surface, painting strokes of light sparkles as they move.  It is the perfect backdrop to a day that breathes the promise of a rugged hike, then warm soup and fresh bread.

Rocky Mountain
Fishing on Sprague Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park (Photo by TC Wait)

Rocky Mountain National Park is the crown jewel of Colorado’s National Parks and Monuments.  It is located between Estes Park on the east side and Grand Lake on the west side, about an hour and a half drive northwest from Denver.

As one of the largest and most visited National Parks, averaging over 3 million visitors each year, the park boasts some of the highest elevation of all the National Parks (with over 75 peaks over 12,000 feet), is home to the headwaters of the Colorado River and Cache la Poudre River, and straddles the Continental Divide.  The park is open year-round, and at any time of the year a visitor can quickly see how special “Rocky” is.

national parks
Mummy Mountain in RMNP (Photo by NPS)

Rocky Mountain National Park was established in 1915 by Woodrow Wilson as the ninth National Park.  Today it encompasses over 415 square miles ranging from 7,840 feet by the east park entrance to 14,259 feet at the summit of Longs Peak.

Over 95% of the park is wilderness, spanning from the lower moosey marshes, over the moraines, to the alpine tundra, and then the high snowy peaks of the Never Summer Range.

More than a third of the park is above treeline (the altitude at which trees can grow).  Trail Ridge Road, which allows travel 48 miles through the park from Estes Park to Grand Lake, is the highest paved roadway in America topping out at a driving elevation of 12,183 feet, and one of 11 designated America’s Byways in Colorado.

Trail Ridge Road is not maintained during the snowy winter months but makes for a spectacular summer travel route.

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Trail Ridge Road above timberline (Photo by NPS)

Although the park sees many visitors each year, there is plenty of space to get away from people and enjoy the wilderness.  The park affords exceptional access to some of the most iconic Colorado scenery and high alpine ecosystems.

While only 100 miles of roads (28 of those on unpaved roads) are available for vehicle access, there are over 355 miles of backcountry hiking trails!  There are 147 lakes and 450 miles of streams, many with fish including the threatened greenback cutthroat trout.

Some of Colorado’s oldest rocks can be found in the mountains of Rocky Mountain National Park, carved into exquisite landscapes by glaciers and rivers.  Several small glaciers are still found in the high peaks within the park.

The park is listed as a United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural (UNESCO) international biosphere reserve and globally important bird area. Portions of the park’s montane, subalpine, and alpine ecosystems are managed as research natural areas for scientific and educational purposes.

The park has five visitor centers and four RV-friendly campgrounds that are open usually from late May to mid-September.  Backcountry camping is also available year-round.  Additional camping options can be found in Estes Park as well as in and around Grand Lake.

See also: 10 National Parks To Visit In 2018



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Wheelchair Friendly State Park In Colorado: New Track Chair Program

For those who have mobility issues, taking a hike down a wooded trail may sound like a distant dream. In Colorado’s Staunton State Park, a newly launched Track Chair Program now allows trail access to those who cannot explore under their own power.

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Track chairs can take you off the beaten path (Photo by TC Wait)

Staunton State Park is Colorado’s newest State Park (opening in May 2013) encompassing over 3,800 acres of dramatic mountains, historic cabins, mountain meadows filled with wildflowers, and breath-taking waterfalls.

It lies about 40 miles southwest of Denver in the Elk Creek Valley between 8,000 and 10,000 feet elevation. Staunton boasts an extensive trail system for riding horses, hiking, or biking, areas designated for rock climbing, and ponds for fishing.

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Enjoy scenic natural views at Staunton State Park (Photo by TC Wait)

The Staunton family, who donated the initial 1,700-acre parcel of land to become a State Park, have a healing history in the local community dating back to the 1900s. Dr. Rachael Staunton treated everyone from local ranchers to those with tuberculosis and shared healing strategies with Ute tribe members who taught her about using local herbal remedies.

From this history, Staunton State Park now offers the use of donated Track Chairs so that everyone can experience the healing magic of the trails and woods of the area.

In 2017, Staunton State Park initiated its Track Chair Program. Over 150 people participated in the program in its first season. The program relies on donated Track Chairs and volunteers. People can sign up on a first-come basis to use a chair (free of charge) to explore the park in one of the three chairs. The chair units were made available through donations to the Mark Madsen Accessibility Fund, managed by the Friends of Staunton non-profit organization.

The chairs are easy to maneuver and also have controls that the volunteer can use in the event you are not able to on your own or grow tired during your trip. The program volunteer will provide you with instructions on how to operate the chair and travel with you to ensure you have a successful adventure.

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Use one of these Track Chairs free of charge at Staunton State Park (Photo by TC Wait)

Mike, one of the program volunteers, is a former LA firefighter whose wife has Multiple Sclerosis. He is enthusiastic about the success of the program and the freedom it allows people to explore or just BE in a natural area.

He says that some of the people he has accompanied in the Track Chair want to go over every rock and bump in the trail, while others want to enjoy getting out to sit in a quiet place and listen to the birds sing.

He has taken people of all ages and abilities out and each person has their own unique and beautiful experience. He says one person got caught in a brief Rocky Mountain rainstorm and laughed about getting soaked while out on a “hike.”

To reserve a Track Chair, you visit the Staunton Track Chair page. You will need to answer the questionnaire to ensure your needs can adequately be met. You will also need to have a caregiver to accompany you on your hike, in addition to the Track Chair program volunteer. A $7.00/car park entry fee is charged to all visitors.

Be sure that you bring with you what you may need to be comfortable during your hike. Water, sun protection, medical supplies, layers for inclement weather, and of course a camera are recommended.

See also: Resources For RVers With Mobility Challenges



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