One of my favorite things to look forward to is driving up to Ashcroft for some Ashcroft, Colorado hiking. The drive up the Castle Creek Valley to the Ashcroft Valley is absolutely stunning during the Fall color peak (it varies yearly, but usually early September is a good bet). I really feel as if I am in a tunnel of gold and yellow and some orange and red vibrant leafs urging me on through the tunnel. It is a narrow valley to drive through, but filled with gorgeous mountains alive with trees showing off their finest foliage. Luckily there are some off road pull-offs so photo taking is a pleasant experience, or just viewing through binoculars at some wildlife is another possibility.
Ashcroft is one of many old Colorado ghost towns. It actually had 2 previous names: Castle Forks first, then Chloride. One early prospector-mountain man-Indian fighter named T.E. Ashcraft (notice craft not croft) settled there who didn’t find a mother lode of ore, is presumed to be who the town is named after. However, the post office misspelled it to croft rather than craft. Another train of thought about the name is that the “croft” part is intentional because the word does mean a small enclosed field. No one knows for sure, and there even may be more explanations that I am not aware of. That is a ghost town mystery!
The town boomed for about 3 years. A school, jail, saloon and 3 hotels were constructed. There was even a newspaper, the Ashcroft Herald. Not bad for a bunch of prospectors hoping to strike it rich. By 1883 there were 20 saloons, 2 newspapers, a courthouse and 2000 people besides the earlier mentioned buildings. Some of the more colorful folks that came to Ashcroft were H.A.W. Tabor ( a mine owner) and his love, Baby Doe Tabor. Evidently he used to buy the drinks for everyone at the saloon when he came to town. The notable Horace Greeley, famed newspaper editor, came to Colorado to check out the gold/silver rush, and made famous the words, “Go West, young man, go West and grow up with the country.”
Ashcroft is about 10 miles south of Aspen, up the Castle Creek road. The old town was actually larger than Aspen during the boom years. Then access to Aspen became easier because Independence pass opened up, and the Denver and Rio Grande railroad came through the town. Ashcroft began to die down and it’s settlers moved into Aspen - some even brought their cabins with them.
The demise of old mining towns has been a concern because of the accompanying natural destruction and vandalism. The people with no respect for these old ghost towns think nothing of ripping a board out of an old cabin, or digging up foundations for treasures like old glass bottles. These sad changes give voice to the meaning of the phrase, nothing is sacred. Around 1974 the Aspen Historical Society started leasing the land and helping preserve the old ghost town. It is registered as a national historic site. Nontheless, it is important to sign in, and respect any rules or guidelines given when walking the boardwalk of Ashcroft. It is a bit of a hike from the parking area, but well worth it. There are decent wooden structures housing toilets, hand sanitizer, and some toilet paper, which are really quite decent compared to the typical metal port-a potties. This reminds visitors that they are indeed privileged to enjoy such well preserved history.
The arrival to Ashcroft is so majestic. You are surrounded by 14,000 foot mountain peaks, with the beautiful, clean, and inviting Castle Creek running along the valley. You can choose to walk on the wooden boardwalk up to the historic site, or take a path down toward the creek to picnic or hike. Even though I have been up to the town at least 10 times, I still enjoy meandering around looking at the remains of a cabin hotel, jail, saloon, post office, or whatever remains there are. It is so easy to walk in the remains of a hotel, see the streams of sunlight through the cobwebs on the ripped wooden walls, the dirt floors, and a bit of a staircase to how many rooms? The wondering begins, and the images of scruffy men and long suffering women, and colorful characters- gunslingers, thieves, and foreigners all lumped together to make up a camp community of just plain folks trying to strike it rich comes to mind. Then a shadow falls in the already dim cabin, and I realize I am not alone. No, I tell myself, it’s not a ghost, just another daydreamer like me, enjoying a hike up at Ashcroft. Sometimes I get the chills when a stranger moseys in the same place I am already worlds away in. Then maybe a wind will holler, and I know it’s a ghost town!
From the town you can follow a path (there are a few) down through the woods to the creek, and enjoy a picnic. Some tables are provided, not all in the same place but nicely spread out along the creekside. You can easily hike along the creek in peace, and enjoy the silence and views. In the winter, there is cross country skiing either off or on road, and it is absolutely a true winter wonderland. The road travels further to the Ashcroft Cookhouse which is really called the Pine Creek Cookhouse. It is a fabulous restaurant, with fabulous views and great food. One Christmas cross-country skied with a friend up to the restaurant in a wipe-out blizzard, it was great! For those friends with us who didn’t want to ski, they sat on a snow cat for a very cold, blustery ride. The restaurant has a summer and winter menu, and it is a great treat to got to in the Fall during peak color change after hiking around Ashcroft ghost town, if you didn’t prepare a picnic.
Just remember to be acclimated to the Ashcroft, Colorado elevation of 9,521 feet before you go. People do get altitude sickness if they aren’t prepared, and that is no fun. There’s nothing like mountain air to enjoy, anytime!
Ashcroft Ghost Town cabins photo credit to author John Holm, wikimedia commons