Even though Clear Creek County is one of the smallest counties in the state, it’s full of outdoor adventure and rich history. It’s a place to live for those that love the outdoors year-round. It’s also a place to visit for those that want an authentic Colorado experience. Where old mining haunts tower over the modern restaurants, breweries, and shops. It’s where the past happily and continuously mingles with the present. Clear Creek’s vibrant and unique towns make this county the exciting destination it is today.
Clear Creek County’s Scenic Byways
With a total population sitting just a little over 9,000, Clear Creek County is located 40 miles west of Denver, Colorado. The towns of Clear Creek County are dotted along and to the direct left or right of Interstate 70. Within the county’s boundaries, both Guanella Pass Scenic Byway and the Mount Evans Scenic Byway reside. Both of these byways have their unique stories and are one of the greatest draws to Clear Creek.
Guanella Pass Scenic Byway
The Guanella Pass Scenic Byway starts in Georgetown and ends in Grant, Colorado. The Guanella Pass Scenic Byway provides access to the most incredible beauty and nature one can find in Colorado. Guanella Pass Scenic Byway is home to Mount Bierstadt and Mount Evans, as well as the former Geneva Basin Ski Area.
A 22-mile drive, the road is a two-lane highway, paved from start to finish. Although the summit closes from around Thanksgiving day until around Memorial Day each year, it’s full of action during the summer months. Guanella Pass Road provides access to excellent hiking trails, campgrounds, lake fishing, and backcountry skiing or cross-country skiing.
Mount Evans Scenic Byway
Starting in Idaho Springs, a section of the Mount Evans Scenic Byway is the highest paved road in North America. (This same section is also the 5th highest paved road in the world.) The byway was originally created to allow Denverites easy access to the mountains. While it fulfills its original purpose present day, Mount Evans has become more than just a place to visit by car.
Echo Lake, which sits at 10,600 feet above sea level, is a historic site and frequented by explorers from all over the world. Fly fishing, hiking, picnics, and the occasional strung hammocks keep the lake bustling with activity. At the byways summit, there is a parking lot and turnaround area where many visitors come across gorgeous bighorn sheep and mountain goats. This adrenaline packed drive is home to an overflowing amount of Rocky Mountain Columbines and alpine sunflowers. This is a must-visit for those looking to experience 360-degree views of the towering peaks that make up the Rocky Mountains.
The Towns of Clear Creek County
Clear Creek County came to be during the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush in 1858-1859. It has been reported that the miners in Clear Creek extracted $2 million worth of gold during the area’s heyday. At the center of all this impressive mining activity was the town of Idaho Springs.
Idaho Springs is the largest town in Clear Creek County and the closest of all the county’s towns to Denver. It was a fully functioning mining town until the late nineteenth century. During the late twentieth century, it transitioned into a tourist destination. Its historical downtown comprises breweries, restaurants, boutiques, gift shops, galleries, and much more. For visitors interested in learning about Idaho Springs mining history, the Argo Mill and the Phoenix Gold Mine offer tours.
The small, unincorporated towns of Downieville, Lawson, and Dumont make up an area of Clear Creek County. About 511 acres in size, Downieville-Lawson-Dumont is home to just over 500 Clear Creek residents. Here, visitors can find whitewater rafting companies that take guests on guided tours down the county’s namesake, Clear Creek. The Clear Creek County Animal Shelter, several dispensaries, and even a bonsai plant nursery can be found!
Heading further west and veering off Interstate 70 onto U.S. Highway 40 lies Empire. Highway 40 passes right through town where travelers take Berthoud Pass to Winter Park and beyond. Named after New York, the “Empire State,” Empire was also at one point a flourishing mining town. Empire is known for being on the sunny side. It’s also completely surrounded by impressive mountains such as Mount Flora, Mount Eva, Parry Peak, James Peak, and more. Just over 300 people live in Empire, making it both peaceful and the perfect place to get outside to enjoy nature in solitude.
Back along Interstate 70 and further west into the county is the historic, quaint town of Georgetown. A former silver mining camp established in 1859, Georgetown was vital to the state’s mining success. This success earned it the nickname “Silver Queen of Colorado.” What makes Georgetown so charming is the historical preservation of what once was. Firehouses, museums, Victorian homes, and other preserved structures remain and make up this adorable town. The honorary mayor of Georgetown is Parker the Snow Dog, a Bernese Mountain dog and mascot of the nearby Loveland Ski Area.
The west furthest town in the county and sitting just above Georgetown is the semi-ghost town of Silver Plume. Although Silver Plume’s population is tiny ( approximately 200 residents,) the mining history and beauty make it a special place. Nestled in the Rocky Mountains at 9,000 feet in elevation, Silver Plume is also a former silver mining camp, hence the name. There is not a lot of hustle and bustle in Silver Plume, but the 7:30 Mine Trail and George Rowe Museum are a must-visit.
What To Do in Clear Creek County
Because of its proximity to Denver and its place amongst the Rocky Mountains, Clear Creek County is a place for many different types of adventure. A great way to learn about how the towns of Clear Creek County came about is by taking a gold or silver mining tour. Another great way to get a glimpse of Clear Creek’s history is to take a train ride on the Georgetown Loop Railroad. As you ride, a train conductor tells stories and accounts of the county’s past.
For those looking to experience more of the outdoors, there is an overwhelming amount of activities to choose from. Guanella Pass, Berthoud Pass, Mount Evans Scenic Byway, and everywhere in between are great destinations for those looking to hike or snowshoe. Additionally, Loveland Ski Area is only a short 10-minute drive from Georgetown and Silver Plume. The Clear Creek tributary provides wonderful conditions for a great summer day to raft or fish. Unique breweries and cozy restaurants are abundant, as well as charming retail stores and gift shops.
No matter where you stay or what you decide to do during your visit to Clear Creek County, you’re bound to have a great time! For more information on all that Clear Creek has to offer, check out the Visit Clear Creek County website!