Silver Plume, Colorado: Worth the U-Turn

Nestled in the upper Clear Creek Valley at more than 9,000 feet, about 45 miles west of Denver, lies the sleepy little town of Silver Plume, Colorado. Although some consider Silver Plume a “living ghost town” due to its tiny population of 200 and mostly vacant 19th-century buildings, there’s still plenty worth seeing and doing in and around this former silver mining town.

Don’t Miss the Exit

To get to Silver Plume, however, you have to take one of the least-used exit ramps of the mountain corridor: Exit 226 off of I-70. Although there are unique businesses well worthy of a visit thriving there, drivers can easily pass the exit to Silver Plume before even realizing the town exists.

Silver Plume connects to nearby Georgetown via both I-70 and by rail, and offers homestyle meals and pastries, an apothecary shop and watering hole, a fine saloon and a historic hotel turned bed and breakfast. Don’t let the scale of the town fool you, though. Silver Plume, CO is a place you don’t want to miss.

The Georgetown-Silver Plume Historic District

Like Georgetown, Silver Plume began as a mining town, and the two towns comprise the Georgetown-Silver Plume Historic District, one of the most well-preserved mining districts in Colorado and once the most prominent silver mining district in the state. However, while Georgetown served as a commercial hub and service center for nearby mining camps in the late 19th century, Silver Plume was a town of diverse working class miners.

After the Panic of 1893 and the repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act dramatically reduced mining in the area, the community declined, with most businesses closing and many people moving away. However, the district revived after World War II due to automobile tourism and ski traffic, boosting the area’s economy and leading to a focus on historic preservation.

Today the area is a popular tourist destination for those wanting to see Georgetown’s pristinely preserved Victorian architecture, hike the many trails in the area, or enjoy the natural beauty in the comfort of a rail car.

The District by Rail

The Georgetown Loop Railroad connects Silver Plume to Georgetown with a boarding station in each town: The Silver Plume Station and the Devil’s Gate boarding area in Georgetown. A major engineering feat of its day, the loop is representative of two major contributors to growth in the area – railroad development and tourism – and experienced a revival in the 1970s after being abandoned in 1939, with the train continuing to run multiple times per day.

You also have the option to make a stop at the legendary Lebanon Silver Mine on your rail trip, for a guided tour through 500 feet of the mine, hard hat required. Owned by History Colorado, the Georgetown Loop Railroad provides panoramic views of forested mountains and a bridge spanning 93 feet above Clear Creek. The rail trip alone takes about an hour and fifteen minutes, with the mine tour increasing the trip to about two and a half hours.

Silver Plume: Historic Architecture

It’s worth it to take a walk through downtown Silver Plume, if only to see late 19th century architecture much as it was in its heyday. You can also tour the old Silver Plume Schoolhouse, built in 1894. Closing as an educational institution in 1959, this long-time focal point of the community was transformed into the George Rowe Museum one year later, a local history museum established by a group of townswomen. Also notable, is the simple wood-frame construction of the Silver Plume homes belonging to modest mine workers.

Take some time to stop off in nearby Georgetown, which offers amazingly preserved Victorian architecture in the homes lining downtown, as well as The Hamill House, a largely expanded lavish estate that began as a modest Country Gothic home in 1867. This pristinely restored home features gas lighting, walnut woodwork, original wallpaper and a conservatory.

Silver Plume: Budding Local Business

A former mining supply store now houses DRAM Apothecary, featuring bitters, syrups, teas and cocktail accessories, as well as appetizers and cocktails centered around local craft spirits. Bread Bar is a historic bakery turned fine drinking establishment, offering unique layers of flavors in their cocktails, like the Big Bill Haywood with hot bourbon, gingersnap liqueur, lemon and cinnamon.

You can stay awhile in Silver Plume at the Historic Windsor Hotel Bed and Breakfast, first opened in 1884 as the New Windsor Hotel, a miners’ hotel and eatery. Once silver mining was abandoned in the area, the New Windsor was a boarding house for many years, where both Edison and Tesla often frequented. Additionally, the Plume Coffee Bar offers belly-warming beverages and is open during the weekends this winter.

Silver Plume: Camping, Hiking and Fishing

Silver Plume is a popular destination for those seeking challenge or solace in the outdoors. You can hike Mt. Beirstadt, a relatively easy fourteener to climb or embark on the 7:30 Mine Trail, which offers hikers a gorgeous view of the valley and mountains around Silver Plume.

If you travel the Guanella Pass Scenic Byway, a day trip within itself, you’ll pass several trailheads including those for the Guanella Pass Trail and The Burning Bear Trail. You can also set up camp at Guanella Pass Campground, where the nearby South Fork of Clear Creek offers excellent fishing for beginners and experts alike.

Silver Plume: Area Attractions

If hot springs are your thing, you don’t want to miss Indian Hot Springs, just 14 miles from Silver Plume. Aptly named for the abundant use of the springs by the Ute and Arapahoe Indians, Indian Springs are one of the closest hot springs to Denver, with a resort featuring private baths as well as a full spa and lounge.

The Geneva Basin Ski Area is an old ski resort that operated from 1963 to 1984 and is located just a few miles south of the Guanella Pass Scenic Byway. The area offers moderate hiking with stunning views.

What Silver Plume lacks in stature, it makes up for in history, culture and some of the most amazing scenery in the country. Whether you’re looking for luxurious accommodations in nearby Georgetown, a more historic stay in Silver Plume’s bed and breakfast or camping under the stars, Silver Plume offers grand experiences in a very small package. If you blink and miss it, it’s definitely worth the U-turn.