Hiking with Ghosts at Boston Mine
Writer Heather Balogh Rochfort explores one of Colorado’s most scenic ghost towns leftover from the mining days.
Boston Mine Hiking Overview:
- Distance from Denver Airport: 110 miles or roughly 2 hours and 15 minutes (traffic pending)
- Difficulty Level: Easy
- Elevation: The trailhead begins at 10,994 feet and ends at 11,980 feet
- Terrain Overview: The hike is a steady-yet-mellow climb on an old jeep road. There are minimal obstacles and the path is wide enough to accommodate 4-5 people walking abreast. The trail is heavily shaded until it breaks free from tree line at the mine; then, hikers will experience full high-alpine sun.
Hitting the Trail
If you listen carefully, you can still hear it: the faint whisper of Colorado’s Wild West heritage calling from the hillsides. These days, it’s likely easier to see Denver as a bustling metropolis full of hipsters, craft breweries, and a burgeoning population, but don’t let it fool you. Colorado has a romantic history, filled with grizzled cowboys, and dusty mining towns. This is one of those stories.
The location for Boston Mine is easily missed. Tucked away on the east side of Highway 91, this blink-and-you-will-miss-it trailhead is oddly quiet considering the crowds of people that descend on nearby Copper Mountain Ski Area. But it is there for those outdoorists who know where to look and who want to take a step back into the mining days of Colorado history.
Boston Mine was one of the hundreds of mining towns that cropped up during the late 19th century. Miners were giddy with excitement when they set up their town at almost 12,000 feet; with the high altitude and towering peaks surrounding Mayflower Gulch, it wasn’t the most logical location for a town. But the prospect of gold was tantalizing to the miners’ senses, so logic wasn’t included in the decision. Nearby Leadville was booming thanks to the riches found in the mountains; maybe that luck would hold in Boston?
Soon after, the newly-founded town buzzed with activity. The Golden Crest, Golden Eagle, and Resumption lode mines operated regularly, as did the Boston Placers, a surface mining venture. Industrious miners worked at the thick vein of gold found in the mines, but it was all for naught. The purity of the ore was lacking, so Boston never really even stood a chance.
The men and women of Boston Mine scattered to the winds, following the prosperous mining claims around the western part of the country. Mayflower Gulch was abandoned, and the previously warm-and-cozy log homes were left empty, the vacant shells standing as a reminder of the community that once inhabited the alpine valley. Boston was all but forgotten as it hid in the dark shadow of nearby 13,995-foot Fletcher Mountain.
Decades passed and Boston sank further into disrepair. Roofs collapsed on existing structures and walls began to gradually sink into the marshy valley floor. But then, in January of 1980, gold prices spiked to a record high $850 per ounce. Once again, frenzied miners with dazzling dollar signs in their eyes flocked to Colorado—and to Boston Mine—in hopes of getting rich and fulfilling their American dream.
These days, experts estimate that there is anywhere from $15 to $50 million worth of gold buried in the Mayflower Gulch area—but don’t expect to trip over any gold nuggets. The gold is likely buried in mining veins, deep underneath the surface. And it is likely to stay that way.
In 2009, the Summit County Open Space & Trails Department paid a whopping $900,000 to buy the mining claims where most of the gold is buried. As part of this deal, the previous owners relinquished their mining permits, ensuring the scenery and landscape will forever remain untouched by future digging and disruption.
For modern-era outdoor enthusiasts, Boston Mine still remains a beautiful walk down a long-forgotten lane. From the trailhead, hikers catch the dusty old ore wagon road as it climbs from the paved parking lot into the densely-wooded evergreen forest. Dappled sunlight creeps through the greenery, but the shady road is a comfortable respite from the beating sun in the gulch.
The dirt road continues upwards at a moderate gain with speckled views of Mayflower Gulch appearing through the trees. Mining history appears at the trailside as hikers continue their climb. First, a collapsed cabin on the left, bereft of any roof but full of old mining equipment. Then, a few minutes later, a tall ore shoot appears on the right side of the trail, demonstrating how miners once moved ore into carts.
After 1.8 miles of hiking (and 765 feet of gain), the ore road breaks free from the forest and hikers find themselves in the open meadow of Mayflower Gulch. In the early summer, colorful wildflowers dot the landscape while Fletcher Mountain battles with Northeast, Crystal and Pacific Peaks in the background.
It’s easy to envision what Boston Mine would’ve looked like in its heyday. Today, an old log boarding house stands alongside a few remaining cabins, proudly representing Colorado’s mining history, even though the buildings are slowly sinking into the wet ground. If you squint carefully, you can see a few more cabins in the distance, their tiny structures looking diminutive in the presence of the towering alpine cirque. And behind those, perhaps farther than is discernible with the naked eye, stands another mining structure with its cable extended high up on the mountain.
Wander around the ruins as long as you wish, and soak up your surroundings. But please be careful. You’re walking among history and memories, and maybe even a couple of ghosts.
Hiking Gear for Boston Mine
- Water to stay hydrated and combat the altitude
- Plenty of snacks
- Sturdy hiking shoes like the Zamberlan Airound GORE-TEX® SURROUND® Shoe
Photos by Will Rochfort