It’s fun to imagine the history of Cripple Creek, Colorado. This mountain town was once a bustling metropolis with over 55,000 people inhabiting the area, and more than 150 saloons! Although the town is much smaller, the history is still thriving with multiple museums to visit and buildings to gawk at. While Cripple Creek is known present-day for its casinos, there are many other ways to enjoy the Cripple Creek area.
Hop aboard the trolley
Descending into Cripple Creek, look for the jagged peaks of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range in the distance, including 9 of Colorado’s 58 fourteeners (mountains exceeding 14,000 ft). Your first stop in Cripple Creek should be the District Museum. The comprehensive exhibits are a wonderful way to get acquainted with the area’s history. From there, hop aboard the Gold Camp Trolley Tour that departs from the museum twice a day on Saturdays. For $10, you’ll enjoy a 2-hour trolley ride tour through Cripple Creek, Victor, and the surrounding Gold Camp area. Moreover, you’ll learn an unbelievable amount about the region, presently and historically speaking. On our tour, actors got on and off the trolley to play out historical scenarios; some of them had me bent over laughing hysterically!
Take a drive
“Close your eyes and imagine the hiss and whistle of a steam locomotive passing this very spot.” – Sign posted in Phantom Canyon
More than a few hairpin turns, narrow tunnels through rock, and a high suspension bridge comprise the Phantom Canyon scenic byway. The drive is indeed quite scenic, but the real beauty lies in the history of this route. Between 1894 and 1912, railcars carried gold out of the Cripple Creek mining district. Travel through this canyon came to halt in 1912 when a flash flood wiped out the railroad in the canyon, leaving behind a single steel bridge–the Adelaide Bridge. Fast-forward a bit, and now you can slow-roll along this dirt road (no 4WD necessary). You’ll feel a temperature difference passing through the canyon, as the road descends nearly 5,000 ft from Cripple Creek.
A trip to Cripple Creek would not be complete without also visiting Victor. Standing in the sleepy downtown of Victor, you’ll be amazed at the mountain views in the distance and the numerous mines on the hills surrounding the town. The historic buildings are impeccably well-preserved and full of charming details. Wander the town, and poke your head into one of the antique stores with local artifacts from the region. This place is very photogenic!
Stretch your legs
Escape into a forest of pine, spruce and aspen trees. The hike along the Horsethief Falls and Pancake Rocks trail is scenic and shaded, featuring two great destinations. Choose your adventure here: take a shorter detour to Horsethief Falls, or push on to the end of the trail. The terminus of the trail is a mountain playground, full of rocks resembling stacks of pancakes.
It’s not the Broadway, it’s the Butte!
The historical Butte Theater is well worth a visit in Cripple Creek! Professional actors usher you to your seats prior to the show, but not before you grab a classic cocktail from the bar. For such a small town, I was quite impressed by this quaint theater. Vintage wallpaper still dresses the walls, and historic photos and posters reflect the theater’s past. Refer to the Butte’s online calendar for upcoming shows, and don’t miss the opportunity to witness great theater in this intimate setting.
This article was created in partnership with Visit Cripple Creek, Colorado.