Colorado, Colorado Destinations, Colorado Hikes

Colorado Destinations: Georgetown-Silver Plume Historic District

Like most Colorado mountain towns, Georgetown and Silver Plume were founded by miners. Georgetown was named after prospector George Griffith, who struck gold in the area in 1859. While this triggered a small gold rush, the gold mining operations in the region were only mildly successful due to the relative lack of gold in the rocks as compared to other areas of the state.

After a few years, prospectors began to realize the potential for other metals, including – as the name Silver Plume probably suggests – silver. In fact, Georgetown ultimately thrived as a silver mining hub far more than it ever had with gold. For about 30 years in the mid-to-late 1800s, Silver Plume flourished as well, with nearly 40 mines. But when the price of silver plummeted near the end of the century, the population and prosperity of both towns rapidly declined

These two small towns – located about 2 miles (3.2 km) from each other along I-70 in Clear Creek Canyon – are now part of the Georgetown-Silver Plume Historic District. Silver Plume is much smaller and the old buildings that still stand today are representative of its history as a diverse working-class town. Georgetown, on the other hand, became a place for wealthier members of society. This history is evident in the Gothic and Victorian-style buildings in the downtown area.

Today, the region mostly relies on tourism for its livelihood. Located about an hour west of Denver, the historic towns attract visitors searching for history, scenery, and outdoor adventures. As we enjoy all these things, this is a place we’ve visited on multiple occasions. So I figured I’d put together a list of some of the highlights.


Georgetown

It’s worth strolling through the main streets of both towns to admire the old buildings and stop in some of the shops. I’m not usually one to spend much time or money shopping, but I do occasionally enjoy looking around. On one visit, we found some nice Christmas presents for people and spent far too much money on ice cream, sorbet, and candy at Georgetown Valley Candy Shop.

Georgetown as seen from above

Georgetown Christmas Market

Georgetown is known for its annual holiday market, which has actually been named one of the best small-town European-style Christmas Markets in the US. With that designation, Pat and I couldn’t resist checking it out. And honestly… we weren’t all that impressed. In the market’s defense, we arrived mid-afternoon so we may have missed some of the festivities. The food was fine and the decorations were pretty. But overall, we didn’t feel it lived up to the hype and we probably won’t return.

Silver Plume

Silver Plume is substantially smaller and lacks the varied options of Georgetown. However, it’s worth walking along the main street to see some of the old buildings that still stand.

Main Street, Silver Plume

7:30 Mine Trail

Given the history and the location, it’s probably not surprising that old mining structures and views are the highlights of the trails in the area. Our first foray into the surrounding mountains was the 7:30 Mine Trail, which climbs (fairly steeply) from Silver Plume, past many old mine shafts and structures to the Griffin Memorial and Hercules Mine before dead-ending just past the Arapaho National Forest boundary.

The Griffin Memorial marks the grave of Clifford Griffin, the younger brother of the 7:30 Mine owner. Clifford left behind some interesting tales after his death… including the tale of how he actually died. Many of these stories are unverified, so it’s not clear which of them (if any) are true.

No parking is allowed at the trailhead due to the fact that it’s private land, so simply park on Main Street (just follow the “parking” signs) and walk a couple blocks up to the trailhead. From here, the trail is well-marked the entire way. Periodically you’ll encounter posts with QR codes on them; there is phone service here so scanning the code will take you to a page explaining bits of the history of the area. We also spotted some bighorn sheep near the trailhead, so keep your eyes peeled for a possible wildlife sighting!

Old mining structure at the trailhead
The trail follows what once was a toll road; dozens of tunnels still exist beneath the ground for transport of ore, but a road was needed to haul miners and equipment up and down
Looking down at Silver Plume and I-70; the one thing I disliked about this hike is that you never escape the sight and sounds of traffic
Old mining structure
Remains of a fatal 1899 avalanche
Griffin Monument
Remains of the Hercules Mine

Pavilion Point

The 7:30 Mine Trail ascends the northern wall of Clear Creek Canyon. On the opposite side of the canyon is the Argentine Central Railroad Grade Trail to Pavilion Point. To reach the trailhead, exit I-70 at Silver Plume (there’s only one exit) and follow the hiking signs south and then west along a dirt road to a small parking area. When we hiked this trail in April, we were the only ones there. In fall, though, when the leaves change, this trailhead gets very crowded and parking becomes problematic.

The Argentine Central Railroad was built in the early 1900s to connect Silver Plume to other mining areas to the south, a journey which required a steep climb up and over the shoulder of Leavenworth Mountain en route to the rather formidable McClellan Mountain. The track was steep and sharply curved and could only be navigated by specific steam engines. Ultimately, the railroad line wasn’t very profitable and was abandoned. As we followed the old grade up to Pavilion Point, we could appreciate the challenging terrain the railroad somehow managed to navigate.

Silver Plume as seen from the trail
Mining remains along the trail
Old chimney at Pavilion Point
Looking back at Silver Plume from Pavilion Point
Pavilion Point handstand

Georgetown Loop Railroad

To enjoy the scenery without hiking, hop aboard a scenic railroad tour! The narrow-gauge railroad between Georgetown and Silver Plume may be short, but it’s a feat of engineering. The terrain is terribly suited to rail travel; Clear Creek Canyon is narrow, steep, and curvy, with an elevation change of 600 feet (180 m) in the 2 miles (3.2 km) between the towns. The only way to reduce the steep grade enough to allow for safe train travel was to lay tracks in a deep S-shaped curve, followed by a 95-foot (29 m) high viaduct over Clear Creek and a 360° curve that loops around under the viaduct – a structure known as the Georgetown Loop. All in all, 4.5 miles (7.2 km) of tracks were needed to traverse the 2 mile distance.

To see the viaduct without taking the train ride, pull out at the Georgetown Loop Overlook as you’re traveling between Silver Plume and Georgetown on I-70 eastbound. There are also some informational signs describing the history of the town and the railroad.

The Georgetown Loop, as seen from the Georgetown Depot

While it was used to transport silver ore for a few years, after the mining boom ended the track became a tourist attraction before falling into disrepair. Ultimately – as part of an effort to preserve the history of the entire Georgetown-Silver Plume region – the tracks were restored and today operates as a scenic railroad. Tickets are $28 for adults ($22 for kids) for the scenic tour, with an optional additional fee to add on a tour of one of the old mines.

We took the tour this past April, opting to do only the scenic ride and not a mine tour due to the cost. Our tour began at the Georgetown Depot and traveled up to Silver Plume. We stopped here so they could move the steam engine to the other end of the train (there isn’t room to turn the train around), and then journeyed back down to Georgetown. It was neat to see the steam engine in operation. It was also very loud. My one complaint about this tour is that the narration wasn’t loud enough for us to hear over the noise of the train and adjacent highway traffic, as we were seated in an open-air car.

Under the viaduct we go…
And now over the viaduct (if you’re afraid of heights, this is not the time to look down)
There is some old railroad equipment to see along the way
Silver Plume Depot
Moving the steam engine to the other end of the train
Clear Creek Canyon as seen from the Silver Plume Depot

Guanella Pass

If a driving tour is more your style, fear not… Georgetown has an option for this as well. Guanella Pass Scenic Byway climbs steeply from the west end of town, traveling about 22 miles (35 km) up and over Guanella Pass down to the tiny town of Grant on the Byway’s opposite end. Guanella Pass is a fairly common destination of ours, as it’s the starting point for many beautiful hikes (if you’re interested, here is the link to the ones I’ve done so far). But even if you don’t feel like hiking, the Byway is well worth the drive simply for the scenery. The photos below are from our previous drives over Guanella Pass in June, July, and September.

Clear Lake
Sky pilot, one of my favorite flowers
Summit views
Autumn at Guanella Pass
Duck Lake
Heading down the Grant side of the pass

Food and Drink

More accurately, I should label this section “drink” since my knowledge of the food options in Georgetown is somewhat lacking. We don’t eat out much; when we do buy food it’s generally appetizers to go along with our beers. Sampling local craft breweries is really more of our thing. Fortunately for us, Georgetown has two of them!

Guanella Pass Brewery is the oldest of the two, the first brewery ever established in Georgetown. It’s a small facility located just a block off downtown with a handful of beers on tap and a couple food options. When we stopped here last fall, Pat ordered a pint while I sampled a flight. I don’t recall the specifics of each beer, but I remember we came away with the impression that it was a solid collection.

Across town, on the shore of Georgetown Lake, is the much newer Cabin Creek Brewing, established in 2019. It’s actually visible from the interstate and we’d been meaning to stop by since the first time we noticed it. In April 2021, we finally did (and again in April 2022). And while the beers are solid, the highlight for us is the tater tot pizza appetizer we ordered. Yes, you read that right. It’s something I never knew I needed in my life until I saw it on the menu. Tater tots topped with marinara, pepperoni, mozzarella, and fresh basil. I would drive all the way back to Georgetown right now just for more of this. (I attempted to re-create it at home and it was fine… but it wasn’t as good as theirs.)

Georgetown Lake
Cabin Creek Brewing

Long story short, there is much to see and do in the Georgetown-Silver Plume area. Whether you’re looking for history, scenery, shopping, hiking, scenic tours, or food and drink, you’ll find something to do here. It’s well worth a visit!

33 thoughts on “Colorado Destinations: Georgetown-Silver Plume Historic District”

    1. That’s funny it worked out this way because this post has been about 6 months in the making and I finally got it done. Hope you guys had a good trip to CO… can’t wait to read/hear about it!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Oh wow, another great post Diana. The mine trail looks like a beautiful and interesting walk, and Guanella Pass provides some epic views. I can see what you mean about the Christmas markets, I always feel that way about the ones in the UK – Germany is the best place to be for those that’s for sure! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I feel like I just took a vacation! That’s the beauty of your writings, such detail in terrain, the towns, food and drink, and photography. The Griffin monument hike has been on my list for some time now. The Griffin story is intriguing. Again, thank you taking us along on your journeys!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Looks like an interesting spot, with something for everyone. I don’t envy the miners trying to transport their quarry across that terrain, though. I had to Google what a “Tater Tot” was 😂 Never ceases to amaze me how many linguistic differences there are between American English and British English!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And now I had to google what tater tots are called in the UK 😂. It’s funny how many random little things have different names. I’ve definitely had to google some things from your posts too.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s too bad that the Christmas market was a let down. The hiking in these small towns looks great though. I love how there are old mining buildings along the trail. The scenic railroad tour also seems like a great way to explore the area and soak in the views.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s amazing how many random old mining structures there are scattered all around Colorado. Then again, it’s basically why Colorado became a state, so I guess it makes sense.

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  5. I feel you on the Georgetown Christmas market: based on the photos you took, it pales in comparison to the all-out decorations that the ones in Europe offer. Other than that, the hikes and history of the area are great to learn about…and one can’t say no to that greasy goodness of a tater tot pizza at the end of it all!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I have actually spent a night in Georgetown. In the mid-seventies your Aunt Lisa and I went out west to see your mom. She was in Kansas at the time. She suggested that we drive on to Colorado, that we would thoroughly enjoy it. We did. Anyway, we spent a night in Colorado Springs and did the Garden of the Gods and the waterfall that is there that people see at night because they light it up. The name of the falls escapes me here 45 years later. The next morning, we drove up Pikes Peak and headed for Rocky Mountain National Park. We got a room in Georgetown. God that was so long ago. I was maybe 18-19 and Lisa was like 12.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. We’ve been through this area (and over the Pass) a few times while visiting family but haven’t really spent time in either town. I wasn’t even aware of the railroad so thank you!! Look forward to doing that and the mine trail sometime.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. What a beautiful area of Colorado! Makes me wish I was hitting those trails today instead of being at my desk at work. Sounds like this area has something for everyone no matter the season. I’m looking forward to following along on where you go next 🙂 Meg

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Is it even possible to spend too much money on ice cream, sorbet and candy 😉. Although you can hear (and see) the traffic down in the valley, you still managed to still get some pretty photos … oh, and I like the train ride. Beer tasting … yes, that sounds like a pretty good option to end a hike (or to explore a new place).

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Great post Diana. So nice to see the history of the area, as well as the natural beauty. I am sure the miners had a hard life wrestling the minerals out of the ground. Cabin Creek Brewing looks like a good place to take a break. Thanks for sharing. Allan

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Allan. I can’t even imagine how hard of a job mining is. And then you see the terrain and weather they had to navigate… I don’t know how they did it. I can’t imagine my commute being a steep climb up a mountainside every day, on foot.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. What a lovely little place set in such a scenic location, Diana! I love visiting historic downtowns and oldtowns in order to see renovated old buildings. Taking a narrow-track train tour through the mountains sounds like a fun thing to do. Thanks for sharing and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I imagine even the oldest of buildings would seem so young compared to what you have in Europe. But I agree, they’re fun to see. And it’s always interesting to learn what life was once like in an area.

      Liked by 1 person

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