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Exploring Colorado's Front Range

RV travel to Central City, Mount Evans and Idaho Springs
Article Date: January, 2014


Travelers heading west from Denver are treated to one of the country's most scenic drives as Interstate 70 leaves the lower elevations of the Mile High City and winds its way through valleys and steep grades towards Loveland Pass at 11,880' of altitude. Shortly after leaving Denver via a brief climb the road drops down into a beautiful valley at Idaho Springs, a former mining town turned into a popular tourist stop. Idaho Springs also serves as the gateway to Mount Evans and the Mount Evans Scenic Highway begins its climb to the 14,265' summit. The Central City Parkway begins here as well and takes travelers over a steep mountain grade to the Central City and Blackhawk mining districts, which are now frequented by casino players rather than prospectors and pack mules. Further to the west, Georgetown begins the climb to the Eisenhower Tunnel, which bores through the highest peaks of the Rockies at around 11,000', bypassing the long winding trip over Loveland Pass in the process. This entire area is laced with plenty of scenic beauty as well as history.

Central City

Central City was originally founded in 1859 during the Pike's Peak Gold Rush and became known as "The Richest Square Mile on Earth". As many as 10,000 prospectors worked the area but this boom was short lived when the miners eventually moved to other locations. By the 1950s only a few hundred remained and when Casino gambling was introduced in the 1990s the town experienced a slight resurgence and the 2000 census showed Central City's population at 515. To provide a direct route to town, the Central City Parkway was completed in 2004. This road climbs the steep grades from Idaho Springs to Central City but is wide and modern and is suitable for large RVs. An ideal base camp for any RV traveler is the Central City KOA, which is one of the better KOAs in the country. It is situated up a winding drive but overlooks Central City from its lofty perch and provides some amazing sunsets as the sun sets over the Front Range.

Central City has been revived into a tourist center and large casino complex.

In the 1800's Central City was a booming mining town, complete with saloons, opera houses and mining related businesses.

The Teller House still hosts operas today, just as it did over a century ago.

The Central City KOA is the perfect place to stay and enjoy the sunset while exploring the area.

Idaho Springs

Idaho Springs is placed right alongside Interstate 70 and anyone traveling west of Denver can easily see the town from the interstate, which is raised to squeeze alongside the southern edge of town. Legend has it that the town's name was derived from annual visits to the hot springs each year by a Native American chief who journeyed from Idaho to bathe in the magic healing waters of the natural hot springs there. Idaho Springs was founded in 1859 during the Pike's Peak Gold Rush in a roundabout way. On January 5, 1859 prospector George Jackson discovered gold where Chicago Creek empties into Clear Creek. He was originally drawn to the area because of clouds of steam rising from the hot springs. He kept it a secret but after he paid for his supplies with gold dust the secret was out and other prospectors rushed in to establish their placer claims. Eventually gold veins were also found in the canyon walls on both sides of Clear Creek and the switch to hard rock mining took place. Idaho Springs became the main center for the region's mining activities.

Downtown Idaho Springs is a throwback to the mining past. Many of the buildings that once served the mining industry have been restored and used as restaurants or shopping.

Today, downtown Idaho Springs is a National Historical District. Tourism has replaced mining as the driving economic force. Tours of the Argo Gold Mine and Mill are one of the popular attractions. The local museum features many exhibits on the early mining history of the area as well as outside exhibits, such as the Charlie Taylor Water Wheel, built in 1893 to power a stamp mill. A walking tour of the area explores a multitude of historical buildings. Many of the downtown buildings that once served a bustling mining community now house shops and eating establishments. Undoubtedly the most popular place to dine is Beau Jo's Pizza, which is located in an old general store and mining supply warehouse on downtown Miner's Street. Their legendary Mountain Pies are a favorite with everyone and draw folks from all over so be sure to arrive early, especially on weekends.

A popular stop in Idaho Springs is Beau Jo's Pizza. You will dine in a restored general store, replete with artifacts from the golden days of mining.

Beau Jo's is notorious for their Mountain Pies, which have been featured on national television. A stop here is the perfect end to a day of hiking the Rockies.

Mines, such as the Argo Mine and Mill, offer guided tours. For those travelers who want to try their hand at mining or panning, the Phoenix Mine offers gold panning as well as tours. The stream runs right alongside the road and picks up gold in the mountains above and carries it downstream. Best of all, you can keep any gold that you find.

Located at over 11,000', the Eisenhower Tunnel bridges Idaho Springs and Georgetown to Vail and Glenwood Springs to the west, bypassing Loveland Pass.

Just 8 miles to the west of Idaho Springs lies Georgetown, a former silver mining camp alongside Clear Creek. Silver was found in 1854 in nearby Argentine Pass and the town served as a center of commerce for the thousands of mines in the surrounding area. It was even considered as a possible site for the state capital until the silver boom collapsed in 1893. In the 1950s it began a transformation into a stopover place for skiers traveling between Denver and the ski resorts of Loveland Pass. The Victorian architecture of the historic downtown area was the setting for the 1986 movie The Christmas Gift, starring John Denver. Today Georgetown is a popular tourist stop and is the location of the Georgetown Loop Railroad, a 19th century steam engine train ride overlooking the fantastic scenery and old mines between Georgetown and Silver Plume.

The Georgetown Loop Railroad takes passengers on a steam-powered tour past the gold mines of Clear Creek Canyon.

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