How to Drive to Crystal Mill from Marble, Colorado

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What it's like to drive alongside the Crystal River from Marble, Colorado, to Crystal Mill and the ghost town of Crystal in the beautiful Maroon Bells.

While you can take a Jeep tour to Crystal Mill, Colorado, you can also drive it yourself. Overlanding to Crystal, Colorado, is an experience of a lifetime. 

We always knew we wanted to go back and drive the narrow shelf road that follows the Crystal River. The difference was that now we were visiting when aspens had reached their peak with rich golden leaves.

Crystal Mill CO in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado

I'll tell you, there is nothing like the majestic Maroon Bells Wilderness with its towering Rocky Mountain peaks covered in shades of green and gold, amazingly beautiful fall colors.

It takes your breath away, and it almost feels as though you're looking through the lens of a fairy tale. 

Crystal River flowing around and below Crystal Mill, Colorado, and golden aspens

While we longed for serenity, we didn't mind sharing the view with others who'd made the journey to photograph and capture such a peaceful yet mysterious place.

It's a road less traveled that's quickly becoming more and more traveled, as Crystal Mill has become one of the most photographed sites in Colorado. 



Leaving the town of Marble, Colorado, you'll pass by Beaver Lake. Its placid waters beckon to come back again for a li'l kayaking adventure.

Beaver Lake in Marble, Colorado

The road quickly changes to unpaved road and as you go on, it becomes more and more rocky. At one point, you'll come to a fork in the road where you can decide to go on toward Lead King Basin or you can turn to your right, then take a sharp left past a mountainside house toward the mill.

You may be tempted to turn around at this point because of the steep drop off to your right. Just keep going and don't chicken out, because this narrow shelf road, built by settlers in the late 1800’s, is totally worth it.

Lizard Lake near Marble, Colorado

You'll come upon the rippling waters of Lizard Lake pretty quickly. You're likely to see others fishing or families exploring around the edges of this serene patch of water.

Beautiful Lizard Lake in the autumn on the road to Crystal Mill

Along the way are mountain views, natural spring waterfalls, and signs that this was once a thriving mining community.

waterfall on road to Crystal Mill, Colorado

The mountains are rugged and covered with fir trees and aspens that turn a vibrant gold in the autumn.

Crystal River and golden yellow aspens in a Colorado fall

Take a moment just to enjoy the view before you move on. 

rugged Rocky Mountains near Crystal and Marble, Colorado

The trail is narrow and rocky as it winds along, much of the time beside the Crystal River.

how to get to Crystal Mill on a winding road beside the Crystal River near Marble, Colorado

While you can hike it (and we passed many hikers), if you plan to drive it, 4 wheel drive vehicles are a must. 

narrow rocky road to Crystal Mill Marble Colorado

There are small turnouts all along the way. This ensures that if you meet another vehicle, one of you can maneuver mostly out of the way and let the other pass.

road with turnouts to Crystal Mill Marble CO

Though most of the time, one will have to back up to find said turnouts. 

wreckage of a truck on the road to the semi ghost town of Crystal, Colorado

You'll even pass by the wreckage of one vehicle that didn't quite make it. 


Crystal Mill and the Crystal River Colorado with golden yellow aspens in autumn

Finally, you'll round the corner and there it'll be… Almost like a dream but very real indeed. 

ghostly Crystal Mill in Colorado surrounded by golden yellow aspen trees and mountains

Crystal Mill, Colorado, is a historic landmark and one of the most photogenic places we've ever experienced. Its rugged appearance gives it a ghostly haunted feel. 

overlanding to Crystal Mill and the Crystal River in Colorado

Crystal Mill once operated as a powerhouse or power plant for mining operations. It was known as the Sheep Mountain Power House, or Lost Horse Mill.

Now the mill sits mysteriously quiet, framed by the Crystal River and the aspen covered mountains of the Maroon Bells Wilderness. 

haunted Crystal Mill in Colorado

The river swirls and flows to the side and around to the front of the mill. Between both the blue of the sky and the clarity of the water, it boasts a beautiful blue green tint. 


Crystal ghost town, Colorado, with cabins, a general store, and outhouse

At one time, the Crystal ghost town, Colorado (just around the bend from Crystal Mill), had 400 residents, most of whom were miners and their families. They call it a semi ghost town, though there are people who come there to spend their summers. 

Roger Neal, an author who has written extensively about the area, spends his summers there, sharing his Crystal Tale Books with visitors who come to Crystal.

Roger had shared with us before that his family spent summers there when he was a child; now he and his wife do the same. 

Jaden has read every single book of Roger's that we bought on our last trip to Crystal, so he was excited to see Roger again and talk more with him. Unfortunately, we didn't get to see Mr. Neal on this trip, but hopefully, next time.

cabin in Crystal, Colorado, a semi ghost town

There are actually cabins to rent in the small town of Crystal now, so you can stay the night or longer.

And there's a general store (the Crystal Store), as well as an outhouse.

The road continues on through the town of Crystal and winds its way to Crested Butte via Schofield Pass. Or you can experience the entire loop, including Lead King Basin, Devil’s Punchbowl, and Sheep Mountain. 

haunted Crystal Mill outside Marble, Colorado


There are definitely a few things to note before taking off on an overlanding trip to Crystal Mill and beyond…

  • You can either drive it yourself or take the Jeep tour to Crystal Mill with Crystal River Jeep Tours. Of course, if you don't want to ride at all, you may even want to hike it; just plan enough time if you do.
  • While there is a bathroom in Marble and an outhouse in Crystal, there are no bathrooms along the way. Plan accordingly.
  • Roads are quite rocky, meaning lots of jolts and bumps.
  • Pack any water and snacks or food you need for the trip, maybe a small cooler; also, pack extra because the mountains are unpredictable, and you never know what may happen.
  • Wear comfortable clothing and shoes, and carry a jacket, even in summer.
  • Along those same lines, pack a spare tire or two or three. Just make sure your tires are fit and you have spare/s.
  • Crystal Mill is reachable on in the summer and fall months. So, the best time to travel the road is from Memorial Day to the end of November (this is when the Jeep tours operate), though the closer you get to winter, the more you risk snow. We've traveled the road to Crystal in both the middle of summer and September; both times were gorgeous.
  • Make sure you have a camera and binoculars! You don't want to miss a thing.
  • The property along the road and even the mill itself is all private property. Don't trespass.

Finally, you know me well enough by now to know what my next point will be… Leave no trace! Pack out what you pack in.

For real… Let's just pledge right now to take responsibility in keeping this place a treasure.

gorgeous Crystal Mill surrounded by yellow aspens in Colorado

Crystal Mill is a Colorado treasure and one place that everyone should experience in their lifetime. Make this bucket list journey, and you'll agree that it's unforgettable. 



how to drive to Crystal Mill from Marble, Colorado

20 thoughts on “How to Drive to Crystal Mill from Marble, Colorado”

  1. I lived in Marble in the late 70s..Miss that place and all the other beautiful places surrounding it At the top of Led King Basin is another awesome place…

  2. I wish the information were more specific regarding distances. If one doesn’t have a four-wheel drive, how far could they drive, then park, and hike in? How far is the hike in from this point? If no parking at Lizard lake, then where would one park, and how far from that point?

    • Scott, if you don’t have 4wd, I wouldn’t recommend driving in there at all. Last time we were there, I would have said that you could drive that trail in 2wd no problem so long as you’re careful, but many years have passed since we were last there, so I would not recommend it. There are many places that you can park before hitting the dirt trail. The out and back trail to Crystal City is 9 miles.

  3. Thank you Mel, very informative article and love your video too.

    I am thinking of driving part of it from Marble then hiking the rest, from your description, sounds like drive to Lizard Lake is relative easy, is there a parking spot at Lizard Lake where I can park my vehicle and hike the rest? I have a factory standard Subaru Outback.

    Thanks again.

  4. I love the video and the music. Hope to see more adventures with music. I have been to Crystal and loved it. Plan to go again this year.

  5. Blog posts like this are ruining the adventure for others. Please keep information to yourself so that others discover it for themselves and it doesn’t become over run by “overlanders”.

    • This is a very sad way to think, Travis. I understand why you feel this way, but I don’t agree. To keep this place to myself would be utterly selfish. I write things like this not just so others can go and experience, but so those who can’t go can still experience it.

      • I agree Mel ! Crystal Mill is not a secret place. Anybody, like me, that searches the net knows about it. We will be going there in September.

          • Travis needs to understand Crystal Mill has been written about for decades and photos of the mill have graced numerous magazine covers. It hasn’t been kept secret from the public for a very long time. It’s like the internet, once the information is out, it’s out there forever. It was placed on the National Register of Historical Places in 1985. Perhaps Travel would like the forest service and owners of the property to create a lottery system so only a certain number of people can go. Ever since a German photographer stumbled upon the Wave in Utah, it’s been near impossible to go and it’s on a lottery system. We all have to police ourselves and strongly suggest to others to protect these lands. I’ve lived in Colorado all my life, have explored all four corners and in between, but alas haven’t been here yet, and I resent being called an “overlander”. I’m planning a biennial road trip since I couldn’t go anywhere this year, and this is on my bucket list that isn’t a bucket list. We can also live vicariously through stories and photographs like yours. Thank you.

          • Thank you, Darlene. Yes, Crystal Mill is no secret, and I’m glad that it’s not. Getting out and gaining a love for these lands is the only way people will learn to respect it.

  6. We have always just pulled off the main trail and camped for the night, no one has ever said anything. We had 1 land owner stop by and talk to us and asked if we would please make sure to take our trash with us.

  7. Hello, I’m hoping to plan one last camping trip before the winter hits and really want to visit the Crystal Mill! But I’m curious if there are any acceptable spots to tent camp in the area? Or is it all private property?

    • Hector, there are no camping spots right around Crystal Mill. However, there is a campground in the town of Marble and another one just down the road from Marble. Also, if it’s remote camping you’re looking for, you can keep going past the road that leads to Marble and drive up McClure Pass, and there is actually a remote campsite up on top of the pass. Of course, there are other remote campsites around in the general area, but all of the property around the Mill is private property, and camping is not allowed. I hope you have a wonderful trip!


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