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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, 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.
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.
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.
WATCH THE VIDEO OF OUR OVERLANDING ADVENTURE TO CRYSTAL MILL
HOW TO GET TO CRYSTAL MILL
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.
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.
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.
Along the way are mountain views, natural spring waterfalls, and signs that this was once a thriving mining community.
The mountains are rugged and covered with fir trees and aspens that turn a vibrant gold in the autumn.
Take a moment just to enjoy the view before you move on.
The trail is narrow and rocky as it winds along, much of the time beside the Crystal River.
While you can hike it (and we passed many hikers), if you plan to drive it, 4 wheel drive vehicles are a must.
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.
Though most of the time, one will have to back up to find said turnouts.
You’ll even pass by the wreckage of one vehicle that didn’t quite make it.
ARRIVE AT CRYSTAL MILL, COLORADO
Finally, you’ll round the corner and there it’ll be… Almost like a dream but very real indeed.
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.
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.
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.
WHERE IS CRYSTAL, COLORADO?
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.
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.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO TO CRYSTAL MILL, 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.
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.
MORE COLORADO TREASURES YOU MAY ENJOY VISITING
- 5 Amazing Reasons to Visit Beautiful Marble, Colorado
- 12 Scenic Roads in Colorado
- Hidee Gold Mine in Central City, Colorado
- The Road to Mount Evans in Colorado
- Local Haunts to Explore in Nederland, Colorado
- Mountain View Chalet in the Colorado Rockies