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Trip Report: Phantom Canyon Road, Colorado

Basic Information

  • What: Phantom Canyon Road
  • Where: Outside Canyon City, Colorado
  • Cost: Free
  • More Information: GoldBeltByway.com

Picture from Phantom Canyon, Colorado

Narrative

The Colorado Springs region has a rich gold mining history due to nearby Cripple Creek which to this day continues to be home to a major gold mining operation.  Gold was first discovered on the western slopes of Pikes Peak by cowboy prospector Bob Womack back in 1890.  His find eventually set off a gold rush that caused the founding of the city of Cripple Creek to support all the mining activity.  Cripple Creek became an incorporated town in 1892 which set off another rush, this one by the railroads to connect this new town with Colorado Springs.  There was once three railroads that connected Cripple Creek to Colorado Springs:

Image via Wikipedia.

The Colorado Midland Railway used what is today the Ute Pass portion of Highway 24 to Woodland Park and then south on Highway 67 to Cripple Creek.  Old railway tunnels and trackbed can still be seen along the highway.  Another railway was the Colorado Springs & Cripple Creek District Railway that connected the two cities using what is today Gold Camp Road.  The drive up this dirt road today is one of the most spectacular in Colorado.  The third railway line my family and I was going to checkout on our latest day trip was the Florence & Cripple Creek Railway.  This railway connected Cripple Creek to the rest of Colorado by a railway line that ran up Phantom Canyon:

Florence & Cripple Creek Railway Map

Just like Gold Camp Road, the railway line up Phantom Canyon is now a dirt road that anyone with a sturdy vehicle can drive up.  The road is accessed off of Highway 50 between Pueblo and Canyon City:

The turn off is very well signed and hard to miss.  The drive starts out on a paved road that crosses some high desert scenery with the foothills of Pikes Peak in the background:

Picture from Phantom Canyon, Colorado

Eventually the road turns to dirt when it begins its winding ascent through these foothills:

Picture from Phantom Canyon, Colorado

The first part of the drive through the foothills is through open range land where cattle can be seen grazing along the side of the road:

Picture from Phantom Canyon, Colorado

This means that drivers need to be careful to not hit one these cows.  As the drive through the canyon narrows the first old railway tunnel comes into view:

Picture from Phantom Canyon, Colorado

After the tunnel we came upon a little picnic area that had this sign that provided a brief history of the railroad:

Picture from Phantom Canyon, Colorado

The Florence & Cripple Creek Railroad ran from 1894 to 1912 with its primary purpose to carry gold ore out of Cripple Creek.  It was actually the first railroad to reach Cripple Creek which meant it was quite profitable in its early years until the other railway lines connected with Cripple Creek as well.  By 1915 competition with the other two railroads and continuous damage caused by flash floods caused the railroad to cease operations. This is what led to the creation of the road today that provides a pleasant drive through this scenic canyon:

Picture from Phantom Canyon, Colorado

As we drove deeper into the canyon we came to the 2nd railway tunnel:

Picture from Phantom Canyon, Colorado

Something else we noticed as we ascended deeper into the canyon was how lush the scenery had now become compared to the dry, high desert scenery at the beginning of Phantom Canyon:

Picture from Phantom Canyon, Colorado

We next came to the only bridge remaining in the canyon from the old railway:

Picture from Phantom Canyon, Colorado

The bridge was restored nicely and was quite scenic to see perched so high above the canyon.  Next to the bridge was this marker that explained more about the history of the railroad:

Picture from Phantom Canyon, Colorado

Here is the view from the bridge looking back down what was now quite a lush, forested view:

Picture from Phantom Canyon, Colorado

As we drove across the bridge above us we saw plenty of rocky peaks which looked like a fun place to go explore in the future:

Picture from Phantom Canyon, Colorado

Eventually the road began to level out as we drove through an increasing number of aspen groves:

Picture from Phantom Canyon, Colorado

Occasionally through the trees we could see the canyon below us that we had just driven up:

Picture from Phantom Canyon, Colorado

We knew we were getting closer to Cripple Creek once we began to spot areas of open meadows used for grazing:

Picture from Phantom Canyon, Colorado

Eventually the dirt road ended outside of Cripple Creek’s sister city of Victor.  From Victor we drove the short distance over to Cripple Creek and then took the standard Highway 24 route back home to Colorado Springs:

Picture from Phantom Canyon, Colorado

Conclusion

Overall it was a nice way to spend a day driving up Phantom Canyon to Cripple Creek.  However, for those for time for just one day trip to Cripple Creek I highly recommend taking Gold Camp Road instead.  It is faster to access from the Colorado Springs area and much more scenic.  For those that live locally in the area a drive up Phantom Canyon Road is definitely worth checking out at some point if you have already driven up Gold Camp Road before.

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Have you driven up Phantom Canyon Road before?  Do you have any pictures and thoughts you want to share? If so consider posting your own trip report in the On-Walkabout Forums.

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