Carbonate, Colorado: Ghost Town’s Tales at 11,000 Feet


Though only inhabited for a brief few years in the early 1880s, this long-abandoned mountain outpost still captivates visitors today with its arresting wilderness setting and tales of the rugged pioneers who once braved harsh winters at nearly 11,000 feet to mine these mountains for silver ore.


  • Carbonate is a ghost town in the Flat Tops Mountains that was briefly the Garfield County seat in the 1880s.
  • Inaccessible for much of the winter, Carbonate was home to only a few dozen residents at its peak.
  • Visitors can still see the remnants of old cabins and mines amidst the dramatic alpine scenery.

From Coffee Pot Road, an unpaved forest road winding through the White River National Forest, to the abandoned mines and building foundations slowly succumbing to the elements atop limestone bedrock, Carbonate offers a uniquely evocative portal into Colorado’s rugged frontier past.

Alluring Heights and Isolation

Carbonate’s location over two miles above sea level presented settlers with stunning alpine vistas and formidably harsh conditions. Winters stretched from October to May, bringing biting winds and deep snow drifts. Still, the promise of silver lured thousands of prospectors, with estimates ranging from 2,000 to 5,000 swarming the area following early strikes in the Flat Tops in the early 1880s. Most buildings in Carbonate were crude temporary structures like tents and cabins clinging precariously to the steep mountainsides.

A few intrepid entrepreneurs did their best to carve out more permanent settlements to supply and shelter the burgeoning mining camps. The fledgling town’s isolation posed major challenges, however. Early on, the costs of imported goods were sky-high, and only primitive roads connected remote Carbonate to the frontier outposts of Leadville and Glenwood Springs.

The Brief Life and Death of a County Seat

In November 1883, Carbonate was designated the seat of Colorado’s newly formed Garfield County. This isolated mountain town boasted official county records and administrative offices for a few short months. The county tent, measuring 16 by 24 feet, contained little more than a pile of papers on a kitchen table, some game carcasses curing on the walls, and a cookstove in the back.

Yet by 1886, Carbonate was virtually abandoned, its brief tenure as county seat ended as quickly as it began. The town’s inaccessibility and lack of infrastructure soon made it clear that a more developed area would need to fulfill local governance needs. After the county records were hauled down the mountain to Glenwood Springs in October 1883, Glenwood was voted the new county seat the following month. Carbonate was left to slip back into obscurity, its cabins and tents gradually disappearing into the windswept mountain landscape.

Legacy of Rugged Resilience

Today, visitors willing to brave the steep, unpaved old mining roads can still glimpse the legacy of Carbonate’s early settlers. The original town site sits at nearly 11,000 feet, surrounded by the majestic Collegiate Peaks and the stunning vistas of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. There you can see remnants of rock foundations peeking out from the tundra, along with a few partially standing log structures.

These ruins serve as a striking testament to the hardy souls who managed to eke out an existence in this extreme environment. Their frontier spirit lives on in Carbonate’s present-day legends and the rich vein of tales from Colorado’s storied past. Though only inhabited briefly, Carbonate represents an important chapter in the opening and settling of the American West, a legacy still very much alive for modern travelers lucky enough to stumble upon this frozen-in-time mountain ghost town.


What was Carbonate known for?

As one of Colorado’s many mining boom towns, Carbonate attracted thousands seeking silver ore in the early 1880s. It had a population of just a few dozen residents but briefly served as the Garfield County seat.

Can you visit Carbonate today?

Yes, visitors can drive rough unpaved roads about two miles north of Dotsero off I-70 to see Carbonate’s abandoned buildings and mines at nearly 11,000 feet elevation. High-clearance vehicles are recommended.

Why was Carbonate abandoned so quickly?

Carbonate was largely abandoned by 1886. Its extremely remote mountain location made it inaccessible much of the year and unsuitable for governance and settlement compared to growing towns like Glenwood Springs.


About the author

James Ranson

I’m an editor, traveler, and fan of the great outdoors. I’ve been to all 48 continental US states, and my drives through Colorado’s rugged peaks and snowy forests (not to mention whiskey tastings in Denver!) still stand out in my memories. I’m excited to use my ten years of editing experience to develop engaging and informative guides and articles that enhance the outdoor experiences of both Colorado residents and visitors. Whether a piece is about exploring the best ski resorts, uncovering scenic trails for hiking, or finding the most inspiring drives through the Colorado Rockies, my aim is to provide comprehensive and accessible content that encourages adventure and exploration.