Empire, Colorado: A Hub for Outdoor Recreation and Heritage


Once home to the state’s largest hard rock mine during the state’s 19th century Silver Boom, Empire, Colorado has now transformed into a hub for outdoor recreation and heritage tourism. Surrounded by national forest, the Continental Divide runs directly through Empire, making it a prime base camp to access world-class hiking, biking, fishing, and winter sports. The preserved remnants of its mining past, such as the historic Reynolds House bed and breakfast, add cultural flavor. Read on to discover why this high-altitude hamlet has become a must-see destination in Colorado’s Central Mountains region.


  • Historic mining town with preserved 19th-century architecture.
  • Direct access to the Continental Divide and surrounding national forest.
  • Outdoor recreation hub for hiking, biking, fishing, and winter sports.

Local Experiences and Culture

Empire is a city located in Clear Creek County, Colorado, United States. Nestled in the heart of the Rocky Mountain area, Empire is just 45 miles west of bustling Denver. The city of Empire is also just a short drive from nearby popular destinations like Winter Park and Idaho Springs.

Its idyllic location in a valley embraced by majestic mountains sets the stage for a town steeped in history and brimming with outdoor adventures. Empire’s proximity to renowned sites like the Mount Evans Scenic Byway and the vast Arapaho National Forest further enhances its allure for visitors seeking both tranquility and exploration.

Beyond the natural landscapes, Empire delivers a surprising depth of cultural experiences. The town celebrates its mining history with events like the annual Victorian Ball, held in the historic Reynolds House. Visitors can also tour the abandoned mine shafts and learn gold panning techniques from old-timers at the Empire Mine Yard. For a flavor of authentic local life, don’t miss the Empire Burger Night or live music shows at the Soda Fountain Inn. Handmade arts and crafts are on display at shops like the Rustic Moose.

Historical Significance

As the site of the historic Empire mine, the town played a pivotal role in Colorado’s mining industry starting in the 1860s. Fueled by an influx of prospectors during the Pikes Peak Gold Rush, the Empire mine operated almost continuously for over 100 years until it closed in the 1950s. The mine and its company town fueled the economy and development of Clear Creek County. Today, Empire retains much of its Victorian charm, and visitors can explore remnants of the ambitious mining operations that once defined this rugged outpost.

Outdoor Adventures

Empire’s location directly on the Continental Divide places it at the crossroads of boundless alpine adventures. The hiking trails around Empire make it one of the best places to access high-country vistas, alpine lakes, and wildflower meadows during the summer. Designated bike trails weave through the surrounding Arapaho National Forest. The Middle Fork of the South Platte River offers gold-medal fly fishing. In winter, the Loveland Ski Area provides access to over 1,800 skiable acres. The idyllic setting where the Great Plains meet soaring peaks makes Empire an ideal base for outdoor enthusiasts.

Seasonal Attractions

While outdoor recreation beckons year-round, the city transforms each season with special events and activities. Blanketed in over 300 inches of snow during winter, Empire comes alive on snowshoes, cross-country skis, or cozying up by the fireplace at the Reynolds House. From wildflowers in spring to dazzling fall foliage, warmer months invite scenic drives on the Lariat Loop or Boreas Pass Road. Annual events range from a wintertime Fire and Ice Festival to a summer Rodeo and BBQ. The Soda Fountain Inn’s old-fashioned ice cream parlor is a tasty retreat during any season!

Accommodations and Amenities

Visitors can select from various lodging options to match their travel style. The Reynolds House bed and breakfast provides a refined taste of Victorian heritage in Empire’s original company boarding house for miners. Modern amenities meet rustic charm at nearby resorts like the Golden Evergreen. For budget travelers, the town offers a range of motels and vacation rentals. Dining ranges from family-style comfort food to contemporary Colorado cuisine, highlighting regional flavors. The variety of shops makes Empire a pleasant place to stroll and take home local mementos.

Family and Group Activities

With kid-friendly recreation and dining, Empire easily accommodates families and groups. Attractions like the historic mine yard and gold panning allow visitors of all ages to glimpse at Empire’s mining legacy. Guided fishing and wilderness tours cater to all skill levels.

The town’s special events, from summer rodeos to winter festivals, promise lively fun for all. Groups visiting Empire for retreats or reunions will find welcoming meeting venues and team-building activities facilitated by local outfitters. At the end of an activity-packed day, the whole family can bond over s’mores and campfire stories under the Colorado night sky.

And if you want to venture outside of town, popular destinations like Clear Creek, Indian Hot Springs, and the Mount Evans Scenic Byway are in nearby Idaho Springs. Colorado Adventure Park in Winter Park is also a family-fun destination to add to your bucket list.

Traveler Resources and Information

The Empire Chamber of Commerce and Town Hall are valuable resources to help travelers make the most of their time. Their websites provide sample itineraries, recommendations on family-friendly activities, and calendars of special events happening around town. Free printed guides cover local hiking trails, fishing access points, and the town’s heritage sites. Getting to Empire is an easy 60-minute drive from Denver, with some visitors opting to take the scenic route via I-70, Boreas Pass Road, and the Moffat Tunnel. Careful preparation for changeable mountain weather will ensure a safe, pleasant trip for all.


What is there to do in Empire when it’s raining or snowing?

During inclement weather, visitors can take a guided tour of the Empire Mine Yard, browse the local history exhibits at the Reynolds House, or enjoy the shops and eateries in town.

Does Empire have winter skiing and snowboarding nearby?

Yes, Loveland Ski Area is just 11 miles from Empire via I-70 and provides access to over 1,800 skiable acres. Arapahoe Basin and Keystone Resorts are also popular options within a short drive.

What is the best way to travel between Denver and Empire?

Visitors can take I-70 West from Denver, exiting at Empire. For a more scenic drive, take US-40 and CO-103 over Berthoud Pass. The historic Moffat Tunnel and Boreas Pass also connect Empire to Denver and other Front Range cities.

Are pets allowed in lodging and attractions around Empire?

Many lodges and vacation rentals allow pets, though restrictions may apply. Historic sites like the Reynolds House do not permit pets. Visitors should contact individual businesses ahead of time regarding pet policies.

Does Empire have dining options for vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-free diets?

While small-town eateries cater primarily to meat-eaters, Empire does offer healthy and dietary-restricted options. Groceries for those with specialized diets can be purchased in nearby towns.


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.