Ironton is a popular destination for visitors to Ouray. There are excellent cross country ski trails in the winter and hiking trails leading to beautiful vistas or historical sites. Ironton is located along the Million Dolar Highway = Highway 550 between Ouray and Silverton. The area around Ironton is relatively flat and surrounded by beautiful peaks of northern San Juan Mountains. The approach to Abrams Mountain, Red Mountain #1 and Hayden Mountain start here.
The ghost town of Ironton was home to many miners who worked in the mines above town on the slopes of Red Mountain. Red Mountain, as it is locally referred to, is actually three mountains made up of highly oxidized iron. This iron gives the mountains a dark red-orange color that makes the mountains seem to glow after rain. If the light is just right, it appears that someone has dumped red and yellow paint down the sides of Red Mountain. The Red Mountains are simply called one, two, and three.
My favorite time to visit Ironton is the winter and explore its cross country ski trails. It is relatively flat, you can choose short loops and get to explore the ghost town. It is perfect for children who like to imagine living in old times and enter the houses. The trail is dog friendly.
The Ouray County Nordic Council, a branch of the Ouray Trail Group, maintains three to four miles of groomed trail with set Nordic track in a fairly level valley at Ironton. The trail glides past the historic ghost town. There are also many more challenging miles of ungroomed "blue" trails, which are clearly marked, to historic mine sites and scenic overlooks. Trail maps are available at the trailhead.
Donations are welcome to help fund trail grooming.
In the summer it is a popular hiking destination with many well marked hiking trails. You can also bring your mountain bike.
Ironton is located between Ouray and Silverton (closer to Ouray). From the Main Street in Silverton = Highway 550, a.k.a. Million Dollar Highway continue south passing Ouray Ice Park. The road climbs steeply through many exposed switchbacks. There could be a high avalanche danger on this road, and at dangerous times the road gets closed. There is a little memorial under one of the switchbacks dedicated to people who died on this road in avalanches. The road will be closed to traffic, so typically you don't have to check Northern San Juan Avalanche conditions if planning to travel through.
You will get nice views of Abrams Mountain, and pass Bear Creek Trailhead area, and a small overlook over Horse Tails Falls.
The road starts to flatten as you approach Ironton Park at 5 miles from Ouray. The road is relatively flat for 2 miles, and at the southern end of the Ironton Park you will see a parking lot on the east side. In the winter it is only a parking lot, and well marked signs informs you about cross country ski area. In the summer, there is a dirt road leading to Corkscrew Gulch and access for Red Mountain #1.
Park at the Ironton Nordic Ski parking lot, which is 7 miles of Ouray.
The Highway 550 continues south to the top of Red Mountain Pass and then drops down towards Silverton.
Winter Use: Cross country skiing, Snowshoe hiking, and Hiking (the road is groomed, so hiking on the snow is an option - if hiking please stay out of cross country ski tracks).
There is a map and information post about the trails. The main Townsite Trail is only 2.1 miles long, it is a loop, groomed and very easy to follow. There are several branching loops from this main one (some groomed and some not).
Link to a US Forest service map provides a pretty good orientation about the area.
The Town Site Loop you can choose which way you want to start. We usually opt to start with going first towards the ghost town of Ironton. There is a large groomed trail with cross country ski tracks leading south. Follow this trail for about 1 mile, and you will reach the ghost town area. You can stop, take your skis off and explore some of the homes. The trail continues slightly north and then takes a turn to the east across a small creek. There is a nice ("photogenic") bridge there. You enter a forest. The track seems slightly more narrow here, and has some easy downhills. You will pass a well marked turn-off for the Colorado Boy Trail (you can hike it/ski it - it leads to the ruins of an old mine). Soon after you will leave the forest and you will enjoy great views of Brown Mountain and the ridge connecting Brown Mountain with Abrams Mountain. This whole section is slightly downhill and moves very fast. You will reach a road leading to Corkscrew Gulch (closed in the winter, rough 4WD in the summer). Here the trail turn west and brings you back where you started.
You have several optional detours, which are worth to explore, or you are racing, repeat this loop again. Enjoy.
Essential GearCross country skis for nordic skiing in the winter. Many people also snowshoe here.
Hiking shoes/boots in other times of the year. The fall is particularly beautiful with aspens turning gold.
Mountain biking also an option in summer and early fall.
You can rent cross country skis at Ouray Mountain Sports on the Main Street.
History of the Ghost Town
Several buildings are still standing. Through a grant providing funds for stabilization, the Red Mountain Project is currently stabilizing several of the houses.
Ironton was quite a tame town, as towns went in the Red Mountain District. Red Mountain Town, to the south was “livelier”, and was equipped with at least 20 saloons. When a minister came to Red Mountain to establish a church, he was told to hit the road. He was warmly received in Ironton.
In 1891, one of the only churches in the region was dedicated. A prominent citizen in town even went as far as to purchase a new 2,500$ organ for the new congregation. Many Sundays would find the Silver Bell Band, a group of local miners, performing at the services. These man were mostly of Cornish descent and were said to be most pleasant singers.
Ironton’s mines made their wealth from silver and lead at first. In 1893, the Silver Panic hit the area, and as with many mines in the west, they began to close one by one. Gold was discovered in 1989, which brought a new source of wealth, but it came at a cost. As the mines went deeper, under ground water became a problem. This water also contained high levels of sulphuric acid that corroded the miner’s equipment. The water could not be pumped from the miners at a cost that was economical to the owners. As years went by, even more of the population of Ironton faded away. Mining continued in the area into the 20th century, and people still lived here until the 1960s. Ida L. Harry and Milton Larson were the last residents of Ironton, Milton passing away in 1964.
External LinksInsideOutside on-line magazine with information about Ironton
Ironton Park Nordic Trails
Ouray Visitor Guide information