Crystal Mill stole my heart a long time ago. I still remember that image with an old wooden building on the rock outcrop over the stream surrounded with the brightest foliage you can imagine. Only a few years ago I saw a photo of the place again but at that time I decided to search the location. This is the story of how Crystal Mill got on my list. And I am still not sure what was the force to start plan the trip to Colorado and Wyoming. Was it Grand Teton, or rather this old wooden mill in the middle of Rockies.
I’m always very prepared for the trips (minus a few times when I forgot about seasons and openings). I started to read all I could find about Crystal Mill and how to get there in Spring. So mainly I was prepared.
Before I start to list everything that we could do differently, let me tell you what exactly is the place. The wooden building is a real historical mill previously known as Sheep Mountain Power House that was a part of Lost Horse Millsite. Today it’s known as Crystal Mill because of the nearby ghost town and the river below it.
It was opened in 1983 and used the river to power the air compressor. A dam was built to funnel water on a horizontal wheel.
The mill was closed in 1917. And only in 1985, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The mill is one of the well-known attraction in the region.
What to consider if you want to visit Crystal Mill (and lessons learned)
- Crystal Mill is located in the remote section of Rockies. The closest town is Marble which is 190 miles away from Denver. There are the e few ways how one can get to the mill.
- The easiest is to get to the site is to book your tour with any company – just google it.
- Rent ATV.
- If you still reading this, that means you want to do the thing all by yourself. So if you are the owner of a good sturdy Jeep or 4×4 with a high clearance and you know how to drive not at all maintained forest roads, then take your chance. You will need to drive near 5 miles one way (or less).
- So you don’t have 4×4 or not so good with extreme mountain driving. You want to hike, right? There are different mentions over the internet about the total trip. Some say it’s 8.2 out and back, another time I saw 5.6 each way.
We drove our rental 4×4 Dodge Journey first 2.5 miles. Previously we did the drive down to the Utah canyons, some wild Washington forest roads, California deserts. But those were not even close to the rocky, narrow, steep and windy path. Our determination ended right near the rocky river beach where we parked. The remaining road was not the most comfortable hike we did, closer to moderate. However, if you decide to do a whole hike, take a note that the first part will be harder. It is the most significant change of the elevation, and because it was designed as a road, it would not be an enjoyable trail.
- The road is public. However, the banks of the river and the area around the mill is private. The guys that hold tours met us near the site and announced that river access, that means getting closer to the building, is $10. We have no cash with us. So think in advance.
- If you want to take great photos, make sure to be here early or at the end of the day. We’ve been there before lunch, and there was a shadow on the river from the building that didn’t look great on the shots. We were happy to get clouds that day. I timed when cloud completely covered the sun, used filter and even switched to low ISO (I never did it before).
I wish we’ve been there during the fall, or late in the day, or in the night. But still, I was so happy to be there, to see it all with my eyes.
- We’ve been so tired because of the first 2.5 miles drive that didn’t check Crystal Ghost Town that is very close
- You should also stop by the river on the way back. The stream is sooo cold but so fresh under the midday heat! The pebbles of the river bottom are so beautiful!
- Another quick stop on the way back is Hays Creek Falls just outside of Marble. It’s just a short walk from the roadside parking.
Map with all locations
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