Conquer your fear of ghosts on this trail that leads to an abandoned mine and ghost town high on Pikes Peak, lasting testaments to a failed effort to scratch some valuable minerals from the peak.
This is a great fall hike, but wait too long after the snow begins falling and snowshoes - or at least microspikes - are essential.
To get there
Drive up Pikes Peak Highway 14 miles to the Elk Park trailhead, an unmarked gate on the left of the road at treeline. Snow often closes the road at Glen Cove, a mile below. If so, park and take a brief, trailless shortcut right of the inn at the cove, around a rocky knob, to the road above, and follow the road up a quarter-mile to the trailhead.
The Elk Park Trail starts at treeline and curves southeast along an alpine bowl. In winter, it is easy to follow the tracks of previous hikers, but if fresh snow erases the way, take along a map or someone who has done the trail in the summer.
The trail takes a mile to cross the bowl, then dips down into a stand of evergreens on the rim of the next basin. It makes one tricky turn to the right and drops into the north fork of French Creek.
At the bottom of the valley, 1.4 miles from the trailhead, a sign directs hikers left to Elk Park or right to Oil Creek Tunnel. Go right.
Here the trail starts to gradually climb for a half-mile to an abandoned mine. It passes a clutch of old cabin logs and ends in a crowd of steep granite faces where the most curious detail of the ruins, called the Oil Creek Tunnel or the Cincinnati Mine, lies.
Miners blasted this passage into the heart of Pikes Peak in 1899, hoping to strike precious metals. The endeavor killed two miners, but never hit pay dirt and eventually was abandoned. The entrance was sealed in 2009 to stop hikers from exploring the dangerous tunnel.
Still, the beauty of the soaring granite cirque and the shock of finding a place that is so remote and so close to town are the real pay dirt.
The difficulty of this trail depends on weather and depth of snow. Breaking trail through deep powder can slow a party's pace by half. Take a map and plenty of warm clothing, food and water. The cirque at the beginning of the hike has some avalanche potential. Consult the rangers.
The Pikes Peak Highway charges $5 to $12 per person, depending on how much of the road is open.
For road conditions, call Pikes Peak Highway Ranger Station at 684-9383.
A scale of one to four boots. One is easiest, with little elevation gain, and it is at a reasonable altitude. Four is most difficult, with severe elevation gain, difficult terrain or extreme length or altitude.