Are You Daring Enough to Drive Through Colorado’s Phantom Canyon?
History as a Railroad
Constructed in 1894, the 30-mile-long canyon route first started out as the Florence and Cripple Creek Railroad. Prospectors used the narrow-gauge railroad line to haul ore from the goldfields in the Cripple Creek/Victor Mining District to the reduction mines in Florence. Narrow-gauge railways were designed to handle the curves of the mountain. However, just one day after it was officially put into use, a train derailed on the Florence and Cripple Creek Railroad, resulting in an unfortunate death.
A few years later, the railway began to offer a public passenger service that provided breathtaking sights of the canyon via train. It was during this time that a story began to circulate where train passengers had reported seeing a man walking along the tracks. The strange thing about this sighting was that the man had been executed at the state prison a few days earlier.
On July 21, 1912, a major flood washed out five miles of the railroad tracks, as well as 12 bridges and a few surrounding towns. Despite the damage, the railway was repaired and began operating once again.
Goodbye Railway, Hello Highway!
The rugged terrain ultimately led to the railroad's demise and the tracks were eventually removed. In 1918, the former railway was converted into a public road that connected Cripple Creek, Cañon City, and Florence.
Unfortunately, during the summer of 1921, severe floods once again heavily damaged a stretch of the south-central Colorado route.
According to the Cañon City Daily Record, following the flood in 1921, the Florence Chamber of Commerce recruited about 500 local residents and businessmen from Fremont and Teller counties to volunteer their time and manpower to repair the canyon highway. To document the finished project, an iconic photo was taken at Liberty Rock where dozens of volunteers are surrounding a sign that says, “Florence Phantom Canyon Put ‘Er Thru.”
As years have passed, the gravel roadway has endured more floods and even fires, but after every disaster, it always gets fixed.
A few structures from the ghost towns of Wilbur, Adelaide, and Glenbrook remain standing along the side of the roadway.
Phantom Canyon Highway Today
Phantom Canyon Highway climbs in elevation from 5,500 to 9,500 feet from Florence to the old mining town of Victor. Motorists taking this route pass through dark tunnels and over narrow bridges to reveal some of the most secluded natural views. The trek also offers the chance to see a wide range of plants and wildlife in their natural setting.
Like the historic route, all these years later the ghostly legends from the 1890s have also stuck around. Besides the spirit of a prisoner walking along the tracks, tourists have reported hearing eerie sounds throughout the canyon and witnessing other paranormal phenomena.
Standard vehicles without trailers are welcome to drive along Phantom Canyon Road, which is now considered to be a part of Colorado's “Gold Belt Tour.” If you go, take it slow around the mountain's sharp twists and turns, and keep your eyes peeled not only for stunning scenery but also signs of the past.