The crystal mill, reputed to be one of the most photographed sites in Colorado, is historically known as the Sheep Mountain Power House or Lost Horse Mill. Built in 1893, the mill harnessed the power of the Crystal River to run its massive air compressor which, in turn, drove power to drills in the Sheep Mountain and Bear Mountain silver mines.
When the Sheep Mountain mine closed in 1917, the mill, too, was abandoned. It was decreed a landmark and put on the National Register of Historic Places on July 5th, 1985 and has been a standing skeleton ever since, just a quarter mile outside the ghost town of Crystal — a former silver mining camp established in 1880, which has never had (and still does not have) electricity, although it is home for a few inhabitants.
Reachable only in the summer and fall months, access to the mill is by a 4-wheel drive road that you can drive, hike (a much prettier experience), bike, or ride a horse. The mill isn’t the only awesome sight to see on the trail, though. Winding through the Elk Mountains outside of Marble — a tiny town with a population of about 130 people — the road follows the Crystal River and winds in and out of Aspen groves and around Lizard Lake. You’ll ascend and descend rolling hills, and, overall, it’s a picturesque and moderately easy hike with the hardest part the the beginning.
Make sure you go the extra quarter mile after the mill and check out the 19th century town of Crystal.
How to get there
The Crystal Mill site is located just outside the tiny town of Marble, CO. Drive through the town, past Beaver Lake, you’ll see mailboxes on the right and the parking is on the left. You’ll see a sign for the town of Crystal, follow the left-most trail. AllTrails will give you good GPS directions.
What to consider
- If you choose to hike it’s an 8.2 mile out and back.
- Your starting elevation is about 7,900 ft and you’ll gain around 1,000 feet over the course of the trail.
- There are about 6-8 parking spots at the trail head.
- Cell phone service is spotty in the area so know where you’re going way before you get to Marble.
- The first part of the climb is the most difficult, about a mile of uphill, but after that you’ll be greeted by flat terrain and gentle rolling hills.
- Bring adequate water for a full day, snacks, layers and, of course, a camera.
- It’s not only a hiking trail, it’s also a road, so be aware of vehicles.
- There are almost no signs, so pay attention to the directions.
- When you see the sign, “Town of Crystal 4 miles” you know you’ve passed the hardest part.
- The town of Crystal has a small bookstore and some private buildings; it’s worth checking out.