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Crystal Mill Colorado: Off-Road Guide and Tips

Crystal Mill, Colorado, is an off-road paradise, and it’s easy to see why. The scenic landscape is a beautiful combination of nature and early industrialization. The road that leads to it offers challenging, but rewarding terrain. So, what should you expect on the Crystal Mill Road?

The Crystal Mill Road is a 4-mile long dirt track with challenging terrain and breathtaking views. It’s not an easy trail, so make sure to prepare thoroughly. You will need a four-wheel-drive vehicle to navigate the rough and narrow roads. There are also Jeep tours if you prefer to go with a group.

If you’re gearing up for this challenge, you will want to research as much as you can about this exciting road. Here’s a brief history of the Mill.

Crystal Mill

Crystal Mill Colorado History

Set against the backdrop of mountains and aspen trees, the wooden powerhouse was built in 1893 during the silver boom. Using a water turbine to activate an air compressor, the mill powered drills in the Bear Mountain and Sheep Mountain silver mines. In 1917, the mill was abandoned when the Sheep Mountain mine closed.

Crystal Colorado was once a thriving mining community with hundreds of residents. But with the mine’s closure, it became a ghost town for several decades. Today, some families have summer residences in the city. The Crystal Mill is its most prominent structure. On July 5, 1985, the federal government placed this picture-perfect landmark on the National Register of Historic Places.

Crystal Mill Off-Roading

This article shows you how to get the most out of the trip to this iconic place. Here’s a glimpse of what you’re going to learn:

  • How to Get to Crystal Mill, Colorado
  • What is The Elevation of Marble, Colorado?
  • The Crystal Mill 4X4 Trail
  • What the Drive is Like
  • Jeep Touring Through Crystal Mill
  • What to Bring When Going to Crystal Mill
  • Taking Pictures at the Crystal Mill
  • Where to Spend the Night Near Crystal Mill

How to Get to Crystal Mill Colorado

If you plan to go to Crystal Mill anytime soon, be warned: you’re in for a dusty, bumpy ride. The trail is challenging even for experienced drivers. Also, you’ll need a high-clearance vehicle.

The mill is just outside the town of Marble Colorado. It’s accessible only from June through November. You can get there by a 4-wheel drive road. The trail itself is a visual feast. The road meanders through the Elk Mountains and follows the Crystal River. It then passes through the Aspen groves and by Lizard Lake.

If you’re coming from I-70 at Glenwood Springs, take Highway 82 south going to Carbondale. When you arrive at Carbondale, drive through Highway 133 south until you see a sign for Marble and County Road 3. Turn east on County Road 3 to Marble. When in Marble, turn to County Road 3 north one block, then east one block, then north again to get to East Second Street and Silver Street. You should see the signs for Beaver Lake and Crystal City.

Schofield Pass: Take Extra Caution

From the U.S. Highway 50 at Gunnison, turn north on Colorado Highway 135 to Crested Butte. Once you arrive at Crested Butte, take Gothic Road (County Road 317) north beyond Mount Crested Butte, until you arrive at the trailhead for Schofield Pass Road. Keep in mind that Schofield Pass has a reputation for being dangerous, so be extra careful when you drive. Also, it’s only accessible during late summer.

When at Schofield Pass, keep driving down to Crystal Canyon through the Devil’s Punchbowl until you get to the eastern end of Crystal City Trail, which intersects with the Lead King Basin 4×4 road.

What Is the Elevation of Marble Colorado?

Marble is a mountain town that sits at an elevation of 7,992 feet in Gunnison County. Hidden in a secluded area off Highway 133, it’s a statutory town with a population of 131 (as of 2010).

Marble is home to the Yule Marble quarry (hence the name). It was incorporated in 1899 and has since become a tourist destination. The town has seven sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s also the venue of the marble sculpting symposium held annually since 1988.

If you have time and are in the mood for more adventure, you can take a side trip to Marble and see what the town offers. You can start by going to the Marble Museum to learn about the town’s exciting history.

The Crystal Mill 4X4 Trail

There are different ways to go to Crystal Mill through the 4×4 trail. You can drive, hike, or bike. If you want a late 19th-century vibe, you can even ride a horse. If you choose hiking, it’s an 8-mile walk going to the mill and back.

The elevation is about 7,900 feet at the beginning of the trail. Over the trail’s course, it goes up to 1,000 feet. There’s a mile of uphill on the first part of the climb. But once you get past this hurdle, driving is much smoother.

It’s best to start driving early in the morning because the trail often becomes busy late in the day, making it difficult to find a place to pass. You’re bound to meet a lot of hikers and mountain bikers along the way, so drive carefully.

If you’re lucky, you can find parking at the trailhead. The parking space can accommodate 6 to 8 vehicles. Cell service is erratic in the area, so make sure you know exactly where you’re going even before you take this trip. There are very few signs, so pay close attention to directions.

A good quality side view mirror is essential for safe driving. The Rugged Ridge Quick Release Mirror (view on Amazon) has an arm you can adjust for increased visibility. It also has a locking knob, which makes it easy to use.

What the Off-Road Drive Is Like

The trail is challenging for most people. It’s rocky and narrow in some sections, mainly when an avalanche occurs. Some say that the most challenging parts are the Lead King Basin and the area around Devils Punch Bowl.

There are several yards of tight spots on a shelf road where you can’t pass if there’s an oncoming car. Driving on the shelf road can be unsettling because some parts are bumpy and bounce you towards the side. Some areas are high above the stream bed, which may be nerve-wracking to those with fear of heights.

Some people find the road too rough, so they park their vehicles and hike the rest of the way. Others slow down and carefully pick their lines.

A major complaint about the trail is the traffic. There are places where vehicles can’t pass each other. Some areas are packed with tourists who park their cars to hike when the terrain is too difficult.

When Is the Best Time to Visit Crystal Mill?

The best time to visit Crystal Mill is in the middle of the week and earlier in the summer. Weekends are typically busy. They also say that you must expect to back up the trail several times to make room for oncoming vehicles. You might encounter some newbie drivers who don’t know how to drive off-road properly. You may also have to deal with a lot of foot and bike traffic.

All that said, everyone agrees that the drive is a rewarding experience, especially when you arrive at the Crystal Mill. The scenery along Crystal Mill Road is incredibly beautiful, especially when you pass by Lizard Lake.

Jeep Touring Through Crystal Mill

If you don’t want to drive to Crystal Mill, you can take a Jeep tour. An average tour costs $500 for a Jeep load of five passengers, and the vehicles leave for Crystal Mill twice a day.

The tour guides are usually experienced off-road drivers who know the history of Crystal Mill and the geography of the place. They can negotiate the challenging terrain, so all you have to do is sit back and enjoy the ride. 

The weather is unpredictable; mountain storms sometimes occur at short notice. Most Jeeps are equipped with tarps, first aid kits, fire extinguishers, and other safety and protection items. Many of the tour guides are trained in CPR and first aid procedures. They can respond to emergencies.

Some Jeeps are equipped with small coolers and ice packs if you don’t have your own. But the storage space is usually small, so you may have to limit the drinks you bring. But if you need to bring hunting, fishing, photography, or camping gear, some Jeep touring services provide transportation for those. Most of these services don’t transport pets, but some have pet sitters you can hire.

Arrive 15 minutes early to pay for the tour, sign waivers, and board a Jeep. Also, be sure to dress in layers and wear hiking boots.

What to Bring When Going to Crystal Mill

Raring to go to Crystal Mill? Here’s a short checklist of items you should have with you when you go there:

  • Enough food and water for one day.  
  • Coat or windbreaker
  • Hat
  • Sunblock
  • Insect repellant
  • Camera and binoculars
  • Wallet (You might want to buy souvenirs from Crystal Store and Crystal Tale Books.)

Crystal Mill Scenery: Bring Your Camera

A trip to the Crystal Mill wouldn’t be complete without taking pictures. The scenery is too beautiful not to photograph! You’d probably want to kick yourself if you didn’t bring a camera, so be sure that you have one with you during your trip. Also, see to it that your memory card has lots of space. Or better yet, bring a spare one. You don’t know how many pictures you’d want to take. But surely, it would be a lot!

But before you go to the mill, you might want to do your research first. You can check Google, Instagram, and travel websites for particular spots and specific shots you may want to take.

The Crystal Mill is on a private lot, so be sure to follow the signs and be mindful of the boundaries marked by ropes. If you want to shoot photos in locations past the limits, you may have to pay a $10 donation and sign a waiver. The cliffside area to the right of the mill offers the best shots. However, it can only accommodate three to four people. If there are other tourists taking pictures in the location, you may have to wait for your turn. The view overlooking the parking area is also a good spot for taking pictures.

Where to Spend the Night Near Crystal Mill, Colorado

Don’t feel like going back to the city yet? There are some places you can go to spend the night.

The Crystal Mountain Ranch rents out cabins, including three original cabins from the 1800s. The amenities vary per cabin, so be sure to find out what you’re getting when you rent one. There’s no WiFi or cell service so that you can soak in the beauty of nature without any distractions. The cabins can house four to six people, depending on which one you’re renting. If you want to rough it out and sleep under the stars, you can rent one of the ranch’s camping spots. There’s no potable water or restroom. It’s old school camping!

You can also go to the Bogan Flats Campground in the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District. It’s a developed campground along Country Road 3, equipped with toilets, picnic tables, and trash service. Piped water is available. If you need to shop for groceries, you can go to Redstone General Store, which is around eight miles away. Make a reservation for staying at the campground.

Conclusion – Crystal Mill Colorado Off-Road Experience

The trail to Crystal Mill, Colorado, is not for the faint of heart and certainly not for newbies to offroading. The rough terrain makes the drive challenging, but the trail’s scenic beauty and the site itself is well worth the challenge of getting there. Careful planning is recommended before you head to the site. Also, be well-prepared and well-equipped for anything that might happen during your trip. Stay safe!