If you love mining history and scenery, then put the Smuggler Mine and Tomboy Mine on your “to do” list. However, the road/trail to the mines is the old mining road, built for mule trains and not vehicles, so it’s best traveled in a high-clearance, 4-wheel drive vehicle, on a tour or by hiking. Here’s how to hike it.
Tomboy Road starts at the end of Oak Street in Telluride. It’s a steep, dirt road that is plenty wide for hikers, cyclists and runners. However, this is a two-way road. In the beginning, there is room for vehicles to pass each other, but as you get higher, there’s barely room for hikers to pass a slow-moving vehicle in places.
Either way, as you hike up this first part of the road, you’ll pass a few homes on your right and the Jud Wiebe Trail on your left. As you get higher, there’s the town of Telluride below you, the ski runs across the valley and at the east end of town you’ll see two amazing waterfalls cascading down the side of the valley walls.
About two miles from the start of the road, you’ll come to a canyon of sorts. Officially this is called Royer Gulch, but I call it “waterfall canyon.” At times, there are couple of waterfalls here. You can even stand under at least one of them if it’s a hot day.
Continue hiking up the road. At the next canyon, check out the bridge on the far canyon wall. That bridge was wood originally, now it’s concrete. However, look at the bridge as you approach it and hike over it and you may see remnants from when it was wood.
About 2.6 miles up the road, you’ll come to a tunnel. This is the only tunnel on the trail. Many locals call this the “social tunnel.” The story goes that miners from up the hill would meet “girls” from town at the social tunnel for let’s just say “social” visits. The “girls” were paid for these visits. Some say the two groups met here because the prostitutes weren’t allowed any closer to the mining towns.
As for hikers, this is about the half-way spot. It’s another half-mile or so up the road to a green-ish cabin. This was “Whispering Jim’s Cabin.” He was the last independent miner in the area. He died in 1998. A nearby shed, built into the hillside, was used to store a compressor that ran Jim’s rock drills.
Now you should start seeing the Tomboy Valley to the east and more mining ruins.
Continue hiking up the road, passing two rusted, scotch boilers on the right side of the road and a few steps later you’ll arrive at the old town of Smuggler.
Gold and silver was first discovered on the Smuggler vein in 1875. The Smuggler was one of the biggest mines in the area with some 20 miles of tunnels, according to a sign at the Smuggler brew pub in Telluride. Smuggler had about 500 residents. The mine shut down in 1950.
There are lots of remnants of Smuggler here, but don’t get too close to any of the structures. They are all collapsing and could easily fall on you.
When you’re done exploring, continue up the road passing the Bullion Tunnel – a tunnel between Telluride and Ouray used to move ore from Ouray to Telluride for processing.
At 3.75 miles, you’ll cross a hole in the ground that’s fence off. It’s a canyon, of sorts, that’s a couple feet wide. That’s the Smuggler vein. This was the first place gold was found in the Telluride valley, according to my tour guide. He said some of the highest quality gold ever found in the area came from here. The Smuggler made more than $40 million.
There are a few more cabins and another waterfall as you get closer to the ruins of the Tomboy Mine and Mill in the middle of Savage Basin. This was a huge operation with 2,000 people. At one point, Tomboy had a school, stables, dining hall, store, cabins and even a YMCA with a bowling alley and pool tables.
As you explore the area, stay on the main road as much as possible. Be careful to avoid the water and remember there are underground tunnels here that could collapse at any time. When you’re done looking around, continue hiking up the valley or return the way you came.
Details: The hike to the Tomboy ghost town and mining operation is about 4.7 miles each way with about 2,365 feet of elevation gain. Add extra mileage for whatever exploring you do.
If you’re looking for more Telluride hikes, consider Lizard Head Peak, Bear Creek Falls, Cornet Falls, the Jud Wiebe Trail, Blue Lakes above Telluride and Hope Lake. Find more than 400 great Colorado hiking trails in this list of 400+ hikes across the state. Don’t miss any of my trip reports, sign up for an email alert by clicking on subscribe at the top of this page and follow me on Facebook.
Directions: In Telluride, take Oat Street to where it ends and turns into the Tomboy Road. The head up the Tomboy Road.