Central City & Black Hawk, Colorado


While it may seem that most of Colorado’s old gold mining boom towns are teetering towards ghost town status, a pair of cities in the mountains west of Denver are different.  Central City and Black Hawk aren’t just hanging on by a thread, they’re booming, thanks to legalized gambling.  The result is a strange mix of old and new, with one theme remaining constant: people still come here to strike it rich.

If you’re following the Peak To Peak Byway north from I-70 to Estes Park, you’ll come across Black Hawk first.

Black Hawk is the smallest city in Colorado, with a population of only 118 (in the 2000 census).  The historic part of town is overwhelmed by huge casinos.  Black Hawk’s Main Street runs parallel to CO 119, and one massive resort after another squeezes into the tiny space along the roadside.  More casinos sprung up in Black Hawk than neighboring Central City, most likely because tourists ended up here first, as they drove up Route 119.

If you keep driving up Main Street, you’ll find the historic part of town.  It’s just a few blocks long, and I probably should have found a parking spot and walked around for a bit.  Instead, I relied on the Drivelapse camera to capture photos of the old storefronts.


Main Street dead-ends at CO 279, which leads into Central City.

You don’t have to take CO 119 to get to Central City and Black Hawk.  A faster road was recently built to carry traffic from I-70 directly into Central City.  Look for the Central City Parkway off exit 243 — just one mile away from the US 6/CO 119 exit.

Central City hasn’t been quite as overwhelmed with big casinos.  It has a nice downtown district with old storefronts…

… that have been carefully preserved and restored.  Only some of the buildings are occupied — either with smaller casinos, or other tourist-friendly businesses.

The Teller House is one of Central City’s landmarks.  It was built in 1872.  For a while (around 2005) it was home to a hotel, casino, and restaurant, but it’s currently closed (as of 2010).  Teller House is next door to the Central City Opera House, which opened in 1878, and has been the home of the country’s 5th oldest opera company since 1932.

If you discover that the Teller House bar is open, be sure to step inside to see the “Face on the Barroom Floor” — it was painted there as a prank, by a painter who had been fired.  But the Teller House management had the last laugh.  They capitalized on the painting, tying it to a poem by the same name.

I’m glad to see all the restoration work being done on the old buildings in Central City and Black Hawk, but it’s also good to find some of the old buildings remain in their natural state — like this odd-shaped brick building that overlooks one of Central City’s intersections.

That’s definitely a weird intersection ahead.

Central City may be a little more authentic than Black Hawk, but it still offers some modern development.  The Century Casino is the most obvious big, new casino in town.

Once you’ve dropped some coins in a slot machine, head back to CO 119 for the drive up the Peak to Peak Byway.

Drivelapse Video

Here’s a time-lapse dash-cam video of the drive through Central City and Black Hawk, then on up the Peak to Peak Byway:

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