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Length: 1 to 1.5 miles round-trip, though you can wander as far (or not far) into Central City Cemetery as you wish.
Why we love it: The hundred-plus-year-old gravestones that dot this leisurely jaunt are just as enthralling as the natural scenery.
When to go: Year-round, but the cemetery’s location in a sprawling aspen grove means fall is especially beautiful (and beware of winter weather conditions on the 0.2-mile stretch of dirt road and parking lot).
Post-hike buzz: Noncasino options for noshing are few in Central City and neighboring Black Hawk, which makes Bravo Italiano, which opened in January, an even more charming addition to the former mining town. Pop into the shop, which occupies a Victorian facade on Eureka Street, for espresso and ice cream. If you need more sustenance, try Dostal Alley Brewpub and Casino for pizza and craft suds.
Central City, a tiny town 35 miles into the foothills west of Denver, was established by miners in 1859. Today, people go seeking another kind of fortune in the casinos that line the streets of its historical downtown and those of neighboring Black Hawk—but the most surefire way to strike gold is to visit during fall leaf-peeping season.
For a winning combination of quivering aspens, panoramic vistas, and a glimpse into the area’s past, follow Eureka Street a little more than a mile northwest of downtown. Shortly after the road turns to dirt, you’ll see grave markers dotting the valley on your left. There are a few cemeteries in the area worth exploring, but for the best views, turn right into the parking lot for Central City Cemetery, which is perched on a gently sloped hillside.
Dramatic black iron gates welcome you into a web of footpaths that meander through tall grasses and around the various grave sites, some with simple headstones and others with elaborately inscribed monuments. Many date back to the late 1800s, and the plethora of tombstones dedicated to infants and children are enough to make those of any spiritual persuasion stop and say a prayer of gratitude for modern medicine.
The markers are almost enough to distract you from the aspens that surround them, but be sure to take them in, too, as you make your way up the hill to a wider dirt road. Just above the cemetery, there’s an overlook from which you can see across the valley to the west; later in the season, snowcapped peaks in the distance emerge. Continue up the path a little way to pop out of the forest—now mostly evergreens—and gain views toward Central City to the southeast before going back the way you came.
Although outdoor recreationists are starting to discover the open space surrounding Central City and Black Hawk (thanks in part to the recently opened, mountain-bike-specific singletrack on Maryland Mountain), you’re unlikely to encounter many other hikers, even on a prime leaf-peeping autumn weekend. The solitude adds to the spot’s eerie charm; just be sure to leave before dark.
Getting there: From Denver, take I-70 to Exit 243 and follow Central City Parkway another 10 miles into town, where it becomes Spring Street. When you come to a T, make a left on Lawrence Street, which turns into Eureka Street. After about a mile, the paved road runs out and becomes dirt; the parking lot for Central City Cemetery is another 0.2 miles ahead on the right.