USGS 7.5' Map: Grays Peak, Georgetown
Difficulty: Number: Miles: Altitude: Obstacles: Time:
Moderate 5 FR248.1B, FR248.1K 4.95 9,800 to 11,136 ft. Creek Crossing 1-2 hours
County: Clear Creek
Adopted by:      
Managed by: Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forest,
Clear Creek Ranger District
101 Chicago Creek Road
P.O. Box 3307
Idaho Springs, CO 80452
Summary: Waldorf 4WD road is an old wagon road that follows Leavenworth Creek running below the Argentine Central Railroad grade. It passes the site of Dibben's smelter.
Attractions: Creek crossings, historic site
Nature - Closed by heavy snows. (No access when Guanella Pass is closed)
Best Time: June - May still be snowed in
July - Sections may still have snow
August - Best
September - Best
October - Possible early snows
Trail Heads
Camping: There are two dispersed camp sites along the road.
Base Camp: This would be a good area to base camp to explore the 4WD roads around Waldorf and Argentine Pass.
Fall Colors: Good - There are aspen on the south sides of Pendleton Mountain and Leavenworth Mountain.
Navigation: From Georgetown head east on 15th Street 233 feet. At the traffic circle, take the 1st exit onto Argentine Street and go 0.5 miles. Continue onto Brownell Street and go 0.1 miles. Turn left onto 6th Street and go 479 feet. Turn right at the 2nd cross street onto Rose Street and go 0.2 miles. Turn left onto Guanella Pass Road and go 2.5 miles. Turn right onto a gravel road to continue on Leavenworth Creek Road and go 1.0 miles. At this hairpin turn turn left to start the Waldorf road.
History: Silver was discovered in the Georgetown area as early as 1860, but gold was the metal that attracted miners to the Clear Creek area. In 1866, with placer gold running out, some of the mine owners started to build smelters as a way to process the lead silver ore. Three smelters were started. In 1867 Caleb Stowell completed one of these smelters near the Sidney Tunnel Mine. The furnace at the smelter failed to yield any bullion. So Stowell turned to experienced mill operator Frank Dibben. Dibben even made a wager of $500 that he could produce silver bullion in 24 hours. An hour before midnight, Dibben's admitted defeat.

Lorenzo Bowman had arrived in the Georgetown area in 1865 with a group of blacks. He had previously worked smelters in Missouri and had 15 years of experience with galena-lead ore. He had secretly been watching Dibben through a knot hole in the wall of the smelter and had seen the mistakes made. Bowman told Stowell that Dibben would fail, and asked that he be given a chance, which Stowell granted. By noon the next day Bowman was casting silver bullion by simly increasing the heat during the roasting process. This was the first silver bullion cast in Clear Creek County and marked a turning point in the history of the region.

Link to an image of the Dibben smelter in the early 1900s.

Mining was happening as early as the 1960s in the Leavenworth Creek valley. This was to be known as the East Argentine Mining District. In 1864, Edward John Wilcox discovered a large deposit of silver sulfide and began developing a mine under the name of Waldorf Milling and Mining Company. A large boarding house was built, as well as a small store, stable and machine shop. Waldorf, at 11,666 feet, began to take shape. In 1868 the Big Stevens mine was discovered on the other side of McClellan Mountain. In 1905 Wilcox needed cheaper transportation for his mine, so he started construction of the Argentine Central Railroad, beginning at Silver Plume. The railroad was a risk being at such a high altitude. By 1906 the railroad was completed to Waldorf where a depot and water tank were constructed, and a tiny post office was started, being the highest in the United States. This was a beautiful and thrilling railroad ride, with some of the curves at 145 degrees and grades of 10 percent.The tracks were then extended to the Vider Tunnel, which was being developed for mining and as a transportation route under Argentine Pass. If it had been completed, Waldorf would have been connected to the mines in the Peru Creek area.

Link to an image of the Waldorf Mine and town, 1910.
Link to an image of Waldorf looking northeast, 1910.
Link to an image of the Waldorf and Vider Mines, 1910. Argentine pass is right of center in the photo.
Link to an image of the Waldorf Mill, 1941.

In 1898 William Rogers discovered the Santiago Mine 500 feet above Waldorf. It is most likely named due to the capture of Santiago, Cuba at this time during the Spanish-American war. The mine became most productive in the early 1900s. The ore from the area mines was milled in Waldorf and then transported down to Silver Plume to be smelted. The income was not enough to keep up with the cost of this process, so the railroad was extended close to the top of McClellan Mountain as a tourist attraction. The end of this extension was at 13,040 feet, allowing you to take a train to withing walking distance of the top of a mountain.
McClellan spur, end of the line (1910).


At the end of the line was the Crystal Palace mine, which had ice crystals in it all year long. This became part of the attraction for the railroad route. In 1909 a spur from the new tourist route was extended to the Santiago Mine. Later in 1913 and arial tram was built from the Santiago mine down to the mill in Waldorf. The Santiago continued opperations in the 1940s.

The railroad went bankrupt in 1912 and the rails were pulled up changing the road bed into an automobile road. The post office also closed this same year. Later in 1960 the old hotel was set on fire, then in 1962 the boarding house was destroyed, followed by the loss of the old post office in the early 1970s.

Jessen, Kenneth Ghost Towns Colorado Style, Volumn 1, 1st ed. Loveland, Colorado: J.V. Publications, 1998. Print.
After leaving the Leavenworth Creek road at the hairpin turn, the Waldorf road will be a two track that drops down to Leavenworth Creek. At the creek there will be a road to the left that is a short spur that ends by the creek. The road to the right going up the valley is the old wagon road to Waldorf. Shortly you will come to an intersection that is a group of three spurs in a short distance, that take off to the left. This is FR248.1L that only goes a short distance up the side of Paines Mountain to some mine tailings. The road will start to turn to the southwest and then come to another intersection. There is a right turn that heads up to the Argentine Central Railroad grade. Stay straight following the creek as the road turns to the southwest through the dense forest. The road will run along the west bank of the creek through a mix of pine and aspen trees and turn to make the first crossing of Leavenworth Creek.

Water Crossing

photo by:
Adam M

This first crossing will run with the creek for a bit and get deeper on the far side. After climbing out and making a turn to the right the two track road will head through brush and trees for a quarter mile to the next crossing. The second crossing is more direct and takes you back to the other side of the creek. After 0.40 miles from the last creek crossing you will come to two dispersed campsites along the creek. Another quarter of a mile will bring you to an intersection, with the road on the right, FR248.1P, going up hill to connect with the Argentine Central Railroad grade, which is the Leavenworth Creek, FR248, road. Stay to the left following the creek. About 0.15 miles beyond the intersection is the tailings of the Sidney Tunnel Mine on your right. Immediately on your left is the chimney of the Frank Dibben smelter. This is all that remains of the first successful silver smelting in the region.

The two track will continue for 0.35 miles coming to another intersection. The road to the left that crosses the creek is Paines Mountain, FR248.1A, which climbs up onto the northwest side of the mountain connecting with a handfull of spur roads. Continuing straight you will follow along the north side of the open brushy area around the creek, with the main channel to the southeast along the forest. The road will start to climb up through a rougher section with some larger rocks to navigate. After a half mile from the last intersection the old wagon road will cross the Leavenworth Creek road by taking a slight jog to the left along the graded road and then continuing to head uphill as FR248.1K.

The road will now climb up into the pine forest and turn to the southwest heading toward Waldorf. After a half mile from the Leavenworth Creek road crossing you will come to an intersection. The road to the right is FR248.2A, part of the McClelland Mountain, FR248, road network. Stay to the left to keep following FR248.1K. As it comes out of the trees into more open landscape the two track will get a bit fainter. You will be running parallel and just above the Leavenworth Creek road. You will come into an open area with a lot of intersecting roads. Continue straight toward the lone quanset hut, being a last (newer) remnant of the old town of Waldorf. From Waldorf, the road heading west, after crossing the tailings, is the Argentine Pass, FR724.1, road. The road heading up toward McClellan Mountain past the quonset hut is the McClellan Mountain, FR248, road. The road climbing straight up hill by the mine portal is FR248.2C, which will connect into the McClellan Mountain road.

Data updated - December 28, 2019      4WD Road driven - July 10, 2005      Copyright 4X4Explore.com - 2000-2020