RED CLIFF — About 15 minutes from the ski resort that almost anyone in the world could name is a tiny mountain community that most people in the state haven’t even heard of.

Red Cliff, located along Highway 24 between Vail and Leadville, is home to about 289 people, according to the most recent census data.

While it has long been small and relatively unknown, it was once a booming mining town. In fact, Red Cliff is the oldest town in Eagle County and was its original county seat.

Today, most people come to Red Cliff for the myriad of outdoor activities accessible within minutes: mountain biking, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, fly fishing, rock climbing, hiking and more.

This story is part of our weekly 9Neighborhoods series, where we find out what makes different Colorado towns and neighborhoods unique. Follow along on our photo tour of Red Cliff Friday afternoon on Instagram.

Eagle County's First Town

The first settlers came to what would eventually become Red Cliff in the 1870s.

Gold had been found throughout the Colorado mountains, and many hopeful miners were setting out to get their chance of striking it rich. One of the main concentrations of mining activity in those early days was in Leadville.

Prospectors searching for their own claims nearby found ore on Battle Mountain (one of the peaks that’s now part of Vail Mountain Resort).

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Overlook view of the Black Iron Mine owned by the Empire Zinc Company, on Battle Mountain c. 1900 (Photo: Denver Public Library)

A permanent camp was founded on the southwestern slope of the mountain in April 1879, at the junction of Turkey Creek and the Eagle River.

By July 25, 1879, the growing settlement was officially named Red Cliff after the quartzite cliffs surrounding it.

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View of Red Cliff in Eagle County c. 1890 - 1900 (Photo: Denver Public Library)

Though the winters were notoriously severe, the town prospered. Red Cliff soon had five hotels, a post office, a school, shops, saloons, brothels and an opera. It was also named the seat of Eagle County in 1883.

In 1881, the Denver and Rio Grande railway arrived in town. By 1890, almost 400 people were living in Red Cliff.

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View of a main street in Red Cliff. A wood trestle bridge spans the Denver and Rio Grande's railroad tracks, leading to the white schoolhouse. c. 1910 - 1916 (Photo: Denver Public Library)

When the mines surrounding town began to close in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the town’s population began decreasing as well. Only 256 people remained in Red Cliff in 1900.

Red Cliff Today

Today, Red Cliff attracts outdoor enthusiasts from Colorado and around the county.

While many of the businesses from its boom days have closed, the town is still home to a post office, a family-owned inn, a popular restaurant, a small general store and a liquor store.

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The family-run Green Bridge Inn gives visitors to Red Cliff a unique place to stay in the Colorado mountains. Rooms rent for between $99 and $200 and include Wi-Fi, balconies and a kitchenette in the king suite.

But its real attractions are outside.

Red Cliff has direct access to the beautiful White River National Forest via Shrine Pass Road. The 12-mile dirt road is a popular car, dirt bike and four-wheeler route in the summer and fall and cross-country ski and snowmobile trail in the winter.

Shrine Pass Road also gives explorers access to hikes that are well-known for spectacular wildflowers, dispersed camping and fishing along the Eagle River.

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The 12-mile dirt road is also popular for cars, dirt bikes and cross-country skies. There are hikes that are well-known for spectacular wildflowers, dispersed camping and fishing along the Eagle River.

Those who want a tougher hike can make their way 12 miles up to the summit of 14er Mt. of the Holy Cross.

Red Cliff is also only 15 minutes from Vail, 20 minutes from Ski Cooper, 30 minutes from Beaver Creek and 45 minutes from Copper Mountain (and you can stay in the town during ski season for significantly less than the resort rates).

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