Buying Homes and Land in the Mountain Neighborhoods west of Denver


Leo Swoyer's Coverage Area Map

Many people I encounter are interested in buying homes and land in the mountain neighborhoods west of Denver within a 40 to 60-minute one-way commute to metropolitan Denver. In this post, I am providing a brief overview of the more distant parts of the mountain commute range, which is typically the maximum tolerable commute for most people. I will follow-up with additional mountain neighborhood posts, and also post on each neighborhood individually.

Virginia Street - Idaho Springs
Virginia Street – Idaho Springs

At this farther end of the commute range, one is generally looking at Bailey, Idaho Springs (maybe, Empire, Dumont, and Georgetown). In the northern counterpart of the commute, are neighborhoods like Black Hawk, and St. Mary’s Glacier. It’s no surprise that many looking for homes and land in these neighborhoods also either work at home or do so for at least a portion of the week and some work in the mountains. Since all these areas are a similar commute distance from metro-Denver, one often finds comparability concerning lower land value, lower property costs and lower tax rates.

If one likes small town living, clean mountain air, and living within the majestic shelter of steep mountains, but not in the “sticks”, then both Idaho Springs and the very quaint town of Georgetown, with many Victorian homes and a main commercial street in its older sections, may be attractive possibilities for a home or land purchase. However, if one is averse to ambient highway noise, one would have to be selective in choosing a location within these towns due to proximity to highway I-70. Sound mitigation walls along most of the highway near Idaho Springs do help reduce noise in Idaho Springs but are largely absent from Georgetown at this time.

Lakeside Home Georgetown
Lakeside Home Georgetown

The appeal of these towns is quite different, although both came into existence in the mid-1800’s due to their adjacent profitable gold and silver mines – some of these are still active. A few mines adjacent these towns have tours – in Idaho Springs (ARGO Gold Mine and Mill) and Georgetown (The Lebanon Silver Mine). The small town of Georgetown also has a reservoir and historic railroad and is the last significantly sized town before reaching the heights of the Continental Divide at Loveland Ski Resort, and the eastern border of Summit County – Summit County, Colorado is a world-renowned ski resort mecca. Due to a higher cost of living in Summit County, many who work and play there choose to live in Georgetown; which also gives them a shorter drive into metro Denver.

Along highway 285 from the foothills of the Front Range, the feel is quite different than I-70.  There are fewer lanes of traffic on highway 285 (although, they’ve been widening sections of Hwy 285 for some time now), the topography is significantly more gradual, and the prestige is more agricultural and equestrian with the highest demand areas in Morrison, Indian Hills and northern portions of Conifer and south Evergreen.

Mt Evans Road, Pine Junction
Mt Evans Road, Pine Junction

Homes and land along the Hwy 285 corridor are generally lower in cost (all things being equal) than found with comparable commutes along I-70.  To the west of Conifer and Pine, in Jefferson County, one passes into Park County; which is where one finds the small town of Bailey. 

Land values generally decrease farther west from metro-Denver and taxes decrease; especially in Park County along 285 and Clear Creek County along I-70. Most land to the south of 285 out to Bailey and Pine, and in the southern portion the Evergreen neighborhood, there is typically an abundance of gradually sloping usable terrain; often with views; this means it’s easy to access in winter, lower cost to build upon, and good for horse property. Land along the I-70 corridor is much more variable, more sloping overall, and of higher altitude – although, it is the main access highway to the ski resorts and Summit County to the west.

The old mining town of Black Hawk is now a Mining- Themed Casino Town sandwiched between steep mountains – a place to play for many in the Denver Metro area. These casinos have boosted tax revenues for Gilpin County, and so the town residents and most of the residential suburbs of Black Hawk have some of the lowest property tax rates in commute range to Denver; many in the $400 to $600/year range for homes on land.

Marchant Street - Downtown Black Hawk
Marchant Street – Downtown Black Hawk

These suburban mountain communities often have lakes, normally stocked with fish (Dory Lakes, Missouri Lakes, Thorn Lake, etc.). Dramatic sweeping mountain vistas are common in many locations due to their high altitude, and Golden Gate Canyon State Park is a short distance away. The winters up in Black Hawk are generally more severe and colder than along the highway 285 and I-70 corridors due to being farther north and at a higher average altitude; with most residential areas between 9,000 feet to 10,000 feet in altitude. The I-70 corridor is mostly between 7,500 feet to 9,000 feet (Exception: St. Mary’s and Winterland are over 10,000 feet). The highway 285 corridor is mostly in the 8,200 feet to 8,600 feet range. I discuss Winterland and St.Mary’s mountain neighborhoods in another blog post.

Highway 119 - Black Hawk - Near Dory Lakes
Highway 119 – Black Hawk – Near Dory Lakes