Bishop Castle is tucked way back in Colorado’s Wet Mountains. The nearest large city is Pueblo. This doesn’t stop hundreds of visitors from paying homage to Jim Bishop’s creation every day. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
In July my family and some friends took a camping trip into the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in southern Colorado. We were near the northernmost part of the range, and our family’s plans included hiking in the mountains, as well as a trip to the Great Sand Dunes National Park near the town of Alamosa.
On the drive back from the camping trip, our family took a detour to a place known as Bishop Castle, tucked deep in the Colorado backcountry, along the ridge topping the Wet Mountains west of Pueblo, Colorado.
I hadn’t heard of Bishop Castle, and my girlfriend said, “You have to see this place, it’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen.” She also prepared us for the weirdness that was forthcoming, “Don’t expect the Biltmore or anything like that.”
So we made the drive through the incredibly-windy Colorado Route 165, expecting a quiet, pretty castle in the woods.
Do You Trust Your Kids?
Out of nowhere, the road became clogged with parked vehicles and families walking along the very skinny shoulder of the road. We passed numerous hand-painted signs, such as this one:
Here is the sign announcing our arrival. The smaller words at the bottom read, “Open to the Public on a Donation Basis.” Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
We parked the vehicles, unloaded the kids and our dog, and headed in.
The first thing visitors see is an honest-to-goodness drawbridge, gate, and moat! Unfortunately, that area is heavily wooded and it was tough to get a good photograph of it. You cannot raise or lower the drawbridge, but it wasn’t difficult to walk around it.
On the other side of the drawbridge is a clearing with the castle.
A full view of Bishop Castle. Note the people all over the catwalks. I’ll get to that momentarily. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
I called this the hamster ball and it’s about 60′ high over the ground. Visitors can climb up one of the turrets to enter the ball. I didn’t make the trip up, nor did anyone in my family. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
Bishop Castle is private property, but has invitations throughout the area for visitors to explore the castle. There are also warnings that visitors are exploring the property at their own risk.
There are handmade wrought-iron catwalks all over the exterior of the castle, and people can walk all over it. Knowing everything is handmade was somewhat nerve-wracking, but I explored some of the areas. My husband, sons, and dog remained firmly on the ground.
The interior is very rough-hewn, and there is evidence everywhere of the handmade nature of the castle.
The interior of the main hall of Bishop Castle. All of the iron work seen here was handmade. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
An upward view of one of the turret staircases. The steps are tiny, and two adults have a hard time passing each other on these steps. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
Can you see me? I’m in a very open opening in one of the turrets. With little more than a single horizontal bar keeping me safe. Photo: C.P. Keyser.
The castle is empty, and there are numerous areas still under construction, or else undergoing repairs. There are safety hazards everywhere! Parents need to keep an eye on younger children, and I saw dozens of very young children exploring.
Bishops Castle is a good place for a conversation about repurposing. The dragon’s head is made from repurposed stainless steel warming plates that was discarded from a Pueblo, Colorado hospital. The top of the head sits 80′ above the ground! Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
Bishop Castle is a combination of creepiness and danger, but once you understand some of the story behind the castle, you too will find it worth checking out if you’re ever in southern Colorado.
Jim Bishop’s Dream
The castle wasn’t supposed to be a castle. Jim Bishop, an ironworker, had purchased 2 1/2 acres of land as a teen, and over the years worked on making the land a summer getaway location for his family. Bishop’s affinity for ornamental ironwork and architecture, along with the natural resources of the area (in other words, endless rocks!) made a small cabin project bloom into the castle visitors can enjoy today.
Jim Bishop’s dreams haven’t gone completely smoothly, though. He encountered numerous confrontations with federal and local authorities, between his use of rock from the nearby San Isabel National Forest (federal lands), to his posting of homemade signs on the local highways inviting visitors to see the castle. In 1996 the state made up official signs helping bring visitors to the castle.
Plan Your Visit
Even the locals know it’s a must-see for families, whether native to Colorado or just visiting. Once you arrive at the castle, allow at least one hour to visit, which includes a stroll through the eccentric gift shop.
If you’re lucky, you might see Jim Bishop himself sitting on the property. He’s happy to talk to anyone about his view about federal government (which I won’t get into here). However, he was recently diagnosed with cancer, so his appearances have been more scarce than in recent years.
Bishop Castle is located on Colorado State Highway 165 near the town of Rye, Colorado. Visitors can easily reach the attraction via I-25 exits 71 or 74. There is no admission fee, but there are donation locations throughout the property. The donations help with the Bishop Family’s legal fees and their non-profit foundation for newborns. On weekends someone sets up a hot dog stand, with meals for $3-5. Visitors need to parallel park along Highway 165, so be careful when taking children in and out of vehicles.