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Bishop Castle: Colorado’s Whimsical Monument to the American Dream

Bishop Castle

Colorado’s open roads are calling. If you’re fueling up to make your way to the southern part of the state, don’t miss Colorado’s best roadside attraction: Bishop Castle.

Yes, that’s right. There’s a castle in southern Colorado.

Enclosed by the San Isabel National Forest along the Frontier Pathways Scenic Byway, the stonework fortress is located along State Highway 165, a half hour detour off I-25 to Rye, Colorado. The castle is imposing, yet whimsical. Its turrets stretch over the pines, sending wrought-iron tendrils into the sky above. The effect is remarkable. And at 9,000 feet elevation, you’ll be catching your breath for more than one reason.

The incredible structure is the work of one pair of hands. Jim Bishop began placing stones almost half a century ago. He bought the parcel of land for $450 in 1959, intending to build a family cabin. What started as a cottage quickly spiraled – no pun intended – into a massive stonework fortress complete with turrets, a fire-breathing dragon, and yes, spiral staircases. Bishop calls his work a monument to the American Dream.

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Bishop Castle is dreamlike – odd, breathtaking, and sometimes more than a little frightening. Hand-painted signs with divisive anti-government messages dot the landscape. Lower levels contain thick stonewalls, a Grand Ballroom, and bright stained glass. Further up, there are networks of stairs, wrought iron arches, a steel dragon, and precarious towers opening to the sky. It’s part playground, part medieval fantasy and part astonishingly labor-intensive work of art. Jim Bishop used no plans and no professional engineering. Sheer force of will built the castle, and it shows.

Climbing to the top, Bishop Castle feels shaky and undone. A mesh and wrought-iron dome perched at a high point can make your heart thud as the wind creaks through the not-up-to-code welded joints. I heard, “uh, this is definitely not safe,” whispered many times by uneasy tourists. They then nevertheless scramble across the walkways. They were rewarded with a stunning panoramic view.

Jim Bishop’s castle has often been under siege. At the beginning of his project, local zoning prohibited building over 25 feet – but Jim has reached that limit several times over. Jim used the rocks from the surrounding forest, for which the government wanted to charge him by the truckload. Jim and his wife, Phoebe, have fought to make the castle an official tourism attraction. Jim has overcome health problems and legal battles. Now over 70 years old, Jim Bishop still isn’t going to stop.

Visitors continue to be welcomed to the castle, which is still under construction. Exploring the castle is at-your-own-risk, and it truly seems risky in places. Some of the tallest towers have decorative wrought-iron floors where you can see plain through to the treetops below. Stairways are steep with few railings, and building materials present hazards. The castle is not accessible for people with mobility issues. Keeping a close eye on small children is a must.

The castle is open during daylight hours. Entry to Bishop Castle is free, though a donation box is set out. The castle is located at 12705 State Highway 165 near Rye, Colorado, 81069.

M.J. Rilling

M.J. Rilling was born and raised in Colorado. She spends her time hiking, biking, writing children's books, and teaching. She lives near the mountains with her cat and a flock of ill-tempered ducks.

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