Hidden deep below the surface in Grass Valley is one of the oldest, largest, deepest, longest and richest gold mines in California, The Empire Mine. Part of what was once the richest gold mining districts in the state from 1850 to 1956, the Empire Mine produced 5.8 million ounces of gold.
Today the mine has been transformed into an 853-acre state historic park situated in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, preserved since 1975 and frozen in time for visitors to see and explore.
Inside the park is a visitor center along with many of the mine’s original buildings, including the restored gardens and historic home of former mine owner — William Bourn, Jr.
There is also 12 miles of mixed oak and conifer forested backcountry hiking trails, which winds around old foundations and the entrance to 367 miles of abandoned and flooded underground mine shafts. Most of the trails consists of easy hikes, ideal for recreational activities like walking, mountain biking and horseback riding.
With so much to see and do, visitors can easily spend much of the day simply visiting the mine’s structure, including the cavernous opening of the mine’s 5,000-foot-deep shaft or taking a historical tour of the 4,600 square foot Bourne Cottage, built in 1897.
Guests can also take a mine yard tour that illustrates the gold mining process, with mine statistics and demonstrations of various operational and non-operational pieces of new and old mining equipment.
Weekend Activities Guide
In addition, the park museum has a scale model of the underground workings of the Empire/Star mine complex, a “gold room” which displays ore samples from local mines, an Assay Office and an extensive mineral collection.
As an added bonus, during the spring the gardens are in bloom.
There is also the annual Miner’s Picnic in late summer, various year-round “living history” events and over Thanksgiving weekend, the park offers a “Holiday Open-House”.
From from May to early October its possible to get hitched at the Empire Mine. Weddings are held in the gardens behind the Bourn Cottage.
Empire Mine was the largest and most productive hard-rock gold mine in California. Over 5.8 million ounces of gold were pulled from the ground here. Today there are no mining activities but tourists and history buffs visit the site year round.
If you are planning a trip through California’s Gold County Empire Mine Historic Park should be at the top of your list of place to visit.
Empire Mine State Historic Park visitor center and mine are located off Highway 174, at 10791 E. Empire St., Grass Valley about 24 miles north of the City of Auburn.
The park is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is closed on New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.
Visiting during the summer and spring are best as weather is warm and pleasant; fall and winter can be cold. Admission to the park is $7 for adults, $4 for children ages 6-16 and children under six are free.
Public Cottage and Mine yard tours are included in entry fee.
Empire Mine Stare Historic Park is an ideal family outing for a weekend or day, offering a wide variety of options and a fun and educational glimpse into California’s mining history.