Gold was discovered in Colorado’s Cripple Creek in 1890, and as a result, it and nearby Victor grew into large mining camps which produced more than $500 million in gold. Today, with the exception of an open pit mine near Victor, most mining operations have ceased. The 44-mile mountain drive to Cripple Creek from Colorado Springs is spectacular.
In 1991 gambling was legalized and many buildings and brothels from the early 1900’s now house casinos. You can also take an off-beat side trip to see old mining camps and learn some Colorado gold mining history.
Start the day by descending 1,000 feet down a vertical shaft to tour the Molly Kathleen hard-rock gold mine. Then head to the Jail Museum, which once held town’s roughest and rowdiest citizens.
For lunch, the Home Cafe in the Bronco Billy’s Casino is noted for super cheap breakfasts. They also have good burgers, sandwiches and a chicken fried steak.
After lunch, board the Cripple Creek & Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad (mid-May to Mid-October) at the depot on East Carr Street. During the 45-minute open-air ride, you’ll get a sense of how rough and hard life was during the 1880s gold rush.
Victor is five miles from Cripple Creek, and along the way, you’ll pass relics of old mining operations. Get a walking tour map at the Victor Lowell Thomas Museum to view old restored buildings. The museum (open Memorial Day to Labor Day) has excellent exhibits about early mining days. Try your hand panning for gold outside the museum. The open pit Cripple Creek Victor Gold Mine still operates outside of Victor.
If you’re driving back to Colorado Springs, stop first for dinner in Cripple Creek. Midland Depot at the Imperial Hotel (for Italian dishes) or the Steakhouse on the second floor of Bronco Billy’s are both good options.
* Visits to Cripple Creek and Victor are best in Spring, Summer or Fall. Always check weather and road conditions because it’s not uncommon for snow in Spring or Fall. (Four-feet of snow fell in the foothills in mid-April, 2016.)
* You are exploring where miners built tunnels and mined gold in streams and mountainsides. Never walk near or through old mining shafts and old mining buildings. It’s dangerous. People have fallen down shafts and old buildings have tumbled down around them.
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