Colorado’s mining history is rich. Take a daylong deep dive in Idaho Springs, just a few streets wide and bracketed by the steep mountainside and the highway.
It’s less than an hour from Denver, and on I-70 alongside Idaho Springs, you can see huge holes where miners gouged gold from mountains. Remnants of gold-colored mine tailings drip downward. In 1859, half the gold reaching the US Mint came from here — a grand total of $2 million.
Spend part of the morning walking on Miner St., tracing the steps miners and their families trod when shopping and eating more than a century ago. Today, the rustic-looking wooden buildings are filled with shops, restaurants and businesses. Then, drive along Colorado Blvd., a fancy name for a narrow street lined with pastel Victorian houses.
It’s impossible to miss the sprawling Argo Gold Mine and Mill up the mountainside. Once the largest mill of its type in the world, where gold was leached out of dirt pulled from the mountains, today it’s a worthwhile stop. In its time more than $100 million worth of gold at $35 per ounce or less was processed here. During the tour you’ll learn how dirt hauled from miles of tunnels threading these mountains was pulverized until only gold was left. Kids enjoy gold panning after the tour.
For lunch, try the Pub Brewben (a sandwich of corned beef cooked in Maple Nut Brown ale) at the Tommyknocker Brewery and Pub. Or, stop by the Main Street Restaurant for a bowl of chili or a Santa Fe Turkey sandwich on grilled jalapeno cheddar bread. Beau Jo’s is the place for pizza lovers.
In the afternoon head to the Phoenix Gold Mine, discovered in 1871 and worked (on and off) for about a century. Take the tunnel tour to see untouched ore and old mining equipment. Several hundred feet below the ground, short tunnels are about one-person wide.
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Wrap up the day in Idaho Springs with a soak in the Indian Hot Springs. (Bring a bathing suit.) Swim in the mineral pool, sweat in geo-thermal cave baths, or wallow in a mud bath. This set-up is fairly rustic and prices are reasonable.
To round out the day, either before or after your visit to Idaho Springs, take a 15-mile ride up the highest paved road in North American to to top of Mount Evans. Walk the last hundred feet from the parking lot to say you “climbed” Mount Evans.