Last weekend was my birthday, and as usual, I was suffering from a head cold. That seems to happen every year. I had made a half-effort to plan an outing to the snow, but going to elevation with a stuffy head usually leaves me with an ear infection. So instead, I decided to find a shorter day trip to somewhere new. I ended up picking out Empire Mine State Park in Grass Valley.

Trip Report

About a 3 hour drive from San Jose, Empire Mine is a historic park with 850 acres of hiking trails. It’s dog friendly, so the three of us piled in the truck and headed to the foothills on a beautiful fall day. We arrived as the gates opened at 10 am and spent the first hour exploring the historic mill, offices, mine, and grounds of Empire Mine.

One of the stamps at Empire Mine
One of the stamps at Empire Mine

Empire Mine is one of the oldest and longest running gold mines in California.  It opened in 1850 and operated for over a hundred years.

Manager's Office at Empire Mine
Manager’s Office at Empire Mine

The main mine shaft is impressive, angling steeply down. Imagine having to ride one of the flimsy carts down the track to work in the maze of tunnels below!

Main tunnel at Empire Mine
Main tunnel at Empire Mine

In the yard outside the mine entrance there are many old tools and devices to explore.

Yard of old mining tools
Yard of old mining tools

After wandering the main mine area, we hopped on one of the trails and hiked an easy 5 mile loop around the perimeter of the park. That was about all my stuffy head would allow. There are many other smaller diggings and ruins scattered along the trails, so we explored them as we came across them.

Thor poses on one of the many concrete foundations scattered among the park's trails
Thor poses on one of the many concrete foundations scattered among the park’s trails (Photo by David)

Empire Mine State Park is a really interesting park if history, especially California’s gold mining history, is your thing. Pairing the historic ruins with a hike made for a perfect fall day in the foothills.

Map and GPS Track

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