Empire Mine State Park – Grass Valley, California - Atlas Obscura

Empire Mine State Park

The Empire Mine is "one of the oldest, largest, deepest, longest and richest gold mines in California." 


The Empire Mine was the shining diamond of the setting of the gold rush, producing 5.8 million ounces of gold during its operation between 1850 and 1956.

While there are 367 miles worth of shafts and tunnels, most of them abandoned and flooded, it’s estimated that the mine only yielded 20% of the hard rock gold it keeps safe in its depths.

The mine may have been closed long ago, but it still provides for its small town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains by serving as an education center and a popular tourist attraction for Gold Rush enthusiasts.

Grass Valley, once a boomtown, is now a quiet but steadily growing community overflowing with historic landmarks and Gold Rush memorabilia, and Empire Mine is its pride and joy. The mine was once owned by William Bourn Jr., who was possibly the richest man in the country in the early 1900s and well known for funding some of the most intriguing and lavish homes in California.

Bourn spared no expense on the beauty of the grounds, and dedicated restoration and care has resulted in the houses, gardens, reflection pool, fountains and greenhouses looking just as they did in their heyday.

While the grounds are beautiful and fascinating, the real treasure lies below, in the Underground Tour. To immerse visitors in the full experience of an underground mining operation, the park is preparing a tour into an 800 ft. tunnel that joins a 1860s drift off of the main shaft of the mine. Throughout the tour deep into the rock, visitors will see displays, old photos, and hear about the history and the culture of the mine and the Cornish miners who worked beneath the surface.

Another unusual place to visit in the park is the “Secret Room.” A tightly guarded corporate secret, for almost 100 years no one except the board and the owners knew about the room containing a perfectly accurate scale model representing 5 square miles of the underground workings. Now a stop on the guided tour, the model was once an indispensable tool for mapping shafts and stopes.

The Underground Tour is still under construction. According to the website, progress is steady. While there is much to see and do there, it will probably be summer of 2013 before you’ll be able to descend into the mine itself.

“The Over-the-Hill Gang” (OHG) has been granted permission to start construction. Since that time they have been working on “roughing in” the utilities; phone, water and electricity within the adit itself and have made great progress. Work has also begun on the displays.The latest estimate for the opening of the Tour is mid- 2013.” says Empiremine.org.

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March 7, 2012

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