About Empire Mine
To immerse visitors in the full experience of an underground mining operation, the park has a tour that delves down an 800 ft. tunnel that joins an 1860’s 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.
Daily Tour Schedules
Scheduled tours and special events offer visitors so many ways to enjoy Empire Mine State Historic Park
- Be sure and see the dramatic scale model of Empire/Star Mine’s underground workings in the museum.
- There’s a fascinating audio presentation that will guide you through its history and its many complexities.
- You’ll also want to visit the “gold room,” with its ore-sample displays from local mines – as well as the Assay Office and the extensive mineral collection.
- A video entitled “Tears from the Sun” identifies and explains various gold-mining techniques, and is shown frequently by request in the Visitor Center theater. You may purchase this video in the nearby Gift Shop.
Public Tour Schedule
FALL/WINTER/SPRING – Monday – Sunday
Estate Tour: 1:00 PM
Mine Yard Tour: 2:00 PM
Garden Tour: 11:00 AM, Sat. & Sun. only
For information regarding park tours and times, call the Visitor Center:
* Weather and Staff availability may affect tours & times. Please confirm before making plans.
Explore the Park at your own leisure, and stay as long as you like at the places that interest you most. Pick up a brochure and map at the Visitors Center, and enjoy your day your way!
Guided Tours (Included in your admission, except for the Cottage Living History Experience.)
Let our Tour Guide docents share their knowledge, and take you back in time, so you can discover Empire’s lasting legacy.
A 45-minute tour filled with fascinating facts about how the gold was mined and processed. You’ll learn eye-opening statistics as well as how the equipment, mules and miners made Empire Mine so prosperous.
One-hour tour that’s a delight for gardening enthusiasts. Empire Cottage’s famous gardens feature many varieties of roses and other plants. Most of the roses are from original plantings around 1897 – well over a century ago!
Includes access to Empire Cottage & the Clubhouse.
Meet the characters who shaped our history, portrayed by convincing docents. Personal insights, little-known facts, and lavish period costumes make the experience memorable.
Go ahead and ask them questions. The answers are historic and often entertaining.
Living History is presented on selected summertime weekends only and is included in admission. Although there is no additional charge, donations are gratefully accepted for the Cottage Living History Experience.
Clubhouse Living History
Tennis anyone? See the old tennis court site, the squash court, bowling alley, billiards table and the stately ballroom. Here is where the Bourns’ guests came to relax and have fun.
Mine Yard Experience
The Mine Yard Experience occurs on special days when visitors may have access to some buildings not typically open to the public, at no extra charge. Phone the Visitor Center, (530) 273-8522, to confirm.
Cottage Living History Experience
The prestigious Bourn Family is in residence, and you are a most welcome guest in their “cottage” home. For many Park visitors, this is the highlight of their day. Docents dressed in early 1900s’ attire portray not only the Bourns but the Starrs, as well as chatty, charming housekeeper Katie Moriarty. An up-close-and-personal experience you’ll never forget!
A friendly welcome awaits you at the Visitor Center
Here’s where you’ll
- Pay your entry fee
- Ask questions about the best ways to enjoy your day
- Get Information about tours and activities is readily available
Don’t miss the scale model of the underground workings of the Empire/Star Mine complex or the “gold room” that displays ore samples from local mines.
The Assay Office and the extensive mineral collection are worth seeing as well.
With its wide range of treasures for all budgets, including geological artifacts, books, prints, jewelry, and mementos, prepared to be surprised and delighted.
Tears from the Sun
Enjoy a 20-minute mining presentation called “Tears from the Sun,” shown by request in our Visitor Center theater.
In just a few spellbinding minutes, you’ll learn about the heady Gold Rush days of 1849. You’ll also see 100 years of California mining technology unfold, as hard rock, placer, hydraulic and industrial dredging techniques are explained. Detailed footage covers mining and ore processing at Empire Mine during its final years of operation – as well as one of the last hydraulic mines in California.
Written and edited by Stanley H. Halls and narrated by Fred C. Forsman, copies of “Tears from the Sun” may be purchased in the Gift Shop.
Restrooms (with A.D.A. and baby changing facilities) are located between the parking area and the Visitor Center.
The Visitor Center is #1 on Park Map. The arrow points to the Visitor Center.
Plan Your Visit
Some of our historic doorways are narrow, and some stairs are steep. Therefore, not all exhibits and areas are easy to access. To arrange for transportation, to borrow wide-tire wheelchairs, or to simply learn about alternative entries or lifts, ask at the Visitors Center – or give them a call on (530) 273-8522. Information is also available at http://access.parks.ca.gov.
What should you wear?
Layered clothing is always a good idea.
Check the weather forecast for Grass Valley, CA before arrival. Grass Valley is warm to hot in the springtime and summer; cool in the autumn; and often cold in the winter – snow is infrequent at this elevation. Our rainy season usually lasts from November through May.
Comfortable shoes are important.
Some of our trails are rocky and may be fairly steep. Since the Park does have its fair share of poison oak, long sleeves and other protective clothing are highly recommended. It’s also wise to have sunscreen and insect/tick repellent on hand.
Learn more about other impressive California State Parks at www.parks.ca.gov.
14 miles of scenic trails
Our over 800 acres of trails are open year round
- Dog walking
- Horseback riding
Enjoy an unusual combination of foothill forests, wildlife and wonders as you explore them.
Don’t forget your sunscreen and insect repellent! Also, stick to the trails to avoid contact with poison oak.
Hardrock Trails Area
The Hardrock Trails Area encircles the main part of the Park (where the Visitors Center, historic buildings and mining machinery are located). Along these trails, you’ll find points of interest from Empire’s gold-mining past. You may also enjoy the camaraderie of sharing them with others.
Click here for a complete description of the trails and a detailed trail map, including all of the trail heads.
Union Hill Trail
Separated by the Colfax Highway and farther away from the Park’s Visitors Center area, the Union Hill Trails loop in interesting configurations. Visitors have the scope to plan hikes of varying lengths, yet they’re still surprisingly close to Grass Valley. Peaceful – usually with fewer people – the Union Hills Trails are highly recommended for hikes with built-in tranquility.
Click here for a complete description of the trails and a detailed map.
Dogs & Horses
- Owners are responsible for removing dog waste.
- We have a six-foot leash requirement throughout the Park.
- Citations may be given to owners whose dogs are off leash.
- Dogs are welcome visitors too – especially when their owners follow the rules.
- Dogs are not allowed inside the historic buildings or in the mine shaft.
- Service dogs are allowed inside Empire Cottage and the Clubhouse.
- Fresh water is available for dogs in the Visitor Center and in the Blacksmith Shop.
REMEMBER, even if you choose a shady parking place, it can become a dangerous “hot spot” quickly.
DO NOT LEAVE YOUR DOG IN THE CAR WHEN THE WEATHER’S HOT
Open the gates at the Penn Gate parking area, and you’ll see a large staging area for horse trailers. Since not all trails are open for horses, please stay on clearly-marked, designated trails. While you and your horse are welcome to explore the miles of trails, horses are not permitted on the Park’s historic grounds. Ride safely and considerately – and have fun exploring!
Open from sunrise to sunset
The Blacksmith Shop
Artisans and problem solvers, our blacksmiths always have an entertaining tale to tell
“Take it to the smiths for an emergency repair,” must have been a common statement each working day at Empire Mine Ore carts, stamp mills and other equipment needed frequent attention.
Our Blacksmith Shop today is much the same as it would have been around 1925
With its red-hot forges, anvils, and six blacksmiths on duty eight to ten hours a day, six days a week, the smithy was a vital part of the mine’s success. Five smiths worked in the shop, producing many of the tools, candle holders and other devices the miners needed in their work, while one worked down in the mine shoeing mules.
Today, visitors enjoy watching replica items being made on the spot – and available for purchase (both in the smithy and in the Visitors Center Gift Shop).
Tales of “the good old days,” as well as the legend of the dreaded Tommy Knocker, make the smithy a popular part of your visit to Empire Mine.
The Secret Room
You’re invited into the Secret Room to see our amazing scale model
When Empire Mine was operational, only management and their engineers were allowed into the “Secret Room.” Why?
Built in the 1930s, this private room, with its blacked-out windows, housed an accurate, intricate scale model of the mine’s below-the-surface workings. Few even knew that the room and model existed. Today, the model remains in pristine condition – complete with dramatic lighting and an interpretive recording.
Visitors can see over 367 miles of underground tunnels, covering five square miles. Most people are amazed when they see how vast the mine’s operations were, including activity beneath downtown Grass Valley. Later on your visit, you’ll have the chance to walk down the shaft, and that represents less than one inch on the model. Anything beyond two inches on the model has been under water since the pumps were turned off in 1956.
The Secret Room – with its fascinating mine model – is a highly recommended starting point, especially for first-time visitors. It’s also the best way to understand exactly how sophisticated the operations were … almost one vertical mile below the ground!
Download the Park Brochure for more detailed information