Located in the heart of California’s Mother Lode Country in modern day Grass Valley, Empire Mine State Historic Park preserves what was California’s longest standing and most productive gold mine. The mine operated for more than 100 years and produced 5.6 million ounces of gold before closing it’s doors in 1956; this is a present-day value of more than $8 billion.
The core park grounds hold an interesting contrast. The grounds are split between the working mine yard, which contains the buildings of the old mine offices, the stamp mill, equipment shops and the impressive mine shaft, and the elegant English manor-style mansion and gardens that were occupied by the influential owner William Bourn, Jr.
Visitors can explore the mine yard and even drop down 50 feet into the mine shaft entrance, which holds an astounding 367 miles of abandoned and flooded shafts/tunnels. The main shaft is said to extend 11,000 feet on an incline a mile below the surface. A secret room held a scale model of the shafts that only the mine managers and owners were privy to. The secret room can be viewed in the park’s museum.
The formal gardens and the Bourn Cottage, which is referred to as a cottage in spite of its mansion-like size to distinguish it from Bourn’s other homes, are also open to the public. Guided tours of the mansion's interior and garden grounds can be taken for a small additional fee on weekends from May through September.
In addition to the historic mine and mansion grounds, the park is also home to miles of trails that are open to hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding, some of which pass by old mine shafts. Dogs are permitted on park trails and park roads on a leash.