October 29, 2014

Grass Valley: Empire Mine State Historic Park; things to do

Highway 49--Gold Rush Country 

Empire Mine State Historic Park  10791 E. Empire St., (530) 273-8522.  Daily 10-5.  $7, 6-16 $3; cottage living history $2 age 6+; tours free, schedule varies. 

Once the largest and richest hard rock mine in the state, the Empire Mine operated for more than a century--from 1850 to 1956.  Though it still holds millions of dollars’ worth of gold, the ore is too expensive to extract.  The mine is now a peaceful 805-acre state park with grassy expanses and tall pines.  The Gold Rush started here in 1850 with a stubbed toe in what is now the parking lot.

headframe at Empire Mine State Historic Park in Grass Valley, California

The mineyard illustrates many facets of the business and allows visitors to look deep down into a lighted mine shaft.  Nearby in the mineyard office, a scale model shows the underground presence of this and other mines in the town (it is amazing to see all the tunnels and shafts). 

prairie diamond ring at Empire Mine State Historic Park in Grass Valley, California

And don’t miss a visit to the blacksmith. I got myself a prairie diamond ring made from a nail, which I am wearing to replace my own missing wedding ring (you can buy these in the gift shop for $1, as well as a vial heavy with gold leaf for $8.50).  Among approximately 12 miles of hiking trails are self-guided backcountry paths and an easy 2-mile loop Hardrock Trail.  Picnicking is not permitted. 

exterior of Bourn Cottage at Empire Mine State Historic Park in Grass Valley, California

The stone Bourn Cottage (also known as the Empire Cottage), was designed and built in 1897 as a summer home for William Bowers Bourn II and his wife Agnes by his hunting buddy, Willis Polk.  It is in the style of an English country manor and features hand-planed heart-redwood walls.  The surrounding 13 acres of formal gardens include an antique rose garden planted in 1905, several fountains, and a reflecting pool.

Living History character at Empire Mine State Historic Park in Grass Valley, California

On Living History days, many of the characters mentioned above come to life, and since this cottage was a showcase of technology you might even see a demonstration of the magic of electricity. 

fresh roses in Bourn Cottage dining room at Empire Mine State Historic Park in Grass Valley, California

Springtime at Empire Mine is held each Mother’s Day, when the gardens are at their blooming best, and includes Living History programs.

More things to do in Grass Valley.

More things to do in Gold Rush Country.

More ideas for exploring Northern California.

images ©2014 Carole Terwilliger Meyers


  1. The Americans always do historical sites well with lots of enthusiasm. Most are real fun to visit, this one doesn't seem to be an exception.

  2. Love the Bourn Cottage - so unexpected amidst all the rough and tumble of those days.

  3. I'd love to visit Bourn Cottage - it looks amazing - such an interesting historical site. Currently longing for 'old' and 'ancient' as I sit here in 'new' WA!

  4. Visiting Empire Mine on Living History days sounds like fun. I love the look of Bourn Cottage.

  5. I love your ring and especially love the price.

  6. Love the historic mines and would love to visit. The handcrafted ring you purchased was a real treasure!

  7. Love your new wedding ring! I lost my replacement cheap silver wedding ring in El Salvador (sold my original one before we took off on our travels) and then bought another souvenir jade and silver ring in Guatemala. Symbolism and a souvenir in one small package!