Get a one-two punch of experiences with a visit to the remarkable Empire Mine Historic State Park in Grass Valley, roughly 60 miles northeast of Sacramento. First, spend time in the Visitor Center to learn about one of California’s oldest, largest, deepest, longest, and richest gold mines, where, in the course of a century, 5.6 million ounces of gold were mined—enough to fill a box 7 feet long, 7 feet high, and 7 feet deep by the time the mine shut down in 1956. To get a sense of the size of the mine, step into the “Secret Room”—a room with blacked-out windows that few even knew existed at the time the mine was operative—which houses a scale model of the mine’s 5-square-mile network used by the company’s management to track operations. Afterward, walk outside to visit the entrance of the actual shaft—a tiny peak into a staggering underground maze of 367 miles.
Now shift gears—mentally and physically—with a walk through the grounds of the home of William Bowers Bourn Jr., who took over management of the mine in 1879. Bourn Cottage is a humble name for this magnificent country estate, where no expense was spared to create a two-story stone citadel patterned after the noble estates of 19th-century England, complete with redwood interiors, and leaded-glass windows.
Estate and mine yard guided tours are included in the entry fee; the Mine Yard Tour sheds light on the rough lives of the miners who worked here. Get the flip side on the Cottage Grounds Tour, which includes a visit to the sumptuous Bourn Cottage. These “living history” tours are offered from noon to 2 p.m. on weekends from May through August.