About 100 miles south of Denver, tucked neatly behind Pike’s famed peak, lies one of the most historically rich sites in all of Colorado: The Gold Belt. A literal gold mine beginning in the late 1800s, the area is still mined today producing upwards of $700 million in gold each year.
Cripple Creek and Victor are the two main towns in this area, both beautifully preserving their history for us all to enjoy. Trust us, as far as mountain towns go here in Colorado this one is a gem. The scenery, the history and the activities on offer will make it the perfect weekend getaway.
During its heyday Cripple Creek had nearly 50,000 residents, a number that when you visit the town today is hard to comprehend. With less than 1,200 residents today, the relaxed downtown streets are lined with historical buildings full of charm. If you really want to dive into the history, there are several great places to visit. The Outlaws and Lawmen Jail Museum showcases the quarters that criminals were confined to when arrested for a variety of crimes. The areas are split into mens quarters and women and children’s quarters. It is really fascinating to see the tight spaces these criminals had to deal with. Old Homestead House Museum preserves one of the areas most renowned brothels in the area at the time and is well worth an hour of your time. If you are interested in more of a general overview of the history of the area, the Cripple Creek District Museum is your best bet, complete with the 1895 Midland Railway Depot and the Colorado Trading and Transfer Store.
What to Do: Outdoor Excursions
If you prefer to learn about the history of the gold belt in a more hands on way, we suggest three really accessible options. The first, and probably the most impressive, is the Mollie Kathleen Gold Mine located on the hill just above Cripple Creek. Here, you will descend 1,000 feet underground to the last mined level of this mine. You will learn about the evolution of mining practices dating all the way back to 1891, and you will see actual gold veins along the way. This interactive and engaging tour may surprise you. Whether you consider yourself a mining enthusiast or not, this tour has a way of bringing it out in you.
If exploring history while stretching your legs is more your speed, consider taking an easy hike along the Vindicator Valley Trail. This easy two-mile loop walks you past several now abandoned mines and outbuildings, with beautiful views all around.
For those with an adventurous spirit, the Gold Belt Jeep Tour is the very best that we could find. A six-hour trek, you will learn so much more about the area than if you were to just go for a drive yourself. You will drive through old railway tunnels, spot Indian Petroglyphs and Dinosaur quarries, wildlife, and so much more. You even get to have lunch halfway through the tour at the historic town of Victor. Our guide, Allen, was the very best we could have hoped for and has more knowledge of the area than you can possibly imagine. While this is one of the cooler adventures to do while visiting the gold belt, it does require driving south to Canon City to get started. Well worth it if you ask us.
Bonus suggestion: If you want a more intense hike the Crags Trail, located about 30 minutes North of Cripple Creek offers some of the most beautiful views in all of Colorado. A hidden gem for sure. Or you can shoot for the moon and hike the south side of Pike’s Peak for a nice little challenge.
What to Do: Culture
Just because Cripple Creek is a small town doesn’t mean it has to lack culture. The Thin Air Theatre Company bring some really impressive productions, and actors, to the Butte Theater. We saw their Pippin production and it far exceeded our expectations. Every actor was incredible and played well off each other. This show will be there through August, so if you are making a weekend trip this summer you will definitely want to add it to your list. Trust us, run don’t walk to this one.
Where to Eat
While small, the towns of Cripple Creek and Victor still offer some great dining options. The Pints and Platter Irish Pub offered surprisingly delicious meals including everything from pulled pork sandwiches, soup, salads, and fajitas. For a hearty meal, we suggest heading over to the Midland Depot for satisfying Italian fare. The portions are large and the food is on point. If you find yourself out for a drive (or a hike!) near Victor, the Gold Camp Bakery is a must. The chicken pot pie, pasties and sandwiches are all delicious, but save room for dessert. The German desserts found here are an unexpected, but welcome surprise.
Where to Lay Your Head
While there are a few larger accommodation options with the casinos in town, we highly recommend a more relaxed and personalized stay at Carr Manor Bed and Breakfast. A beautifully restored school house, this unique place pays homage to the roots of the space with many of the original finishes, not to mention chalkboards from the old classrooms. On the weekends, you are treated to a delicious home cooked breakfast by the proprietors with an impressive continental breakfast during the week. If a friendly, home-away-from-home is what you look for when traveling, you can look no further.
Fun fact: One thing that might surprise you as you drive through Cripple Creek is that there are donkeys roaming free around town. The story goes that the donkeys were worked so hard for the mines that the residents felt they deserved a life of freedom following so much hard labor. So they still roam free around town to this day. You will spot them munching on residents front lawn, stopped in the middle of downtown, or otherwise roaming the streets.
*All photos by Sarah Stapley