Empire Mine State Historic Park: Exploring one of California’s Richest Gold Mines

Empire Mine State Historic Park is home to one of the richest and longest running gold mines in California. The mine ran for over 100 years and was able to extract more than 5.5 million ounces of gold. When it stopped operations in 1956, it was eventually turned over to the California state park system, which now runs it as a state historic park. I finally got a chance to spend a half-day here, and even though I was not able to go underground, I still enjoyed this fascinating part of California’s gold mining history. Here is all the information if you want to check it out.


  • Hours: Everday 10 AM – 4 PM (double check this before going)
  • Cost: $7 per person
  • Location: 10791 E Empire St, Grass Valley, CA 95945

Getting There

Empire Mine State Historic Park is located northeast of Sacramento in Grass Valley. It takes about an hour to drive there, and you will take Highway 80 north to Highway 174. This road winds around for about 14 miles before arriving at the park. There is a lot of parking right next to where you enter.

The Park

After parking, proceed to the visitor’s center where you can pay your fee, browse the small museum, and head out back to explore the area.

This area is vast and has a lot to see, so be sure to give yourself at least a few hours. I started by heading over towards the mine building first.

As you walk over, you will pass by a small row of buildings, which include the refinery building and the mine manager’s office. Each of the buildings has things you can see inside as well (if it is open, or you can just peek through the windows).

Across from these buildings is the machine shop and the mine shaft viewing area.

The machine shop has lots of open windows; you can peek in to see what the interior looks like.

The mine shaft area has a small window that lets you look down into it. I thought the view would be a little better here, but I was just excited to see anything since I went when the tours were canceled during the pandemic.

There are also lots of information plaques here you can read to learn more.

Next to that building is the blacksmith’s shop that you can look into and the compressor building.

There are also dozens of old mining tools outside the buildings if you want to see what the miners used.

After exploring the buildings used in the day to day operation of the gold mine, be sure to explore the other half of the property as well. On the way over there, note where the stamp mill used to sit, but little is left of it now.

The rest of the property is the living quarters for the Bourn family, which owned the mining operations.

The first building you will see as you walk is the Empire Clubhouse, which was built to entertain guests. It is a huge building, and I was told it is still used for some events.

From there, walk along the tree-lined pathway that takes you up to Empire Cottage.

This immaculate house was built in the late 1800s and was one of the Bourn family’s residences.

I didn’t get to go inside (just look through the windows), but it was cool to see from the outside.

Be sure to walk down to the reflecting pool as well, which has many great angles for photos of Empire Cottage and another tree-lined walkway.

The last thing to see before leaving is the garden on the other side of the cottage.

The garden has many different rose bushes and other plants that were grown in the attached greenhouse. While it was not in the best condition when I went, it was still a beautiful spot to stroll with lots of flowering plants.

After soaking it all in, I started the drive back to Sacramento. This state park was worth the wait to visit, and I truly enjoyed my time there. I hope to go back in the future when the tours are happening so I can see the mine itself. Let me know what you think in the comments.

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