Trail Manager: Empire Mine State Historic Park | Contact (530) 273-8522
Length: Hardrock Trail 1.6 mi. – Empire Street Trail 0.7 mi. – Orleans Trail 0.5 mi.
Altitude Change: Maximum 200′
Trail Surface: Natural Earth
Facilities: Restrooms and picnic tables at park headquarters along East Empire Street
Rules: Park trails are open from dawn to dusk; stay on marked trails; no motor vehicles; no camping; dogs must be on leash; all natural and historic features of the park are protected. Stay out of closed areas. Caution: poison oak, ticks, and rattlesnakes.
Trailheads: Penn Gate Trailhead: From Highway 49 in Grass Valley go east on Empire Street 1/2 mile and enter the trailhead parking area on your right. There is a large supplemental parking area for horse trailers behind the car parking lot. The popular Hardrock Trail leaves from the Penn Gate (N39.20940 W121.05717.)
Visitor Center Trailhead: From Penn Gate continue another 3/4 mile east on East Empire Street to the main visitor parking lot at Empire Mine State Historic Park. This is where you will find the historic mine yard, the Visitor Center, and the elegant Bourn estate buildings and grounds. At the far southeast end of the main parking lot (to your left as you face the mine yard) you will find a metal gate and wayside exhibit that form the eastern trailhead for the Hardrock Trail (N39.20663 W121.04493) which in turn leads to other park trails.
A special caution: The large central core of the Hardrock Trail Area is presently closed for remediation of toxic substances left over from historic mining and milling activities. This is a long-term project with no certain date of completion. Trails in the area now skirt the closed section. For good health and safety reasons, it is important to stay out of this section and any other place in the park that is fenced or designated as off limits.
Trail Facts: The Empire Mine area as you see it today was actually a complex of several mines. Under consolidated ownership it became the “richest hardrock gold mine in California.” Explore the park’s visitor center where displays, publications and guided tours are available for those who would like to learn more about the impressive history of “The Empire.” (See also www.empiremine.org/)
Remnants of the Pennsylvania Mine will be on your left as you enter the Hardrock Trail. Along the main trail, a side trail going left from the old cement buildings will take you up to the remnants of a mule corral with a fence made of thick steel cables. Mules were used extensively in pulling ore carts, and many mules lived for years in the mine tunnels. Continuing south on the Hardrock Trail, you will be on a raised roadbed where railcars and trucks once carried and dumped tailings from the Pennsylvania Mine. The tailings created a “Sand Dam” which held back the waters of Little Wolf Creek. As you reach the southern end of this stretch you will see and cross the spillway of the creek. Along the trail you can find impressive foundations of the Orleans Mine stamp mill. About 100 yards up the Hardrock Trail from the stamp mill you will find remnants of the Orleans Mine itself on the hillside to your right. There are cement foundations and some discarded and rusting mining equipment here. The park provides a corridor for wildlife such as bear, coyote, rabbit, deer and a number of bird species. This is a good place to listen for birdsong and keep an eye out for wildlife.