Long gone are the Gold Rush days of Idaho Springs, but the small town has struck another form of gold – tourism. Just 30 miles west of Denver, Idaho Springs and neighboring Georgetown make for a nice day tour.
Heritage Visitor Center
A great place to start is the Heritage Visitor Center. The informative museum gives an overview of the gold mining process and history of the area. Staff is very helpful in giving suggestions on what to do in town. Admission and parking are both free. We were able to leave our car there for the entire morning as we explored the town.
Just a few blocks walk from the visitor center is the charming historic downtown along Miner St. Just about every building has an informational plaque telling a detailed story of the building’s history. In the buildings, you’ll find lots of interesting shops and restaurants.
The Underhill Museum, a historic home built by surveyor and engineer Dr. James Underhill in 1897, is located on the west end of Miner St. It served as both a home and office and contains furniture and artifacts used in the early 1900s. Admission is free but donations are welcome.
Further west we found a couple more interesting historic sites. The first site was a Carnegie Library built in 1906 with funds donated by Andrew Carnegie. Next was the Central Hose House. It was built in 1878 and served as the town’s first fire station. Historic firefighting equipment and interpretive panels can be seen behind a plastic partition.
Heading back towards the visitor center, we made a quick stop to see Engine No. 60 and Coach No. 70. These remnants of the old narrow gauge railroad running through town were used by Colorado & Southern Railway until the narrow gauge was slowly dismantled.
The biggest attractions in Idaho Springs are the gold mine tours at the Argo Mine and the Phoenix Mine. We asked the woman at the visitor center which one was best. She didn’t exactly come out and say it but kept hinting that Phoenix had the better tour.
We made a quick drive over to the Argo Mine to get information before making our way over to the Phoenix Mine for their tour. Argo’s tours cost US$16 per adult and US$8 per child. All admission includes a chance to pan for gold. Check the website for hours.
The Phoenix Mine gives an excellent tour on the gold mining process and claims to show the biggest gold vein you will ever see on a mining tour. It lasted about an hour and cost US$10 for adults. A tour and panning for gold was US$15 for adults and US$5 for children. Panning only cost US$8.
In addition to the historical sites in Idaho Springs, there are lots of outdoor activities that can be done, including white water rafting, mountain biking, rock climbing, and fishing. There are some places in town that can help arrange these activities.
It’s also possible to bike or drive up Mount Evans on the highest paved road in North America. It’s part of the Arapaho National Forest. If we had a couple extra hours, we definitely would’ve made the drive up. The road is paved all the way up to the parking area at an elevation of 14,130 feet. There are opportunities for hiking, camping, picnicking, fishing, and chances to see wildlife. A fee of US$10 is charged for passenger cars but those with an Interagency Annual Pass are admitted free of charge. Check on current conditions before driving up. The summit is only open from Memorial Day to Labor Day.