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Cripple Creek is considered to be the location of the last great Colorado gold rush – and it almost became the capital of the state at one point. Stepping into this mountain town on the west side of Pikes Peak feels like a step back in time. Located just west of Pikes Peak, it’s popular with those who want to test their luck at the casinos or get a taste of history and the Old West, with lots of things to see and do. To narrow them down, here’s a look at some of the best ways to spend a weekend here.
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The Mollie Kathleen Gold Mine Tour in Cripple Creek offers one of the top gold mine tours in the country for a fascinating way to glimpse the nation’s gold rush history. You’ll go down the only 1,000 foot vertical shaft gold mine tour in the U.S., an active mine in operation since 1891. It all starts by taking the 1,000-foot vertical drop in a rickety elevator, descending far underground. Once on the tunnel floor, expert guides will bring you through the mine for a firsthand look at what life was like for the early miners, where you can view real, exposed gold veins. You’ll even get to ride an underground tram air locomotive, experience the sights and sounds of mining equipment and take home a genuine sample of gold ore.
The Cripple Creek and Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad is one of the top attractions in Cripple Creek, running a two-foot heritage track operating from mid-May to mid-October. It’s a fun way to enjoy a scenic ride around the mining camp along the outskirts of town, complete with audio narration, taking passengers back to the peak of the gold mining days. Along the way, you’ll cross an old trestle and pass numerous historic mines and points of interest.
The Butte Theater premiered back in 1896, and today, it offers the chance to catch a melodrama, with the audience booing, hissing and even throwing popcorn at the villain, while cheering for the hero and heroine. The theater has had multiple incarnations, first providing nightly entertainment with a Ladies’ Vienna Orchestra. Some of its other lives have included being the Butte Hall Dancing Academy, The Watt Brothers Furniture Company, the Teller Hall Theater, a skating rink, a secondhand store, a weapons cache, an auto garage, and eventually, a storage facility for the fire department that sits below after falling into disrepair. Today you can catch a fantastic show with highly talented actors, enjoy food and drink, and experience theater like you may never have before.
The Cripple Creek District Museum is made up of five historic buildings filled with fascinating artifacts and historic exhibits focused on Cripple Creek and the surrounding area. You’ll be able to explore furnished living spaces as they were during the town’s peak, including two apartments that depict life here during the Victorian period as well as a turn-of-the-century wooden cabin that reveals more about the life of the gold miners during the gold rush. It also features a gift shop, that sells everything from books to locally created works of art.
The Old Homestead House was once the most famous brothel in town. Today it’s the only remaining former house of ill repute, located on infamous Meyers’ Avenue. During its heyday, wealthy patrons paid as much as $10,000 in today’s money to spend time with the female of their choice, and you’ll be able to view just how opulent it was with both the building’s exterior and interior restored to its glory days. An extensive collection of photos makes it easy to see just what it might have been like, and local tour guides provide interesting stories about the lives of the working girls and their often famous clientele.
Cripple Creek hosts numerous celebrations and special events throughout the year, though one of the best may be its famous Donkey Derby Days. Hosted over the last full weekend of June, this is when locals and visitors come to cheer on participants in the race where they lead donkeys through an obstacle course to the finish line. The animals were an important part of the mining industry here during the early days of the gold rush era, with the local herd is made up of the direct descendants of donkeys who were used to make trips up and down the mountain. When the miners had to leave town, they’d typically set the animals free, which is why their descendants are roaming the streets and surrounding area today.
If you want to take a scenic drive, the Gold Belt Scenic Byway will bring you through the area’s history, including the gold rush days of the late 1800s and early 1900s. The route is many up of multiple famous roads and byways, including Phantom Canyon Road, Shelf Road, High Park Road and Teller County Road 1, with multiple major landmarks along the way like the Phantom Canyon and the impressive Royal Gorge. Phantom Canyon Road is a popular stretch, linking Canon City to Victor, traversing through the picturesque canyon, two tunnels and three elevated bridges. It was originally used for the stagecoaches that delivered goods to and from Canon City to Cripple Creek on a rather harrowing journey.
Just seven miles away from Cripple Creek, Victor is truly a must-visit while you’re in the area. Once home to a population of around 20,000, today it’s a virtual ghost town with only a few hundred living here on the west side of Pikes Peak. While Cripple Creek is a booming tourist town with lots of casinos, Victor offers the chance to feel as if you’ve actually gone back in time to the late 19-century. Check out the gorgeous period buildings, like the Victor Daily Record newspaper office, the Masonic Hall and trolley depot. At the Lowell Thomas Museum, you can learn about the world-famous adventurer and writer who grew up in this high elevation mountain town. The 1899 Victor Hotel is still open for business, complete with a beautiful Victorian-style lobby and authentic birdcage elevator.