BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. - It was 1859 when people started to stream into Breckenridge in search of gold. While many of the fortune seekers moved on, they left behind mines, mills, homes and other structures to be discovered in the backcountry.
County Road GH09, in the Swan River Valley, takes visitors by many of these remnants. While you can drive this road, going for a hike lets you see some of the small, unique items left behind. The hike starts at the end of Gold Run Road (directions below).
Park in the parking lot and begin walking up the Jeep road labeled GH09. A short distance from the trailhead, you may notice a split. The Jeep road turns to the right and a wide, rocky, dirt path veers left. The dirt path is the old stagecoach route. Take it.
As you walk here, look next to the road for metal remnants and other items. Think of it like a scavenger hunt. We found a metal pipe, a metal box of some sort and a large “can dump.” The “can dump” is fascinating. While it’s really just a trash pile, look carefully. Our guide, Ronnie P. from the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance, explained that finding porcelain meant that women lived in the area (because men would just use their gold pan as a plate). Look at the cans, were they opened with a can opener or just a knife in the top?
What else can you find?
After exploring, don’t take anything, leave the pieces for the next person to look at and create stories.
A half mile from the trailhead, you’ll come to your first major site – the Jessie Mill. The Jessie Mine, way up the hill above the mill, produced gold, silver and lead in the 1880s to the 1930s. The Jessie is only stamp mill left standing in Summit County, Breckenridge Heritage Alliance director Larissa O’Neil told the Summit Daily newspaper.
The Jessie Mill is incredible. Even from the road, you can see where ore would drop down the chutes to the stamps (rock crushers). The BHA did some bracing and stabilization work in 2012 and plans more in 2014. Find a rock and sit for a moment here in the Jessie’s shadow. Imagine the sound of the rock coming down the hillside into this stamp mill. Imagine the loud crushing sound echoing through the canyon as the stamps, huge pieces of iron, crushed the rock. Now, you’ll hear the sound of the creek running by and birds chirping in the trees.
When you’re ready, continue hiking on the stagecoach road until it merges back with the main road. Soon you’ll see another road split. I’m told this road to the left leads to the Jessie boardinghouse. However, in early summer, the road was covered in water so we weren’t able to walk that way. However, as we hiked the Jeep road, we were able to spot the boardinghouse through the trees about a quarter mile from the mill.
As you continue up the Jeep road, it begins to get a bit steeper. About 1 mile from the trailhead, you’ll spot a trail on the left that says Summit County and Breckenridge Open Space. This was an old aquifer/trench created by the miners to move water and ore down the mountain. Sluice boxes were erected in much of the trench. You’ll see some of those remnants a little further up the trail. A few steps away, the Upper Flume bike trail heads downhill.
From the bike path turnoff, it’s 0.15 miles to the remnants of the Extension Mill. The book “Geology and Ore Deposits of the Breckenridge Mining District,” by Thomas Seward Lovering says the Detroit Mine, about a mile away, would ship its high-grade ore to Breckenridge, but ship its lower-grade ore to the Extension Mill. Lovering said the mill processed 25 tons of ore each day by using cyanide to extract the gold and silver.
The Extension Mill is a large pile of wood remnants and includes a huge Portland filter/rock tumbler. You can't miss this thing, it’s 20 feet tall! Look at the bottom, at the gray powder/rock at the bottom. Don’t touch it! That’s likely cyanide sludge. The mesh on the top is where the gold would get collected.
The Extension was also a stamp mill, you can still see the concrete stamp pads. You can walk the road around the mill, but don’t walk on the mill site – there are deep holes under the wood, there are tons of nails and it’s dangerous.
From the Extension, continue up the main road less than a tenth of a mile to the Preston ghost town. The first building you’ll likely spot is an A-frame on the right. This was likely some sort of home.
At the four-way intersection with County Road GH7, you should see more remnants on your left. That’s the remains of the old boardinghouse that likely slept about 30 people.
If you explore Preston, you’ll find two more cabins standing and one in ruins. One of the cabins, the one high on the hill, had a wooden floor, meaning the owner had money, Ronnie P explained. It also has an outhouse that’s been tipped on its side. Ronnie explained that fortune hunters often tip over outhouses looking to see if someone hid gold or other precious metals there.
After exploring Preston, go back to that four-way intersection and take GH7. As you walk this section of road, once again, look on the sides of the road. You may spot the remnants of a sluice in an aquifer/ditch. You should also see a cast iron millstone grinder. It’s that metal thing under a tree that says “The F.M. Davis Iron Wks Co Denver Co.”
At the top of the hill are the remnants of the Jumbo Mine. You’ll find a cabin up here that was likely a store and the remnants of a mining structure that was likely the shaft housing.
From the top, look down into the forest below the mine to see what mining chemicals did to an area. Our guide called this “Desolation Forest.”
After exploring here, it’s time to return the way you came.
Details: The hike up to the Jumbo Mine remnants is about 3.5 miles roundtrip with about 500 feet of elevation gain. Expect more distance, depending on how much you explore.
The best way to see all the mills, mines and other remnants is to take a tour with the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance. Our guide, Ronnie P. was incredible. He shared the history, answered tons of questions and showed us remnants we wouldn’t have spotted without him. The tours are $30 for adults, $20 for children and include lunch.
Directions: From Breckenridge, take Highway 9 to Tiger Road and turn east. Drive 1.5 miles to Gold Run Road and turn right. Take Gold Run Road about 0.7 and turn right. Follow Gold Run Road about another 0.4 miles to where the pavement ends. Turn left and parking the parking lot at this corner.