BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. - Iowa Hill in Breckenridge may be a hiking trail, but it's really a hiking trail through an outdoor museum. The trail passes more than a dozen sites with mining equipment and interpretive signs.
The hike starts just north of Breckenridge (directions below). From the trailhead, pass the Iowa Hill sign and walk into the trees. The dirt trail quickly begins gaining elevation. If you haven't hiked at 9,400 feet, you may find yourself needing to stop to catch your breath.
About 300 feet from the trailhead, you'll come to your first trail split. You can turn right here and go directly to the historic boardinghouse. However, I recommend taking the "main trail" around the interpretive sites. The elevation gain is about the same, but you'll have lots of stops to catch your breath along the way.
As you hike the trail, you'll come to several signed splits. Take each turnoff that says "interpretive." At the first location, you'll learn how a group of miners started mining in this area in 1868. In 1882, they sold the mine for $2 million -- a large sum of money in 1882. After reading the signs, return to the main trail and continue hiking.
The first turnoffs are quick, but then they get a little longer. At the guard station sign, hike on the interpretive trail to the blacksmith shop before turning around.
At the display with the boom, turn uphill to two more sites, before returning to the main trail.
At the overlook/fence/bench, just before the boarding house, once again, hike uphill, this time to three more sites, turning around at the diversion dam sign.
At many of the locations, you'll find mining equipment and a sign explaining how the equipment worked and why it was used in this location. It's like being in an outside museum. The signs explain the mining process in detail, but the equipment helps you understand the process.
The last site on the loop is the historic boardinghouse, circa 1886.
After looking in the boardinghouse windows, continue on the loop and walk down the hill to the trailhead.
Details: The hike with all the spur trails is 1.2 miles with about 400 feet of elevation gain.
Directions: From Highway 9, turn west onto Valley Brook Road and then turn right onto Airport Road. Travel 0.5 miles to the trailhead on the left hand side of the road. Parking is available in the dirt lot.
Breckenridge's Heritage Alliance offers tours in the summer and winter: http://breckheritage.com/