History hike: French Gulch mining district and Reiling Dredge in Breckenridge

BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. - If you like mining history, put a visit to the French Gulch mining district in Breckenridge on your "to do" list. In a three-mile loop hike you'll see several mines, mine shafts, a dredge and learn about mining in the area.

Gold was discovered in Breckenridge in 1859, bringing a rush of miners to the area. According to a sign at the trailhead, miners in the French Gulch area mined in three ways -- hardrock mines (mining underground), placer mines (mining gold in stream or river sediments) and dredges (huge floating platforms that mined gold from deep river sediments).

The French Gulch loop starts at the B&B Trailhead (directions below). Follow the B&B Trail to a sign that says B&B Spur. Follow the Spur Trail to a sign that says “Interpretative” with an arrow to the left. Walk up a small hill with a sign. You’re now on an old mine. A sign here explains that during the depression, there was a second mining frenzy in this area. Men and woman came looking for whatever gold remnants they could find. The sign says many of them improvised with whatever equipment/items they had. In this case, the sign is near an old dump-truck bed that was used to feed gravel to a nearby sluice.

Return to the main trail and stay on the B&B Trail as it passes the trail splits for the V3 Trail and Turk’s Trail.

As you hike this next section, you’ll soon see huge rock piles in the valley on your left. Those were deposited by the huge dredges that mined the creek bed. You’ll see the remains of a dredge at the turnaround spot on this hike. You may also notice the remnants of mines on the other side of the valley. You’ll be hiking to one of those on the way back to the trailhead.

About 0.75 miles from the trailhead, you’ll come to another interpretative sign and the remnants of a “coyote” or exploratory shaft. A sign explains that these shafts were created in hopes of finding gold in stream beds that had run dry. These were dangerous because the shafts went under the creek and frequently caved in.

As you continue on the trail, look for piles of rock next to a pile of dirt – that might be a mine shaft that’s been covered. Look for a slab of concrete and rocks -- that’s another mine cover. Look for piles of wood – that may be a collapsed cabin. You can see photos of what to look for in the attached slideshow. Or the best way to see these sites is to take this tour with a guide from the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance. Our guide, Ronnie P., was incredible at helping us spot these sights and many more as we walked along the trail.

Soon you’ll come to another trail split – this one says Turk’s Trail again and Reiling Dredge. Veer left toward the dredge and it’s just a few more steps to a platform to overlook the remnants of the Reiling Dredge in the pond where it sank in 1922.

As you look at this barge-like structure, imagine the noise it would make as it dug into the bedrock, hauled up tons of rock, pushed the rock through the building to be sorted, then pushed the rock out the back, piling it up.

After a photo stop here, follow the fence downhill and around a corner to another viewpoint on the other side of the dredge. A sign here explains that the Reiling Dredge was one of two dredges that worked this creek and one of nine dredges that worked in the area from 1898 to 1942. The Reiling’s 86 buckets would scoop up five cubic yards of gravel on each pass. Inside the boat, the gravel would go through screens, sluices and chemicals to recover the gold.

Go back a few steps to the trail and continue downhill to the piles of gravel created by the Reiling Dredge. Walk through the piles and cross a bridge. Look west as you cross the new bridge and you may see the remnants of the old bridge in the stream bed. Cross the bridge and walk the Dredge Trail up to the road.

At the road, you’ve hiked about 1.3 miles. You can hike the road back to the trailhead or return the way you came, but I prefer to make this a loop.

Cross the road to a parking lot on the other side and a trail sign for the Minnie Mine. Walk through the fence and a few steps down the trail is another “Interpretative” turn off.

Hike up the hill about a tenth of a mile to an exhibit about the Lucky Mine. The Lucky Mine was lucky – it was one of the region’s largest and most profitable mines until it closed in 1925. The Lucky Mine is also lucky for visitors because it has some impressive items outside. You’ll see several storage/holding bins, a trammel screen (a drum-shaped item), wheels and several other items. The mine entrance is blocked and it’s best to stay off the wood there, but there is plenty of equipment to see and two signs explain the history of the mine.

Back on the main trail, hike west a short distance to a trail split for the Minnie Mine and the X10U8 (Extenuate) Mine. First, take the trail up to the Minnie Mine. It’s about a quarter mile up a trail. At the top of the hill, you’ll see the Minnie’s shafthouse below the trail (that’s what you may have spotted from the trail on the other side of the valley). On the trail is a mill and other remnants.  Walk around the ruins and see what you can spot in the debris, but do not walk on the debris – it can cave in and you could step on a nail or get cut on the metal. A sign here explains that the Minnie Mine was one of the longest operating mines in the area – from 1880 to 1958.

The Minnie offers a good view of the valley including the rock piles created by the dredges, other mines in the area and even the ski resort in the distance.

If you want more distance, continue on the trail past the Minnie Mine. The trail goes near the ridge and loops back to the main trail, but we just turned around and hiked back down to the split. Now it’s time to hike the X10U8 Trail.

The X10U8 Trail passes the ruins of the Rose of Breckenridge mine. The Rose operated from 1875 to 1905. The Rose was an underground mine and it tunneled 850 feet into the mountain. A sign here says, decades later,  the abandoned mine became a squatters camp some called hippie haven. If you look closely at the outhouse here, you’ll see the hippies left a toilet seat covered in carpet.

Continue down the trail to the bottom of the X10U8 Mine. While a sign below the mine explains the history of the mine, you don’t actually walk next to their ruins. But even from the trail or road, this is an impressive structure. It operated from the 1880s to the 1970s. A sign here says miners got 40 tons of rock out of the Extenuate Mine at its peak.

At this point, you’re back on French Gulch Road. Walk west just a short distance back to the B&B Trailhead turnoff.

See the hike in photos here.

In Breckenridge, don't miss Iowa Hill. Find more hikes and great places to see in Colorado in our Discover Colorado section.

Details: The hike on the B&B Trail to the Dredge and looping back via the Minnie Mine and X10U8 Trail is about 2.9 miles with 550 feet of elevation gain with all the side trips.

Note: I highly recommend exploring this area with a guide from the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance. You’ll see much more than hiking the trail on your own.

Directions:  From Main Street in Breckenridge, turn right onto Wellington Road and travel approximately 1 mile. Veer right onto French Gulch Road. Travel 0.5 miles to where the paved road turns to a well-maintained gravel road. Travel an additional 0.6 miles to the B & B Trailhead. Look for a small brown sign on the right. Turn right at the sign into the parking lot.

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