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Colorado's Gold Circle Towns

Golden, Idaho Springs, and Georgetown make up most of the fabled Gold Circle--those towns that boomed with the first strikes of the gold rush in 1859. Central City, once the richest of the four towns but now the least attractive, completes the circle. Central City is trying to relive its glory days with a return to gambling, largely supported by locals from Denver, and although the exteriors of its historic buildings remain appealing, the rows of electronic slot machines and other gambling devices inside are a turnoff. Visitors to the area might like to make a brief stop and then move on to Idaho Springs.

Idaho Springs

For visitor information, contact the Idaho Springs Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Box 97, Idaho Springs, CO 80452 (tel. 303/567-4382; www.idahospringschamber.net). Information on Idaho Springs and the nearby towns of Empire, Georgetown, and Silver Plume is available from the Clear Creek County Tourism Bureau, P.O. Box 100, Idaho Springs, CO 80452 (tel. 866/674-9237 or 303/567-4660; www.clearcreekcounty.org).

What to See & Do -- The scenic “Oh My God” dirt road, a steep, winding thoroughfare, runs from Central City through Virginia Canyon to Idaho Springs, although most visitors prefer to take I-70 directly to this community 35 miles west of Denver. Site of a major gold strike in 1859, Idaho Springs today beckons visitors to try their luck at panning for any gold that may remain. The quaint Victorian downtown is worth a look; don’t miss the Bridal Veil Falls tumbling through the largest water wheel in Colorado across from City Hall.

The Argo Gold Mine, Mill, and Museum, 2350 Riverside Dr. (tel. 303/567-2421; www.historicargotours.com), is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and offers tours daily from mid-April to October from 9am to 6pm. Visitors can see the Double Eagle Gold Mine, relatively unchanged since the early miners first worked it more than 100 years ago, and the mill, where ore was processed into gold. Everyone is welcome to take part in gold- and gemstone-panning. Admission is $15 for adults, $7.50 for children 7 to 12, and free for kids 6 and under. Allow at least 45 minutes.

At the Phoenix Gold Mine, on Trail Creek Road (tel. 303/567-0422; www.phoenixgoldmine.com), you can don a hard hat and follow a working miner through narrow tunnels to see what mining 100 years ago was all about. You can also pan for gold on the property and relax in the picnic area. Weather permitting, the mine is open daily from 10am to 5pm in the summer (until 4pm in the winter); the tours are informal and entertaining. Cost is $10 for adults, $5 for children 8 to 11, and free for children 7 and under. Panning without the tour is $8. Allow about 1 hour.

Just outside Idaho Springs is Indian Springs Resort, 302 Soda Creek Rd. (tel. 303/989-6666; www.indianspringsresort.com), a fine spot for a relaxing soak in the hot springs after a long day of skiing or hiking. The resort has a covered swimming pool, indoor and outdoor private baths, and a vapor cave with soaking pools. Rates are $18 to $24 per person for an hour in the private baths or all-day use of the vapor cave, $14 to $16 for all-day use of the pool, and $10 for a mud bath in “Club Mud.” Lodging is in rooms and cabins ($63–$134 for two) or a campground ($24 nightly); meals and weekend entertainment are also offered. The resort is open daily from 7:30am to 10:30pm year-round.

Idaho Springs is the starting point for a 28-mile drive to the summit of 14,260-foot Mount Evans. From I-70, exit 240, follow Colo. 103--also called Mt. Evans Highway--as it winds along Chicago Creek through Arapahoe National Forest to Echo Lake Park, another Denver mountain park with fireplaces, hiking trails, and fishing. From here, Colo. 5--the highest paved auto road in North America--climbs to the Mount Evans summit. Views along this highway are of spectacular snowcapped peaks even in June, and you're likely to see mountain goats, bighorn sheep, marmots, eagles, and other wildlife. The road is generally open from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Allow at least 4 hours.

Another way to see this area’s great scenery is by horseback. A&A Historical Trails Stables, 5 miles up Virginia Canyon from Idaho Springs (tel. 303/567-4808; www.aastables.com), offers a variety of trail rides, including breakfast and moonlight rides. Rides are usually offered May through November, weather permitting. A 1-hour ride costs $30 per person, and a 2-hour ride costs $70.

Where to Stay & Dine -- H&H Motor Lodge, 2445 Colorado Blvd. (P.O. Box 1359), Idaho Springs, CO 80452 (tel. 800/445-2893 or 303/567-2838; www.hhlodge.com), is a mom-and-pop motel on the east side of town. It offers bright and cheery rooms, TVs with HBO, a hot tub, and a sauna. The 34 rooms and suites include several larger family units. Rates are $69 for a standard double, kitchenettes $89 to $119; two-bedroom suites start at $84.

Beau Jo’s Colorado Style Pizza, 1517 Miner St. (tel. 303/567-4376; www.beaujos.com), offers a wide variety of so-called mountain pizzas, including standard pepperoni; “Skier Mike’s,” with Canadian bacon, green peppers, and chicken breast; and a roasted-garlic and veggie combo. Sandwiches are also available, plus a salad bar set up in a pair of old claw-foot bathtubs. The bill usually comes out to $10 to $20 per person. Another good place for a meal and/or a beer is the Buffalo Restaurant & Bar, 1617 Miner St. (tel. 303/567-2729; www.buffalorestaurant.com), an upscale bar and grill housed in a slickly restored 1881 building and featuring plenty of buffalo on the menu. Lunch and dinner main courses run $10 to $25.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.