Cripple Creek, Colorado and its sister city, Victor, are located about an hour southwest of Colorado Springs at an elevation of almost 9,500 feet. Although it is known as one of Colorado’s casino towns with plenty of modern casinos, the Cripple Creek area has a rich and vibrant history.
Ute tribes used the land as part of their trading and hunting routes until gold was discovered in 1890, starting the last of Colorado’s gold rushes.
By 1900, the Cripple Creek and Victor area had a population of over 50,000 people. Over the next seven decades, more than 500 mines in the area produced more ounces of gold than either the California or Alaska gold rushes. As with many gold towns, the successful mining industry brought brothels, railroads, entertainers, outlaws, millionaires, and lawmen.
The gold rush continues in the Cripple Creek area, with several operating mines, including the Cripple Creek & Victor (CC&V) Gold Mine, currently operated by Newmont Mining.
Historically known as the Cresson Mine, CC&V is a large open-pit mine that sits between the towns of Cripple Creek and Victor and produces over 450,000 ounces of gold annually.
In addition to the excitement of the casinos, there are many non-gambling activities visitors can enjoy. Here are some local favorites.
1. The Butte Theater
The Butte Concert and Beer Hall first opened in Cripple Creek in 1896. The City refurbished the theater in 2000, and visitors can now enjoy some of the best professional theater from classic melodramas to Broadway hits in this historic venue.
The theater also hosts community theater troupes and free community movies through the year.
2. Outlaw and Lawmen Jail Museum
The Outlaws and Lawmen Jail Museum is a unique way to experience the wild west days of Cripple Creek. Here you can learn about the notorious criminals, and the group of men sworn to uphold peace among the booming town.
The building was home to the Teller County Jail for over 90 years and the original jail cells are authentic to the day. Authentic police logs from the 1890s and knowledgeable staff help visitors gain a one-of-a-kind glimpse into the more sketchy side of the past.
3. Cripple Creek & Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad
Restored narrow-gauge steam locomotives carry passengers through the Rocky Mountains, and back in time through the Cripple Creek mining district from mid-May through mid-October.
At the historic 1894 Cripple Creek Midland Depot, visitors can purchase tickets for the 45-minute trip powered by historic 15-ton Iron Horses built between 1902 and 1947. The trip includes several stops at historic locations and photo opportunities.
4. Mollie Kathleen Gold Mine Tour
Gold mining is woven into every aspect of Cripple Creek. One of the unique experiences you can have is to explore the gold mining history on a tour at the Mollie Kathleen.
The Mollie Kathleen mine was initially started by Mary “Mollie” Catherine Gortner in 1891. The mine operated almost continuously until 1961 and has since continued as a tour mine.
The hour-long tour includes a wealth of historic mining information, starting with a ride on a skip nearly 1000 feet (100 stories) below ground.
The descent into the vertical mine shaft is not for the claustrophobic but does give spectacular insight into how gold deposits form, and the processes used to extract gold ore for production. The tour includes a ride on an underground tram locomotive.
5. Gold Camp Trail Hike
The Gold Camp Trail is nearly 2 miles from the Cripple Creek District Museum (9,520 ft elevation) to Hoosier Mine (10,342 ft elevation). This trail offers interpretive signs for hikers to learn more about Cripple Creek’s mining history.
6. The Cripple Creek Donkey Herd
Cripple Creek has a herd of about 15 roaming wild donkeys that are free to move through the town as they see fit. The herd is made up of descendants of the donkeys that were used to work the gold mines and were let loose as miners left the area.
The herd is considered to be Cripple Creek mascots, and a group of volunteers from the Two Mile High Club supervises the herd and provides feed and veterinary services for them from funds raised through the year.
The donkeys are usually friendly, but if provoked or bothered, they may kick or bite, so treat them with the respect they deserve.
Yvonne Bledsoe says
We love Cripple Creek & visit every year – usually in September(for the golden aspens/fall foliage). The Heritage Center is a must visit! There is a KOA campground very close and several RV parks in town(Hospitality House). We usually camp at Mueller St. Park ( a beautiful state park with electrical hook-ups) near Divide which is about a 20-30 minute drive from Cripple Creek. Don’t forget to visit Victor – just a short 10 minute drive from CC. Also drive Phantom Canyon – at least part of the way. We took the CC&V gold mine tour several years ago. The pit mine is huge and the tour was very thorough and informative. I believe the tours run through the summer and end on Labor Day, but I’m not sure. Most of the restaurants in CC are inside the casino’s , but anyone can eat in them and most have really good food. The Cripple Creek area is definitely worth a 2-3 day visit.
Ralph Pinney says
You need to add the Hospitality House hotel and RV Campground. The hotel was originally the hospital and has been restored to high quality. Each room is named after its function when it was a hospital.
The drive to Cripple Creek is best to take slow and use the many turnouts. The views are spectacular as u r in the midst of the Rocky Mountains(elevations 9,000-10,000 ft). You are actually on back side of Pikes Peak!