The Rockies are calling. There’s gold in those mountains, and you can find it. Not just the yellow metal, but gold aspens in the fall, casino winnings, and high-altitude adventure. Prepare to be amazed. Colorado’s Gold Belt Tour is on the west side of Pikes Peak, an hour from Colorado Springs or Pueblo, and two hours from Denver. It runs from Florissant through Cripple Creek and ends in Florence and Canon City. You will need at least three days for this trip. Remember, every season is beautiful in the Rockies.
Huge Crystals Amaze At Pikes Peak Historical Museum
Stop 1: The Pikes Peak Historical Museum in Florissant features area history and geology exhibits. But the museum’s show-stopper is the pair of gigantic smoky quartz crystals. One weighs 345 pounds and the other weighs 439 pounds.
Pro Tip: Learn about rural education and see miniature historic buildings at Stop 2, the Florissant Schoolhouse Museum, open by appointment only.
Petrified Stumps Dazzle At Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument
Thirty-four million years ago, sequoia forests blanketed what would become Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, Stop 3. Some of the trunks were 14 feet around. Volcanic mud buried the forest. Above the mud, the trees rotted away. Below the mud, silica preserved the trunks. Take time to appreciate the subtle shades in these remnants. The visitor center holds smaller, very detailed, fossils.
Pro Tip: If you’re adapting to altitude, the monument’s relatively easy trails are a good way to adjust. The one-mile Geologic Trail explains the monument’s formation. In the summer, visit the Fossil Learning Lab.
Pro Tip: No services are available between communities on the route.
Explore Cripple Creek, The Golden City
Start at Stop 4, Cripple Creek Heritage and Information Center. Enjoy the Sangre de Cristo Mountains through the center’s wall of windows. Crawl through a mining tunnel and enjoy the detailed model train layout.
Experience hard rock mining at Stop 5, the Mollie Kathleen Gold Mine Tour. Mollie Kathleen Gortner was the first Cripple Creek woman to strike a claim. Descend 1,000 feet and ride an underground rail car. Above ground, examine historic mining equipment and enjoy whimsical paintings of hard rock miners.
Pro Tip: Underground temperatures are in the 50s. Bring a jacket and wear walking shoes. Every person who tours the mine receives a piece of gold ore. Maybe yours will hold riches.
At the Victor Lowell Thomas Museum, Stop 6, pan for gold and tour the working Cripple Creek and Victor Gold Mine. At the vast terraced mine pit, giant trucks, shovels, and drill rigs bring gold from the ground.
Lowell Thomas was a famous radio commentator, lecturer, author, and world traveler. He hosted an evening broadcast from 1930 until 1976, then hosted a PBS series. He grew up in Victor and the museum’s Thomas Room holds memorabilia.
Pro Tip: Reserve mining tours ahead of time and wear close-toed shoes.
Find “Gold” Above The Ground In Cripple Creek Casinos
For gaming gold, head to Stop 7, Cripple Creek’s 10 casinos. They feature slot machines, off-track betting, and table games. Cripple Creek had the highest payback percentage in Colorado during 2018-19.
Pro Tip: Join the casinos’ individual players clubs to earn perks.
Ride A Train Behind A Real Thomas The Tank Engine
The Cripple Creek and Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad’s locomotive at Stop 7 is reminiscent of Thomas the Tank Engine. Trains leave every 70 minutes and the ride lasts 45 minutes. On the four-mile ride, the train stops for points of interest and photo opportunities.
Pro Tip: Download a coupon.
Experience Cripple Creek’s Dark Side At Bordello, Jail Museums
View the dark side of Cripple Creek at Stop 8, The Old Homestead House Museum, which used to be a brothel. Madam Pearl de Vere supposedly charged $250 a night -- when miners were paid $3 per day.
Pro Tip: On the upstairs landing, look for the Reviewing Room window, where guests would choose their preferred companion.
Stop 9, the Teller County Jail, is now the Outlaws and Lawmen Jail Museum. For 90 years, the 100-bed jail was often full. Robert Curry of the Wild Bunch was the most famous person held there.
Pro Tip: Try on the striped uniforms. Step behind the bars in one of the tiny cells, only 6.5 by 9 feet, and take a selfie.
Feed The Donkeys And Enjoy Aspens And Ice During Cripple Creek Events
Stop 10: You’ll have a chance to see a donkey herd that roams the streets of Cripple Creek from mid-May to mid-October, depending on when you’re traveling. During Donkey Derby Days, Stop 11, enjoy donkey races and more. Stop 12: During optimal fall aspen viewing season, join a free shuttle tour. Stop 13: Watch as the world’s finest ice sculptors perform at Cripple Creek Ice Festival.
Pro Tip: Purchase donkey food from Cripple Creek museums and shops.
Where To Eat And Stay In Cripple Creek
Drive Mountain Roads South From Cripple Creek
Stop 14: During good weather, drive Phantom Canyon Road from Cripple Creek to Florence. The narrow, unpaved road is limited to vehicles shorter than 25 feet. Altitude changes from 5,500 feet to 9,500 feet along this stretch. Interpretive signs explain historic sites.
Find It In Florence: Colorado’s Antique Capital
Stop 16: Fifteen antique stores line Florence’s streets. If you enjoy architectural salvage, visit Salvage Antiques Vintage Etc. (S.A.V.E.). Put on your steampunk at Spirit Riders Western Emporium. The Mezzanine Antiques and Collectibles offers 8,000 square feet of browsing pleasure.
Where To Eat And Stay In Florence
As the sun sets behind the Wet Mountains, relax in the hot tub at the seven-room Florence Rose Guesthouse.
Enjoy Canyons, Fossils, And Recreation In Canon City
In Canon City, life centers around the Arkansas River and its Royal Gorge, a deep gash in the earth.
Embrace The Arkansas River From All Angles
Start your visit to one of Colorado’s oldest cities on the seven-mile Arkansas Riverwalk Trail, Stop 17. Enjoy biking, hiking, walking, and horseback riding. At Stop 18, the Canon City Whitewater Recreation Park adds interest for boaters and anglers. Enjoy championship whitewater competition at the annual Royal Gorge Whitewater Festival, Stop 19.
Stop 20: Canon City outfitters offer whitewater rafting on the Arkansas River for every experience level.
Stay dry on Stop 21, the Royal Gorge Route Railroad. Dine on board while watching some of Colorado’s greatest scenery roll by. Food is prepared on the train from local ingredients.
Pro Tip: For the best views, choose the Vista Domes passenger car.
Far above the train tracks next to the Arkansas River, experience high-flying adventure at Royal Gorge Bridge and Park. You’ll need at least a day to explore all the park has to offer.
Pro Tip: Save on admission by buying online.
Walk With The Dinosaurs
At Stop 22, kids of all ages will love the Royal Gorge Dinosaur Experience. On the Dinosaur Wild Walk, interact with 16 animatronic dinosaurs. Try the ropes courses and watch fossil preparation in the Paleo Lab.
Pro Tip: Use the promo code “2online” when you buy tickets.
The Paleo Lab’s fossils often come from the Garden Park Fossil Area. Picnic at the overlooks above the fossil quarries. Hikers, mountain bikers, and off-roaders can use park trails.
During the so-called Bone Wars, Canon City was the center of a dinosaur tug-of-war. Several hundred fossils were freed from the earth. Stop 23, the Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center tells the story.
Walk Through Prison Life
While fossils were imprisoned in the earth, a different kind of prisoner is remembered at Stop 24, the Colorado Prison Museum. The museum is housed in the former women’s prison. It shares a stone wall and towers with a current prison. Each cell tells the story of some aspect of prison life.
Where To Eat And Stay In Canon City
Whitewater Bar and Grill is not only a good place to eat, but it’s a daily party with games and live music. Savor exquisite food at Le Petit Chablis. Try the Entrecote Blackened, a Cajun-spiced ribeye steak, and the Rouget Cordon Rouge, a red snapper stuffed and breaded with smoked salmon and Swiss cheese.
You’re going to love your Gold Belt Tour!