At the Mollie Kathleen Goldmine, you can descend 1,000 feet underground into a vertical shaft gold mine tour, ride an underground tram air locomotive, and view gold veins in their natural state.
Oh. My. Gosh. We all agree, the Mollie Kathleen Goldmine tour is the best goldmine tour we have ever done — and living in northern California means we have done a lot of gold mine tours. Our tour guide Kelly was fantastic and we got to experience things on this tour that we’ve never done or seen before.
The awesome one hour Mollie Kathleen Goldmine gives you the opportunity to experience the Old West as it was for early hard rock gold miners of Cripple Creek, Colorado.
This Cripple Creek gold mine tour includes:
- A two-minute mine elevator ride descending 1,000 feet underground. Holy Moly.
- A quarter mile of flat, level walking through the goldmine. This is one of the largest and longest gold mine tours we have ever done.
- Demonstrations of real mining equipment from different eras of mining. No we didn’t just look at the equipment and talk about how it worked. Kelly actually drilled into the walls of the mine! Plug your ears! It was loud!
- A short ride on an underground tram air locomotive. This was like a ride at Disneyland!
- Views of real gold veins in the walls of the mine. Wow!
- A mineral display and ore museum that showcases gold ore samples from the historic mines of the Cripple Creek District. We even got free ore samples to take home.
Our Gold Mine Experience
We arrived at the Mollie Kathleen Gold Mine early and had about a half hour before our tour. The weather was sunny and beautiful, so we poked around the mining site above ground, explored the old mining equipment on display, took in the spectacular sweeping views, and wandered through the gift shop that had a cool replica mine entrance for kids to play in.
When it was time for your tour, our small group of only about 14 people gathered near the entrance to get our hardhats and get prepped for our tour and 1,000 foot descent to the bottom of the mine. The staff member that delivered the introduction was friendly and fun and answered our questions — and even tolerated our laughing about the farting sign near the elevator entrance!
Then it was time to step into the elevator, which was more like a small steel cage.
We were carefully selected and arranged tightly in the elevator cars based on size and no personal space boundaries were respected. When the elevator cage started falling, we could watch the timber and rocks passing by us in the vertical shaft and at only 400 feet below the surface, we passed a red light indicating the elevation of the town of Cripple Creek. After that the elevator cage we were in began banging about a bit against the wood timbers in the shaft — it was a wild experience!
At the bottom, we exited the elevator and were able to able to look around a bit and take photos before the official tour began. Then Kelly lead us through the mine tunnels, teaching us about the mine, the miners and how they lived, and the different pieces of equipment that were used over the years to mine for gold.
The tour was perfectly paced and interactive, we were able to take photos and ask questions at any time, and we never felt rushed. The whole laid back experience was so appreciated and refreshing after being rushed through the cavern at breakneck speed at Cave of the Winds.
The best parts of this tour, beside the elevator ride, are the equipment demonstrations and the underground train ride!
The regulations must be different in Colorado than they are in California, because we’ve visited a lot of gold mining sites and few let you go into the mine, fewer let you see and do as much as this tour, and none actually demonstrate working mining equipment within a few feet of you! We also have never had the chance to ride an underground train! Natalie and Carter sat in the very front and as we traveled through the mining tunnels, they were so excited — it felt like we were on a ride at Disneyland!
Eventually, it was time to board the elevator for the ride back up. As we banged around on the way up, none of would have guessed what greeted us on the surface. When we exited the elevator it was dark, cloudy, and pouring rain!
Overall, this tour was so cool and we all highly recommend it.
We all left feeling lucky to have visited the Mollie Kathleen Gold Mine. Big thanks to Kelly for an unforgettable experience.
The Mollie Kathleen Gold Mine Story
In the spring of 1891, Mollie’s son Perry arrived in Cripple Creek to survey and map the mining claims. Soon after, Mollie joined him in the booming gold rush town.
In September that same year, while surveying upper Poverty Gulch, Perry saw a huge herd of elk and told Mollie about it. Mollie set out on foot to see the elk and eventually stopped to rest. When she looked down she noticed a rock formation that winked back at her — it was pure gold laced in quartz!
Because there were other prospectors in the area that had overlooked her find for more than a dozen years, she stayed calm and hid gold samples in her clothing. Mollie Kathleen Gortner’s level-headed thinking ensured that she became the first woman in the Gold Camp to discover gold and strike a claim in her own name.
It was very uncommon at the time to let a woman claim something of such value. In fact, after her mine was in production, it was visited by the National Geological Survey whose authors reported the mine being “Discovered by Mr. M.C. Gortner”
Mollie Kathleen Gortner died in 1917 and her husband Henry died one year later of a broken heart. Mollie’s son Perry Gortner was left 1/3 interest in his mother’s gold discovery and was managing operator of the Mollie Kathleen Gold Mine until his death in 1949.
The Longest Continually Operated Gold Mine Tour
From the very beginning, the Mollie Kathleen Gold Mine attracted tourists. Visitors rode an open ore skip 1,000 feet down into the mine and miners took turns leading tours by candle light so they could see other miners extracting gold ore.
News of the mine tours spread and soon they were so popular that eventually they became disruptive to mining operations. But instead of stopping the tours, the decision was made to conduct mine tours during the day and continue mining operations at night.
Gold production halted for all working mines of the Cripple Creek District in 1961 when the Carlton Mill closed. But while the mining stopped, tours of the Mollie Kathleen continued and the revenue was used to maintain the mine.
During this time, improvements to the mine were made that included a new steel gallows (head) frame, hoist house, and man-skip. A gift shop, mining displays, and lighting were also added.
An Additional Gold Discovery
In the mid 1970s, blasting just six feet from previous workings, Cripple Creek miners Nick Cox, Steve Robb, and Lawence Myers, uncovered a new ore body assaying 1.5 troy ounces of gold to-the-ton. That exploration caused the connection of earlier underground crosscut tunnels and drifts. This created a new tour area that continued to grow in popularity.
In 1988, new operators took over the mine, which meant an all new tour that introduces visitors to all mining phases of the Mollie Kathleen’s evolving past and the restoration of the the Last Tram-Air-Locomotive manufactured in Cripple Creek built for the Mollie Kathleen Mine in 1951.
Know Before You Go
- The Mollie Kathleen Gold Mine is located at 9388 Highway 67, Cripple Creek, Colorado 80813 in Teller County just 1.0 mile north of historic Cripple Creek.
- The gold mine is 45 minutes from Garden Of The Gods, Manitou Cliff Dwellings, and Cave Of The Winds Mountain Park.
- Admission fees are $25/adult, $15.00/child 3-12, and $2.00/children 2 and under.
- The Mollie Kathleen Gold Mine is open daily from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day, one hour tours depart at least every 30 minutes between 9:00 am and 6:00 pm. During the remainder of the year, tours depart on the hour from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm daily.
- The one hour tour includes about a quarter mile of flat and level walking and a short ride on an underground rail car. You are on your feet for most of the tour.
- If you’re claustrophobic, know that the descent in the elevator shaft is very tight and you’re packed in, but it’s super short. The descent/ascent only lasts two minutes and travels at a speed of 500 feet per minute (roughly 5 mph).
- Bring a sweatshirt or jacket on your tour, wear comfortable shoes, and don’t forget a camera. But leave the backpacks, purses, strollers, food, and drinks, in the car. Front baby carriers are allowed.
- No pets are allowed underground or on the tour. Pets are allowed above ground but must be leashed at all times.
- The Mollie Kathleen is an authentic 1890s gold mine and is not ADA accessible.
- The Cripple Creek area averages 340 days of sunny weather with average temperatures 10 to 15 degrees cooler than Colorado Springs and 15 to 20 degrees cooler than Canon City. The underground temperature is 50 degrees.
- There are restrooms above ground in the Gift Shop, so go before your tour because there are no restrooms underground.
- The Gift Shop has a miniature mine for kids to play in and sells kids’ hard hats with headlamps, mineral rocks, geodes, and jewelry.