Exploring Forgotten Gold Mines in the Sierras


I love bushwhacking, always have. I have discovered so many treasures in the Sierra Nevada Mountains by taking the road less traveled. I even found a bear skull, which is extremely rare. When you consider the history, especially the mining history of the Sierras, you can imagine how many hidden time capsules are waiting to be opened.

With a little bit of research and the mindset of an explorer, these timeless pieces of California history are waiting to be re-discovered. There are many sources of information available to anyone looking for a different type of adventure. You can google the county you’re in and search for a list of mines. You will find a map, directions, and even some history of the mine. You’d be surprised at how much information is available with a little diligent searching. It has always paid off for me.

According to the California Department of Conservation, there are more than 47,000 abandoned mines, of which a large percentage can be found on public lands. It is probably safe to bet that there are a few near your next weekend getaway. Of course there are dangers, but common sense and education will generally insure a safe journey. Here are a few tips that might help.

Always have a plan

If you intend on venturing off the main roads, prepare for the worst and expect the best. Make sure first off that someone knows where you’re going. Always leave some type of map and directions so in the worst-case-scenario, you can be found. Prepare for your trip like you would prepare for a jaunt into the wilderness. Have the proper clothes, equipment and knowledge or don’t attempt it. Once again, research as much as you can—the internet is an invaluable resource. When you locate the mine you’d like to explore (or simply find), map it and be aware of roads, water sources and general landmarks. Walk through it in your mind, noting elevation changes, terrain. Is it feasible?

Don’t be afraid to explore

You can take those little trails you see going off into the abyss. Trust me, you will discover what other people will miss. Before you venture off-trail, take a bearing, note some landmarks, and as you follow the trail, leave markers (unobtrusive ones) so you can find your way back. Many times the trails that look un-passable, open up a hundred feet further up, exposing an old road. I recently did this and found the Snowflower Mine, and it was like going back in time a hundred years. It looked like no one had been there for many years. I took a chance and found it and it was worth the extra work. Most people don’t go off-trail and I guess that’s good for us explorers.

Be very careful

This is common sense but in the woods, common sense is your best friend. Walk slowly, look carefully at the ground and all around. You are not in a rush. I had a friend fall into an old shaft (thankfully he was ok) because he was not paying attention. Awareness is the key to being safe and you will find things that most people overlook. Don’t ever attempt to go into an old mine shaft. Even though it looks solid, it could cave in. Also, it is very likely that the air inside is poisonous. It may be tempting . . . don’t do it! Also, be careful picking things up. I have disturbed many rattlesnakes by lifting up old pieces of metal. They love it under there in the cool shade. If you want to move something, take a long stick and probe around it first.

You can find so many hidden treasures in the Sierras. Prepare accordingly, be extra aware and go for it! You’ll be glad you did!

© Ulisse | Dreamstime.comOld Miner Photo