6 Best Places To Visit In Cripple Creek, Colorado And Victor, Colorado

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.

Cripple Creek
Cripple Creek, Colorado (Photo by David Shankbone via Wikipedia)

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.

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The CC&V open-pit mine (Photo via Wikipedia)

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.

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Modern-day downtown Cripple Creek (Photo by TC Wait)

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.

Outlaws and Lawmen Jail Museum. Photo via TripAdvisor

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.

Cripple Creek
The old mine. Photo by W.G. Dayton/Flickr

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.

Cripple Creek
The herd of wild donkeys hanging out at the Westward Ho Motel (Photo by Clyde Byers)

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.

See also: 5 Fall Activities To Try In Steamboat Springs, Colorado



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Camping Near Pine Creek Falls

What fun is going camping if there is nothing to do in the area? If you are camped at Montana’s Pine Creek Campground, you won’t have to go far to experience one of the most scenic waterfalls in the area.

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Pine Creek Falls. Photos by author, Dave Helgeson

Pine Creek Falls is just over a mile upstream from the campground via an easy and well-maintained trail. Elevation gain from the trailhead to the falls is only about 400 feet, which is doable for most anyone in the RV.

You will find the well-signed trailhead on the east end of the campground. From the trailhead, proceed southeast into the canyon entering the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness after about a third of a mile.

While the sign at the trailhead lists the falls at only a mile, up the trail those tracking their progress via GPS or an activity app will find they traveled closer to 1.25 miles before reaching the falls. Upon reaching the falls, be ready to enjoy a cool mist from the water crashing down from above.

For a great view, step onto the single log bridge spanning the creek below the falls with a railing screwed to the upstream side for support. If you’re lucky enough to visit in the spring or early summer, avoid the urge to head back as during periods of high runoff the falls split into two parts, with a second fall crashing down through the back side of the rocks around the corner after crossing the bridge.

Those looking to expend additional energy may consider continuing up the trail to Pine Creek Lake, which is listed as 5 miles from the trailhead. If you choose to camp at Pine Creek Campground and need something to do another day, consider hiking to George Lake which is accessed via the same trailhead out of the campground.

How to reach Pine Creek Falls

Pine Creek Falls and its campground lie about 10 air miles south of Livingston. You will find the turn off from Montana Highway 540 onto Luccock Park Road, which leads east 2.5 miles to the Pine Creek Campground and the trailhead to the falls at: N45° 29.844 W110° 34.190

The road to the campground and falls is single lane for most of the way, contains one sharp turn before you start up a medium grade, and has one switchback along the way. If you are uncomfortable driving this type of road with your RV, consider dropping your RV in the large pull-off just south of the intersection of Highway 540 and Luccock Park Road and proceed with your dinghy or tow vehicle.

Parking is limited at the trailhead, so plan on dropping your RV at the bottom of the hill and use your tow vehicle or dinghy to access the trailhead if you don’t plan to camp in the area.

Click here for information on Pine Creek Campground. You can also see what other RVers said about the campground on RV Park Reviews. If you are uncomfortable driving the road to the campground with your RV, you may consider camping at nearby Loch Leven (FAS) Fishing Access Site.

Currently, there is no day use fee or pass required to park at the trailhead.

Campgrounds with a gorgeous waterfall nearby to explore, just another fun adventure in RVing!

See also: Lady Face Falls: A Must-See On Your Next Trip To Central Idaho



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Free Dry Camping Near Big Timber, Montana At Otter Creek FAS

Needing a convenient and free spot to camp for the night while traveling through Montana via I-90, I looked over the list of Fishing Access Sites (FAS) and found Otter Creek FAS near Big Timber not too far off the freeway.

The site is along the banks of the Yellowstone River, just off a paved road, and best of all, overnight dry camping (there are no hookups available) is free!

Montana
Otter Creek. Photos by Dave Helgeson

As we approached on the road above the site, I saw a number of RVs already camped there and as it was close to dinner time, I hoped there was one more site available for us.

As we circled through the area passing by the already occupied sites while searching for open sites, I found it odd that there was a total absence of people in or around the RVs or anywhere for that matter. Despite the heat, there was nobody sitting outside in their lounge chairs under their awnings, in fact, their awnings weren’t even deployed.

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Closer inspection revealed the RV windows were closed and the fact there were no generators humming to run the air conditioners, lead me to believe the RV owners weren’t in their RVs either.

Next, I noticed there were no tow vehicles parked in front of the travel trailers and fifth wheels. One RV had a couple of tents set up in front, of which one had been blown down by the wind. It began to feel like one of those sci-fi movies where the main characters drive into a town only to find the residents had mysteriously disappeared!

About that time, I spied an open level shady grassy space on the banks of the river, hunger and fatigue quickly overcame the fear of man-eating creatures lurking in the river, and I quickly pulled in.

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Since the site was level, we proceeded to cook dinner prior to unhitching the trailer and putting the jacks down. Just as we were finishing dinner, the next strange occurrence began to unfold when we spotted another RV coming down the hill into the fishing access site, slowly passing by our space either looking at our rig or seeing if they could squeeze into the remaining space in front of us, then proceeding to the other end of the access site where there were other areas to camp.

In short order, they were passing by our space again, this time stopping, at which time a lady got out of the vehicle and came towards our entry door (maybe she was checking to see if there were really people inside, unlike the other RVs). I stepped to the door to ask if I could help and she asked if we were staying. I let her know that we planned to stay the night and leave sometime the next day after visiting friends, that I just hadn’t had the chance to unhook and put the jacks down.

This is where it got real strange. She replied, “We are staying longer,” implying they were more entitled to the space than my wife and I staying only one night.

Now I could tell you how I responded, but I am more interested as to how the readers of this blog would have responded to this statement and its implications. Please share.

Also, to answer the question as to why there was nobody occupying the other RVs parked in the camping area? It wasn’t the plague, aliens or river creatures; it was the 50th Annual Montana Boat Float the coming weekend which brings hundreds of people, water craft and RVs riverside to participate.

Camping by yourself in a nearly “full” campground and then being asked to give up your space, just another strange adventure in RVing!



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