Sure, you can pan for gold at hundreds of places in Alaska, but very few of these spots let you really work a claim. But at Crow Creek Mine, less than an hour from Anchorage, you’ll learn how to work a pan, and then how to run a creek-side sluice box.
Cool, Old-School Mine
That’s because Crow Creek is an operational mine run by a mining family. Search for gold all day, or tour the historic grounds, once one of Alaska’s largest mines. Set in a picturesque valley high in the Chugach Mountains, the site is like a beautiful outdoor museum, with original buildings—the oldest in the Anchorage municipality—and turn-of-the-century mining equipment.
Crow Creek Mine has been in operation since 1896 and the start of the Alaska Gold Rush, at one time mining an astounding 700 ounces a month. World War II brought an end to the large-scale mining, but even today, some say that half of the original deposit is still buried in the ground. The very ground you’ll be mining!
Easy Access to and from Girdwood
It has super-easy access, too. There’s a free shuttle, though Glacier Valley Transit, which is great for anyone staying at Alyeska Hotel or other small B&Bs, vacation rentals near downtown Girdwood. You can even use that shuttle to bundle a trip to the mine with a hike along the Winner Creek Trail; the trail starts at the Alyeska Hotel and ends up near the mine, so you can hike it one way, have fun (or even dinner) at the mine, then catch the shuttle back to downtown Girdwood.
All in the Family
The same family has been working the site for the last 40 years. Today, the mine is run by Kate Williamson, a third-generation miner, and her husband Nate, a geologist who’s explored gold and platinum deposits throughout Alaska. They’re born-and-bred miners who have kept this place going, contracting with prospectors and miners who spend months on end working the site. When you visit, you’re entering their home, so they’ve kept tour groups small, with fewer than 30 visitors a day (or one bus visit).
You can come on your own or do a guided tour. Nate leads the tours for large groups, and he’ll spend two to three hours teaching you everything you want to know about mining—from the history of mining in Alaska to global trends of metal prices. He’s not going to be dressed up like a sourdough or doing a song and dance, but he will show you how to pan, and you’re guaranteed to find a few flecks in the practice bag.
Hike Through the Outdoor Museum
Aside from mining, you can explore the mine’s 400 acres and its hiking trails, one of which is the Historic Iditarod Trail. And this historic mine is like a museum, filled with old machines and tools, as well as buildings that are on the National Registry of Historical Places. Examine old hydraulic water canyons, the blacksmith shop and barn, and endless tools and machines from the turn of the century. The grounds are also filled with flowerbeds, set against a backdrop of the striking coastal mountains.
They also have a free shuttle. Great for folks staying at Alyeska Hotel, or other small B&Bs, vacation rentals etc. near downtown Girdwood who want to get to the mine and don't have a car. It's also great for those who want to hike the Winner Creek Trail, which starts at Alyeska Hotel and ends up near the mine. It can be a long hike if you hike it both directions, this allows you to hike it one way and catch the shuttle back (after spending some time at the mine of course!):
It’s such a beautiful place that it’s become a popular destination for weddings and corporate outings—there’s even a reception hall at the Historic Mining Camp. If you host an event here, the Williamsons can barbecue a meal for you, or you can hire a caterer.
So come for an afternoon or bring your camping gear and spend a week at the campground here. Either way, Crow Creek Mine is the ultimate place to seek your fortune.
Stay for Dinner and a Concert
Come for the Salmon Bakes on Monday nights from June through August—which are more than just salmon bakes. The evenings include a concert of live acoustic music—some local bands, and some from as far away as Nashville. Dinners, meanwhile, include cedar plank sockeye salmon, pulled pork, reindeer hot dogs for kids, baked beans, corn on the cob and Wildberry harvest cupcakes. The evenings are BYOB, and can also include a little gold panning. Just get tickets in advance—these beloved evenings are known to sell out.